LAS VEGAS — The New Orleans Pelicans are still searching for a dependable backup small forward, so it’s safe to say one of the main goals at the NBA summer league is to find that player.
Josh Howard made a strong case for his candidacy with his consistent play in an 83-81 win over the D-League Select team Friday, scoring 14 points. Howard could also provide a veteran voice in the locker room, something coaches always value.
However, because it’s the summer league, it’s tough to gauge Howard’s true efficacy. Save for Tony Mitchell, the D-League team didn’t really have any NBA-caliber athletes, so Howard wasn’t challenged defensively.
None of the other candidates did much to stand out Friday. James Southerland couldn’t hit a shot, going 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and otherwise playing generally ineffective basketball, and DeQuan Jones didn’t play.
Jones was a noteworthy story last year when he went from undrafted rookie to starting a few games for the Orlando Magic. But the Pelicans are looking for more of a featured backup than a third small forward, and it’s unclear if Jones has the skill to be that sort of player.
Who’s doing what?
Communication is among the keys to a great defense in the NBA. In the summer league, it’s the key to playing just respectable defense. Players often have nearly no familiarity with one another, so talking on defense — Jeff Withey letting Russ Smith know which side a screen is coming from, or Howard calling out a switch — is critical.
The Pelicans struggled with their communication in the first half, and as a result, the D-League team executed at a high level. The second half was a much more vocal one for the Pelicans defense, and it’s no coincidence the team was able to storm back and win the game.
“Defensive intensity and halfcourt execution defensively (improved in the second half,” Smith said. “We did a good job of helping each other, and then we started getting offensive rebounds. The psyche as a whole defensively (picked up).”
Sizing up Patric Young
Howard and Smith were the two best players on the court Friday, but Patric Young wasn’t far behind with an 11-point, 13-rebound effort.
Young is stronger than most players, so he can just outmuscle his man on both ends of the floor.
While his energy and production on the boards were admirable, Young often let his frustration show, shouting at officials for missing a perceived foul or hanging his head after a missed shot.
Beyond the arc
The Pelicans attempted 24 shots from behind the 3-point arc Friday, but they only connected on seven of them (29 percent). There are capable shooters on the roster — Southerland and Fells among them — but no one got hot.
The Pelicans face the Los Angeles Lakers on at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Lakers are 0-1 in the summer league, dropping their first game to the Toronto Raptors 88-78.
Matchup to watch
The Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson, who scored 21 points in his first game, presents a tough defensive assignment for the likes of Smith and Abdul Gaddy. Clarkson’s a bigger combo guard who got good dribble penetration against the Raptors. Smith, being one of the smaller guards in Las Vegas, is quicker than Clarkson but will have trouble bothering his shots. Gaddy can match Clarkson’s size, but he’s not as fast. Of course, the Pelicans have the benefit of Withey lurking at the rim, ready to clean up any perimeter defensive mishaps.