LAS VEGAS — Last summer, with the acquisition of Jrue Holiday, the New Orleans Pelicans signaled the end of their rebuilding phase and the beginning of their intention to make the playoffs.
A wealth of injuries sent that plan sideways, but they remained steadfast in their designs, even improving upon them by trading another future first-round pick to Houston for defensive stalwart Omer Asik.
The Pelicans, as currently constructed, have little need for developing talent. Their foundational players, or at least the players they see as foundational, are in place, with Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and, of course, Anthony Davis to go along with the Holiday and Asik.
The Pelicans don’t need the raw, yet brimming-with-talent prospects but rather those better developed — players that, while young, can still step in from Day 1 and contribute.
Enter Patric Young, a former Florida Gator who went undrafted in the NBA draft but was just signed to a contract by the Pelicans after his strong showing this week at the Las Vegas Summer League.
“God blessed me with this opportunity to have a home,” Young said when asked about his contract.
What you see with Young is what you’re going to get — a burly power forward with good rebounding instincts and a motor that never runs below its highest gear — which is exactly what the Pelicans are counting on. Even better, it’s exactly what Young wants to bring to this team.
“I just want to be an energy spark plug for this team,” Young said.
Energy’s a nebulous term, and one nearly impossible to quantify in the context of basketball. However, teammates know it when they see it.
“It’s great,” teammate Russ Smith said of the energy Young brings to the game. “What he’s able to do for us sometimes doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”
What is evident, immediately so, is Young’s physique. He’s incredibly strong, not just in the context of summer league but even compared to the competition he’ll face in the NBA.
“He’s a beast,” Smith said. “He’s very chiseled. His physique makes it tough on opponents.”
Young uses that strength particularly well on the boards. His eight rebounds per game lead the team, and his three offensive rebounds per game rank ninth overall in summer league. The other area Young’s impressive frame is a major advantage is in setting screens. Young may only be 6-foot9 (slightly undersized for a power forward in the NBA), but he’s so wide (in a good way) that his screens are both punishing and difficult to go around.
“He knows when to set the ball screens in transition and duck (into the basket),” Smith said.
Young’s been a featured part of the Pelicans at summer league, and he knows it won’t be the case come the regular season. With all of the aforementioned foundational pieces, Young’s role will fall somewhere in between bench cheerleader and occasional energy guy. He’s looking forward to the challenge, just as he’s looking forward to playing with the Holiday-Gordon tandem.
“It’s going to be a big learning curve, playing with one of the best overall backcourts in the league,” Young said.
It’s a sudden fall from near the top of the hierarchy to near the absolute bottom, but it’s not a punishment, merely a result of circumstance. The funny thing about circumstances, however, is that they can change in the blink of an eye.
Jason Smith, quietly a key backup forward last year, is now with the Knicks. Anthony Davis played just 67 games last season, while Ryan Anderson appeared in only 22 games.
If the Pelicans have even a fractional repeat of the constant injuries that plagued them last year, Young will, at some point, find himself presented with an opportunity to play meaningful minutes. Young needs to be prepared for whenever that opportunity arises, and the coaches are making sure he will be.
“(The coaches) said just be ready for the opportunity, because you never know,” Young said. “(They tell me) to stay preparing for my opportunity to come, and when it does, bring energy, defend and rebound — do what I always do.”