In a year bereft of drama at the top, seemingly league-wide trading gave the 2016 draft the injection of life so dearly needed. With one move, Golden State's premier Western foe altered course. The Pacers further supplemented Paul George's supporting cast, while Brooklyn continued its glacially slow rebuild. And of course, the Kings were embroiled in trade talks all night, eventually making two deals – one good, one not as good.
Perhaps the most significant trades of the night were those which did not occur. Minnesota pushed a package centered around Kris Dunn to Chicago for Jimmy Butler, but the deal never got off the ground. Boston GM Danny Ainge burned through countless phone plans trying to find a taker for pick no. 3, but was rebuffed by several teams.
He settled for California forward Jaylen Brown, an imperfect prospect in what looks to be a crapshoot of a draft. After Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, there was little consensus on the next tier of prospects. Teams picking from 4rd to 8th entered the draft uncertain whether their favorite player would be available when their turn came.
So how did those teams fare? We'll begin first with New Orleans, whose choice came down between two prospects.
New Orleans Exploited a Cap Loophole
It's no secret that the Pelicans fancy themselves a playoff team. They entered last season with sky-high hopes following their first postseason appearance of the Anthony Davis era. Expecting to soar, the team instead crumbled around Davis, who took a step backwards himself. Plagued by injury all season, New Orleans ended up winning just 30 games. Their two most durable players were Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee, and by the end of the season they had resorted to starting the likes of Luke Babbitt and James Ennis.
By picking Hield, they are accomplishing a few things. Firstly, he ensures that Eric Gordon's departure won't be catastrophic. Gordon, an unrestricted free agent, is most likely gone this summer, but Hield's shooting makes him an adequate replacement. Secondly, New Orleans is finding a starting wing for pennies, or at least they hope so. Wings who can shoot are the NBA's hottest commodity, and the Pelicans nabbed Hield for well below market value.
The cap is rising to over $94 million this summer, giving over 20 teams 'max room.' Given how few competent wings are available, those on the open market will cash out. Solomon Hill could get an offer starting at $8-$10 million per year. Marvin Williams may get twice that much. Kent Bazemore could be making the same as John Wall next season. The money in newly signed contracts is rising, while rookie scale deals are not.
Buddy Hield is essentially on a 4 year deal, worth $15.88 million. Even if he proves to be only a mediocre starter, Hield will still be providing millions in surplus value. The cap machinations were clever, but I question the pick itself.
Given that Jamal Murray was still on the board, I was surprised that Hield was selected here. Murray is over three years Buddy's junior, and is the higher-ceiling prospect. His game is the most NBA-ready of any one-and-done prospect in this draft class, and he can even play point guard in a pinch.
Both are elite shooters, shooting well over 40% on threes this past season. New Orleans is surely salivating over Hield's limitless range and deadly catch-and-shoot ability. But when forecasting an NBA shooter, Murray's off-the-dribble prowess makes him arguably the superior prospect.
Murray showcases both his shooting and slashing abilities off-the-dribble. Given how pick-and-roll heavy the NBA has become, Murray's ability to shoot off the dribble while going over a screen makes him a potent threat.
Portland's offense has flourished this season behind the production of their two-headed backcourt. Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can knock down threes if opponents dare go under them on a screen. The mere threat of them shooting forces the opposition into traps and all sorts of actions that stretch the defense.
Projecting on his already impressive foundation, Murray could grow into a similar player. He doesn't have the same bounce or explosiveness that Lillard possesses, but his shooting ability makes McCollum a fair comparison.
Hield, as electric a shooter as he can be, does not have the same potency off-the-dribble. He struggles to create in space, often being smothered by able-bodied defenders.
Additionally, Murray has proven himself a capable point guard for stretches at a time. Much of the playmaking duties for Kentucky fell to Tyler Ulis, but Murray was more than adequate when called upon. Juxtapose that with Hield, who posted an ignominious 75:113 assist to turnover ratio this past season.
Considering New Orleans' bevy of needs, Murray's positional versatility was surprisingly devalued. After Jrue Holiday, the roster is bare of shot-creators. Norris Cole and the aforementioned Gordon are both free agents, and Tyreke Evans has been the subject of many trade rumors as his 2017 free agency nears.
Anthony Davis cannot carry an efficient offense by himself. When him and Holiday shared the court last season, they averaged 106 points per 100 possessions, an elite mark for any duo. That efficiency plummeted whenever he played without Holiday, falling to around 98 points per 100 possessions, a worse figure than 29 NBA teams (and only slightly better than Philly).
Murray's ability to spell Holiday would fill one of New Orleans' most pressing needs. It would also help preserve their fragile point guard, who has missed 107 games combined in the past three seasons. Instead they have Hield, who will help as a shooter right away, while adding little value elsewhere.
Both players are flawed defensively, though neither in an irreparable manner. Hield's measurables edge Murray's, with an inch or two here and there. His 6'9.5" wingspan makes him a more tantalizing prospect, but his instincts are poor for a 22 year-old senior.
He helps off unnecessarily here and surrenders a standstill corner three. While Murray may never be able to switch screens or lockdown opposing guards, he is less prone to overhelping and ball-watching. Hield's lateral quickness is also of concern, especially when compounded with poor awareness. If he gets beaten on a play, he's not fast enough to make up ground.
It just seems that New Orleans was seduced by Hield's ability to contribute now. They want to win now. They want results now. It's the same logic that led them to trade for Jrue Holiday and sign Tyreke Evans three summers ago.
In their rush for immediate wins, they were careless in both asset collection and team-building. Channeling their inner Jessie from Breaking Bad, Pelicans management tossed first rounders to all takers. They rarely accounted for on-court chemistry, and paid no attention to league-wide trends.
Now, the roster has three immobile centers, and zero starting-caliber wing shooters (excluding Hield). They are desperately trying to find ball-handlers who can shoot, and versatile perimeter defenders.
New Orleans' calling card has been its pursuit of established guys, at the expense of team-fit. Tyreke Evans' contract embodied this. The shine of his 2010 ROY had yet to wear off, and his counting stats looked good. So the Pelicans kicked off their 2013 summer by offering him $44 million guaranteed, far more than any other team would offer him. They eschewed logic to bring home a name, a player who wouldn't need developing.
Now, they seem to have done it again. Hield's incredible college production made him the flashier pick. Once again, New Orleans ignored team needs to bring in the immediate contributor. The Pelicans will surely eke out surplus value given the tiny rookie contracts, but they missed on nabbing a combo guard of the future.