LAS VEGAS — The NBA’s summer leagues are all about development.
Whether the Pelicans won the Las Vegas event or got bounced in a consolation game — the latter was Friday night’s result, a 97-78 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves — is inconsequential to the team’s bigger picture.
Winning wouldn’t prove Russ Smith is capable of running an NBA offense, nor does it show that Jeff Withey is a legit backup center.
So even though Friday’s result ended the Pelicans’ summer league run on a low note, the team’s success won’t be measured only by its 2-3 record here.
“Sometimes to develop, you have to let guys make mistakes,” summer league coach Bryan Gates said. “You always want to win, no question, but the development side was good. We found out what we had, guys got some minutes — it was great.”
All that aside, players and coaches still want to win. While Smith, Patric Young and the rest of the summer league crew knew the games don’t really matter, those guys are born competitors who hate losing.
“I wanted to win,” Smith said. “I don’t really like losing. I wish I could have gotten us the win.”
Smith can take solace that he showed drastic improvement from the first game in Las Vegas to the last. He went from up-and-down performances in his first few games to finishing with terrific consistency in the last two games.
“The ball went in,” Smith said when asked about the biggest difference between the games. “I looked more like myself — getting to gaps and spots on the floor. In the beginning, I wouldn’t say I was assist-hunting, but it was different. I was kicking the ball out more, shots were going in, so I opened up the sides. I just try and take what the defense gives me.”
“He’s got to learn to be an NBA point guard,” Gates said. “Last year in college, the team wanted him to score. Now he’s got good players around him, and he’ll learn how to use them.”
Smith scored a team-high 21 points Friday, doing everything he could to keep his team in the game after it ended up trailing by double digits in the first quarter. He didn’t get much help, with Cameron Ayers (11 points) ending up the only other Pelicans player in double figures.
Young continued to do what he does best: bringing toughness and rebounding. Though he did pick up his second technical foul of summer league play, he was a beast on the boards, hauling in 12 rebounds, including five on offense. Courtney Fells came crashing back to earth, his jumper nowhere to be found during a six-point outing.
New Orleans scored 30 points in the first quarter but failed to reach 20 in each of the last three.
Minnesota busted the game open in the fourth quarter, rookie Zach LaVine and his 22 points leading the way. The Timberwolves shot 48.5 percent overall and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Pelicans, who shot well from deep the previous few games, connected on just 7 of 21 (33 percent) from deep.