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Latest News, NBA, NBA Draft / Jun 25, 2010 / 3:35 pm

The Unsung Biggest Winner of the NBA Draft

Chris Paul (photo. Zach Wolfe)

First impressions can be misleading if you don’t wait around for the conclusion. Ask anybody who’s been swindled by a con artist, or watched the promising first half-hour of Jeepers Creepers before enduring the colossally terrible rest of the movie. Ask Kobe Bryant after the first three quarters of Lakers/Celtics Game 7 before he took over the fourth: What you thought you saw at first can look completely different at the end of the day.

That’s what I thought when the dust settled and I realized what the New Orleans Hornets had accomplished in last night’s NBA Draft.

At first, when the Hornets surprised me by taking Cole Aldrich with the 11th pick, I thought N.O. was headed straight for the “Draft losers” column. In every mock draft I’d written leading up to Thursday, I had the Hornets grabbing a power forward with their Lottery pick. They needed somebody better than Darius Songaila to back up David West, and given the offensive limitations of center Emeka Okafor, somebody who can score in the post while being versatile enough to at least log a few minutes at center in a small lineup. (The Hornets only have three bigs signed for next season.) With this draft so deep in big men, there was no way N.O. could miss with their top pick.

And then they called Aldrich. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him at Kansas, and thought he easily could have gone in the Top-10, but he wasn’t what the Hornets needed. Cole is a true center who can only play center, and a defensive player more along the lines of Okafor. It didn’t help when ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said, “He’s not going to be a great NBA player” — and it was in the context of a compliment to Aldrich.

With so much talk recently swirling about the Hornets possibly trading Chris Paul in a desperation move to save money, and maligned owner George Shinn looking to sell the team, the Aldrich pick just seemed like another short-sighted move by a front office in disarray.

But by the end of the night, I thought the Hornets put together one of the best drafts of any team in the League, although this morning I haven’t seen them pop up on many “NBA Draft Winners + Losers” columns.

In a trade engineered during the draft, the Hornets sent Aldrich to Oklahoma City along with Mo Pete for some picks, which turned out to be Iowa State forward Craig Brackins and Washington wing Quincy Pondexter.

The East Coast media contingent may not know much about Pondexter, but I’ve watched him for the last four years and he will be a good pro. I would compare him to Grant Hill in his 30’s — not the most explosive athlete, but he’s a smart, polished player who can score inside and from mid-range, rebound and defend at the small forward spot. The Hornets needed to do something about that position, as Peja Stojakovic moves around like he’s got bricks tied to his feet and can’t defend a toaster right now, while backup Julian Wright‘s “He’s got potential” card is about to incur overdraft penalties. Pondexter is a four-year college guy who was talented enough to maybe go pro as a freshman, but stuck around and became an overall better ballplayer, worker, and leader.

Brackins is exactly the kind of PF I thought the Hornets should have looked for in the Lottery, but they got him for 21st-pick money. At 6-10, he can shoot from the perimeter and score inside, and play a couple of positions along the front line. He’s not a project, either, having played three years in the Big 12. When Paul and West aren’t destroying teams with their vaunted pick-and-pop, I could see Darren Collison and Brackins doing the same to opposing second units as a JV version of CP and D-West.

Jeff Bower could be quietly building a resume that earns him respect as one of the League’s top GM’s in a few years. He killed last year’s Draft by landing Collison (late-first round) and Marcus Thornton (second round) before they developed into an explosive backcourt tandem — one of his underrated quality moves was not trading Collison just to move up in the Lottery — I think he killed this year’s draft with Pondexter and Brackins, and by unloading Mo Pete’s $6.2 million salary on the Thunder, Bower may have saved New Orleans from having to trade Chris Paul.

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  • http://www.haywoodplanning.com D.H.

    I think NO could surprise a lot of people this year, with a healthy Paul of course. Their second string back-court is probably top 3 in the league.

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    Now that Mo Pete has been shipped out, Marcus Thornton is, I believe, the only shooting guard left on the roster. So he’s actually the first string backcourt.

    I actually said when the Hornets traded their pick 2 years ago and signed Posey in free agency that I felt iffy about the lack of youth on the team. I didn’t like either of those moves, and sure enough it seemed like all their swingmen hit the ends of their careers at exactly the same moment, while still being signed to big contracts. Chris Paul running around with a younger squad is going to be a lot more fun to watch. And Monty Williams is much more interested in working with youth than Byron Scott ever was.

