Less than a week remains until the NBA draft, but that doesn’t mean the New Orleans Pelicans necessarily have narrowed their list of prospective picks.
Although guards Kris Dunn of Providence, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and Jamal Murray of Kentucky still figure to be in play for New Orleans with the No. 6 pick in Thursday’s draft, ESPN analyst Chad Ford said Friday not to count out California small forward Jaylen Brown or Croatian power forward Dragan Bender.
Reportedly strong workouts have shot the 6-foot-7 Brown up analysts’ draft boards.
“Jaylen Brown had an incredible workout for (the Pelicans) and is a guy that I think there’s a lot of interest in on just sheer upside of adding an elite talent next to Anthony Davis,” Ford said on a conference call.
Ford said Brown could go as high as third to Boston.
“I think if (the Celtics) go upside, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go Jaylen Brown,” Ford said. “He fits a need. He’s a wing who’s very athletic. He did not shoot the ball well at Cal this year, but he shot the ball very well in workouts, including the workout that he did with the Celtics. And if you’re saying at No. 3, ‘Look, let’s just swing for the guy who could be a superstar down the road and we’ll take a risk,’ then Brown seems like a pretty good calculated risk.”
There’s risk, too, in Bender, who at 7-foot-1 and 225 pounds might look redundant next to Davis, the team’s 6-10 franchise forward.
But the 18-year-old “brings a lot of things to the table that Ryan Anderson does,” Ford said, and with his ability to stretch the floor could provide insurance in the event that Anderson, a free agent, signs elsewhere. Still, most of the Pelicans’ predraft chatter centers on Dunn, Hield and Murray, one or more of whom likely will be available at No. 6.
Dunn is the only true point guard of that trio, and he’s considered the top point guard prospect in the draft by a wide margin. If the Pelicans opt for a point guard, given Jrue Holiday’s recent health issues and looming 2017 free agency, Dunn “is a great fit,” Ford said.
“His ability to defend multiple positions, his athleticism, his ability to penetrate — I actually think Dunn might be a better prospect down the road than Jrue Holiday is,” Ford said. “I think his ceiling is higher than Jrue’s was. So that’s a really intriguing thing for them, though you can argue they still have Jrue next year and maybe they don’t need to go that route, though I think that Jrue can play off the ball.”
Hield and Murray, both 6-5 shooting guards, put up big numbers last season, with Hield averaging 25 points as a senior and Murray 20 as a freshman, and both are sharp shooters.
Hield made 154 3-pointers as a senior and shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range. Murray shot 40.8 percent from 3-point range.
“(Murray is) 19 and, if you look at what Buddy Hield did at Oklahoma at 19 where he averaged seven points a game and you look at Jamal Murray what he did at 19 at Kentucky, averaging 20 points a game, that’s a pretty huge disparity,” Ford said. “And statistically if you look at it analytically, what players do at 19 is actually a very strong indicator of what they’re going to do at the NBA. Guys that don’t figure it out until they’re 20, 21, 22 can struggle more in the NBA, despite where they end up topping out in college basketball.”
Ford said he ranks Dunn and Murray “just a little bit higher” than Hield as fits for the Pelicans, depending on whether New Orleans wants a shooter or a player to run the team.
Dunn would give the Pelicans a point-guard option. Murray could provide some backcourt versatility.
“(Murray) was a point guard in high school. He did not play that at Kentucky because Tyler Ulis was there,” Ford said. “But he’s got that feel for the game that I think allows the Pelicans to use him in different sorts of lineups, which I think is really attractive to a team like the Pelicans.”