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Tracking This Year’s NBA Draft: The 5 Best Fits For New Orleans

Each Wednesday, we’ll be assessing how the top prospects of the 2013 NBA Draft are faring in college and overseas. Stick with us each week for assorted thoughts, including the biggest risers and fallers, the standouts, the sleepers and what we know and don’t know about the next NBA Draft class…

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While they have showed steady improvement with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Hornets are back in the mix for a very high lottery pick. This is potentially the team’s last run at a high end lottery pick, so it is time to evaluate how they should draft come June.

Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.

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ONE: What Do We Know About The New Orleans Hornets (PELICANS!)?
Outside of a few tough choices (Al-Farouq Aminu, Robin Lopez and Jason Smith) the soon-to-be Pelicans have a future roster that consists of five players.

The cornerstones are Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. They are joined by budding stars Ryan Anderson and Greivis Vasquez. Then there is lottery pick Austin Rivers. Right now, there is not a “need” that will put them over the hump; rather, they are a team that could realistically welcome in talent at any position.

As a team, they are improved on the defensive end, shoot the ball well, and have shown flashes of being a future playoff contender.

With coach Monty Williams, they have stripped down the roster and built from the ground up through the lottery and trades. Getting Gordon and Anderson via trades set them up with two guys capable of catching fire for 20-plus on any night. Davis and Vasquez are the engines on each side of the floor as Davis drives the defense and Vasquez drives the offense. Good things to come in the future of the Pelicans.

TWO: What Do They Need?
Either a wing that can make some plays on both ends of the floor or a center to solidify Davis and Anderson as full-time fours. There is no guarantee that the team will re-sign Aminu or Lopez or Smith, so they need to decide which position is most pertinent to replenish.

The team is 29th in the NBA in steals and 26th in forcing turnovers. Adding an athlete on the perimeter that can affect both of those categories would continue the team’s steady defensive improvement. Then again, this is the deepest draft in terms of fives in recent history, allowing the team to add a perfect complement to Davis, which would create a formidable duo in the paint.

THREE: Stock Rising
Typically the nation’s leading scorer is not a major NBA prospect, but Erick Green of Virginia Tech is trying to prove that wrong as he is inching closer and closer to being a legitimate first-round pick.

He is a combo guard that can score and distribute, but most importantly he is displaying his ability to play point this season knowing that in the NBA he won’t be given the liberties he has in college. That is paramount for young players, something that most never realize. Green has the skill and ability to play at the next level as a duel threat scorer and distributor. Keep an eye out.

FOUR: Stock Falling
Saying that Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash has regressed would be grossly inaccurate. He has actually improved statistically across the board in his sophomore season, playing more of a complementary role to freshman Marcus Smart.

However on the court, he has not looked like a player that has taken the next step in his development. Nash is not great at one thing in regards to shooting (23.1 3PT percent), defending (0.9 blocks + steals), or individual scoring. Right now, Nash is a role player and a second-round pick despite flashing the skill of a potential mid-first rounder last season.

Hit page 2 to read about Nerlens Noel’s devastating injury…

FIVE: Quick Hitter
It was tough to watch, hear and most importantly, it was another unfortunate injury to a top-level star at the college level. While chasing down a fast break – which he caught and blocked – Nerlens Noel landed awkwardly on his leg, buckling his knee.

Florida junior Patric Young told The Palm Beach Post, “His leg was wobbly, knee looked dislocated. It was gruesome. I don’t want to think about it.”

Noel had to be helped off of the court and was in a wheelchair at the hospital as x-rays, tests and treatment was given to a kid with a bright NBA future. That future took an unexpected turn for the worse Tuesday night.

Some are using this as an opportunity to create the argument against the “one-and-done” rule that has been in place for six years now. This is not the platform. An injury and a kid’s future is not the platform.

Nearly 13 years to the day (March 10) Cincinnati senior Kenyon Martin went down with a broken leg that led to a broken season for the Bearcats. The Wildcats are not vying for a national championship, but Noel is on a similar stage as Martin was as a top pick candidate before going down with an injury. Time will tell the severity of the injury, but for today this is not about the NBA’s rules, politics, or any of that nonsensical self-promoting rhetoric. It is about a kid’s health and future. Get well soon, Nerlens.

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Top 5 Fits For New Orleans Right Now

1. Alex Len: 7-1, 225 pounds – Soph., Maryland
Stats: 12.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 54.9 percent FG
He is arguably the best complement to both Davis and Anderson as a back-to-the-basket center with great size and skill. Len can score over his shoulder and is still developing with lots of potential and promise.

2. Ben McLemore: 6-5, 185 pounds – Fresh., Kansas
Stats: 16.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 51.3 percent FG, 43.5 percent 3PT
With his size he may not be able to play the three full-time, but he is a terror in passing lanes, is a one man fast break, and can shoot lights out. Sounds like an ideal third wheel to Davis and Gordon.

3. Cody Zeller: 6-11, 220 pounds – Soph., Indiana
Stats: 16.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 60.5 percent FG
The most polished player in the class at his position is Zeller with the ability to score in a multitude of ways in and around the basket. He is not a great defender, which he wouldn’t have to be on this team.

4. Nerlens Noel: 6-11 216 pounds – Fresh., Kentucky
Stats: 10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4.4 BPG, 59.0 percent FG, 52.9 percent FT (55-104)
This makes the most sense if the Pelicans are trying to be a great defensive team of if they bring back Lopez as the starting center. Davis and Noel equals terrible floor spacing and great defense, but Noel and Anderson equals balance. Interesting fit.

5. Marcus Smart: 6-4, 200 pounds – Fresh., Oklahoma State
Stats: 14.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 5.9 RPG, 40.7 percent FG, 29.2 percent 3PT
Then again, they could go best player available and take a guy like Smart who has burst onto the scene as a combo guard with top 10 talent. He doesn’t address a need, but talent is talent. Ask the Thunder and Spurs.

The Pelicans have built up their team the right way and have a lot of talent on the roster just waiting to bloom. With the way this team has improved this season, the addition of a lottery pick and a decent offseason could vault them from the cellar out West to competing for the playoffs.

Who should New Orleans draft?

Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.

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