The New Orleans Hornets aren't playing for much these days except for a better draft position. At 27-50 (as of April 7), the team is tied with the Sacramento Kings for the sixth-worst record in the NBA.
According to ESPN's NBA draft lottery machine, the Hornets have a 5.3 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row. Last year, New Orleans won the lottery with a 13.8 percent chance at landing the top spot.
The team's biggest hole is at small forward, where current starter and pending free agent Al-Farouq Aminu hasn't proven himself to be the long-term answer. Xavier Henry, Darius Miller and Lance Thomas are the other options at the 3 spot, but are all free agents this summer as well.
If the Hornets can't get their hands on a starter-quality small forward, they could look to upgrade at point guard or center.
Greivis Vasquez has had a breakout season for the Hornets. The former Maryland Terrapin is averaging 14.1 points and 9.2 assists per game in his first full year as starter. However, his lack of ideal speed makes him a liability on defense.
At center, Robin Lopez has put together a decent first season with New Orleans. He's contributing 11.4 points a night while adding a little over a block per game. From a rebounding standpoint, though, Lopez's 5.4 boards per game leave much to be desired.
It is in the Hornets' best interest to tank the last few games and increase their lottery odds. At this point, a spot in the top six is likely but not guaranteed. With the NCAA tournament coming to a close, New Orleans can make some final adjustments to its draft board before pre-draft workouts.
Since the Hornets probably won't be picking outside the top eight, I narrowed their options to eight players. As a heads-up, Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel (the presumed No. 1 overall pick) is not on the board.
Even if the Hornets are somehow picking first again, it's hard to see them taking a player with a similar build and skill set as last year's top pick, Anthony Davis.
Syracuse's run to the Final Four probably helped point guard Michael Carter-Williams move up a couple spots on teams' draft boards. Certainly, his game against Indiana in the Sweet 16 (24 points, five rebounds and four steals) was enough to get him some extra notoriety.
Like current Hornets starter Greivis Vasquez, Carter-Williams is a tall point guard (6'6") who excels in getting his teammates involved. The sophomore averages a little over seven assists per game for the Orange, while scoring almost 12 points a night.
He's been stellar on the defensive end, coming up with almost three steals per game this season.
However, some critical flaws make MCW only an option if the Hornets are picking near the bottom of the top 10. For starters, he isn't a great outside shooter. He's converting just 29 percent of his attempts from behind the arc and shooting slightly under 40 percent from the field overall.
Also, as great as Carter-Williams' defensive numbers are, it remains to be seen if they can translate to the pros, where he won't have the benefit of Syracuse's 2-3 zone. The Orange have produced many lottery picks over the last decade, but can you name one that's become a solid defender in the NBA?
Carmelo Anthony? Fab Melo? Wes Johnson? Dion Waiters?
The stigma of Jim Boeheim's defensive scheme will continue to hinder his players until someone breaks the trend. That someone could be Carter-Williams, but it's hard for New Orleans to justify using a high pick on a limited offensive player whose defense might be a product of a great system.
Carter-Williams represents an athletic upgrade over Vasquez. Also, even if he isn't the defender in the pros that he was in college, it's a safe bet he'll be a better stopper at point guard than New Orleans' current options.
If the lottery isn't favorable to the Hornets and they are picking lower than expected, Michael Carter-Williams is one of many intriguing options at the bottom of the top 10.
There is a lot to like about UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett. He's a strong kid with great athleticism. He has a 7'1" wingspan and has uncanny quickness for a forward.
He averaged 16.1 points and eight rebounds a game in his lone season with the Rebels. He also shot 37 percent from the three-point line and 53 percent from the field.
With his mix of size, speed, athleticism and shooting touch combined with his lack of ideal height (measured at 6'7" in shoes), Bennett has drawn comparisons to former Hornets great Larry Johnson.
As comforting as having Grandmama 2.0 in New Orleans may seem, the fact remains that Bennett is a bit of a 'tweener. He can probably get away with playing small forward in the pros, but he's better suited to be an NBA power forward.
The Hornets already have a number of power forwards in Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. They need someone who is more of a natural fit at the small forward position to play alongside Davis for the next decade.
Still, if the top three small forwards are off the board when New Orleans picks, the Hornets could do worse than drafting Bennett. At the very least, his power when attacking the rim and rare shooting touch will give Hornets fans L.J. flashbacks.
