Pelicans choose Hield with 6th overall pick in NBA draft
METAIRIE, La. (AP) The New Orleans Pelicans held on to their first-round choice in the NBA draft for the first time since 2012, then used it to select a relatively mature rookie who was among college basketball's best long-range shooters this past season.
New Orleans drafted 22-year-old Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield with the sixth overall pick Thursday night, adding a player that led the Sooners to the Final Four and took home a number of prestigious individual honors.
Hield, who averaged 25 points per game as a senior last season, was named an AP All-American and won the prestigious Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy. He hit 147 3-pointers, making about 46 percent of his shots from long range.
''He keeps getting better every year,'' Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said, noting that Hield wasn't a high-profile recruit. ''He kind of earned his way. He made it by grinding and hard work - and those characteristics were very appealing to us.''
Hield grew up in the Bahamas. He moved to Kansas to play for a private high school that had offered him a scholarship and was a relatively unheralded recruit when he arrived at Oklahoma, methodically improving during a four-year college career.
A number of Louisiana basketball fans saw what Hield could do when he played before a packed house at LSU in late January. He made seven of his eight 3-pointers in the second half on his way to a 32-point performance, helping then-No. 1 Oklahoma overcome a 14-point deficit to escape Baton Rouge with a 77-75 victory.
Demps attended that game and called it ''a factor'' in the Pelicans' evaluation of him.
''He was fun to watch this year,'' Demps said, adding that Pelicans scouts liked his ''work ethic, intensity, showing up for the big moments.''
Hield now returns to Louisiana for his first professional gig in New Orleans, joining a Pelicans club coming off an injury-plagued, 30-52 campaign.
''I'll be a high-character guy, bring a lot of energy,'' Hield, who was in New York for the draft, said after his selection. ''I'm a scorer. I can shoot the ball a lot - love to shoot. And I feel like when I go (to New Orleans), I can open up the floor for Anthony Davis and other guys.''
''I hate losing,'' Hield added, calling himself ''just a kid that's willing to put in all the effort he needs to to make the organization better.''
This year's draft marks the beginning of what could be a busy offseason for the Pelicans, who are trying to give All-Star forward Anthony Davis a stronger supporting cast.
When free agency starts in July, New Orleans will have to decide whether to re-sign several former regulars including guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson.
Demps said earlier this week that ''the door remains open'' for the 6-foot-4 Gordon and the 6-10 Anderson to return, but that he expected both players to test the free agency and that the Pelicans, likewise, would be exploring their own options.
Because the Pelicans drafted Hield, New Orleans will have less urgency to bring back Gordon, who averaged 15.2 points per game last season while hitting about 42 percent of his 3-point shots.
Davis, the first overall NBA draft pick in 2012, was the last Pelicans draft choice to remain with the club beyond draft day. During the 2013 draft, the Pelicans traded their first-round pick - Nerlens Noel - as well as their 2014 first-rounder to Philadelphia as part of a deal that brought guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans.
Holiday was injured for most of his first two seasons and began last season on minute restrictions, but progressed into a starting role. Along with Davis, Holiday is expected to comprise the core of the club going forward.
New Orleans gave up its 2015 pick in a trade that brought 7-foot center Omer Asik to the Pelicans from Houston for the 2014-15 season.
Later, New Orleans announced it had agreed to trade the rights to its two second-round picks - the 39th and 40th overall - to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for the rights to the Clippers' 33rd overall choice, Kansas forward Cheick Diallo.
The 6-9 Diallo left school after his freshman year to turn pro. He averaged only 3.0 points 2.5 rebounds during his lone college season, but made about 57 percent of his shots and blocked 23 shots in 27 games. Demps said Pelicans scouts had tracked him since high school, thought highly of him and were surprised he was still available early in the second round.
''We didn't want to take the chance'' of waiting to see if Diallo would continue to slide, Demps said. ''We really targeted this guy.''
The Pelicans then selected French guard David Michineau at pick 39 and Maryland center Diamond Stone at pick 40, sending them to Los Angeles.