Anthony Davis is an elite player and franchise talent. But this never brought just the New Orleans Pelicans franchise much success: just one playoff series win in 2018. So when the Pelicans blew up the franchise a week before the draft, in reality, they weren’t really giving up any consistent prosperity.
In return, general manager David Griffin turned the superstar into a haul that will pay dividends for years to come. Some players could be hits, some could be misses, but with more trades on draft night, Griffin turned Davis and Solomon Hill’s bad contract into ten players that could help the franchise moving forward.
First and foremost, New Orleans acquired three young players from the Los Angeles Lakers when they succumbed to Davis’ trade demand and preferred destination. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart have already shown they can contribute solid minutes on the basketball court. Even if these players don’t develop much more, they could be solid role players or fringe starters on a contending playoff team. And if Ball and/or Ingram reach the ceilings that many believe is still there, the Pelicans could end up with a couple All-Stars.
The flashiest and most exciting player came of course not from the Anthony Davis trade but from the grace of the NBA lottery gods, when the Pelicans were awarded the #1 pick despite holding only a 6% at earning it. This would bring them Duke stud Zion Williamson, regarded by many as the best NBA prospect since LeBron James in 2003.
This bar sets an almost impossibly high standard for Williamson. In being the best prospect since 2003, it would mean he would have to outplay non other than Davis himself. However, the Pelicans have tempered expectations for Zion. David Griffin told the media “he is not here to save the franchise,” alleviating pressure from the 18-year old.
Indeed, Williamson won’t be going at it alone. In addition to the young Lakers players, the Pelicans grabbed three more players in the first 35 picks of the 2019 draft. Jaxson Haynes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Marcos Louzada Silva come in with varying levels of NBA-readiness, but the potential to fill out the roster with solid, develop-able NBA athletes.
Again, the Pelicans have leeway to hit or miss on some of these prospects, with picks in the pipeline for years to come. Protected first round picks in 2020 and 2021, followed by unprotected/pick swap scenario picks in 2023 and 2024 will give the Pelicans reinforcements and/or trade chips for years to come.
Jrue Holiday, Elfrid Payton, and Jahlil Okafor round out some existing talent on the roster that could lead to a playoff appearance as early as this season if everything goes right. Julius Randle is notably omitted as his future with the team is uncertain. With the contracts of Davis and Hill off the books, New Orleans can also target more players in free agency.
I think the Pelicans as constructed, with a few more additions in free agency, will be a playoff team in 2020. The 7th or 8th seed will be a solid start to the Zion era, and great experience for a young core moving forward. By 2021-2022, if most things go to plan, the Pelicans should be a Top 4 contending team in the Western Conference.
We’ll see how well these statements age, or if the Pelicans just become another team full of what if’s and lost potential. But I’m drinking the New Orleans Kool-Aid right now, and I think trading Anthony Davis will treat the franchise to a playoff series win in the next three seasons.
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Header Photo: Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers