Another one bites the dust.
In losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, the New Orleans Pelicans have been eliminated from playoff contention. It marks the third straight season in which the Pelicans have missed the playoffs, making for the fourth-longest active postseason drought in the NBA.
The Pelicans now shift their attention to what could be a busy offseason.
The 2021 NBA Draft
Picks: Nos. 10, 35, 40, 43
Prospects to target: Corey Kispert (Gonzaga), Keon Johnson (Tennessee), Davion Mitchell (Baylor), James Bouknight (UConn)
In my 2021 NBA Draft Big Board, I had Gonzaga senior forward Corey Kispert as the ninth-best prospect in this draft. New Orleans would actually be an ideal landing spot for the top sharpshooter in this draft class, giving Williamson another player opposing defences have to stick with on the perimeter, freeing up some room to operate inside the paint. But with that being said, Kispert won't be able to fix the Pelicans' biggest issue, which is defence.
Our other draft expert, Eric Fawcett, has Tennessee freshman guard Jaden Springer as the No. 9-ranked prospect on his 2021 NBA Draft Big Board. In terms of filling needs on both sides of the ball, that would make more sense for New Orleans. A true combo guard, Springer has an arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal as a player that can shoot from the perimeter, attack the paint and do damage off-ball on catch-and-shoots or as a cutter. He's an aggressive, quick and physical defender, which the Pelicans may need depending on what they do with Lonzo Ball in free agency.
In terms of fit, another player to keep in mind here: Baylor junior guard Davion Mitchell, who, if he were to fall into New Orleans' lap, may be the most ideal selection for the franchise as a fiesty defender and offensive creator.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Upcoming free agents
The Pelicans will have some decisions to make in free agency.
While James Johnson and Willy Hernangomez will be unrestricted free agents, allowing them to sign with any team in the league, both Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will be restricted free agents, giving the Pelicans the option of matching any offer sheet they sign.
The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ball has had a breakout season with averages of 14.6 points, 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He's improved greatly as a 3-point shooter, knocking down 37.8 percent of his career-best 8.3 3-point attempts per game. The No. 30 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Hart also had a strong season prior to undergoing surgery on a torn UCL in his right thumb at the start of April. He averaged 9.2 points per game to go along with a career-best 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
|Unrestricted Free Agent(s)||Restricted Free Agent(s)|
|James Johnson||Lonzo Ball|
|Willy Hernangomez||Josh Hart|
According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the maximum amount of cap space the Pelicans could have this offseason is $19.1 million.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
What do the Pelicans do with Lonzo Ball?
It's an important question for a few reasons. One, Ball has started in 55 games this season and has proven to be a good fit next to Zion Williamson. If they do let him walk, the Pelicans would have to find a replacement for him in free agency or the draft, which wouldn't be easy. (The Pelicans do have a potential replacement already on their roster in Kira Lewis Jr., the No. 13 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but it might be too much to expect him to be their starting point guard by the start of next season).
Two, there could be a decent market for Ball this offseason. He hasn't quite lived up to the hype so far, but Ball is still one of the league's better passers, is a much improved 3-point shooter and has the tools to be an impact defender. There also seems like there will be a decent amount of interest in him around the league. According to SNY's Ian Begley, the New York Knicks are one team that has Ball on their radar for the offseason. The Athletic's Sam Amick and John Hollinger added that the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers have showed interest in Ball in the past and "will likely do so again."
Three, keeping Ball could make it difficult for the Pelicans to retain Hart unless they can move Eric Bledsoe. Hart didn't exactly put up big numbers this season, but he proved to be a valuable piece with his defensive versatility, rebounding and general hustle. He's the type of player every team could use in their rotation.
The Pelicans will ultimately have the final say over Ball's future with the franchise - being a restricted free agent, they will be able to match any offer he receives - but it won't be an easy decision either way.
One key stat
According to NBA.com, Zion Williamson is averaging 20.3 points per game in the paint this season. Not only is that the highest rate in the league - Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo ranks in second place with 16.6 paint points per game - it's the most anyone has averaged since Hall of Fame centre Shaquille O'Neal back in 1999-00 (22.5).
Click here to learn more about what makes Williamson such a dominant scorer in the paint.
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