Competitive games marked Pelicans summer league
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
NBA Summer League isn’t generally known for its drama. In the rare athletic environment that couldn’t be much further from “win-at-all-costs,” it’s not often that games provide memorable moments from a competitive standpoint.
However, if there was one common theme for the first-ever New Orleans Pelicans summer league team, it was the intensity and quality of all five games it played. While posting a 2-3 record, every Pelicans tilt was decided by single digits, with final margins of 1, 4, 5, 5 and 8 points. None of the outcomes were decided prior to the final two minutes, with players repeatedly getting experience in crunch-time situations.
Fittingly, the Pelicans had a chance to send their fifth and final game Friday into overtime, but Darius Miller’s three-point attempt in the final few seconds rimmed in and out. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the team’s trip to the desert:
Through Friday’s games, Austin Rivers ranked seventh among the 200-plus summer league players in scoring average, pacing New Orleans with 18.2 points per game. Among the many positive signs the Duke product provided in Las Vegas, he played extremely efficiently on offense (48.6 percent from the field) and got into the paint repeatedly. Of the 34 baskets he scored, 28 were in or near the paint, while six were jumpers. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard also looked healthier and more athletic, appearing to have a higher release point on his layups and floaters. Last summer, he was not 100 percent and needed ankle surgery to remove bone spurs.
With four players who spent the entire 2012-13 NBA season on the New Orleans roster (Rivers, Brian Roberts, Miller, Lance Thomas) and two 2013 draftees (Jeff Withey, Pierre Jackson) there wasn’t as much opportunity for other guys to play as there may have been elsewhere. Three-year NBA vet Jon Brockman was a valuable grinder for the summer Pelicans. Content to defend, rebound, set picks and sacrifice his body, Brockman drew a painful seven charges in five games. Brockman finished second on New Orleans in rebounding (6.6), behind only Thomas (6.8).
BEST PERFORMANCE (TEAM)
Of their two wins, the Pelicans’ top showing was in their opening 77-72 victory over the Knicks. New Orleans led after every quarter and received double-figure scoring from four different players, including 13 points off the bench by Cameron Moore. One negative from the game was that New York won the second and third quarters by one point each, which would become a factor later. Based on fewer quarter wins, New Orleans placed seventh in a seven-team tiebreaker after pool play and was the only 2-1 team that did not receive a tournament bye. Instead of earning a pass to the second round, it lost in Round 1 to Denver.
BEST PERFORMANCE (INDIVIDUAL)
Miller’s 20-point second half in Game 4 vs. Denver was the epitome of what coaches hope to see in summer league – a player applying teaching lessons on the hardwood. Miller has been asked to be more aggressive on offense, but he’s mostly been reluctant to shoot. With New Orleans trailing by 11 at halftime, the Kentucky product drained seven baskets (including a pair of treys) and went 4-for-4 from the foul line for a 20-point half. He totaled 23 points in the game. Incidentally, he only had one double-digit scoring game during the NBA season, but it also came against Denver (16).
MOST ENTERTAINING GAME
A tough call, because all five games were intriguing on some level. Let’s go with Game 4 vs. Denver, a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair in which both teams played well for lengthy stretches. Behind hot-shooting Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller, the Nuggets jumped on the Pelicans early, but New Orleans chipped away and had a chance to win late. Overall, the Pelicans shot 49.2 percent from the field; the Nuggets were a scorching 12-for-22 on three-pointers. You just don’t see that type of offensive excellence in summer league, where rosters are put together quickly and players have little familiarity with each other.
Maybe it’s because he gets so few open-court opportunities from his position of power forward, but who knew Lance Thomas had a flying, reverse slam in his repertoire? Against Cleveland, the Duke product ripped the ball away from Dion Waiters, then threw down NBA.com’s Dunk of the Day for July 15.
Seats at the far end of the summer team’s bench were consistently filled by familiar names, including the likes of Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ryan Anderson. New free-agent signee Anthony Morrow also stopped by the Pelicans’ final game in Las Vegas to watch. It made for a fun, team-first environment. Davis often gave brief speeches to motivate summer-leaguers at practice, while Aminu could be seen on the court before games rebounding for players and helping them practice shooting.
Due to circumstances completely out of their control, rookies Withey and Jackson could not participate in practices until their respective trades were officially approved. As a result, they were thrown into game action after only one practice apiece. Jackson had even worse luck later when he contracted a case of viral conjunctivitis (pinkeye) and had to sit out Game 4. As a result, Jackson only played three times, in the second, third and fifth games.