The New Orleans Pelicans are a franchise that has had its fair share of unfortunate circumstances in recent years. The franchise has won a single playoff series this past decade, and that’s in large part due to inept management. It’s fascinating trying to find where it went wrong and how things would have been different.
One of the more embarrassing Pelicans whiffs in recent times was selecting Jamal Murray over Buddy Hield in the 2016 NBA Draft. Although the players might not be worlds apart on the court, the difference is still big enough drastically change the course of Pelican’s history.
For this exercise, I will assume Hield will be picked 7th and end up in Denver instead. Everything else will remain the same, and this will primarily focus on the Pelicans’ ramifications.
Let’s travel back to that beautiful summer night in the Barclays Center in 2016 and see what would’ve happened if Dell Demps made the right pick.
The Start of the Murray Era with the New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans guard depth is putrid heading into the 2016 season. Jrue Holiday is coming off successful orbital surgery, and the team is looking to find a player in the draft to take some of the ball-handling responsibilities away from him.
Jrue is a fantastic player but has not initiated offense in a way you would like out of a starting point guard. With MVP candidate Anthony Davis the focal point of the roster, the team needs to draft a guard who can work alongside his skillsets.
Executive Dell Demps selects Kentucky combo-guard Jamal Murray with the 6th pick in the NBA Draft. Murray has an impressive shooting stroke and has developed into a solid distributor during his time with the Wildcats.
Murray will impress in Summer League as he did in real life and end up cracking the starting lineup for the first game of the season, with Holiday still being sidelined for recovery. Funny enough, the first game of the season is against the Denver Nuggets. The new starting lineup would look like this:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: E’Twaun Moore
SG: Solomon Hill
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Ömer Aşik
Murray struggled to break through the Nuggets rotation in real life because they were a deep team vying for a playoff spot in a brutal Western Conference. New Orleans was a depleting roster that understood quickly they would be a long-shot to make the post-season.
Holiday missed the first 18 games of the season, so Murray continues to start this month-long audition as the team’s point guard. The reps and consistent playing time help Murray progress faster than he did with the Nuggets.
His play impresses the team and allows him to start alongside Holiday when he returns at the end of November.
It’s vital to recognize Murray will still have his rookie struggles but will be a bit better than Hield off the jump. He is on par with vying for a first-team all-rookie selection.
The Pelicans Trade for DeMarcus Cousin No Longer Exists
DeMarcus Cousins is a first-ballot hall of fame member of the NBA menace to society team. Nothing will change with him trying to force his way out of Sacramento.
New Orleans is interested in pairing Cousins with Anthony Davis but doesn’t want to lose with their young stud Jamal Murray. Hield, at this point, was struggling, but Murray is doing well enough in his starting role to warrant keeping around.
When the Kings were trying to part ways with Cousins, many around the league assumed the star center would want to hit free agency. It seemed unlikely that he would re-sign with whatever team traded for him. Demps thinks better of the situation and stays away.
The team went 7-10 in games that Cousins started down the stretch in real life before throwing in the towel when a playoff spot was out of reach. Without their All-Star center, the Pelicans lose a few more games and end up picking 8th in the 2017 NBA Draft.