The Top 5 Best and Worst New Orleans Pelicans Draft Picks Since 2000

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

The Top 5 Best and Worst New Orleans Pelicans Draft Picks Since 2000

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Pelicans took Nerlens Noel with the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, but he didn't last long. New Orleans immediately turned around and traded Noel to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Jrue Holiday, which cemented the club's backcourt for the foreseeable future.

    Noel has yet to play a game for the Sixers after spending the season recovering from surgery, so the jury officially remains out as to whether he's a legitimate lottery pick. 

    But we can pass judgment on the rest of New Orleans' most recent picks. Since 2000, the organization has made some good ones.

    The trick has been actually keeping them around.

    Recall that the franchise—then the Hornets—relocated to New Orleans in 2002. That never translated into the new era it could have become, at least not yet. Blame the free-agent process. Blame superstar mentalities.

    Just don't blame the club's draft record. It has had more hits than misses.

Best: David West

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Selection: No. 18, 2003

    David West now plays for the Indiana Pacers, but he had his best seasons with New Orleans. He spent eight seasons with the franchise, averaging a career-high 21 points in 2008-09.

    NBA.com's Mark Montieth summed up his recent contributions nicely:

    West, the Pacers' oldest starter at 33 years old – 34 when next season opens – plays like a durable wind-up toy. His game doesn't rely on athleticism as much as shot-making and smarts, so he seems like the type who can still contribute, Reggie-like, when he's closing in on 40. Roll him out there and he'll hit mid-range jumpers deep into the night, score around the basket with a clinic's worth of post-up moves and get his share of rebounds, too. 

    West remained as dangerous as ever in the postseason, scoring 29 in a decisive Game 6 against the Washington Wizards in the semifinals. He followed that up with 16.2 points per contest in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, often looking like Indiana's most consistent option in the process.

    The Pelicans could probably still use someone like him, for his veteran leadership if nothing else. But when push came to shove, the organization wasn't willing to pay the aging star big bucks to hang around.

    West signed with the Pacers in 2011. 

Worst: Austin Rivers

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    Richard Rowe/Getty Images

    Selection: No. 10, 2012

    It's still too soon to completely count Austin Rivers out. All the things that made him an intriguing lottery pick suggest that his best is simply yet to come.

    But the 21-year-old needs to turn things around soon.  

    Rivers produces relatively consistently given his playing time. He averaged 7.7 points and 2.3 assists in 19.4 minutes per contest this season. A bigger problem is his efficiency. The Duke product made just 40.5 percent of his buckets, which just isn't good enough for a player that's pretty replaceable in theory.

    Despite a serious injury to Jrue Holiday, Rivers was unable to carve out a more significant role for himself this season. He'll have another season or two to prove he's worth keeping around, but name recognition alone won't be enough to secure his job—in New Orleans or anywhere else.

    Curious what Rivers is worth on the open market? Consider this. With the Pelicans reportedly looking to acquire a first-round pick in this June's draft, at least one onlooker doesn't believe Rivers could be used to fetch such a selection. NBCSports' Dan Feldman argues that "Rivers’ value has probably sunk below a first rounder, especially in this loaded draft."

    Ouch. For a former No. 10 pick, that's not especially encouraging.

Best: Anthony Davis

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Selection: No. 1, 2012

    The 2012 draft certainly wasn't a total loss for New Orleans. The Pelicans made sure of that right away, taking Anthony Davis with the first overall selection and ensuring a key cornerstone for the franchise going forward.

    Davis had an impressive rookie campaign, but his sophomore effort was even better. The 21-year-old averaged an eye-popping 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks this season. He was dominant on both ends of the floor, looking every bit the player New Orleans hoped to find at the top of the draft.

    The scary part, of course, is that Davis is just getting started. Davis, who started this season at 230 pounds, said this about his growth, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com:

    I’m up to 238 right now. It’s all muscle, and that’s what I need. I want to get stronger, so that when I post up, it’s a lot easier for me. I think it’s going to translate to the season, just my mentality, knowing that I’m a lot stronger and a lot better. It’s going to make me more aggressive.

    Just what the rest of the NBA needs—a stronger, more aggressive version of a guy who's already averaging a double-double.

    Get used to Davis being an absolute beast in this league.

    As Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal put it:

    His lanky wingspan isn't going away. Neither are his incredible knack for defensive play, terrifying traps out on the perimeter, positional versatility, jaw-dropping athleticism, ability to switch onto virtually any offensive player and developing mid-range game.

Worst: Cole Aldrich

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Selection: No. 11, 2010

    Cole Aldrich never played in a game for New Orleans. He was quickly packaged with Morris Peterson in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that landed Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter.

    And by all appearances, the 25-year-old still hasn't found a home. 

    After two seasons with the Thunder, he's had stints with the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings. Most recently, he spent the 2013-14 season with the New York Knicks, playing 46 games and putting up modest numbers.

    For his career, Aldrich has averaged just two points and 2.8 rebounds per contest. He has the kind of big body that should theoretically be NBA-ready, but the scoring ability has remained elusive.  

    The Kansas product is a free agent this summer, so only time will tell where his next stop lies. Unless he convinces a club that his best is yet to come, that stop may be the D-League.

Best: Chris Paul

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Selection: No. 4, 2005

    It was good while it lasted.

    Chris Paul spent his first six seasons with New Orleans before embarking for greener pastures with the Los Angeles Clippers. Even to date, CP3 had his most productive seasons in New Orleans. He averaged a career-high 22.8 points in 2008-09, and his career-high in assists (11.6) came a year earlier.

    It never took Paul very long to establish himself as arguably the league's best all-around floor general. He combines his stellar shooting and passing abilities with truly incomparable decision-making and poise.

    Those are the qualities that have also made Paul so irreplaceable. New Orleans managed to snag Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round pick in the deal that sent Paul to Los Angeles, but none of that will ever truly compensate the Pelicans for what they lost.

    Paul has almost certainly remained the most enduringly excellent pick from the 2005 draft. Deron Williams was taken by the Utah Jazz a pick ahead of him. Andrew Bogut was selected at No. 1, Marvin Williams at No. 2.

    Raymond Felton was taken a pick after Paul.

    The Wake Forest product is still just 29 years old and remains in his prime despite a career that's been occasionally sidetracked by injury. New Orleans' loss has been the Clippers' gain, and in a big way. Los Angeles can now count itself a contender thanks to Paul, and that probably isn't changing anytime soon.