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Pelicans hit ‘home run’ while receiving high marks for three-player draft

A second-half turnaround followed by a hard-fought first-round playoff series vs. top-seeded Phoenix gave the New Orleans Pelicans plenty of momentum heading into the 2022 offseason, as well as optimism that they can take another step forward in the fall. That enthusiasm was shared nearly across the board by draft websites following Thursday’s New Orleans three-player haul, which included lottery pick Dyson Daniels, surprise second-rounder EJ Liddell and No. 52 pick Karlo Matkovic.

Numerous sites gave New Orleans a grade of A or A-plus based on its trio of selections, with describing what the Pelicans did as a “home run draft.” Others, including The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, looked forward with excitement to New Orleans adding another defensive-focused player in Daniels to a roster that already features Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado, both acquisitions from last year. Here is a list of draft grades for New Orleans from various draft analysts, with their corresponding comments:

Colin Ward-Henninger: “A defense-first guard with size, Daniels is the perfect player to put next to all of the offensive firepower on the Pelicans once Zion Williamson returns. Snagging Liddell in the second-round is a huge win, since most evaluators had him going in the first round. Matkovic probably won’t make much of an impact, but he brings great size and athleticism as a big man. Overall, a home run draft for the Pelicans.”

Sean Barnard: “The Pelicans impressed greatly last season and are looking to continue to build off the impressive season. Their core pieces are pretty much in place with the return of Zion Williams. Dyson Daniels will be a nice connective piece to add to their core. He is a high-IQ passer and high-level rebounder who does a lot of the little things on the court. Daniels will not be rushed in his development and will fit nicely alongside the more shot-hungry Pelicans stars.”

John Fanta: “The Pelicans need shooting and defense. Daniels addresses the latter part. With the core of Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, and the return of Zion Williamson to the fold, it’s going to be interesting to see how a willing pass like Daniels fits in. The perimeter shot certainly needs work, but I think that’s something to bet on. I’m bullish on Daniels and think he’s mature for 19.”

Ethan Sears: “Daniels should help a team that left something to be desired on the defensive end last season. At 6-foot-7, Daniels can defend the perimeter and get out in transition, though there are some very real question marks around his shooting. Nabbing Liddell at No. 41 overall is a steal. The Ohio State product improved each year he was in school, can switch on defense and shoot it from three. He’ll be a productive NBA player.”

Kevin O’Connor: “Oh my, Pelicans fans are going to love watching Daniels and Herb Jones play defense together. Opposing teams will hate it. I love this pick. The Pelicans didn’t have any huge needs entering the draft, but Daniels can play now while providing long-term upside. If the development in his jumper is real, he should fit well in a balanced New Orleans offense alongside Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and Zion Williamson. He also gives New Orleans another valuable two-way wing in addition to Herb Jones. He was probably the highest-upside pick available on the board, which is a smart move for a promising franchise on the rise without any big holes.”

Jeremy Woo: “This was one of my favorite potential fits in the draft, mostly because the notion of gigantic backcourts built around Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones and Daniels blows my mind. A gigantic, versatile, transition-oriented and defensive-minded trio like that is pretty much a perfect way to maximize Zion Williamson. Daniels is an unusually smart and well-rounded player, and his biggest swing skill is his jumper—something New Orleans has a terrific history of helping players improve.”

Kyle Irving: “The Pelicans kept it simple on draft night but did everything right. Daniels is the type of NBA-ready, defensive-minded playmaker New Orleans’ emerging roster needs to take another step toward being a perennial playoff team. Later in the draft, the Pelicans got a steal in junior forward Liddell, who many draft analysts — myself included — had mocked in the top-20.”

Charles Curtis: “Daniels, Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado. That’s what this is all about. This team is going to be amazing on the defensive end. Also, Liddell is a solid pick that some experts had going in the first round.”

Brad Stonebraker: “Imagining a Pelicans team with Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and now Dyson Daniels could give other teams nightmares while they’re on the defensive end. Daniels is a big guard who posted solid all-around numbers on the G League Ignite, and while he needs to work on his shot from range, his playmaking and rebounding skills are already quite impressive. Liddell is an undersized power forward with first-round talent, and New Orleans getting him past 40 was a gift. Finally, Matković has size and is already a quality shot-blocker, but it’ll be hard for him to find minutes with Jonas Valanciunas and Zion Williamson clogging up the paint.”

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