LAS VEGAS — The first rule of summer league is to be aware of illusions.
In games lined with fringe NBA talent and rookies in starring roles, it’s nearly impossible to determine what’s a mirage and what’s real.
But, to Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, there’s no questioning whether Seth Curry’s performance in Las Vegas is fool’s gold.
After scoring 30 points in Friday’s opening win over Milwaukee, Curry backed up the buzz by dropping 25 on Saturday during New Orleans’ 90-86 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
“I think Seth has been exactly what I felt he could be,” Gentry said. “He’s someone who can be a scorer in this league. To me, the most pleasant thing that he’s done is that defensively he’s been really engaged and done a good job there. I don’t think he shot the ball exceptionally well, but he found a way to score 25 points and so, to me, that was really, really encouraging.”
After Friday’s win, several Pelicans staff members and coaches said they were impressed by Curry’s ability to get up and down the floor, jump into passing lanes for five steals and lead by example. The consensus among the staff is he has the ability to make an NBA roster if given the proper opportunity.
With Curry teaming with fellow point guard Larry Drew II, New Orleans has become the offensive juggernaut of the Las Vegas summer league, scoring freely from just about every conceivable situation and averaging 95.5 points in two 40-minute games.
The Pelicans have displayed a penchant for running and have caught defenses flat-footed. In keeping true to Gentry’s philosophy, New Orleans rapidly jumped into transition offense off steals, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and even Dallas’ made baskets.
The lack of hesitation allowed a series of runs to the rim and left wide-open shooters on the perimeter after a pass or two against the scrambled defense.
No one has taken better advantage than Curry. The former Duke prospect and younger brother of NBA MVP Stephen Curry leads the summer league at 27.5 points per game, and he has scored from a variety of spots on the floor. He has been able to pile up points without shooting lights-out from beyond the arc; he made just 1-of-9 3-point attempts on Saturday.
“I’m not shooting as well as I want to from the 3-point line, but I’m making plays and scoring in different ways,” he said. “So I’m playing the way Coach Gentry wants us to play.”
He did most of his work at the rim and from mid-range, where he found success even against the Mavs’ big bodies, who out-rebounded New Orleans 48-35. Curry got to the free throw line three different times and made 8-of-14 2-pointers.
“I’m not impressed, because I expected this,” Pelicans summer league coach Darren Erman said. “He’s good. It’s who he is. He’s an NBA player. It’s impressive, yeah, but it’s not anything I didn’t expect.”
Considering the Pelicans are likely to not re-sign guard Jimmer Fredette, there’s certainly room for Curry to battle for a spot on the roster. He will almost certainly earn an invitation to training camp.
While Curry already has spurred the Pelicans to two summer league wins, coaches are always wary of the illusion of summer league stars. But not the Pelicans staff with Curry. They believe he’s an NBA-ready player, and this summer is only showing off his ability.
“I think he’s playing with so much confidence now,” Gentry said. “The thing that’s been so encouraging with this summer league team is that they are playing at a pace we want them to play at.”
Three thoughts from Saturday
1. Defensive aggression was a point of pride for Pelicans coaches, who praised the team’s 12 steals. Seth Curry led the way, nabbing five of them, part of 18 total turnovers the Mavericks committed.
2. Summer league is a popular spot. A massive crowd filled Cox Pavilion for the Pelicans’ early afternoon victory, and organizers had to open the upper deck for New York’s win over San Antonio in the Thomas & Mack Center.
3. Mavericks were everywhere. Outspoken owner Mark Cuban made an appearance on the Dallas bench next to coach Rick Carlisle. Star forward Chandler Parsons appeared as well to lend support to the summer league Mavs.