Pelicans put trio of draft prospects through their paces
In preparation for the June 27 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday took a close look at three prospects who are as varied as the direction the team could take.
Coach Monty Williams put former Michigan point guard Trey Burke and ex-Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams through intense workouts at the Alario Center while the team’s basketball operations staff watched. Center Alex Len, who played at Maryland, was on crutches while recuperating from left ankle surgery, so he could not participate. But he was interviewed by General Manager Dell Demps, Williams and the rest of the staff.
“It was a good workout,” Williams said.
Mock drafts have Burke, The Associated Press’ player of the year, as the most likely of the three to be selected by the Pelicans with the No. 6 pick, even though small forward is their biggest need.
Starting point guard Greivis Vasquez finished third in the NBA in assists last season, but Burke, who led the Wolverines to the NCAA title game in April, could be a good fit.
“He’s a point guard who can score the ball. He’s got really good vision. He put on some muscle,” Williams said. “He looks a little bit different than he did in the championship game. He certainly can add speed to our team, but you don’t know how that will translate yet.”
Perhaps the biggest question concerning Burke, the Pelicans and the point guard position is defense. Elite point guards gave New Orleans problems last year. Burke, at 6-foot, is considered a good defender, but Williams said it’s unknown how he’d fare against Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and the like.
Burke said he would relish playing on a young, developing team like the Pelicans.
“Leadership, as well as winning,” he said of what he’d bring to the team. “Every level I’ve played at, I’ve always won, and that’s been my mentality since I was a little kid. I love the system that New Orleans runs. I love the way (Williams) lets his team play, (with) pick-and-roll action.”
Burke, who has been compared to former New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, said he has worked out for Orlando, Phoenix and Sacramento. Orlando, which has a dire need for a point guard, picks second, and Phoenix, which could also use one, is fifth. The Suns also like the 7-foot-1 Len.
Despite the ankle injury, Len’s draft stock doesn’t seem to have slipped, and he’ll be able to return to the court in August. Len, who is from the Ukraine, is a good shot-blocker but also is one of this draft’s top offensive centers, having averaged 11.9 points on 53.4 percent shooting last season for the Terrapins.
Williams said he liked what he saw of Len on film and that he appears to have character.
“I like him,” Williams said. “Anybody who is able to do what he’s done this far away from home says a lot about his toughness and character. He’s a just a good kid. He can do a lot on the floor that a lot of young bigs can’t at this point in his career.”
Len, who will turn 20 on Sunday, let loose a big smile when asked about the prospect of playing alongside power forward Anthony Davis, last year’s top pick.
“It would be cool — two big towers,” Len said. “I’d love to play with him. I think he’ll be a Hall of Famer some day.”
Len said he likes that the Pelicans stress defense, which he said is like his college program. But he said he’d bring more than just that.
“Right now, I think the first year, I can bring energy, run the floor, defend and just rebound,” he said. “Eventually I think I’ll be able to contribute on both sides of the court.”
Of the three, Carter-Williams is the most likely to be available when the Pelicans pick. At 6-foot-6, he is considered a very good athlete and defensive player, but he shot just 39.8 percent in two years of college ball.
“If you look at my stats during the season, the percentage is low,” he said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well. I have good form if anyone watches me shoot. It’s not something I’m worried about.”