New Orleans Pelicans summer roster includes four players with official NBA experience

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Many NBA teams will use the July 10-20 summer league in Las Vegas as an opportunity to debut prized rookies, highlighted by the recent draft’s top four picks, including No. 1 selection Karl-Anthony Towns and No. 2 choice D’Angelo Russell. New Orleans’ 2015 summer league roster does not possess similar name recognition, requiring Pelicans fans to dig a bit deeper to familiarize themselves with the players who’ll be representing the Crescent City in Nevada.

New Orleans opens pool-play competition for the entire league Friday, July 10 vs. Milwaukee (5 p.m. Central, 3 p.m. Pacific, on NBA.com), the first of three games in the preliminary round. First, however, the summer Pelicans will hold training camp in Metairie in the days preceding that matchup against the Bucks. Here’s a closer look at the members of NOLA’s summer squad, starting with four players who’ve appeared in an official NBA regular season game:

PLAYERS WITH NBA EXPERIENCE

The younger brother of the NBA’s reigning MVP and the proud uncle of the 2-year-old media darling of the 2015 playoffs, guard Seth Curry is the most recognizable name on New Orleans’ summer squad. Curry, who has played a total of four official NBA games split between Memphis, Cleveland and Phoenix, was also a standout guard at Duke University. He excelled in the D-League last season, putting up similar numbers to what sibling Stephen generated in the NBA.

Fast fact: While playing in the D-League, Curry once joined guard Mychel Thompson in the same backcourt. Curry and Thompson are the brothers of Golden State’s “Splash Brothers,” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Seth often played off the ball at Duke, but has transitioned to point guard in the pros at 6-foot-2.

The son of a former NBA player, point guard Larry Drew II played in a dozen regular season games for Philadelphia in 2014-15, including making his only career start Jan. 26 at New Orleans. The UCLA product is a pass-first floor general. His father is currently a Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach and previously served as head coach for Atlanta and Milwaukee.

Fast fact: On Feb. 2, the Drews faced each other in a 76ers-Cavaliers game. Cleveland prevailed 97-84, despite the younger Drew handing out five assists, his third-highest total of the season.

With 37 career NBA games under his belt, forward Jarvis Varnado has the most league experience among the summer Pelicans, having played for Boston, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia. The 41st overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft by Miami, Varnado played college basketball in the SEC at Mississippi State. He is the leading shot-blocker in NCAA history.

Fast fact: On the all-time NCAA career blocks list, which Varnado leads with 564 rejections, Tim Duncan (481) ranks fourth, while Alonzo Mourning (453) is sixth.

A third summer Pelican who has played in the regular season for the 76ers, Drew Gordon appeared in nine early-season games last season as a member of Philadelphia’s ever-shuffling roster. Gordon is a power forward who is steady in a range of areas. Following his November/December stint with Philadelphia, he played in the D-League.

Fast fact: Gordon is the older brother of Aaron Gordon, a 2014 Orlando Magic lottery pick. The brothers faced each other for the first time during an Oct. 18 preseason game, but have yet to meet in the regular season. 

NEW ORLEANS CONNECTIONS

A four-year player at Tulane University, guard Jay Hook is trying to become the first Green Wave player to reach the NBA since forward Linton Johnson (2004-09), who spent two seasons with the New Orleans franchise. Hook is an excellent perimeter shooter, connecting on 39.0 percent of his treys as a senior.

Fast fact: During his junior season at Tulane, Hook shot 47.2 percent on three-pointers, ranking in the top five of Division I. His 83.1 rate at the foul line that season was fourth in Conference USA.

INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS

Chinese 6-foot-9 forward He Tianju promises to attract considerable attention in Las Vegas, as one of his nation’s premier players. There are no current natives of China in the NBA, after Yi Jianlian last played in the league for Dallas in 2011-12. He is an outstanding perimeter shooter.

Fast fact: He will be trailed this month by a TV crew that will document his journey from workouts at the Pelicans’ practice facility in Metairie to the bright lights of the Vegas strip. A translator will accompany him throughout summer league.

Gasper Vidmar of Slovenia is a 6-foot-11, 260-pound center with 10 years of pro experience under his belt, the most of any summer Pelican. He’s a burly, extremely strong interior player who can hold his ground under the rim against bigs, rebound and defend.

Fast fact: Vidmar has played in over 100 international games for the Slovenian national team.

Jordan Aboudou of France is a 6-foot-7 forward who contributes in a range of categories, with shooting being one area where he’s worked to improve. The 24-year-old has played professionally in France for the past six seasons.

Fast fact: When Aboudou became eligible for the NBA draft in 2013, the website NBADraft.net projected that “with some work on his outside shot he could become a rotational player at the NBA level.”

AMERICAN PLAYERS WITH NCAA EXPERIENCE

A product of UNLV, forward Khem Birch figures to have some support from the Las Vegas audience, having played for the Runnin’ Rebels for two recent seasons. Birch averaged a double-double at UNLV during the 2013-14 campaign, notching 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds, to go with 3.8 blocks per game. He’s a power forward/center with good athleticism who scores primarily around the basket.

Fast fact: Birch has a 7-foot-1 wingspan and a 35.5-inch vertical leap, according to the website NBADraft.net.

Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin is an excellent wing defender who has piled up accolades at that end of the floor. Over the past two basketball seasons, he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and earned a spot on the D-League’s All-Defensive first team in 2015. As a sophomore in 2011-12, Edwin finished tied for No. 1 in the nation in steals average (3.0 spg).

Fast fact: Midway through last season, the blog Ridiculous Upside wrote that Edwin “may be the next up and coming wing to show promise and garner consideration from an NBA call-up sooner rather than later.” He shot 39.8 percent on threes last season.

UCLA’s Lazeric Jones is a 6-foot point guard who has played his three-post college seasons overseas, in Israel, Greece and Hungary. Jones is a solid player who can do a little bit of everything. He played in Hungary last season.

Fast fact: Jones was a high school teammate of Derrick Rose in Chicago at Simeon Career Academy.

Central Florida’s Victor Rudd is a solidly built 6-foot-9, 235-pound small forward with a legitimate NBA body. He’s a good athlete who can slash to the basket and make mid-range shots.

Fast fact: Rudd has a connection to Nevada, having attended high school basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep, which is located in Henderson, part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

Iowa State’s Bryce Dejean-Jones is a shooting guard who excels in transition and is a very good athlete. He is a mid-range shooter and an above-average ballhandler. Dejean-Jones wrapped up his college career at Iowa State this year.

Fast fact: Prior to playing for the Cyclones in college, the Los Angeles native played at USC and UNLV. He was a high school teammate of Larry Drew II, a fellow summer Pelican.

Indiana’s Will Sheehey, a recent summer roster addition, is a hard-nosed wing defender who has good mid-range ability on the offensive end. Sheehey played in the D-League last season.

Fast fact: His father played in college at Syracuse and St. Bonaventure, while his uncle, Tom Sheehey, played at Virginia and was selected by the Boston Celtics in the fourth round of the 1987 draft.