The Pelicans will have the 14th overall selection in next month’s NBA draft after failing to move up in the lottery. Victor Wembanyama will obviously be long off the board — destined to wear a San Antonio uniform and torment Southwest division rivals for perhaps the entirety of his career, but expect for several other prospects to entice the New Orleans front office.
It’s important to note that this draft is deeper than last season’s. Wembanyana sits alone in an “alien” tier and Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller stand above the rest of the crowd as well, brimming with All-NBA potential. Then there’s about a half dozen or so prospects that are considered locks for lottery selection and can be major pieces on winning teams for years to come. While the Pelicans are not expected to get a swing at any of these players (think Cam Whitmore, Taylor Hendricks, Anthony Black and the Thompson brothers), there is going to be some meaningful talent sitting at 14.
The question facing David Griffin is, do you add more unproven upside to a roster that finished last season with 11 players aged 25 or younger?
The Pelicans have good talent — sitting tied for first place in the West towards the end of December isn’t nothing — and are in win-now mode. That’s why missing the playoffs last season was such a bitter disappointment for fans and the front office alike. Adding another player who requires important developmental time seems to spit in the face of a deep playoff run this upcoming season.
Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, Jose Alvarado, Kira Lewis Jr., Dyson Daniels, E.J. Liddell and Dereon Seabron are far from finished products. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have one combined playoff series under their belts. While CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas have experienced plenty of wars, that’s a light number of accomplished personnel.
Look at the rotations of the four remaining teams in the playoffs. They’re all stocked with valuable experience. Even Michael Porter Jr. has amassed 41 postseason appearances despite being only 24 and missing Denver’s run a year ago. Or, the undrafted Max Strus will be suiting up for his 33rd playoff game with the Heat on Friday night.
Accumulating high-end talent is always a priority, but there needs to be a balance that leans towards big-game experience for those inclined to play well beyond the regular season. The Golden State Warriors are a prime example. Setting aside the training camp punch seen around the world for a moment, the major difference between their last two seasons was clear as day — the roster depth was much greater and more reliable during their 2022 championship run.
If the Pelicans have serious second round aspirations or greater for next season, not only must issues like the 3-point shooting, subpar clutch minutes and lack of rim deterrence be addressed, roster changes should show a preference for seasoned players.
Packaging up the 2023 first-round pick in a deal, not surprisingly, has become the popular train of thought; however, realize that the Pelicans have a glut of young players and other future draft assets to make almost anything work. They have nine first-round picks in the next seven drafts at their disposal — 10 if the Bucks’ 2025 first-rounder winds up in the top 4, for instance. Perhaps hanging onto this pick makes sense if a super coveted prospect is sitting on the board and such a route is available. Don’t forget that this might also be one of the last times in the next handful of years to add good young talent at a cost-controlled price.
The combined salaries of Ingram, McCollum and Williamson will exceed $100 million next season, making it imperative to keep the trio surrounded with inexpensive contracts for the next few years. Eventually though, the young group around them will need to get paid because each one has shown varying levels of productivity. Barring some unforeseen spending craze that would undoubtedly take the team well into the luxury tax, the Pelicans are not going to be able to keep everyone; recycling some of the current youth for new prospects entering the league in the next few years feels inevitable.
Although it feels most beneficial for the roster to get injected with more seasoned voices, the Pelicans’ 2023 first-round pick doesn’t require automatic inclusion in all scenarios. So we’ll prudently examine several of our favorite and realistically attainable prospects, both in the range of the 14th pick and later — if Griffin decides to trade down, over the next several weeks.
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