LAS VEGAS — Walter Lemon Jr. already has professional basketball experience under his belt. His next goal is to crack the rotation of an NBA roster.
Whether that is with the New Orleans Pelicans next season remains to be seen, but the 25-year-old point guard is confident he can play in the NBA.
“I know I can score the ball with the best of them,” Lemon said. “One on one, it’s hard to stay in front of me. I just learned to be more of a complete player, being more deceptive and finding my guys.”
Lemon, a 6-foot-3 guard from Bradley University, scored 18 points and had six assists and five rebounds in New Orleans’ 110-106 loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Summer League playoffs Thursday at Cox Pavilion.
The Pelicans will play the New York Knicks on Friday in their final game of the summer.
That also could be one of the last dress rehearsals for Lemon in hopes of cracking the Pelicans roster next season. Lemon played 40 games last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the G-League affiliate of the Indiana Pacers, averaging 22.4 points per game on 49 percent shooting, along with 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds.
His play earned him a 10-day contract with the Pelicans. He played five games with New Orleans and averaged only seven minutes per contest, but it was the experience he gained playing with Jrue Holiday and former Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo that he valued most.
“Being my first call-up, there were so many emotions going on,” Lemon said. “I was excited, anxious, nervous all at the same time. Any player would be like that. You don’t know what to think.”
Once finishing his four-year career at Bradley, Lemon played internationally in Greece, Turkey and Germany before finally ending up back in the states. That professional experience has translated to summer league, showing off his potent ball-handling skills and his quick first step that allows him to get to the rim with ease.
Lemon made six of eight free-throw attempts on Thursday, offsetting his 6-of-17 shooting night from the field. He takes pride in drawing multiple defenders toward the paint to find his open teammates on the perimeter.
“I think he’s grown a lot as a point guard since the last time we had him in the regular season,” said Kevin Hanson, the Pelicans' summer league coach. “I think he’s had a really good tournament. It’s too bad we only have one game left, but he’s been really good.”
The Pelicans signed rookie guard Trevon Bluiett on Thursday to a two-way contract, which allows players to play in both the G-League and the NBA (for up to 45 days). New Orleans has one two-way spot remaining.
Friday might be the last time the Pelicans play in the summer league, but Lemon is hoping it won’t be the last time he wears some variation of an NBA jersey. He said despite there being more to work on in his game, Lemon feels he’s made strides from where he was two years ago.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity (the Pelicans gave me last season) and I’m definitely going to keep working,” Lemon said, “because I know I can play at that level when given the opportunity.”