Shooting still a priority for Pelicans in draft among potential picks
The New Orleans Pelicans are clearly trending upward, by all measures.
The team made the playoffs this past season and played tough against Phoenix.
That came with the presence of a very promising, positive, poised first-year head coach in Willie Green.
It came with the arrival of solid veteran guard C.J. McCollum arriving in the second half of the season to provide offensive punch and leadership.
It came with Brandon Ingram lifting his level of play in virtually all phases, when healthy.
It came with a brilliant rookie season from Herb Jones and very promising rookie seasons turned in by Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado.
It came with a very good, consistent season from center Jonas Valanciunas.
It came largely without fast guard Kira Lewis, who was injured early in the season.
It also came without the presence of a very promising young star in Zion Williamson, which could change the dynamic and fortunes of the team moving forward.
That promise also came with an obvious negative.
The Pelicans were a team that simply did not shoot it straight from distance, compared to their NBA breathren.
In a league which has clearly evolved to become more of a perimeter shooting, dribble penetration league with guards and small forward doing damage in both aspects, the Pelicans lacked that presence.
In the 2021-22 season, the Pelicans made just 33.2 percent of their three-point attempts and made just 10.6 three-pointers per game. Those well below average numbers placed New Orleans 27th and 28th in the league, respectively.
Given those facts, it is nearly remarkable that New Orleans made the playoffs a year ago, though that was largely due to a lack of depth in the normally very deep Western conference.
With the return of Williamson and the presence of a traditional center in Valanciunas, one wonders how Green will incorporate essentially a pair of big men who need to operate frequently in or around the painted area.
One also wonders about how the Pelicans will cope defensively with Williamson and Valanciunas facing obvious challenges guarding in space on the perimeter.
To that end, drafting another player who can defend could certainly help. Drafting a player who can clearly shoot it from distance would definitely help.
Perhaps that means the main goal, if New Orleans keeps the No. 8 pick overall in the first round, is to find a 3 and D player who can do both.
Those players can be found, though it requires extensive study, projection and a bit of luck.
Studying a slew of mock drafts from various national sites, players who routinely show up coming to New Orleans include guard Benedict Mathurin of Arizona, guard/forward Dyson Daniels of the G-League, forward AJ Griffin of Duke, guard Johnny Davis of Wisconsin, forward Jeremy Sochan of Baylor and forward Ousmane Dieng, from France, who played for New Zealand in the National Basketball League this past season.
Dieng has length (6-10, 216) but does not fit the shooting profile, having made just 27 percent of his three-point attempts last season but Dieng has real upside and is just 19.
Mathurin (6-6, 210), who just turned 20, can shoot and can be explosive on the offensive end. Mathurin could be a good fit on the opposite wing of Jones or Murphy. After shooting 42 percent from three-point range in the 2020-21 season, Mathurin shot 37 percent from distance this past season while averaging 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists for Arizona. Mathurin is a very good athlete who attacks the rim off the dribble.
Daniels (6-8, 200) is just 19 and gained valuable experience on the professional level last season in the G-League with The Ignite and he recently turned 19. Daniels averaged 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. The negative is that Daniels shot just 25.5 percent from three-point range.
Griffin (6-6, 222) took a back seat to Paolo Banchero, who figures to go top three in the draft, but he is a talent that cannot be ignored. Griffin averaged 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and an assist per game this past season, which ended in the Final Four in New Orleans. What you really like is that Griffin shot 44.7 percent from three-point range. It did not come lightly as Griffin sank 71 three-pointers, a high volume. Griffin does not turn 19 until August. Griffin has a 7-foot wingspan and can play bigger than his size.
Davis (6-5, 195) exploded this past season for the Badgers as he went from averaging just seven points a game to averaging 19.7 points per contest in one year’s time. Davis rebounds extremely well for a guard, averaging 8.2 boards per game and 2.1 assists this past season. Not impressive was Davis’ performance beyond the arc, where he made just under 31 percent of his attempts but he defends well. Davis is known for his excellent competitive nature and work ethic.
Sochan (6-9, 230), from England, played in a top program with Baylor and he is another 19-year-old. Sochan averaged 9.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists last season. Sochan, a very good defender, also averaged 1.3 steals per game. While Sochan made an impressive 58.5 percent of his field goal attempts, he made just under 30 percent of his three-point attempts.
Of that group, Davis is perhaps the most experienced, NBA-ready but the upside may belong to the slew of 19-year-olds in the group. Griffin appears to be the best shooter of the bunch and there is a pedigree with his father, Adrian, having played in the NBA. Mathurin may be the most intriguing player, due to the combination of length, shooting ability and offensive skills. Sochan is the best defender and has length. Daniels and Dieng have length and pro experience.
It will be interesting to see whom the Pelicans zero in on but Mathurin, Davis and Griffin are very intriguing possibilities.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…