Dell Demps, to the surprise of no one, is playing this hand to the chest.
As the Pelicans general manager gears up for Thursday’s NBA draft — the first step in a crucial offseason for his franchise — he’s being cautious as always, careful not to let slip a hint of how he’s approaching the No. 6 pick.
“We feel like we’re going to get a good player,” Demps said this week. “I prefer not to go into names, prefer to not show our cards, but we feel like we’re going to get a good player that’s going to be able to help us.”
In keeping predraft secrets, Demps is in good company.
As the draft approaches the only absolute appears to be that the Philadelphia 76ers will take LSU’s Ben Simmons first overall. Reports this week have indicated as much, and Simmons spent part of his Tuesday at “The Tonight Show,” sampling Philly cheese steaks with Jimmy Fallon.
It’s almost as likely that Duke’s Brandon Ingram will be the second pick and that he’ll land with the Los Angeles Lakers, who own that selection. ESPN reported Wednesday that the Lakers would take Ingram, barring a last-minute blockbuster trade.
And then the draft gets interesting.
Boston owns the No. 3 pick, but it’s no secret the Celtics would prefer a veteran player. ESPN reported this week that Boston failed in attempts to involve the third pick in trades for Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, Utah forward Gordon Hayward or one of two Bucks players, forward Jabari Parker or guard Kris Middleton.
Demps this week didn’t rule out the possibility of dealing the No. 6 pick for a veteran player, saying, “If the situation presented itself where we can get a (better) player than we can draft,” the Pelicans would pull the trigger.
And ESPN reported New Orleans was among a group of teams — including Boston, Phoenix (which holds the No. 4 pick), Minnesota (No. 5), Denver (No. 7) and Sacramento (No. 8) — that were dangling lottery picks as trade bait.
“There’s going to be so much movement,” CBS Sports analyst Sam Vecenie said. “Everybody’s shopping picks. Everybody’s trying to do the impossible — move into the 2017 draft or use the 2016 pick to get a really valuable player — because they think no one in this draft is going to contribute early.”
That adds another layer of uncertainty to a draft that’s already hard to predict given that the players after the top two are bunched together. There’s no clear-cut third-best prospect, and there are question marks about every projected lottery pick.
Providence point guard Kris Dunn has a history of shoulder injuries. Guards Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and Jamal Murray of Kentucky were elite collegiate 3-point shooters, but questions linger about their ability to get off shots against NBA defenders and — particularly in the case of Murray — their defense.
Croatian power forward Dragan Bender is an unknown quantity who likely isn’t ready to help a team in the short term. Washington forward Marquse Chriss has physical tools but lacks maturity.
It adds up to a draft with more questions than answers, one ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford called “fluid.”
On his podcast Wednesday, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski said there’s “a lot of debate going on within organizations” and “a great variance of opinions about players this year, as much as any year.”
A year ago, Vecenie pegged 10 of 30 first-round picks in his final mock draft. This week, that seems like a lofty goal.
“This draft I expect to get, like, five,” he said. “I will be happy if I get above five. Things will have to have gone remarkably right for me to have done that well.”