In an NBA draft full of stunners, the New Orleans Pelicans were right in the thick of it after projected No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel fell into their laps Thursday night.
With the sixth pick, the Pelicans selected Noel, a center from Kentucky whose knee injury had made him less than certain as the top pick — then traded him to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday.
The Pelicans also reportedly sent their 2014 first-round pick to the 76ers and received Philadelphia’s second-rounder in this draft, 42nd overall — which the 76ers used to select Baylor guard Pierre Jackson. The 2014 pick is protected; according to the Associated Press, if the Hornets end up in the top five, they will keep the selection.
“I am fielding calls,” Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps said immediately after Noel was selected.
Demps said he wasn’t surprised Noel fell to the Pelicans.
“Anytime a player is injured, sometimes he can fall,” he said. “We had him projected pretty high. Crazy things happen on draft day.”
Demps said the trade marks the start of a busy summer.
“We want to upgrade the roster,” he said.
The trade was one of many Thursday, which was predicted because of the draft’s lack of superstars. All trades are subject to league approval July 10, the start of the fiscal year, and teams cannot discuss them publicly until they are approved.
When Noel was selected, he said he was excited about the prospect of teaming with last year’s No. 1 pick, power forward Anthony Davis, who also played at Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a block party in New Orleans,” he said.
Holiday, 23, averaged 17.7 points and 8.0 assists this past season, his fourth in the NBA after being drafted 17th overall in 2009.
His agent, Tony Dutt, said Holiday was shocked.
“He understands the business as well,” Dutt said. “He’s OK. It is what it is — something we didn’t expect.”
Holiday bedeviled the Pelicans in the teams’ game Nov. 7 in New Orleans. He scored 14 points and had 12 assists but more importantly controlled the game from the outset for a 77-62 victory in which New Orleans was held to a franchise low in points.
Quick, elite point guards haunted the Pelicans all season. Holiday certainly approaches that level.
Pre-draft speculation had the Pelicans selecting Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who swept the college Player of the Year awards. And after Burke’s workout for the Pelicans two weeks ago, Coach Monty Williams said he was impressed and noted that Burke would add speed to the team.
But he also questioned whether Burke could guard the likes of All-Pro point guard Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, Olympian Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City and Tony Parker of NBA finalist San Antonio.
Holiday is capable of competing with them. Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon, whose play was restricted last season after he had knee surgery in February 2012, seemed excited about the trade.
“Jrue Holiday will be great for us,” he tweeted.
“Fantastic player, great work ethic. Very underrated,” Pelicans forward Jason Smith said of Holiday. “He’s very quick with his feet, very quick with his hands. He’s very crafty.”
Aside from Noel and the No. 1 pick, the Pelicans will pay a handsome price for Holiday. Last season, his fourth in the league, he made $2.67 million. During the season, he signed a four-year, $41 million contract extension that will boost his salary to more than $11 million by 2016-17. New Orleans, with only five players under contract for next season, was approximately $24 million under the salary cap heading into Thursday.
The trade marked the fourth time in 12 years the franchise traded a No. 1 pick since coming to New Orleans, including 2002 (to Washington for Courtney Alexander), 2008 (pick Darrell Arthur, No. 27, for cash) and 2010 (Cole Aldrich, pick No. 11 and Morris Peterson to Oklahoma City for Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins.)
Last season, Greivis Vasquez started at point guard with New Orleans for the first time in his three-year career and averaged 9.0 assists.
After the trade, Philadelphia selected Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams, an excellent defender who is expected to help boost the 76ers’ fast break.