10 Players the New Orleans Pelicans gave up on way too soon

New Orleans Pelicans, Chris Paul (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans, Chris Paul (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, J.R. Smith
New Orleans Pelicans, J.R. Smith (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

9. J.R. Smith

The then-New Orleans Hornets drafted J.R. Smith with the 18th overall pick in 2004. The 6’6 wing went directly from high school in New Jersey to the NBA. Smith immediately cracked the rotation, and the teenager played well down the stretch of his rookie season, but his team won just 18 games.

Smith’s minutes took a step back in year two as the team made a 20-win improvement. He started to find his jumper, but he was playing behind Chris Paul, Speedy Claxton, Desmond Mason, and Rasual Butler. Smith fell out of head coach Byron Scott’s rotation before being traded twice in the 2006 offseason to end up with the Denver Nuggets. The Pelicans netted Tyson Chandler in their deal, but Smith was just getting started.

His game took a significant leap with the Nuggets, and it started a run where Smith made the playoffs in 12 of the next 14 years, including winning two championships playing next to LeBron James. J.R. was a starter and key shot-maker on the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship team that upset the Golden State Warriors in the finals.

Smith proved to be a winner throughout his 16-year NBA career, and the Pelicans gave up on him before he ever got the chance to blossom. The 6’6 wing played mostly as a sixth man in his career, and he certainly would have helped New Orleans, as they made the playoffs just five times during Smith’s time in the league.