5 Prospects New Orleans Pelicans Should Avoid
To get a better understanding of who shouldn't be on New Orleans' draft board, we must first look at what the team needs.
First and foremost, they have a huge hole at small forward. Last season's starter, Al-Farouq Aminu, is a free agent and could be looking for greener pastures. Reserves Xavier Henry and Darius Miller are also potential departures, although the team has the option to keep Miller for next season.
The Pelicans could also use upgrades at point guard and center. Greivis Vasquez had a breakout year in his first full season as starter, averaging 13.9 points and nine assists per game. However, he lacks the ideal defensive capabilities to be the team's long-term answer.
At center, Robin Lopez is an adequate starter with a cheap contract (team option for next two seasons at just over $5 million annually). Be that as it may, the Pelicans would benefit from having someone who is better on the glass (Lopez averaged just 5.6 rebounds a game), while still able to contribute on both ends of the court.
The Pelicans' selection should have the potential to be a No. 1 or 2 option. Franchise guard Eric Gordon is on the trading block and last year's top pick Anthony Davis is still too raw to take the reins.
With last year's other rookie, Austin Rivers, having a disappointing debut season, New Orleans can't afford to swing and miss yet again with this year's pick.
Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Offensively, there is a lot to like about Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk. He averaged 18.1 points per game for the Bulldogs last season. He converted 78 percent of his free throws and even showed a knack for hitting the occasional three, nailing nine of his 30 attempts (stats courtesy of DraftExpress.com).
What makes Olynyk an inferior prospect for the Pelicans is his lack of athletic ability. The seven-footer's thick legs and slow feet make him a liability defensively. He also doesn't have the vertical to be a huge factor on the boards, despite the fact he averaged just over seven rebounds a game last season.
Those limitations may not have been a problem for someone like Kevin Love, but history has shown the Timberwolves forward is the exception, not the rule. Plus, it might be unrealistic to expect Olynyk to have the same production in the pros that he did when he was brutalizing mid-majors in the WCC.
Olynyk might be a decent offensive big man for the right team. However, the Pelicans need someone who can protect the rim, be a viable option as the roll man on a pick-and-roll, and be productive on the glass.
Olynyk does not appear to be that kind of guy.
Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Like Kelly Olynyk, UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad's greatest strength is his ability to put the ball in the basket. The 20-year-old averaged 17.9 points per game for the Bruins, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc.
Muhammad has all the physical gifts you'd want in an NBA prospect. He's strong with excellent athleticism and long arms (6'11" wingspan). His soft hands also make him very effective in catch-and-shoot situations.
Shabazz is a rare prospect in that he's actually better on the offensive glass than on the defensive boards. He averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds per game in his lone season at UCLA.
As for Muhammad's weaknesses, he's a below-average defender. Here's DraftExpress.com's take on his defensive capabilities (or lack thereof) in their player profile from April 1:
"Generally speaking, Muhammad is not the most intense player you'll find defensively. His energy level is highly dependent on how he's faring on the other end of the court. When he misses a shot or doesn't touch the ball on a given possession he can be slow to get back on defense, and his lateral quickness appears to be just average on top of that."
That's not all. Muhammad also shows a lack of interest in getting others involved. In nearly 1,000 minutes played this season, the former Bishop Gorman standout dished just 27 assists. Also, at 6'6", he's a little short to be a true NBA small forward, but his lack of ideal ball-handling skills make it tough to play him at 2-guard.
With Eric Gordon currently on the roster, it's hard to fathom a scenario where two guys who like to dominate the ball can co-exist on the floor. Muhammad's defensive deficiencies also makes him a poor fit in Monty Williams' system.
There are plenty of teams that could use a talented scorer, but Muhammad's a bit too one-dimensional to be worth New Orleans taking a chance on.
Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
At 6'6", Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams has great size for a point guard prospect. He also has great court vision and does an excellent job of getting others involved. He averaged 7.3 assists per game for the Orange last season.
