The Los Angeles Lakers are getting most of the publicity from their side of the Anthony Davis trade. Adding a top-eight player to a team equipped with LeBron James and $32 million in cap space is exciting. There’s quite literally room for Super Team speculation, as Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler have all been linked to the Lakers ahead of free agency.
But the New Orleans Pelicans made out pretty darn well themselves.
It’s hard to overstate just how much young capital they’ve acquired. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart is a solid haul of young players. New general manager David Griffin also acquired—takes a deep breath—quite a few picks as the deal expanded from two teams to four:
- 4th overall pick of the 2019 draft (DeAndre Hunter, heading to Atlanta Hawks)
- 8th overall pick of the 2019 draft (Jaxson Hayes, from Atlanta)
- 17th overall pick of the 2019 draft (Nickeil Alexander-Walker, from Atlanta)
- 35th overall pick of the 2019 draft (Marcos Louzada Silva, from Atlanta)
- 2020 protected first rounder (from Atlanta, via Cleveland Cavaliers)
- 2021 protected first rounder – goes to New Orleans if in the top-eight
- 2022 unprotected first rounder – conveys if the 2021 first rounder does not
- 2023 first round swap
- 2024 unprotected first rounder – Pelicans can defer the pick to 2025 if they choose to
The future understandably colors the perception of the Pelicans franchise. When you have Zion Williamson and a buttload of young pieces and trade assets, it’s easy to take the long term view.
But what about the now? Lost among the abundance of picks they’ve acquired is the fact that they can be major players this summer. Depending on what they do, a return to the postseason might not take long.
Williamson, Ingram, Ball, Hart, Hayes and Alexander-Walker make up an impressive six-man young core. There’s a fantastic blend of athleticism, length, ball skills and basketball IQ present. The elder statesman of the team is Jrue Holiday, an All-Star caliber player that can somehow defend three positions comfortably, and all five positions in a pinch.
It’s not hard to envision the Pelicans swarming opposing offenses and cutting off air space, then blitzing them in transition with quick hit-ahead passes and high-flying dunks. There’s a reason this team is already expected to be a League Pass favorite next season, and it goes beyond just, “They Have Zion Williamson”.
The primary concern will rightfully be the lack of shooting.
Only two of them (Alexander-Walker, Hart) have real track records of plus-shooting. Ingram hasn’t hit particularly well (career 32.9 percent) or often (2.0 attempts) from three. Williamson and Ball have kinks to work out with their shots. Holiday is simply fine (career 35.5 percent). The jury is very much out on what Hayes projects to be as even a mid-court spacer, and his primary role will be rim-running anyway.
A serious influx of shooting, particularly in the frontcourt, will be needed to maximize this group, however coach Alvin Gentry decides to mix and match them on the floor. Otherwise, they’ll be reliant on quick points to stay above water.
It’s hard to see how they would be able to find Year 1 success in half-court situations. Luckily, they appear to have the tools necessary to attack this problem.
Hitting the trade market
The inherent good thing about getting a star’s ransom in a trade, is that you now (theoretically) have said chips to trade for a star. The Pelicans wouldn’t seem to mind fast-tracking their rebuild, either.
They were linked to Wizards star guard Bradley Beal before the draft, and it’s hard to imagine that interest has waned. Beal obviously isn’t a front-court player, but he’s a star-level talent that the Pelicans could consolidate their assets for without disrupting their timeline.
For what it’s worth, the Wizards certainly want to keep Beal. He’s only 26 years old and is coming off the best season of his career. Guys that can slap up 26-5-6 while being efficient from all three levels don’t grow on trees. The Wizards shouldn’t give Beal up unless he makes it clear he won’t re-sign, or if they’re blown away by a package with young players and picks. (Guess what the Pelicans have?)
If not Beal, there are other plus-shooters out there. New GM David Griffin is particularly familiar with one of them: Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.
He’s entering the first season of a four-year, $120 million contract. The Cavaliers seem fine to foot that cost for now; Love’s skill set fits snugly alongside Collin Sexton and newbie Darius Garland.
On the flip side, they seem further away in their rebuild than the Pelicans. There’s no sure-fire cornerstone there, though that math could change if what we saw from Sexton during the second half of the season holds moving forward.
Love would be a fantastic partner for Williamson up front. His ability to space the floor would give Williamson more room to destroy the poor souls that dare try to stop his rim attacks. There’s serious high-low passing potential there flowing out of HORNS sets, with one big diving to the rim to establish deep post positioning while the other makes the quick-hitting entry pass.
Defensively, Love would have to defend 5’s, however. That would leave him susceptible to pick-and-roll attacks. Fortunately, Williamson just happens to be one of the most terrifying weak-side help defenders to come out of college in the last decade.
Free Agent Targets
According to EarlyBirdRights.com, our own Jeff Siegel projects the Pelicans could have up to $34.4 million in cap space this summer. That puts them slightly out of range for a 35 percent max contract (the Kevin Durant class), but they really won’t be in the hunt for the Durants or Kyrie Irvings anyway.
Second-or-lower tier free agents? We may have something here.
As great of a fit Love would be in New Orleans, Al Horford would offer much of the same offensive benefits while being a much better defender. Even if the reports of the Pelicans not being the “mystery” suitor for Horford aren’t true, they probably should be if they’re serious about winning now (or very soon).
Horford will be highly sought after and will command a pretty penny for a reason.
A cheaper “spacer big” option would be Milwaukee Bucks big man Brook Lopez. He set the league ablaze with an abundance of deep triples in 2018-19, even making 38 threes from 28 feet or further out. Only Stephen Curry (62), Trae Young (53) and Damian Lillard (44) made more. Only Curry (37.6 percent) was more efficient than Lopez (37.3 percent) among those three.
His ability to protect the rim in a “Drop” coverage scheme, as well as box out bigs would allow the Pelicans to end possessions and get out into transition.
Also falling under this umbrella would be Dewayne Dedmon. He’s spent the last two seasons in Atlanta, where he turned himself into a reliable pick-and-pop threat, converting a career-high 38.2 percent of his triples on 3.4 attempts.
He’s especially efficient from the corners (career 42.3 percent), making him the kind of equal-opportunity spacer to lift opposing bigs out of the paint.
Or, the Pels can bide their time and save their money, allowing this young group to gain their sea legs together, then assess and address their biggest needs. After all, wild money will be spent this offseason, meaning that there will be lots of overpays and teams looking to “rent” cap space.
New Orleans could be a savvy spender next summer as one of few teams with good money to burn and a highly attractive destination to sell.
Nekias Duncan is an avid NBA watcher with an appreciation for angled screens, Spain pick-and-rolls, and anything Khris Middleton does on the court. When he isn’t writing about or watching basketball, he’s dropping the best puns the east coast has to offer. Follow him on Twitter at @NekiasNBA.