Maybe the Pelicans pick up a guard Thursday. Maybe they spend the sixth pick in the NBA draft on a big man.
Or maybe they’re dealing, picking a player for another team altogether.
There’s plenty of mystery to Thursday’s draft, but the one certainty is that the Pelicans are looking to build around Anthony Davis. So if New Orleans opts to keep the player it picks this week, which prospective Pelicans are the best fits with the franchise forward?
They fall primarily into three categories.
The point guard
The most logical pick for New Orleans — if he’s still available at No. 6 — might be Providence point guard Kris Dunn, whose skills at both ends of the court could complement Davis.
Offensively, Dunn has good court vision and high-level athleticism, making him a logical pick-and-roll partner for Davis, who’s one of the best in the NBA at rolling to the rim.
Dunn also is “a terrific transition point guard that can finish plays,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who listed Dunn among guards who’d be a strong fit for the Pelicans.
Bilas ranks Dunn as the third-best prospect in the draft behind LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram, but said he “could fall” to New Orleans depending on how the draft shakes out after the top two.
Beyond the offensive fit with Davis, Dunn could make the forward’s life easier at the defensive end.
“I like the idea of getting a really good pick-and-roll guard in there who just defends like crazy, cuts off penetration,” said CBS Sports analyst Sam Vecenie. “He maybe would stop the defense from getting into rotations as often, and I think we’ve seen Anthony Davis struggle a little bit in that capacity early in his career.”
Often this season, Davis drew a crowd of defenders as opposing guards and wings sagged off Alonzo Gee or Dante Cunningham on the perimeter and made help-defense on Davis a priority.
The best way to correct that is to add shooters a defense has to respect.
“Buddy Hield is a good guard that can really shoot it. Jamal Murray could still be there, who can really shoot it,” Bilas said of the No. 6 pick. “So those two guys” would fit with Davis.
Hield, a senior from Oklahoma, and Murray, a freshman from Kentucky, are considered the best shooters in the lottery. Hield made 147 of 322 3-pointers (45.7 percent) as a senior. Murray made 113 of 277 (40.8 percent)
Hield’s effective field-goal percentage — a number that weights the importance of 3-point shots — was 62.3 percent. Murray’s was 55.9 percent.
“You can never have too much floor spacing,” Vecenie said. “So guys like Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray are invaluable to what Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are trying to do.”
The big men
If the Pelicans want a frontcourt pairing with Davis, they could go smaller, with swingman Jaylen Brown, though his unproven 3-point shooting offers no guarantee that he’d create space for the New Orleans star.
Or the Pelicans could opt for a project in Croatian power forward Dragan Bender, who despite his 7-foot-1 frame could share the frontcourt with Davis offensively thanks to his ability to shoot from long range and pass.
The downside would be defensively, where the 225-pound Bender is a long way from taking on the challenge of guarding potent, physical post players.
“It does seem like the Pelicans do want to shield Anthony from those matchups,” Vecenie said. “You’d be kind of risking that (playing him with Bender). You might have to use Anthony Davis on some bigger guys at some point and have him take some physical pain.”
Instead, Vecenie offers a wild-card frontcourt suggestion in Utah center Jakob Poeltl. He’s projected as a lower-level lottery pick, but the 7-foot-1 Poeltl already is 239 pounds, and his old-school game is a contrast to Davis’ more modern power forward play.
“He has that low-post game that’s interesting,” Vecenie said. “With Davis’ ability to step away from the basket and knock down that 20-footer or so and really play in the pick and roll, Poeltl’s ability to play in the post and rebound and take on some tough matchups eventually, I think, would be a good mesh of skills with Anthony Davis.”