The 2023 NBA Draft will take place on Jun. 22, giving the New Orleans Pelicans two months to prepare for an important day in regard to the team’s future.
The Pelicans may not have had the season that they desired in 2022-23, largely due to an injury bug that star forward Zion Williamson just can’t seem to get away from.
Nonetheless, New Orleans is still a highly promising team with at least a playoff-caliber roster. When fully healthy and in rhythm, they can compete with just about any team, as Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum are all more than capable of being go-to scorers.
Looking ahead at the offseason, the Pelicans do have a major decision to make regarding Zion though.
If New Orleans’ front office isn’t concerned about his injury history, they need to be.
For a player whose elite status is tied far more into his aggressiveness and athleticism than his skill, Williamson’s dwindling confidence, poor nutritional habits, and lack of durability give him a questionable future outlook.
This isn’t yet a DaJuan Blair, Brandon Roy, or Dwyane Wade situation. Although it could truly become that type of issue, there aren’t yet concerns about how his knees will hold up over time. At the moment, it’s more akin to a Blake Griffin situation. After the former high-flyer sustained multiple leg injuries, he had to start relying on intelligence, instincts, and skill more than explosiveness.
To that point, for Williamson to have a long NBA career, he’ll need to become a more skill-based player himself. Playing below the rim far more may lose him some fans, but it’ll add multiple years to his NBA career.
That said, while the Pelicans should at least listen to trade offers for Zion this summer, it may not be time to move on from him.
However, with the 14th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, it is time for the Pelicans to identify early targets who might be able to replace him. In some ways at least.
3 early 2023 NBA Draft targets for Pelicans with No. 14 lottery slot in first round
Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis should be the primary draft target of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Averaging 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.9 blocks per game last season, the four-year starter may be older than the average lottery pick at 23-years-old. However, the Indiana native has proven himself in terms of both production and durability.
Furthermore, although playing all four years is often looked down upon, it takes a certain amount of commitment to be able to do that. Especially when there are multiples seasons when said player could have entered the NBA Draft.
Intangibles aside, Jackson-Davis is both highly athletic and a skilled interior scorer, a combination that the Pelicans only truly have in Zion. Whether in the open court or the half court, his touch and use of angles around the rim might make New Orleans feel like they never lost Williamson.
The highly decorated forward would simply be a perfect for the Pelicans, on the court and in the locker room.
Sticking with the Indiana Hoosiers but changing positions, the New Orleans Pelicans should also be looking at point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
A one-and-done prospect that was ranked in the top-20 by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index coming out of Montverde Academy, Hood-Schifino averaged 13.5 points and 3.7 assists per game as a freshman. Named the Big Ten Rookie of the Year, the 6-foot-6, 213-pound playmaker excelled with his court vision, passing ability, instincts, and shot-making.
To that point, another way for the Pelicans to help Zion Williamson moving forward would be to get a starting point guard. A player that knows intuitively how to make the game easier for Williamson, as well as scorers like Ingram and McCollum. As a player that can put points on the board himself, Hood-Schifino takes even more pressure off of the aforementioned players.
Especially in transition, where Williamson excels.
At 19-years-old, Hood-Schifino is a player that the Pelicans can potentially keep in New Orleans for a decade or more. Frankly, he could become their best point guard since Chris Paul.
Although Kira Lewis Jr. and Dyson Daniels are on the roster, Lewis will become a free agent after the 2023-24 season and his development was never prioritized by the Pelicans despite him being a starting-caliber guard. He probably won’t be in New Orleans for much longer. Daniels is an interesting point guard prospect, particularly defensively. However, he doesn’t have the scoring instincts or natural ability of Hood-Schifino.
Looking at one other starting-caliber point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, Kentucky Wildcats freshman guard Cason Wallace comes to mind.
The Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year for Texas, Wallace. ranked eighth in the RCSI database coming out of Richardson High School. He was also notably compared to Milwaukee Bucks star guard Jrue Holiday by 247 Sports, where they also ranked the five-star prospect as the best high school player in Texas.
A defensive menace, Wallace averaged 11.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per game last season, shooting 44.6 percent from the floor. Another taller point guard prospect at 6-foot-4, the Dallas native might feel right at home in New Orleans.
Not just because of the regional proximity to his hometown but because he knows how to fit in with a deep collection of talent, playing with a team-ball mentality.
Though a true floor general, with his size and all-around skillset, Wallace will be able to function both on-ball and off-ball with the Pelicans. Between he, Daniels, and Lewis, opposing point guards would have a hard time putting the pressure on the defense.
However, like Hood-Schifino, Wallace can be an aggressive scorer. As previously mentioned, that only helps players like Zion moving forward, as the Pelicans need to explore adding a player to the roster than can alleviate some of the scoring pressure on their star players.
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