The New Orleans Pelicans have a full roster and plans for another run of the NBA Playoffs next season. You can afford to draw for potential. They don’t have to find someone who will carry more burdens and responsibilities than they can handle. Some of the recent prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft could pay dividends for the rest of the decade.
The youngest player in the draft can quickly become a contributor. Josh Primo (Spurs) and Josh Giddey (Thunder) were the youngest players in the NBA last year and did well enough. Both appear to be building blocks for San Antonio and Oklahoma City, respectively.
Andrew Bynum, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Ersan Ilyasova, Al Harrington, Andrei Kirilenko, and Daryl Dawkins were all the youngest players in their respective drafts. So did LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Admittedly, at the other end of the spectrum are busts like Darko Milicic, Jonathan Bender and Yaroslav Korolev. CJ Miles, Andris Biedrins and Amir Johnson were at least viable reserves.
The two youngest players are Leonhard Mueller and Jean Montero. Miller (Team Canada) is a second-round option with the potential to become a star. Montero has a more limited cap, but could evolve into a rotating option in a few years.
AJ Griffin (3rdapprox) and Jalen Duren (4th) Follow Miller and Montero in the youth age charts. Both Griffin and Duren are expected to be lottery picks and both have been rumored to be targets for the Pelicans.
Griffin weighs 220 pounds on a 6’6” frame with a 7’2” wingspan. The Pelicans wouldn’t have a “little guardian problem” when they land Griffin. He’s also one of the best straight shooters to come into the league. He would get spot minutes to learn the NBA game as a down-to-earth luxury scoring nearly 50% of his three-pointers last season.
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Griffin’s biggest draft flag is his injury history. He’s had some problems with his knees and it’s affected his lateral speed on defense. Its firing base is unorthodox, wider than usual snipers. Griffin says his biggest influence growing up was Jimmy Butler.
Griffin is the son of a trainer who could be on the same level as Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby or Jaylen Brown. It would be hard not to have a young player who was also college basketball’s most efficient player with 50/45/80 splits.
Duren is one of the most physically gifted athletes in the NBA draft, with the power to help Zion Williamson and Jonas Valancuinas bully opponents in the paint. It is raw, growing to a body of 6’11” feet and has a wingspan of 7’5”. Duren averaged 12.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 25.3 minutes per game for Memphis last year.
He fits into the classic middle form but has shown a soft shot contact that works from the spot of the low block dunker. He’s strong enough to hold his own in the paint until he extends his reach and has great hands for grabbing off-target passes. Duren was good at finding rolling shooters, so he wouldn’t force the problem with a stop post on every possession.
Duren will likely never develop Valanciunas’ range, but he could be a viable depth play until he puts his game together. The Pelicans will have offensive firepower on the reserve units. Duren can at least secure rebounds, change shots and run the ground while Williamson and Valanciunas take breathers.
Both Griffin and Duren have worked for teams that pick ahead of the pelicans. Duren has held talks with Portland and the Trail Blazers are holding the 7th roundth overall selection. If the Pelicans are sold on Griffin or Duren, they may have to make a move on Draft Day.
Duren is great at giving his team second chance points. New Orleans might not get a second chance at winning the lottery while Brandon Ingram is in town. Still, they can afford to pick one of the youngest players in the 2022 NBA draft.