LAS VEGAS — Summer League continues for a select few teams, but for the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s now a thing of the past. Let’s look at some of the surprises and disappointments from the Pelicans time in Las Vegas.
Withey wasn’t extraordinary in summer league, but big men, especially defense-oriented ones such as Withey, rarely are. Before summer league, Withey said this summer was “all about getting stronger.” While he was sporting a more muscular frame, Withey still struggled against stronger opponents like the Spurs’ Jeff Ayres, who bullied Withey in the post. On the plus side, the sophomore center was tied for fifth in blocks per game in the summer league, rejecting two shots per game.
The two rookies
The biggest stories for the Pelicans concerned their two rookies, Patric Young and Russ Smith.
Many projected Young to go in the second round of the NBA draft, but when he went undrafted, the Pelicans swooped in and added him to their summer league roster. Young did exactly as the coaches asked him to do, being a beast on the boards — averaging eight per game — while bringing relentless energy and hustle. As a result of his hard work, the Pelicans signed Young to a contract in the middle of summer league.
Smith’s week has been covered extensively, but it’s worth touching on again. The main goal for Smith was proving he can learn and run an NBA offense. Though his education is far from complete, he showed that he could make the transition from a team’s main scorer to a player focused on getting others involved. As an added bonus, Smith also displayed terrific resiliency, constantly battling back from a poor first half to play much better in the second. With Pierre Jackson and Brian Roberts gone, Smith is, for now, all but guaranteed the backup point guard spot.
Perhaps no player helped his stock more at summer league than Fells. After an unremarkable first game, Fells caught fire from all over the court, sinking 3-pointers, mid-range pull-ups and tough lay-ups alike. The Pelicans need a backup wing, and Fells proved he at least deserves a training camp invite.
The self-proclaimed elder statesmen of the team, Howard started summer league off strong, scoring 14 points in the first game against the NBA D-League Select team. From there, however, Howard’s performance and playing time tapered off to the point where the former All-Star didn’t play in the team’s finale. Howard came to Las Vegas to prove he still has what it takes to help a team, but it’s unclear whether he achieved that goal, as the less-than-NBA-caliber competition makes it tough to gauge just how effective he actually can be. His teammates — especially Courtney Fells — really valued him as a veteran presence and leader; it’s just unlikely those intangibles are enough to see him back onto an NBA roster.