After a brutal 3-16 start to the season, the New Orleans Pelicans suddenly look like playoff regulars with a 26.3 percent chance of having a top-four selection in the 2022 NBA draft. They'll own the Los Angeles Lakers' pick, assuming it lands in the top 10 (99.5 percent chance), thanks to the 2019 Anthony Davis trade. And then New Orleans is expected to get Zion Williamson back for 2022-23.
What happens if the Pels hit on their 6 percent chance of winning the lottery?
The Lakers' pick makes it easier to brush off the fact that the Pelicans will send their own first-rounder to the Portland Trail Blazers from the CJ McCollum trade.
Between Brandon Ingram, Williamson and now McCollum, who flourished in 26 regular-season games for New Orleans (24.6 points, 5.8 assists), the Pelicans have three star-caliber players and a potential big-time prospect coming in.
But a key, underrated story in New Orleans has been president David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon finding value later in and after drafts. Last year's No. 35 pick Herbert Jones has become an impact player with his two-way versatility, while undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado has also given the rotation an extra punch of scrappiness and competitiveness.
Having contributors on cheap contracts is always key in building a contender. New Orleans has a few, plus star power and the ability to add significant talent in the 2022 draft.
1. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers): Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga, PF/C, Freshman)
Looking at three potential No. 1 candidates in Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero, the Pelicans will surely think about how each one fits with Zion Williamson.
There is always the strategy of ignoring fit and drafting talent in a vacuum. But in this case, with the assumption Williamson is superior to every 2022 prospect and that he'll be more involved in the offense than any incoming player the team drafts, it may be more important than usual to take fit into account at No. 1.
And it's difficult to picture a more favorable situation than New Orleans for Holmgren, who'd also seem to provide perfect, complementary skills and strengths next to Williamson.
With Holmgren, the Pelicans get their stretch big to open the floor and provide frontcourt shooting. New Orleans finished No. 27 in three-point percentage, which could make Jabari Smith extremely tempting as well. But Holmgren shot 39 percent from three while also possessing one of the highest imaginable defensive ceilings among prospects in recent drafts.