This polarizing prospect could be the Pelicans next draft steal

The Pelicans hope this polarizing prospect falls to them at 21st overall.
New Orleans Pelicans, David Griffin
New Orleans Pelicans, David Griffin / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are gearing up for a franchise-altering offseason. Fans hear the Brandon Ingram trade rumors and know something significant is coming after lead executive David Griffin vowed to make changes (subscription required). New Orleans wants a roster that fits, but it is not just trades that will be crucial.

Starting center Jonas Valanciunas is one of three soon-to-be free agents. The Pelicans plan to let him walk but need a replacement. Naji Marshall also plays a key role, and the franchise must have depth around Zion Williamson. Free agency will be massive in shaping their roster.

The least talked about piece of the offseason is the draft. New Orleans declined to take this year’s Lakers first-round pick from the Anthony Davis trade, but they have the 21st overall selection. It could turn into a franchise-altering move, especially if one of the most polarizing prospects remains on the board.

Zach Edey would be a steal for the Pelicans in the 2024 NBA Draft

The two-time unanimous national college player of the year is not projected to be a lottery pick. Some think he won’t last in the NBA. There are questions about his optimal role and how teams can play around Edey at the next level, which likely forces him to slip into the late-first or early second round.

Forget he averaged 25.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks in 32.0 minutes per game during his senior season at Purdue. It does not matter that he shot 62.3 percent from the field or 71.1 percent on his free throws. Edey showed his ability to dominate the paint, protect the rim, and impact the game on both ends of the floor.

The 7’4 big man will have to play drop coverage in the NBA, but the Timberwolves led the NBA in defensive rating this season with Rudy Gobert doing the same. There will be struggles early on, but Edey was named the best pick-and-roll finisher (subscription required) in this draft class by ESPN. He is an elite rebounder and will hold up better than expected at the next level.

This is a classic case of overthinking it. Jalen Brunson slipped to the second round, despite winning national player of the year in 2018. Fans are quick to compare Edey to two-time winner Luka Garza, but Brunson, Zion, and Anthony Davis also won the honor once.

The Pelicans need a strong rebounder and rim protector next to Zion Williamson, and the star forward’s athleticism may help Edey’s adjustment to the NBA. New Orleans has a stout defense, and Edey could blossom there. The 22-year-old may even add a few dimensions for the Pelicans.

Some doubt Zach Edey will be available, but this recent mock draft suggests otherwise.

Pelicans land Zach Edey in The Athletic’s latest mock draft

Sam Vecenie had the big man dropping to New Orleans in his latest mock draft (subscription required). He noted Edey’s strengths and the franchise’s need at the five. The Athletic’s scribe pointed out the Pelicans want a big man capable of stretching the floor next to Zion, but the 7’4 big man is the best option on the board.

New Orleans can solve that issue by letting Edey screen for their star. No team is stopping that double big man pick and roll with Williamson’s ability to attack and the rookie’s screening chops. This could be a dynamic frontcourt duo if the two-time player of the year falls to 21st overall.

The New Orleans Pelicans could draft a game-changer, despite having just the 21st overall pick. It is what makes the draft special. The franchise should hope Zach Edey falls to them, but there are never guarantees.