The New Orleans Pelicans entered an NBA draft filled with uncertainty and walked out with the most proven player available. The team improved themselves dramatically for next season by pulling off one of the most surprising trades of the night.
Other than Brooklyn acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Pelicans committed the biggest splash of the draft when they landed All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for essentially two first-round picks. The decision to trade Nerlens Noel (selected No. 6 overall) and a 2014 first-round pick to Philadelphia was an aggressive move by GM Dell Demps that puts a ton of pressure on the Pelicans to contend this season.
The deal was met with mixed reviews.
Some applauded the team for taking two unknowns and turning it into one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Detractors thought the acquisition of Holiday hamstrung the team's cap situation, while also costing the team a precious pick in what is being billed as an excellent draft next year.
Let's recap everything that New Orleans did and didn't do on draft night, starting with the five minutes that Noel was a member of the Pelicans.
New Orleans Pelicans Draft Kentucky C Nerlens Noel With The No. 6 Overall Pick
Anybody that says that they knew Nerlens Noel, the talented shot-blocker from Kentucky who was widely considered to be the top overall pick in this draft, would still be available when the Pelicans went on the clock is kidding themselves.
The truth is, every Pelicans fan spent the past two months entertaining three scenarios:
A. Talking themselves into Michigan's Trey Burke or Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams as their point guard of the future
B. Replacing Robin Lopez with the raw-but-talented Alex Len out of Maryland as the team's starting center.
C. Hoping for a couple draft curveballs that would allow Georgetown's Otto Porter or Indiana's Victor Oladipo to fall to the sixth spot and fill New Orleans' glaring hole at small forward.
However, Noel did just that and, for a brief moment, Pelicans fans and writers were ecstatic over the idea of pairing "The Unibrow" with "The Flat Top." It had the potential to be the best defensive frontcourt duos since Houston had Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon in the mid-80's.
ESPN's Jay Bilas called Noel a "defensive savant" during the draft broadcast. In his lone season at Kentucky (cut short by an ACL injury), the kid with the 9'2" standing reach averaged 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
Additionally, the Wildcat phenom contributed 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a contest. It looked like New Orleans had just made one of the biggest draft steals in recent memory. Instead, the "block party" was cancelled and shipped to Philadelphia.
New Orleans sends Noel and a 2014 first-round pick to Philadelphia for PG Jrue Holiday and the No. 42 overall pick (Baylor PG Pierre Jackson)
Over the last few hours since the trade happened, I've been on both sides of the fence. The more I've thought about it, however, the more I like this deal for the Pelicans.
Was the price for Holiday a bit steep? Sure. Noel has the chance to be special and next year's draft is so deep that teams destined to be in the lottery were reluctant to part with their first-rounder. At the very least, I would have liked this trade more if New Orleans had either received the Sixers' choice this season (No. 11 overall) or made the deal without giving up next year's first-round pick.
Still, the 2014 pick is top-five protected, which means the team could still keep it if they have another terrible season and/or get lucky in the lottery. Also, there weren't a lot of great choices left at No. 11, unless you wanted to talk yourself in UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad.
Three All-Stars were traded on draft night. Two of them were future Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. The other was New Orleans acquiring Jrue Holiday. Regardless of what you think of the price to get him, there's no denying that Holiday is more proven than anyone New Orleans would have drafted this year or next.
Also, after everything New Orleans has been through the past two seasons with Eric Gordon, fans should be relieved that they don't have to deal with a similar saga with Noel's knee. Holiday has played less than 73 games once in four seasons. Noel wasn't going to be ready until at least December.
Holiday is also a huge upgrade, on both ends of the court, over last season's starter Greivis Vasquez. His presence also allows New Orleans to turn Vasquez, coming off a career year on a good contract, into a viable trade chip.
Of the potential point guard replacements that were being bandied around (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings, Trey Burke), the case can be made that Holiday is better than all of them. It doesn't fill the huge hole at small forward, but maybe trading Vasquez will remedy that.
Holiday is coming off a career year of his own where he averaged 17.7 points and eight assists a game for the Sixers. He also just turned 23 and is signed for the next four seasons.
New Orleans will go into next season with a core of Holiday, Gordon, Davis and Ryan Anderson. None of the four are older than 25 years old and all of them are signed long-term. If the team can find an affordable option at small forward like Dorell Wright or Chris Copeland, it makes the starting rotation even more formidable.
Losing the 2014 pick is a tough pill to swallow, but you have to give something to get something. Holiday is a safer pick than anyone New Orleans was going to take this season and perhaps even outside of the top five next season.
After watching the way Demps has rebuilt this team over the two seasons, there's enough reason to have faith that he has another move up his sleeve. Still, much like the team is hoping to do on the court, Demps scored some points off of a huge steal.
The Sixers send PG Pierre Jackson (No. 42 overall) to New Orleans as part of the Holiday trade
This deserved its own breakdown because the decision to add Jackson didn't make a ton of sense. The Pelicans already had Greivis Vasquez and Austin Rivers logging in minutes at point guard. Then, they added Jrue Holiday. There was also the possibility of bringing back cheap backup Brian Roberts.
Why exactly did the team feel the need to add another point guard fresh off trading two first-round picks for one in the previous round? There were a number of different directions New Orleans could have went here.
They could have packaged the pick with Greivis Vasquez to move back into the first round and select someone like UNC's Reggie Bullock (who went to the Clippers at No. 25). They could have also stayed put at No. 42 and addressed another position with someone like Bucknell center Mike Muscala or Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas.
Jackson put up some solid numbers at Baylor, averaging nearly 20 points per game and dishing out a little over seven assists a night. He also came up with a little over a steal per contest as well as shooting 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from behind the arc.
The downside is he's undersized at 5'10" and 176 pounds and was just drafted by a team with potentially three other point guards. Where is he finding minutes on this team, unless Vasquez is traded soon?
It might be nitpicking on what was a pretty good night overall, but the Pelicans could have probably done better.
Overall, the Noel-for-Holiday trade will be watched closely for years to come. If Noel becomes Dikembe Mutombo 2.0, only Holiday evolving into the second coming of Tony Parker will validate the deal. If the Sixers land a franchise changer with New Orleans' 2014 pick, that will come back to haunt Demps as well.
At the end of the day, Demps and head coach Monty Williams couldn't afford to put off contending for another year. As great as next year's draft is expected to be, Demps and Williams might not have been in New Orleans to see it if the Pelicans put together another lousy season.
Tom Benson is an aggressive owner who wants to win now, as evidenced by his recent run with the Saints. Demps and Williams share Benson's desire to contend immediately. These three couldn't afford to hang their hat on what might be available next summer. They have a good, young core now.
If New Orleans somehow ends up picking in the top five next season, all of the rancor over including next year's pick in the Holiday trade will be moot. Demps' next move has to be finding a cheap starter that he can plug into the small forward spot for the time being.
Ultimately, the Pelicans made a bigger splash than anyone anticipated by trading a player nobody thought would be there for an All-Star point guard nobody thought was available. Time will tell if Demps and company made the right moves.
For now, there should be smiles on the faces of every Pelicans fan.
Final Grade: A-