The Draft is heating up folks!
The Pelicans made a move to trade into the 2014 NBA Draft, but it probably was not the move most had anticipated. They were unable to work out a deal for a first round pick, and many of the small forwards they may have had their eyes on were snatched up within the first few picks of round two.
Instead they struck a deal to send Pierre Jackson back to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the draft rights to Louisville point guard and 47th overall pick Russ Smith. Not the anticipated big splash, but it should help the team. After small forward and center (filled by the trade for Omer Asik, more on that later), the Pelicans’ next greatest need was a backup point guard who can play defense, and Smith certainly fits the bill. He was an absolute terror in Rick Pitino’s full-court press attack and relentlessly harassed opposing guards en route to becoming Louisville’s all-time leader in steals. But Smith is far from a defensive specialist; he became an increasingly efficient player over his college career, and was the leader of Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team. He averaged 18.2 points and 4.6 assists per game his senior year while shooting just under 47% from the field and 39% from 3.
Smith is not going to be a star in the NBA, he’ll probably play 15 minutes a game at most, but he is the type of player the Pelicans need to defend at the point of attack. And with Brian Roberts set to hit free agency and Austin Rivers likely to be traded, Smith has a very good chance of making the team. The only knocks against him are his height (he’s 6’0”, borderline height for a point guard) and his tendency to play out of control at times. The latter could be observed in the 2013 Championship game against Michigan – while he put in an impressive defensive effort, he probably would have fouled out in 10 minutes if it had been refereed like an NBA game.
The Pelicans did make a noteworthy move the night before draft day when they agreed to send a protected 2015 first
round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for center Omer Asik. The deal will not be finalized until July 10 because there are still some details that need to be ironed out. The Pelicans were rumored to have interest in acquiring Asik last offseason, but they were unwilling to give up Ryan Anderson. Now they’ll be able to get Asik and keep Anderson (for now, at least). The Rockets were willing to sell low because they’re trying to clear cap space for a big run in free agency and their inability to utilize Asik properly with Dwight Howard sunk his trade value. In his one season as a starter with Houston in 2013, Asik put up 10.1 points per game and grabbed 11.7 rebounds, good for third in the league. He is also regarded as one of the NBA’s best defensive centers. He should be a huge upgrade of the center trio of Greg Stiemsma, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey the Pelicans relied on last season. Adding Asik would put the Pelicans over the salary cap, so they will have to make at least another trade, probably involving Austin Rivers, in order to clear the necessary space to absorb his contract.
The Pelicans are now left with only one more need to fill at small forward. They will look to address it during the free agency period, which begins Tuesday. Options in this mostly uninspiring free agent class include P.J. Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler and other inexpensive fill-ins. They could also conceivably bring back Al-Farouq Aminu, but they will likely prefer someone who can shoot and space the floor. They may also pursue trades as Dell Demps has pulled off completely unexpected deals before.
It looks like it’s going to be a fun offseason. Let’s hope it leads to good results in 2015.