Where can the New Orleans Pelicans go from here?
The Pelicans finished with a record of 42-40 in the 2022-23 season, putting them at ninth place in the Western Conference and in a Play-In Tournament matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their season would end with a 123-118 loss to the Thunder, a game that saw forward Brandon Ingram score 30 points in the Smoothie King Center.
13 players can potentially return to the lineup during the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. Forwards Naji Marshall, Herbert Jones and center Willy Hernangomez are all listed with team options for next season. Guards Jose Alvarado and Garrett Temple are listed with non-guaranteed contracts.
New Orleans has the No. 14 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. It could try its hand at a potential starter or contributor off the bench with the pick or trade it for an experienced veteran who can help the team make a run for a top-6 spot in the West.
Who is a player the Pelicans should avoid in the 2023 NBA Draft?
New Orleans can't afford to take risks with their lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft.
It will need to add players who can contribute at a high level for a large majority of the 2023-24 season and beyond.
“If you would've told me we'd only play 10 games together this season, and we still won 42 games, I would've said that's crazy. For us to be successful in the future – in the long-term – we've got to be able to play together,” Pelicans guard CJ McCollum said in April, via The Athletic. “We need our best players on the court. We need to be able to play extended minutes together, especially in meaningful games, and showcase what we offer.
“For us to contend for a championship and make a real playoff run, that's what it's going to take.”
Coulibaly, an 18-year-old forward from French club Metropolitans 92, likely won't be able to contribute immediately.
“He has significant upside to grow into as an 18-year-old late bloomer who was almost a complete unknown 18 months ago,” ESPN NBA Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony wrote in a May mock draft, where he was taken with the No. 22 pick by the Brooklyn Nets. “A team with a deep roster and a forward-thinking front office could very well decide to take a flier on him late at this stage of the draft, as he'd likely enter next season as a projected top-10 pick should he choose to wait another year.”
The 6-foot-6-inch forward ended the 2022-23 season with averages of five points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 18.1 minutes per game over the 27 games he played in LNB Pro A league play, according to Basketball Reference.
The Pelicans already have a decent amount of depth at the small forward spot.
Four small forwards have the potential to return to the roster, including a 22-year-old in former Virginia forward Trey Murphy III. Murphy ended last season with averages of 14.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in 79 games and 65 starts for New Orleans. Murphy scored 41 points against the Portland Trail Blazers in March, hitting nine of his 14 3-point shot attempts as the Pelicans took a 127-110 victory over Portland in the Smoothie King Center.
“Trey was incredible,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said in March, via the Associated Press. “He's a shot-maker and he's having an unbelievable year. I'm extremely proud of him.”
While Coulibaly can help a team with the room to roll the dice on a boom-or-bust pick in the first round, New Orleans will likely need to steer clear of a potential project prospect in favor of a player who can immediately make a difference for the Pelicans.
Nick Smith Jr.
Even with the extension guard CJ McCollum signed in 2022, New Orleans will need to take a player who can make an immediate impact on the roster as a shooting guard with their lottery pick. Guard Josh Richardson, who played in 23 games for the Pelicans last season, is listed as an unrestricted free agent in 2023. Temple played in 25 games for New Orleans. His contract will become fully guaranteed on June 30.
Smith Jr., a 6-foot-5-inch guard from Arkansas, took pride in his point guard abilities in a June interview with Yahoo! Sports.
“I feel like I bring everything to a team, whatever the coach needs me to do,” Smith said after working out with the Washington Wizards, via Yahoo! Sports. “My point guard abilities, I feel like I didn’t get a chance to show a lot in my college year; my scoring ability. Being able to play defense and make different reads, just little stuff like that.”
New Orleans took their chances on guards Kira Lewis and Dyson Daniels in the past, taking them with the No. 13 pick in 2020 and the No. 8 pick in 2022, respectively. Both players split time with Alvarado last season, with Lewis suiting up for 25 games and Daniels taking time in 59.
The Pelicans could instead take their chances on a player like Baylor guard Keyonte George, who took second place on Baylor's roster with 15.3 points per game in the 33 games played for the Bears last season. Though he will need to improve his scoring efficiency, George's ability to be a key player for Baylor at a younger age could make him a valuable player for New Orleans sooner rather than later.
“Being that main key guy definitely prepared me,” George said in a March interview, via Givony. “It goes back to the preparation and the work that I put in individually, the things no one sees you do in the dark. It's not about my age. I took responsibility and knew I had to step up to the plate. There wasn't any pressure at all, because the same shots I hit in games are shots I hit 100 times in practice.”