Ranking the Pelicans top 4 draft classes of all-time

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Hornets
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The NBA Draft is a crapshoot. Teams spend hundreds of hours, thousands of minutes, and millions of dollars scouting potential NBA prospects to build the future core of their franchises. Unfortunately for many, most of the players drafted fail to work out in the league and the cycle of scout, draft, and develop continues until a player reaches their full potential and becomes an impact player.

Before we get into the rankings, some honorable mentions.

2004: J.R. Smith and Tim Pickett. Smith never amounted to much in New Orleans, getting traded after falling out with at the time head coach Byron Scott, but he blossomed later on in his career. Smith settlted into his role as a high-flying, shot-jacking, microwave shooting guard off the bench and won two titles alongside LeBron James in 2016 and 2020. A solid pick by New Orleans, even though it didn't work out in the Big Easy.

2016: Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo. Similarly to Smith, Hield blossomed elsewhere. He developed into exactly what New Orleans expected him to: a knockdown shooter who's gravity needs to be accounted for.

Now that we got those out of the way, here's the fourth best draft class in Pelicans history.

Number Four: 2019 - Zion Williamson, Jaxon Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada

Following the Anthony Davis trade, the New Orleans Pelicans were desperate for an identity. Davis ended his time in New Orleans as a martyr, and the Pelicans needed to turn the page from a talented, but mercurial superstar.

Enter Zion Williamson.

The 2019 number one overall pick is one of the most lauded talents in NBA Draft history. After becoming a social media sensation at Spartanburg Day High School in South Carolina, Williamson won the Naismith National Player of the Year at Duke and entered the draft as a 19-year-old supernova ready to take the league by storm.

Results have been mixed for Williamson thus far. An all-star appearance in 2021 is the high water mark for Zion's career accolade wise, but he played the best ball of his career in 2024 before tweaking his hamstring causing him to miss the Pelicans playoff series against Oklahoma City. Another couple of seasons like the one he just wrapped up will vault this draft class up the list.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker has developed into a solid role player on the contending Minnesota Timberwolves. He failed to impact the Pelicans in his time with the squad.

Jaxon Hayes, the other lottery pick for the Pelicans in the 2019 draft, was a key figure in the Pelicans 2022 playoff run, but later entered free agency and joined the Los Angeles Lakers after a few poor seasons in New Orleans.