Where the tall point man falls short is from a scoring standpoint. The 21-year-old scored just 11.9 points per game last season and shot 39 percent from the floor. Digging deeper, the junior converted 43.8 percent of his two-point attempts and shot just 29 percent from behind the arc.
The other potential issue is pure speculation. Carter-Williams put up great defensive numbers playing in Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. He averaged a little over 2.3 steals per game and had 34 thefts in the first 10 games of this past season.
The question becomes: Is Carter-Williams a potential elite defender or were his numbers inflated by Boeheim's system?
Guys like Carmelo Anthony, Wesley Johnson and Jonny Flynn all had solid defensive numbers during their time at Syracuse. None evolved into elite defenders in the pros. How much faith can a team have that MCW will buck the trend?
The problem is New Orleans doesn't have time to wait for Carter-Williams to become a scorer, nor can they take the chance that his defensive numbers are a product of the system. If the team can't get Michigan's Trey Burke, they would be better served passing on a point guard in the draft.
Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana
From an offensive standpoint, Zeller proved to be the goods. He averaged 16.5 points per game for the Hoosiers and shot 56 percent from the field. He also converted 75 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
He has good size and athleticism, as well as an array of moves on the offensive end. At Indiana, he showed a knack for scoring in the post and hitting the occasional jumper. His quick feet also make him an intriguing option for New Orleans in the pick-and-roll department.
Those are the positives. Here are the negatives.
Zeller doesn't have ideal strength to be an NBA center. Teams might be able to get away with playing him at the 5, but he's best-suited to be a power forward until he adds some bulk. As it stands, the Pelicans already have a power forward who needs to add some muscle, Anthony Davis.
There are also the physical limitations that Zeller can't fix. Despite being listed at 7'0" with shoes on, the sophomore has a 6'10" wingspan. His short arms will be a detriment as a shot blocker and possibly on the boards as well.
The 20-year-old also has small hands for a big man, which only adds to the concern over whether he can be a viable rebounder and defender.
Zeller has plenty of offensive gifts that will make him intriguing to a team with a vacancy at power forward or center. What the Pelicans need, however, is someone who can bang inside, contest shots and be a force on the glass.
With his light frame, short arms and small hands, it is unlikely Zeller will have much success as an NBA center. If New Orleans had a spot open at power forward, he would be a excellent choice.
Unfortunately, that position has already been filled.
Anthony Bennett, SF/PF, UNLV
With his combination of power, speed and athleticism, UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett has drawn comparisons to another former Runnin' Rebel: Larry Johnson. At 6'7 and 240 pounds, he moves extremely well for a guy his size.
Bennett has all of the physical skills to be one of the most exciting players in this draft. He has the strength to be a force in the post. He is an excellent finisher at the rim and has a nice touch on his outside jumper.
The 20-year-old shot 38 percent from behind the arc and 52 percent from the field. He averaged just under 16 points a game in his freshman season, while adding eight boards a night as well.
There are two glaring issues that make Bennett a bad prospect for New Orleans.
First, he's a bit of a tweener. He's a little undersized to play power forward in the pros and might not be a great fit at small forward either. With his elite athleticism and long arms (7'1" wingspan), he could probably get by at the 4, but the Pelicans aren't in need of a power forward.
The other big issue is Bennett's bad defense. DraftExpress.com wrote that Bennett "often looks like he's only going half speed, jogging the floor lackadaisically, relaxing in his stance whenever he can and losing his focus easily."
According to NBADraft,net, Bennett "appears disinterested defensively." Regardless of what position he settles on in the NBA, the inability to play good defense will be his undoing. You can make all the SportsCenter dunks in the world, but the game always comes down to who can make stops.
There's also the issue of Bennett's recent shoulder surgery, which has kept him out of pre-draft workouts and will cause him to miss summer league action. The injury probably won't affect his draft spot, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
The Pelicans don't have a slew of great defenders. While adding Bennett helps them in the highlight reel department, it doesn't solve their woes on the defensive end. He's also not a perfect fit at small forward, which is the team's biggest need.
With his physical gifts, he is bound to catch the right team's eye on draft day.
That team shouldn't be the New Orleans Pelicans.