Written by Wyatt Vaughn, Senior at Holy Cross School; Photos by Phillip Petty III, Sophomore at St. Augustine High School; mentored by Rob Noelke. Originally published on JRNOLA’s website.
On a cold Monday night in the Big Easy, it was time for the Pelicans to try and get their 28th win of the season. Though the Pelicans were a longshot to make the playoffs, and were probably better served losing, the team went out and gave a pretty good showing. Though they played well, it wasn’t enough; they would lose to one of the very best teams in the league, the Philadelphia 76ers, 111-110. How did the 76ers get so good you ask? That question seems extremely relevant for Pelicans fans since the Pels are headed to where the 76ers were a few years ago; irrelevancy.
People forget that just two years ago, the 76ers were 28-54 and earned the #1 pick in the draft. Now they are one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. How did they do it? Simply, they tanked. And tanked, and tanked, and tanked. For five straight seasons, they had a losing record and a top 10 pick in the draft. And not just a top 10 picks, two of the picks were #1 overall, two were the #3 overall pick, and the last was the #6 overall pick. They didn’t even do a good job of tanking. Of those five top 10 picks they had, only two of them are still on the roster (Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid), but when you have that many high draft picks in a row, you don’t have to be great at drafting; a few are going to work out. The Pelicans are in a very similar situation to the 76ers before they started their tanking scheme. Both teams had a promising young player, and both were just on the outside of playoff contention. The 76ers decided to go all in on the draft and traded their star player, Jrue Holiday, to the Pelicans, interestingly enough. After five years of great picks and good trades, the 76ers are the favorite to win the Eastern Conference. The Pelicans should follow suit.
For the Pelicans, it all starts with Anthony Davis. If Davis wants out, the Pels should happily oblige. If they do decide to trade him, let’s just assume Davis goes to the Knicks, because that closely follows the Philadelphia plan. In that trade the Pelicans would likely get the #1 overall pick, and many assets. But this is not all that goes into the plan; the most important thing is the tanking. If the Pelicans can lose a lot of games down the stretch of the season, they should be in line for a top 5 pick, to go along with the #1 overall pick they traded for. And thus the plan begins. With the #1 pick they draft a can’t miss prospect in Zion Williamson, and pair him with his Duke teammate Cam Reddish with the #5 overall pick. And then, the Pelicans continue to tank, and get more and more draft picks. And when you constantly have top 5 picks, it doesn’t matter how bad of a drafter the GM is; some of the picks are going to pan out, therefore putting the Pelicans, finally, into contention to win a title.
With the 76ers in town it was a great reminder of how they got to be a contender and how the Pelicans can copy them. And even though the Pels couldn’t pull out a win tonight, the future should be bright, especially if they take notes from the 76ers.