FOR years now the Western Conference has dominated the NBA, with most of the powerhouse teams residing in that portion of the bracket. Two squads that have been jostling for relevance out West that won’t be sitting near the top of the standings this year are the New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who, after trading away iconic, franchise-altering stars, seem poised to regress. Don’t feel too sorry for them though, after moving on from Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook/Paul George, both clubs own a slew of riches in the form of draft picks and young assets to help fast forward their rebuild. Who has the better outlook heading into a new decade though?
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The Case For New Orleans
Future draft picks
- 2020 – 1st (NOLA), 1st (CLE, protected 1-10), 2nd (NOLA), 2nd (MIL), 2nd (WAS)
- 2021 – 1st (NOLA), 1st (LAL, protected 1-7), 2nd (NOLA), 2nd (CLE, if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (WAS)
- 2022 – 1st (NOLA), 2nd (NOLA), 2nd (CLE, if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed)
- 2023 – 1st (NOLA-LAL pick swap), 2nd (NOLA, protected 31-45, ATL if 46-60), 2nd (WAS)
- 2024 – 1st (NOLA), 1st (LAL, ’25 defer option), 2nd (NOLA)
- 2025 – 1st (NOLA, LAL, if ’24 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (NOLA)
- 2026 – 1st (NOLA), 2nd (NOLA)
MOST of the future draft assets that the Pelicans own belong to the Lakers, who, at least for the immediate future, are expected to be championship contenders. That doesn’t mean that the 2023/24/25 first-rounders won’t be worthwhile, potentially when LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis are no longer donning a Los Angeles uniform, but New Orleans has much more going for them than just future picks. In the AD trade, they not only managed to land upcoming draft selections but also acquired a trio of exciting youngsters in the form of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. If things break right there’s no reason why the first two can’t develop into All-Star calibre players and if not, maybe one of their other youngsters will light it up.
ONE of the perks to blowing their franchise up a few days out of the draft was heading into the annual June player selection period with more bites at the cherry. As I’m sure you’re aware NOLA landed the first overall pick and in turn drafted a new face of the franchise in Zion Williamson. The smart manoeuvres didn’t stop there with the Pelicans trading the 4th overall pick for two more selections in the top-20 that they used to draft intriguing center Jaxson Hayes (8th overall) and versatile wing Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th overall). Three new fresh faces, plus three young guns with plenty of room to grow all mixed in with a heady All-Star veteran running the show is a nice group to start building around.
The Case For Oklahoma City
Future draft picks
- 2020 – 1st (OKC, protected 1-20, PHI if 21-30), 1st (DEN, protected 1-10), 2nd (OKC, protected 31-55, CHI if 56-60)
- 2021 – 1st (OKC), 1st (MIA, unless HOU 1st more favourable), 1st (DEN, if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (OKC)
- 2022 – 1st (OKC, protected 1-14, ATL if 15-30), 1st (DEN, if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed), 1st (LAC), 2nd (OKC, PHI if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed)
- 2023 – 1st (OKC-LAC pick swap), 1st (MIA, protected 15-30), 2nd (OKC, PHI if ’20 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (DEN, if ’20 1st hasn’t conveyed by ’22)
- 2024 – 1st (OKC), 1st (LAC), 1st (HOU, protected 1-4), 2nd (OKC, ATL if ’22 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (DEN, if ’20 1st hasn’t conveyed by ’22), 2nd (MEM)
- 2025 – 1st (OKC-HOU-LAC (HOU protected 11-30) pick swap), 1st (MIA, if ’23 1st wasn’t conveyed, protected 15-30), 2nd (OKC, ATL if ’22 1st wasn’t conveyed), 2nd (HOU, if ’24 1st wasn’t conveyed)
- 2026 – 1st (OKC), 1st (LAC), 1st (MIA, if ’23 & ’25 1st wasn’t conveyed), 1st (HOU, protected 1-4), 2nd (OKC), 2nd (HOU, if ’24 1st wasn’t conveyed)
UNPACKING Oklahoma’s future picks is a tad more complex than their Western Conference peers above. Trading two superstars away instead of one led to OKC landing a haul of future selections from the Clippers and the Rockets. With both squads poised to contend in the immediate future, much like the Lakers, the draft capital the Thunder now own will likely convey into picks that are located in the 20’s. However, one of the biggest assets they acquired was a 2021 unprotected Miami first-rounder, a pick that could likely reside inside the top-10.
SWAP rights and a bunch of future protection on the picks they have in later years could pay off big time too, especially the ones L.A. handed over. The Clippers currently have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard signed to two-year deals with a third-year player option. Essentially, that could mean that by 2022 both All-Star forwards will no longer be on the roster, severely strengthening the Thunder’s draft hand. While they may not have gathered as many NBA-ready youngsters as New Orleans, they definitely claimed more draft picks, which is what you need to land future stars.
Image from forbes.com
SIMILARLY to the Pelicans, OKC landed some new players while trading away the likes of Paul George and franchise icon Russell Westbrook, with two point guards at opposite ends of their careers the new main attraction. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul will both start the season in Thunder colours, however, I’d be surprised if CP3 stayed around for long. He could serve as a good mentor for SGA, but after an encouraging rookie campaign, Billy Donovan and Co will want to get as many minutes into their new floor general as soon as possible, potentially fast-tracking his development. Veteran Danilo Gallinari also found himself moved in the flurry of trades, giving a young Thunder team some veteran leadership and another scoring presence.
WHILE the Thunder clearly have more future draft selections than New Orleans, the Pelicans have one huge, 6′ 7″, 285-pound factor in their favour. Zion Williamson isn’t the only draftee from last year’s class that looks full of promise and owning some ready to go rookies, plus three former Lakers gives them a lot more immediate upside. However, through all their wheeling and dealing, NOLA only added 3-4 future firsts, while OKC is could be the proud owners of twice as many top-30 picks, should things fall their way.
ESSENTIALLY it comes down to what you value more; future draft picks or young budding NBA players. On paper, the Pelicans (somewhat) are set up well for the future, even if you take Zion out of the equation. With the exception of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s roster isn’t filled with a ton of exciting prospects that can contribute instantly with the rights to draft selections 3-4-5 years from now their best assets. They could find a Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes, or even Zion Williamson of their own with multiple top-10 picks to come, but for now, it’s hard to ignore New Orleans as the winner of the NBA’s brightest future.
Banner from lineups.com