Pelicans Summer League Preview

Published: July 11, 2014

* Co-author credit goes to Michael McNamara for writing the “What to Watch for” points below. Enjoy. 

The other day I received a text from a friend that simply read, “Is summer league even worth watching?” Now, I wanted to respond with an emphatic yes, because I love summer league. But I knew that wasn’t really the right answer. Really, he was asking about the quality of basketball at summer league, and how relevant it is for player development. If that is what you are looking for, then summer league might not be for you.

Here’s the thing. At its worst, the summer league looks and feels like a poorly organized AAU tournament. At its best, it is still a pretty bad tournament, but there are a couple of cool highlights. The NBA has made an effort recently to increase fan interest in summer leagues, but I don’t really think they needed to. I love summer league, because it is the season for fans to get an irrational level of hope about players that will likely never make it to the NBA. It is a time for players to have irrational confidence. Also, it is the only basketball you’re going to get for a while, and most importantly, it can be really fun. So while it might not be “important” or “good basketball”, I suggest you just sit back and enjoy it.

Having said all of that, here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about the main contributors on the Pelicans summer league roster.

Russ Smith, Guard (Louisville)

SMU v Louisville


Smith will probably be the main guy to watch at summer league. He is the Pelicans only draft pick this year, and this will be the first chance for fans to see him playing against NBA level (kind of) talent. In college, Smith was known for his terrorizing on ball defense and ability to score with ease. Early in his college career, there were questions about his ability to run an offense as a lead ball handler, but those concerns were eased as he developed in college.

The biggest concern remaining seems to be his size. At 6 feet flat, he isn’t unreasonably short, but he is a wafer thin 160 pounds. It remains to be seen if he can handle the pounding against NBA bodies.

What to Watch for

Off the Ball Defense: Fans judge players by their on-ball defense. Coaches look at their off-ball defense just as much, if not more. The Pelicans coaching staff talked quite a bit about how bad Pierre Jackson’s off ball defense was last summer, and it was something that led Monty to bench Tyreke early in the year last season.

Russ Smith can pick up guys full court, and he is a terror on the ball, but if he wants to play for Monty this season he will have to be a good off-ball defender. Watch for his rotations, his ability to communicate, and how far he plays off his man when he is on the weak side. If he does all that well, he might be able to get real minutes from Day One.

Running Offense in the Half Court: Smith is explosive in transition and can create for himself in the half court, but if he wants to be an upgrade from Brian Roberts, he is going to have to create for others as well. Smith can get by defenders any time he wants, but he can sometimes be off target with his passes and/or try to make the spectacular play as opposed to the easy play. If he can continue to make the big time transition plays along with the smart plays in the half court, he could be one of the best guards in Summer League this year.


Patric Young, Forward/Center (Florida)


In a weaker draft class, Patric Young would have been drafted. In fact, I think it is reasonable to argue that he could have been a late first rounder. Several mock drafts even had him going 30th to the Spurs, but let’s not focus on what could or should have been. At 6-10, 247 pounds, and 5.5 body fat percentage, Young already has an NBA body. I could keep going, but our own Michael Pellissier said it best.

Young’s standing reach at the combine came in a little short for a big man, despite having a wing span of over 7 feet. He is also incredibly explosive and mobile for his size. Overall, he may have been one of the better pure athletes in the draft.  The questions surrounding Young are primarily about his offense and position. He has yet to show a lot of polish on offense away from the basket, and there have been concerns over wether he can find a true position in the NBA. While I understand these concerns, I think you can always find a spot on the floor for a guy his size with his defensive ability.

What to Watch for

His Jumper: The Pelicans want Young to focus on defense and rebounding at Summer League, but if he wants to be a rotation player for the Pelicans long term, he will have to be able to make the 15 foot jumper. Young won’t be able to score over length in the NBA, but if he can hit the catch and shoot jumper like Charles Oakley did years ago, he can stick in this  league.

Young showcased a nice baseline jumper at the Scouting Combine, going 4-5 from each side, showcasing a soft touch and nearly perfect form. Udonis Haslem has found a place in the league with nothing more than a 15-17 footer on the offensive end. It is essential that Young does the some thing.

On the Glass: Bryan Gates stated on Tuesday that one of the goals for Patric Young should be to lead the Summer League in rebounding. Considering the fact that Young was a poor defensive rebounder, this is a lofty goal. But Young was asked to do a lot of things on the defensive end and was often away from the basket when the ball went up. It will be interesting to see if his poor rebounding was because of his lack of size or if it was because of Billy Donovon’s system.


Jeff Withey, Center (Pelicans)

Jeff Withey


Last year, Pelicans fans got a better look at Withey than they might have hoped for going in to the season, considering all the injuries the team went through. On the other hand, a lot of fans were begging to see Withey more than other centers, who will remain nameless. Coming in to his second year, it seems like everyone is talking about his weight. Withey routinely looked undersized under the basket last season, which was never more obvious than when he was getting pushed out of the way for rebounds. Rumor has it that he looks bigger in practice, and some reports say he has added around 17 pounds of muscle this offseason. Summer league will be our first chance to see how that new muscle affects his game.

What to Watch for

Defense in Space: Last year, in Summer League, Jeff Withey appeared to be completely out of his element whenever he had to go out and guard somebody on the perimeter or hedge on the pick and roll. After putting in work with Monty and his staff this past season, he has gone from terrible to not quite terrible when forced to step out from the paint. Foot quickness will always be an issue for Withey, but he can become an average perimeter defender if he learns angles and can force his opponent towards help.

Rim Running: Jeff Withey has a tremendous catch radius and has soft hands, but he struggles to make passing lanes for his guards, and that is just an IQ thing. Hopefully the game will slow down for Withey, and when it does, he should be able to get plenty of open looks with the Pelicans. Summer League is a good place for him to work on how to time his roll and how to create the lanes needed for his guards to get him the ball where he can finish easily.


Josh Howard, Small Forward (Mavericks, Wizards, Jazz, Timberwolves, Spurs, Austin Toros) 

When the summer league roster came out, I got one question on twitter multiple times. “Wait… is that that Josh Howard?” As you know by now, it is. Howard is ancient (34 years old) by summer league standards, and his best NBA days are far behind him. Look, I can’t get your hopes up about Howard. He spent last year in the D-League before being cut due to a season ending injury. Odds are he probably doesn’t have much left. Frankly, I only included him on this list because as a kid I loved him. Early 2000’s Josh Howard was on of my favorites, and its pretty cool he’ll finally play for my favorite team (summer league team). So I’m going to support him and hope for the best, but don’t expect him to emerge as the short or long term answer at small forward.

Well, those should be the main guys to watch on our summer league team this year. I know free agency is fun and all, but don’t spend all your time waiting around for the next big story. Summer league is worth your time. Sure, it won’t matter at all if the Pelicans win the summer league championship or not, but it will be fun. I know we do a lot of number crunching around here, but let that go too. Just watch the games and enjoy watching a bunch of young guys chase a dream. Also, if you can afford a few bucks, you should check out the NBA’s online summer league package. If you can’t, we’ll be here to keep you updated with everything that is Pelicans related.



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