The New Orleans Pelicans went through a spirited practice at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday afternoon. Preparing for a Saturday quarterfinals matchup against the 12th-seeded Golden State Warriors, the fourth-seeded Pelicans could be heard behind closed doors in what summer league head coach Robert Pack called a “high-energy” session.
“The guys are locked in and they know the challenge that we face with the team coming up,” Pack said. “(We) just wanted to get in the building (because) we possibly could have three games in a row — that’s what we’re hoping for — and just wanted to get our bodies loose and get some shots up.”
One of the biggest challenges of summer league for a coaching staff is working with a group of players who haven’t played together before. Trying to teach a system without overwhelming them can be difficult. Despite only being together for a short time, the Pelicans summer league roster boasts great camaraderie, making everything easier.
“When you come in the first few days, you’re trying to limit the (instruction), Pack said. “You want them to get some chemistry, get a feel for one another. These guys have picked it up and are hungry for some more. That chemistry coming together so quick, we’ve been able to give them more and they’ve adapted and flourished in the system.”
UNLV alum Khem Birch is among the players who have excelled. In Thursday’s win over the Washington Wizards, Birch posted a line of 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
“Just his activity on both ends (has been huge),” Pack said. “Running the floor, when you’re a big that is athletic like that and can run the floor, you use it to your advantage and he’s been doing that. He’s been outrunning the other bigs and when he hasn’t been scoring, he has put pressure on the defense by him sacrificing himself it’s allowed other guys to get an opportunity.”
Birch said he feels comfortable being back at the Thomas & Mack Center and is enjoying the uptempo pace of the Pelicans system. He credits 20 extra pounds and nutritional changes in his diet for his improvement this summer.
“Eating right,” Birch said. “Not a lot of fast food, eating three meals a day has helped me a lot. I used to eat kind of bad. Now I’m actually checking my own diet and everything. That’s helped. Last year I was kind of out of shape. I was out of shape and I wasn’t even that strong. This year I feel great. I can run the floor, I can guard every position now. I feel amazing.”
In four games with the Pelicans, Birch is averaging 9.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game. He’s also shooting 71 percent from the floor.
“I can provide energy and rebounding,” Birch said. “Do the little dirty things. I feel like if I’m going to be in this league, that’s what I’ve got to do to stand out because not a lot of guys like to show energy. Playing hard, that’s one of my biggest keys and biggest strengths.I don’t necessarily always want to score. I just want to help my team win.”