    A lot of Hornets fans are hating on the Brackins pick, but I’ve read that the Hornets worked him out on the same day as Patrick Patterson and thought the difference between the two was not great enough to justify turning down this trade. Two for the price of one, and dumping a $6.5M contract? Yes please.

  • Mo

    Wait a minute. Hold the phone. Is Austin Burton saying the Hornets did something right and is he giving Bower/Hornets props? This is probably why they say a tropical depression is likely developing. LMAO.

  • YOGOTTI

    MEMPHIS IN THE BUILDIN!!!
    starting 5 for next year
    oj mayo – xavier henry – rudy gay – z-bo or maybe al jefferson if they trade – little gasol = GASOL vs GASOL western conference finals. YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST!!!

  • UncheckedAggression

    YOGOTTI–Wow. That lineup is basically the reason the Grizz are fucked. There’s nowhere for them to go. They had a very talented team last year and didn’t do shit. How will Mayo at PG solve problems? The team is severely flawed. You better hope they don’t keep Gay, because he’s a big part of the problem. If they replaced him with a team player and picked up a great distributing PG, ten maybe they can go somewhere.

    I’m a Kings fan and I feel better about my team’s future than the Grizz.

  • cb4

    First of all,

    what the hell are you talking about kobe took over in the 4th of game seven. You have to be kidding me. when does making 2 jump shots equate to taking over.

  • Chise

    New Orleans 2nd string back court would be a very, very good starting back court on a couple of teams in this league.

  • jdstorm

    I Think Sam Presti should also get partial credit for this move. By the sound of it OKC gave the Hornets their dream scenario. 2 first rounders and taking on dollars for pick 10.

    This Could be one of the most important moves OKC makes on its way to championship contention as they blocked any possibility of an Eastern Super team with paul at point.

    BTW in 2 years OKC could beat a Bulls dream lineup, as they will have no depth.

    PG Rose v Westbrook = push
    SG Thabo/Harden v Johnson = Advantage OKC
    SF Durant V Lebron = push
    PF Green/Ibaka v Bosh = advantage Chicago
    C Noah v Aldrich = Chicago

    Bench = advantage OKC

    chicago would wear down over a long season like the D’Antoni suns would playing heavy minutes in a short rotation and be tired for the playoffs

  • chief youngblood

    not the mention it gives us a little money to use in free agency , perhaps taking advantage of that portland talent stream of william’s …. prizbilla perhaps , batum ? outlaw ?

    as it looks now

    Okafor/Gray
    West/Brackins/Songalia
    Peja/Pondexter/JuJu
    Thornton
    Paul/Collison

  • chris

    craig brackins is 6’8.5″, not 6’10”. his no step vertical is a modest 27 inches. his draft stock went DOWN a lot over the last 18 months. so yeah, i hope he does great things for nawlins, but don’t hold your breath.
    Q-pon is a college gamer who probably isn’t quick or big enough to do his thing in the nba, again i hope i’m wrong cos he sure was fun to watch in march madness.

  • http://abouthalftime.blogspot.com/ jace

    great that they unloaded mo pete. but theyre still undersized/manned at the center. i dunno why people still play okafor at the center. sure his skills are that of a center.. but hes a natural 4. and gray sucks. okafor is still theyre best “center”.. but theyre still undersized. i thought aldrich wouldve been fine.. but since it made it possible to ship mo pete outta there.. i guess its fine.

    they should look into gettin a center tho. maybe get a sg.. but the 3 guard rotation between paul/collison/thornton should be getting as much time on court as they can… plus julian wright can still defend the 2/3. so he can come in as a specialist whenever needed.

  • dk

    @6 Taking the ball to the rack every possession on that old tired Boston D and stroking a plethora of free throws and putting the Celts in the penalty early is taking over the fourth asshole…

  • Celts Fan

    @dk (you’re missing the “ic” in the middle) so is getting offensive boards all game and stroking hte biggest 3 in your career. No one person took over that game. It was a team effort.

  • BUFFALO BRAVE

    Good read

    They’ll be good at the trade deadline when someone will dump talent on them for peja’s contract

  • Eman5805

    @chris

    What are you talking about? He’s 6’8.5″? Yeah, without shoes on. With them he’s 6’9.75″. So they round up the last 1/4 of an inch.

    And the reason his stock went down was after a season where he dropped 42pts on Kansas, he went through endless double and triple teams. And Iowa State’s pretty lousy. You can see it in his game log that he got more assists his sophmore year as he had to defer some possessions.

    I’m no saying he’ll be a great player or anything, but I’m liking his chances.