Kira Lewis Jr. drives against the Lakers last season

Pelicans summer roster includes three returnees from last season, two 2021 draftees

by Jim Eichenhofer

It’s rare for NBA head coaches to assume that same role during summer league, with the exception of first-year sideline bosses. As he takes over the helm for the New Orleans Pelicans, Willie Green carried some additional motivation to lead the franchise’s Las Vegas squad: A handful of summer league players are likely to be on Green’s roster when the NBA regular season tips off in October.

“I thought it was important for synergy,” Green explained of his decision to serve as head coach for all five upcoming games. “The synergy with the coaching staff and our young (players). We have five, possibly more guys who could be on our (fall) roster. Just getting an early start to putting in the system and implementing the way we want to play… It kind of gives us a head start going into training camp.”

New Orleans’ summer roster includes the two players it acquired via the July 29 draft, as well as three players who logged minutes for the Pelicans during the 2020-21 regular season. Updates on that quintet after Saturday’s team practice in Nevada:

Kira Lewis Jr. (904 minutes with 2020-21 Pelicans)

Entering his second NBA season, Lewis has focused this offseason on adding strength and muscle, after being listed at 170 pounds to open his rookie campaign. Lewis: “Being in the weight room was the main focal point. Adding weight, but being explosive still and keeping my speed. It’s something I’ve definitely locked in on. I definitely can feel the weight that I’ve put on and I’m much stronger than I’ve been.” On the court, Lewis noted that he’s been working on shooting from all levels (mid-range, floaters, threes) and being able to finish plays through contact.

Naji Marshall (700 minutes with 2020-21 Pelicans)

The undrafted forward from Xavier (Ohio) was arguably the biggest surprise success story of the latter portion of last season for New Orleans. As a rookie, Marshall did not have a summer league to aid his preparation and was sidelined for part of fall training camp due to health and safety protocols, but he later excelled in the G League bubble with Erie. The 23-year-old will likely speak to media from Las Vegas in the next day or two.

Didi Louzada (56 minutes with 2020-21 Pelicans)

The defensive-minded Brazilian wing was able to join New Orleans late in the regular season and appeared in the final three games vs. Dallas, Golden State and the Lakers. The former second-round pick said of his May pro debut: “I got a lot of experience, and I’ve been putting in a lot of work this summer.” Louzada said he’s been working with Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson on his jumper, saying, “I want to show off (what I can do) this summer, play hard and I’m about to get some buckets.”

Green on Louzada: “Defensively, he’s got great size, he’s long, athletic. (His strengths are) getting into the ball, disrupting the other team’s offense and being willing to guard their best players.”

Trey Murphy (first-round pick, No. 17 overall)

Green and the coaching staff are in the early stages of familiarizing themselves with the University of Virginia product, after Murphy was cleared to join the team Saturday (the NBA officially approved a trade with Memphis at 7 a.m. Pacific time). Green on the 6-foot-9 Murphy: “He seems like a really good kid. Great length, great size. His ability to shoot over the defense will be key for him. We’re excited to have him here in the fold.” Murphy will continue to get his feet wet as the summer Pelicans conduct two-a-day weekend practices, prior to Monday’s opening game vs. Chicago.

Herbert Jones (second-round pick, No. 35 overall)

The Alabama product is joining former Crimson Tide teammate Lewis in the NBA with the Pelicans. Lewis on Jones, who was SEC Defensive Player of the Year last winter: “Playing with him, I know what he does on defense. He can guard multiple positions, is very versatile, long, disciplined, always at the right spot at the right time. I know on defense, I can trust him and know what he’s going to do, to be in the right position. On offense as well, I know his tendencies and how he likes to play.”

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