He isn't an ideal choice, but he'll be fun to watch in the pros. He'll help the Hornets on the boards and give them another physical presence inside to keep Davis from getting bullied by stronger forwards
UNLV's early exit allowed other prospects to climb up the boards, while Bennett flew under the radar. He may not be exactly what New Orleans needs, but he has the potential to be one of the best players in this draft.
Indiana junior Victor Oladipo has really made a name for himself this season, and his draft stock has soared over the last few weeks as the catalyst to a very good Hoosiers team.
He has a non-stop motor and is relentless on defense. He managed a little over two steals per game for the Hoosiers this season.
He rebounds well for a guy measured at 6'5". He grabbed a little over six boards per game.
He also improved his shooting percentages dramatically this year. His three-point percentage is up to 44 percent after he shot just under 21 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore. He also upped his field-goal percentage from 47 percent last season to nearly 60 percent this year.
Those increases are a testament to Oladipo's work ethic, and his hustle makes him the kind of player teams love to use as a building block.
While the rise in his shooting percentages is a good sign, Oladipo still needs to develop as an offensive player. Right now, he's dominating with a quick first step, excellent athleticism and great hustle. He's a much more polished version of current starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
Also, at 6'5", Oladipo is more of a shooting guard than an NBA small forward. He's going to be a good defender in the pros, but he's going to have his difficulty every night guarding guys three or four inches taller than him.
He's the last of the top-tier small forwards in this draft, and New Orleans should consider itself fortunate if he is still on the board. He'll never be a star, but his tireless work ethic will make him a nice role player for years to come.
If you look strictly at the numbers, UCLA freshman SF Shabazz Muhammad is exactly what the Hornets need. He's a dynamic scorer who would immediately upgrade the offensive output New Orleans is getting from the 3 spot.
In his first season with the Bruins, Muhammad averaged nearly 18 points per game. He also made decent contributions on the glass by grabbing a little over five rebounds a night.
The main drawback with drafting Muhammad is he doesn't offer much beyond instant buckets. Plus, he's a little too much of a gunner. If skeptics thought it would be tough for Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers to co-exist, imagine Gordon sharing the rock with Muhammad.
The upside to having Muhammad is that he can pick up the offensive slack if Gordon gets hurt again or is traded. He also gives defenses another scoring option on the floor that they have to stop.
As dysfunctional of a rotation as it might be, how potent would an Anthony Davis-Ryan Anderson-Shabazz Muhammad-Eric Gordon-Austin Rivers lineup be?
It's one of those hypothetical questions to which the answer looks great on paper. Muhammad certainly passes the eye test. He's an impressive physical specimen with a knack for scoring buckets. He doesn't offer much on the defensive end and he's a little small for an NBA small forward (listed generously at 6'6").
He's one of the best players in this draft and he'd definitely boost the league's 25th-ranked offense. However, Muhammad vs. Indiana's Victor Oladipo (who is less offensively gifted, but probably a better fit) will be an interesting debate when New Orleans is on the clock.
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke has established himself as the best player in college basketball this season. He averaged nearly 19 points and seven assists per game and has the Wolverines one win away from a national championship.
Burke is a consensus All-American and the reigning Naismith College Player of the Year. He has been the heart and soul of a very talented Michigan team that includes prospects such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.
He's a tough kid who seems to play his best when the team needs him most. With the season on the line against Kansas, Burke put the team on his back in the final minutes to force overtime. Then he led the team to a win over the Jayhawks.
He has the ball-handling skills to get wherever he wants on the court and has a knack for finding open teammates. He shoots the ball particularly well, nailing 37 percent of his threes and shooting 46 percent from the field.
However, what Burke doesn't bring to the table is ideal size. While Burke would be an upgrade in almost every aspect over Greivis Vasquez, it's tough to ignore that the AP Player of the Year is undersized at 6' tall.
While guys like Chris Paul and Tony Parker have been successful despite a lack of size, they also possess uncanny quickness to make up for being vertically challenged. Burke is a skilled penetrator, but he isn't the type of lightning bug that will be able to dart through NBA defenses.
Burke has too much determination not to succeed in the pros, but we've seen this movie before. Kemba Walker was a great leader who led UConn to a national championship a few years ago. He's now a former lottery pick struggling to be a consistent force with the Bobcats.
With a huge need at small forward, Burke is only an option if the top three SF's are off the board. The team can use an upgrade at point guard, but there are other avenues they can take to shore up that area that don't include drafting an undersized floor general.
Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore is widely considered one of the two best players in this draft and a potential No. 1 overall pick.
NBADraft.net's Aran Smith has him rated No. 1 on his Top 100 Big Board. DraftExpress.com has McLemore rated second behind Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman has the Jayhawk shooter going first in his mock draft.
For those reasons alone, McLemore might not even be an option for New Orleans unless the Hornets are able to strike gold with the ping-pong balls yet again.
On top of that, the Hornets already have a shooting guard in Eric Gordon, whom the team signed to a four-year, $58 million contract last summer.
So why should the Hornets pull the trigger on drafting McLemore if he's somehow available when they are ready to pick?
First, Gordon has proven to be unreliable. He's played in just 46 games in nearly two seasons with the the Hornets thanks to troubles with his knee. Also, the former Indiana product made headlines after he was benched during the second half of an April 5 game with the Jazz for getting into a screaming match with coach Monty Williams.
It is starting to become obvious that the Hornets would be better served trying to move Gordon this summer. If McLemore is available, drafting him would be the final motivation needed for GM Dell Demps to get rid of his mercurial franchise 2-guard.
McLemore shot 50 percent from the field in his lone season with the Jayhawks. He also converted 42 percent of his three-pointers. He's drawn comparisons to former Celtic and current Heat shooter Ray Allen.
The reason McLemore is this low is two-fold. First, it would take some grand luck for him to land in New Orleans. Second, the Hornets have more pressing needs than a new shooting guard. Plus, until they can move Gordon, drafting McLemore would only cause more of a logjam in the backcourt.
Still, McLemore could be the best player in this draft. He got off to a rocky start in the tournament, but finished strong in a loss to Michigan. He doesn't fit a current need, but he'll definitely be the best player available when the Hornets are on the clock.
An early exit by Oklahoma State robbed us of seeing the many talents of guard Marcus Smart. He's a big-bodied guard who can be a factor at either guard position. He scored 15.4 points per game for the Cowboys while grabbing an average of five boards and dishing out four assists.
Like the two other point guards on this list, Smart represents a clear upgrade over current starter Greivis Vasquez. He has the athleticism to defend NBA point guards (something Vasquez struggles with) and can develop into a weapon on the offensive end.
There are a couple knocks that keep Smart away from the top spot.
First, he didn't shoot the deep ball well at all in his freshman season in Stillwater. He will have to do much better than the 29 percent from behind the arc he shot this season if he's going to succeed in the NBA.
Second, he isn't a true point guard. He doesn't have the natural ability to run the floor like Trey Burke does, but he's a little too small to be a shooting guard in the pros. For all of Vasquez's faults, he at least is a natural fit at point guard.
Until Smart becomes a better shooter, his game will rely heavily on attacking the basket and getting to the line. It's a strategy that Eric Gordon uses well and Smart's presence could spare the veteran some punishment inside.
The main focus for the Hornets is finding a small forward. If that can't happen on draft day and Smart is available, he wouldn't be a terrible option. As we've seen with guys like John Wall, young players can develop into quality shooters if they make the commitment to work at it.
Smart isn't the perfect choice to be the team's point guard of the future. However, he does enough things well to be an intriguing option if the team can't get its hands on a small forward.
Georgetown's Otto Porter is the prospect New Orleans needs to set its sights on this June.
He's a natural small forward who can shoot (42 percent from three this season), rebound (7.5 boards per game) and defend (averaged nearly two steals per night).
The case can be made that there are more talented options that the team should consider such as Kansas' Ben McLemore or even Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
However, selecting Porter is the right mix of adding talent and filling a need.
Thanks to the NCAA's Cinderella-on-steroids, Florida Gulf Coast University, Porter didn't get a chance to stretch his legs in the tournament. His 13-point, 11-rebound performance wasn't one of his best and it led to Georgetown suffering a shocking first-round upset.
Still, Porter proved throughout the season that he is the goods. On Feb. 23, he carried the Hoyas to a big win over Syracuse by scoring 33 points, grabbing eight rebounds and coming up with five steals.
He was a consistent offensive force all season, and his ability to register ink all over the stat sheet makes him the top priority for Dell Demps and company.
He may not be the best player in this draft, but he isn't far behind the top. He's also one of the only guys whom the team can draft and not have to do some roster maneuvering afterward. Inserting Porter into the starting five with Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon would give the Hornets a solid core.
The team is in desperate need of a small forward. It would be wise for them to do whatever it takes to grab the best one in this draft in Otto Porter.