CHICAGO — The Pelicans have big needs. But do they need bigs?
It’s unclear what direction New Orleans will go with its top-nine pick in the June 23 NBA draft, but it seemed clear Friday the Pelicans haven’t entirely ruled out going big.
New Orleans skipped interviewing some of the big men in the draft, but did take a meeting with 7-foot-1 Utah center Jakob Poeltl, a projected lottery pick looking to become the NBA’s first Austrian.
Given that the Pelicans have two centers — Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca — committed to contracts, it seems an unlikely position to fill in the draft. Even so, Poeltl met with the Pelicans and said afterward he could see himself sliding in next to power forward Anthony Davis.
“I’m actually not sure if we talked about it in the interview, (but) I think we could play together on the court,” Poeltl said. “I think that could work pretty well. He’s obviously a guy who would draw a lot of the attention towards him and give his teammates a little more freedom. There’s more space for the rest of the team, so I feel like that could work out really well.”
The 239-pound Poeltl averaged 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a sophomore at Utah. He shot 68.1 percent from the floor, scoring mostly around the rim.
As the NBA goes to more spread, small-ball lineups, 7-footers aren’t as coveted as they once were. But Poeltl, who’s working on expanding his shooting range, said he’s prepared for life in the new-look league.
“I actually feel like I fit that style pretty good,” he said. “The league’s getting smaller, but also you have to be more versatile as a big. You have to do more different stuff, like step out a little bit, be able to handle the ball, be able to pass the ball. I feel like that’s something I’m actually pretty good at.”
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps declined an interview request Friday at the combine, maintaining a mostly silent offseason.
New Orleans has made no statement about Demps’ future with the franchise. A news conference for Demps to discuss the season was scheduled for April 25 and subsequently canceled.
Demps spoke briefly with Pelicans.com on Tuesday, calling the draft combine “an integral part” of the evaluation process for the draft. He did not address his job status.
Teams didn’t see much of Cheick Diallo during his college season.
So as they met with the Kansas forward this week, they wanted to know what he can bring to the table in the NBA that he didn’t in his lone collegiate season.
“I tell them I can block shots, rebound, run the floor and protect the rim,” said Diallo, a native of Mali. “That’s the things I do best.”
He didn’t do them much at Kansas. Diallo averaged 3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 7.5 minutes per game in 27 appearances with the Jayhawks, sitting behind more experienced players.
Despite those pedestrian numbers, Diallo declared for the draft and said he’s likely to leave his name in. He met with the Pelicans while he was here for the combine.
“It was pretty good,” Diallo said. “That was on Tuesday. That was a long time ago, so I don’t remember. It’s a good team. I don’t remember exactly what was said.”
Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer spent two seasons at Kentucky before transferring out west, and he played the first of those alongside Pelicans forward Anthony Davis.
And though he could tell you that he saw Davis’ NBA superstardom coming, that would be a lie.
“When he first came in, to be honest, he wasn’t even the best player on the team,” Wiltjer said. “Terrence Jones (now of the Rockets) was that guy. But Anthony just worked his ass off. Didn’t go out and party. It was cool to see his maturation.”
Though Davis left Kentucky after one year and Wiltjer transferred away the following spring, the two have stayed in contact. And when Wiltjer was asked this week which NBA player he’d most like to dunk on as a rookie, his thoughts turned to his former teammate.
“I’ll say AD,” Wiltjer said, “just because that’s my boy.”