Jaxson Hayes

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Pelicans emerge from gloomy end to Anthony Davis era with Zion Williamson, bright future

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Pelicans hired a lead executive with a championship pedigree. They deftly handled a superstar trade request, securing a massive return. They made savvy additions through draft, trade and free agency.

But the very best thing to happen to New Orleans this offseason was the bounce of ping-pong balls.

Despite holding just a 6% chance, the Pelicans won the lottery. They of course used the No. 1 pick on Zion Williamson – a generational prospect whose potential, age and contract status makes him even more valuable than Anthony Davis, both generally and specifically to this team.

This is my third year, grading offseasons. Before this, I hadn’t reckoned with how to account for lottery results. The Kings have been big risers the previous two years. In 2017, they jumped five spots to the No. 3 pick, but because of a previous pick swap, had to move down closer to their original slot. Last year, Sacramento jumped to No. 2, but pick a player (Marvin Bagley III) I ranked lower, anyway.

This wild lottery demanded a judgment on whether to include the drawing.

Ultimately, I’m grading teams’ offseason results, not the teams’ offseason decision-making. So, I am including lottery results in the grade.

That’s a big reason the Pelicans perform so well. T

heir decision making was also excellent, though.

They secured maximum return from the Lakers for Davis. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, two future first-rounders (including a deferment right on one) and a first-round swap rights another year? That’s a dream package.

New Orleans compounded the return by flipping the No. 4 pick, a late second-rounder or two and Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract to the Hawks for the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder. That’s such great value for the Pelicans.

No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes and No. 17 pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker both looked good in summer league. (No. 35 Marcos Louzada Silva will spend next season overseas.)

New Orleans instantly formed a deep young group to grow around Williamson.

The Pelicans still have a prime Jrue Holiday, who I deemed worthy of All-NBA last season. If even a couple of the youngsters make a leap, New Orleans could compete for the playoffs next season.

To that end, New Orleans added a couple quality veterans. The Pelicans signed J.J. Redick to a two-year, $26.5 million contract. They also traded just a couple second-rounders for Derrick Favors, whose unguaranteed salary the Jazz had to unload.

Darius Miller re-signed for $7.25 million next season with a $7 million unguaranteed salary the following year. That’s a high number for him, but that contract could be more useful in a trade than if he were making less.

New Orleans is well-situated for the present and future with a variety of possible paths forward. That’s incredible considering the malaise Davis’ trade request instilled.

Getting Williamson changed everything. The Pelicans are doing their best to make the most of the addition.

Offseason grade: A

David Griffin: ‘Zion’s still growing’

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There was a lot of idle talk around the Las Vegas Summer League about Zion Williamson‘s weight, conditioning, and ultimate playing weight. While he only suited up for half of one game, it’s safe to say Williamson was not exactly in peak playing condition. Which is irrelevant at what amount to exhibition games in July, but it raised a few eyebrows.

What is Williamson’s ideal playing weight?

The Pelicans don’t know because he is still growing, according to New Orleans head honcho David Griffin, speaking to Jeff Duncan of The Athletic.

“Yeah, I don’t know that we can determine a weight yet. Zion’s still growing. One of the things that’s lost in this whole process is that, like Jaxson Hayes, Zion is still getting taller. We’re not exactly sure what he’ll look like in the end. So a playing weight is not what you look for. What you look for is to be in top condition, to have the kind of core strength and stability that you need to control all of the incredible torque that his athleticism can generate…. That’s really where [VP of player care] Aaron Nelson and his team are going to focus their efforts, because Zion is one of those kids, like LeBron, he’s not going to lift a weight because he’ll add muscle and weight so quickly. So what you have to do with him is do everything you can from a core and stability standpoint to give him more ability to control what he already has in terms of strength and speed.”

Working out is part of it, but you can’t outrun your diet — and living in New Orleans can make eating healthy that much harder.

The Pelicans are on it.

“As you pointed out, New Orleans is not an easy place to live and eat when you’re a 19-year-old kid and can literally eat anything you want. There can be some temptation there, so we’ll certainly try to put him in a position to be surrounded by more of the right decisions (nutritionally). But, for the most part, we don’t know what he’ll end up looking like because he’s still growing. When he entered Duke he was clearly shorter than R.J. Barrett, and I think you saw (at the Vegas Summer League) he was clearly taller than R.J. Barrett. So it’ll be interesting to see where that goes.”

Williamson’s conditioning is not likely a long-term concern, like a lot of young players he will find the jump from college-level conditioning to NBA level a challenge but he will at some point figure it out.

How he develops as a shooter and playmaker (Griffin says he could be a Draymond Green-like playmaker) will be far more interesting to watch over the coming years.

Zion Williamson on sitting out Summer League: ‘It was more precautionary’

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LAS VEGAS — Zion Williamson played nine minutes in one half of one NBA Summer League game, scored 11 points, had some highlights and also made some rookie mistakes in his first game.

Then he was shut down. Not just for the night, but for Summer League. Pelicans VP of Basketball Ops David Griffin said it was out of an “abundance of caution.”

“It was more precautionary,” Williamson himself explained Monday night at the Thomas & Mack after a game where he watched Jaxson Hayes rack up 28 points in a Summer League win.

“It’s very frustrating because, you know me, I’m a competitor and whenever I can play, I want to play,” he later added.

The Pelicans’ decision took the air out of Summer League. The hype about Williamson filled the building that first night (and sold out Day 2, when he did not play), but as news started to make its way around the arena he would not play the second half fans began filing out of the Thomas & Mack (before the earthquake that shut down that game early). Beyond that, there are plenty of reports of fans coming into Las Vegas who turned around and went home because they were not going to get to see Zion.

For the rest of the summer, Williamson himself just talked about the grind.

“Just hone my craft and get ready for the season,” Williamson said.

The Pelicans are considered by many a team that could make a run into the playoffs, they are well built. It’s not a situation most rookies find themselves in, and Williamson said he is excited, but just doesn’t know what to expect.

“I’ve been trying to think about it, like how it’s going to be, but I don’t think I really can,” Williamson said. “We have so much young talent, but older talent too, I’m curious how well it’s going to work.”

Fans are just curious to see him play.

 

Pelicans’ Jaxson Hayes almost leaps over player for best dunk of Summer League (VIDEO)

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LAS VEGAS — That. Is. Nasty.

With Zion Williamson safely covered in bubble wrap and on the sidelines, the reason to watch Pelicans’ Summer League games is Jaxson Hayes, the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft, a 6’11” with all kinds of athleticism and potential.

How much athleticism? Ask Mychal Mulder.

Damn.

He almost leaps over Mulder.

Hayes showed a lot more than just the ability to dunk, he scored a variety of ways around the rim and had 15 first-half points as the Bulls had no answer for him.

Report: Pelicans trading for Jazz big Derrick Favors

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The Jazz are making a couple expensive moves that require cap space – trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic.

That means Utah must shed Derrick Favors and his unguaranteed $17.65 million salary.

Tony Jones of The Athletic:

Utah essentially had to waive Favors if not trading him. New Orleans has enough cap space to claim him.

But the Pelicans want to make sure they got Favors without a worse team claiming him first. So, they’re willing to surrender an asset.

It probably won’t be much, because the Jazz so clearly had to move on from Favors. But they’d rather get something than nothing.

Favors is a nice player, and he comes without a salary commitment beyond next season. He’ll likely start at center, though rookies Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes should also play the position.

Utah replaces Favors with the cheaper Ed Davis.