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NBA Draft: How Ought to Pels Use First Spherical Picks?

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The New Orleans Pelicans have their superstars and a new trainer. With a bright long-term future, they must now use the 2020 draft to prop up their list.

Aside from perhaps the Phoenix Suns, the 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans had the best unsuccessful season. With the coveted # 1 draft pick, which Zion Williamson had to sit out most of the season, and the team that traded their best player Anthony Davis for an all-new roster the previous summer, hopes for the Pelicans were high, even if they did expectations were measured.

While those hopes were not dashed, they were delayed after Williamson sustained a knee injury before the regular season began. He made his debut against the San Antonio Spurs and scored 22 points, ran perfectly from three points away and if head coach Alvin Gentry was allowed to play him for more than 18 minutes they might have won.

Williamson's influence on the team has been incredible. The Hornets had a record of 11-13 when he joined them, but when he was allowed to play more than 21 minutes in the game they were 11-8. Gentry was hit by the minute limit imposed by possession on his star rookie, but he made the most of the situation.







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Check out Zion Williamson's best alley-oop results from his first NBA season

The team relied on veterans like point guard Jrue Holiday, sniper JJ Redick, and great workhorse Derrick Favors, and had a large group of level heads to incorporate a large number of youngsters, including a group of players who Los Angeles traded Lakers in the Davis deal – Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and an all-star player Brandon Ingram.

Ingram showed promising play in Hollywood, but off the limelight and with more measured expectations in New Orleans, he shone. After its production crept in for the first three seasons, it made a leap across the board in 2019-20. His VORP (Value Over Replacement Player – an estimate of the points per 100 team ownership contributed by a player above a replacement level) reached 2.2, which puts him on the verge of a top 30 player in the NBA.



Brandon Ingram contacts Derrick Favors



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Brandon Ingram reached a career high of 49 points when the New Orleans Pelicans defeated Utah Jazz 138-132 in extra time

Without Williamson – with the exception of 24 regular season games – there was a cap on how far the pelicans could go. Because of this, it might be a little unfair to let coach Gentry go. He barely had a healthy squad during his time on the team, but critics considered five years to be enough for him to achieve some success. The best they did during his tenure was a trip to the conference semifinals in 2017-18.

All change upstairs

Stan Van Gundy gives instructions from the sidelines during his tenure as the Detroit Pistons coach
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Stan Van Gundy gives instructions from the sidelines during his tenure as the Detroit Pistons coach

Gentry was one of the most personable coaches and has great respect from colleagues across the league for his ability to interact with players. However, the new trainer of the pelicans is Stan Van Gundy.

The Van Gundy family is well known for their basketball expertise. Few people can compete with Stan when it comes to understanding and teaching Xs and Os, but he has been critical in the past for being unable to develop relationships with players. Shaquille O'Neal once called him "a master of panic," Gilbert Arenas criticized him for being too demanding, and Dwight Howard reportedly asked for his release.



Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans trains during practice as part of the NBA Restart



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New Orleans Pelicans sacked head coach Alvin Gentry after five responsible seasons

We've seen an old-school coach with difficulty connecting with a young squad do poorly – the Jim Boylen era with the Chicago Bulls was unsuccessful. However, if the young team can maintain the strong influence of their veterans, that could help Van Gundy.

He will particularly rely on Redick who has played successfully with the Orlando Magic for the coach. Redick has another season in his current contract with the Pelicans, and if they can keep the ever-respectful holiday out of trade rumors, there could be enough people in the coaching corner to bridge the gap between the younger players and the old head.

In that case, with the 13th choice, the Pelicans could pick another young player with potential and keep building for the future. It's still technically a lottery selection, though talent levels are starting to homogenize at this stage of the draft, especially in a year when the prospects for superstars are initially limited.

Fill in the gaps

Josh Hart (L,), Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball (R) of the New Orleans Pelicans competed against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday
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Josh Hart (L,), Williamson and Lonzo Ball (R) of the New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelican roster is pretty well organized. The point guard position is deep with Holiday and Ball handling the offense, and Frank Jackson has the potential to be of great support.

Holiday can play shooting guard as well, but Redick should keep going next year and the team also has E & # 39; Twaun Moore, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Sindarius Thornwell to turn the girth.



Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans plays the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves



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Jrue Holiday scored 37 points in a 13-of-20 shootout with three triples, nine rebounds and eight assists against Minnesota

Josh Hart is a good little striker and can play some guard especially when Brandon Ingram starts in the three (little striker), although he can play power forward if Zion Williamson goes on the bench.

At the center, Derrick Favors will be looking for a new contract and may not return in 2020-21, but Jaxson Hayes showed real potential as a center between November and January as his minutes increased while filling various injuries. Nicolo Melli probably deserves another look after limited minutes during his rookie season as they weren't negative.

With no obvious weaknesses, it might just be a matter of picking the best available player, except perhaps the power-forward position, where more players ahead of Williamson and Ingram would slow their growth and limit the team's cap.

Most modern day coaches will happily run Williamson as the small ball five, but should the pelicans need extra height to defend – not to mention someone who can also stretch the ground and stay out of the way of the team's two stars – Aleksej Pokusevski would be one good option.

Pokusevski is a skinny 7-foot Serb who played for Olympiakos in Greece last season. He offers defensive potential, even if inconsistent on that end of the floor, with a chance of being a good shooter from a distance with offensive fundamentals.

Isaac Okoro in action for the Auburn Tigers
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Isaac Okoro in action for the Auburn Tigers

If Isaac Okoro from Auburn is available at 1pm, the pelicans should definitely leave for him. He's an underrated talent at 6ft 6in and loves to do the dirty work. However, the team already has a brave, defensive little striker in Hart. In the same way, Villanova's Saddiq Bey is a good three-and-D wing who can be a good spot-up shooter, pulls tough close-outs, and he has the ability to race against them. Ultimately, you can never have enough defensively focused, good shooting wings.

Holiday is one of the league's most sought-after guards and will be a top target for teams with championship goals. For this reason, the pelicans could be convinced of a good trading package for the 11 year old veteran. If they swapped Holiday, they could use the draft to hone their talent at the sentry post.

Tyrese Haliburton attacks the basket for the state of Iowa
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Tyrese Haliburton attacks the basket for the state of Iowa

Tyrese Haliburton, from the state of Iowa, is a great guard who knows how to handle the ball. He can play both courses with a good nose for rebounds and is a good passer-by and goalscorer. In fact, he shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Ball, including the unusual shape of his shot. Hence, it may be better to look for variations.

Alabama's Kira Lewis Jr offers something other than a rim attack guard who can also do pick and roll as a goal threat. His passing could improve but with a praise option like Williamson it is likely to get better quickly and he can find open shooters already.

Shining future

David Griffin, executive vice president of New Orleans Pelicans, has spoken of Zion Williamson's upcoming return
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David Griffin, executive vice president of New Orleans Pelicans, conducts an interview

Regardless of which direction the Pelicans are headed with the draft, its success in 2019-20 showed that a full, healthy season of their top players can lead to a playoff appearance. Even if they come up short again, the roster is young enough that another good first-round prospect will add another talented player who can grow with the group in the future.

This team won't win a title next season or the following year, but there could be an NBA championship in the future if the right coach can help them learn enough about the game. The pelicans have their stars, they have their trainer – now all they have to do is support the squad over the long term.

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Steven Gregory