Last year it was easy.
After beating the odds to win the No. 1 pick for only the second time in franchise history, the Hornets — now Pelicans — had a no-brainer in power forward Anthony Davis of Kentucky.
Then with the No. 10 pick they wound up with as part of the Chris Paul trade, the team took guard Austin Rivers of Duke, the person they felt was the best player available, not to mention that he is the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a longtime close friend of Pelicans coach Monty Williams.
For lagniappe, the team picked up small forward Darius Miller, who became the first second-rounder to stick since 2009.
This time is not so simple.
Barring a trade, the Pelicans will be selecting at No. 6. That’s one spot worse than their draft position would have been had the order of finish help up in the lottery drawing.
But when you’re the first team since 1987 to go from No. 4 to No. 1, you have no room for complaining.
At any rate, No. 6 puts the Pelicans in the middle of a Top 10 that is considered so wide open and populated by good but not great players that the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 pick, have been actively shopping it around. And mock drafts are all over the place.
Imagine then, what could happen before it’s the Pelicans’ turn.
“We don’t know who is going to be there at six,” Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps said. “There’s a chance it’ll be a guy who can help us right away, or there’s a chance it’ll be a guy that will help us down the line.”
Naturally, the Pelicans would prefer someone who can contribute sooner than later. The team has finished last in its division by double digits since parting ways with Paul. And in an NBA where small market teams are finding it hard to attract frontline free agents, hitting on draft picks, hopefully at positions of need, is more vital than ever.
Small forward Otto Porter of Georgetown would seemingly fit that criteria, but most projections have him gone by the third pick.
Shooting guard Victor Oladipo also is considered NBA-ready and might even fall into the Pelicans’ lap at No. 6 or be available for the right trade bait (Eric Gordon?).
Demps met with Oladipo last weekend, but he did not work out with the team.
In fact, the only players who did work out for the Pelicans were center Alex Len of Maryland and point guards Trey Burke of Michigan and Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse. Small forward Anthony Bennett of UNLV got a visit from Demps.
Both Burke and Bennett project to be on most team’s boards around No. 6. Burke, the national player of the year, is seen as most likely going to the Pelicans in mock drafts, with some saying he would be an upgrade over incumbent starter Greivis Vasquez and would allow Rivers to concentrate at shooting guard.
ESPN analyst Chad Ford said Burke does not look like an elite level point guard along the lines of Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, but, “I love his attitude toward the game.
“I think he plays with a lot of moxie. He’s going to have to figure it out at the next level, but people are going to have to temper their expectations of him. He’s more likely to have a career like Jameer Nelson or a Mo Williams than a Chris Paul.”
That may not be what Pelicans fans want to hear, but it’s the reality of this year’s draft.
Bennett gets high marks for his offensive skills, but he is considered a defensive liability at this point, making him a developmental project at a position where the Pelicans have parted ways with Al-Farouq Aminu, last season’s primary starter at the 3.
Issues like that, Demps said, are why there shouldn’t necessarily be the pressure on whoever the team takes to produce immediate results, even if he is the No. 6 pick.
“The guys are just coming into the NBA so much younger now,” he said. “A lot of times you don’t really know until training camp or the season starts.
“The might be a guy you think is ready to play right now that actually isn’t. We’re not going to make whoever we pick think they have to come in and save the day.”
And whatever happens Thursday, the Pelicans figure to be busy during the free agency period that starts July 1.
“We went 27-55 last year,” Demps said. “When you do that, you can expect a lot of changes.”