New Orleans Pelicans fall to Wizards in Summer League Finale

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Published: July 19, 2013

“The next step with Austin is getting him to knock down that mid-range shot.” That was Coach Bryan Gates on Thursday, when asked about the evolution we have seen in Austin Rivers’ game and where he still has to go. On Friday, Rivers wanted to show that he is ready to take that next step. Not only did he knock down several mid-range jumpers, but he also drained his free throws as well. Combine that with his usual stellar on-ball defense, and Rivers heads into the next phase of the offseason beaming with confidence.

Rivers scored 23 points on 9-13 shooting from the field and 5-5 from the line in the Pelicans 78-77 loss in their consulation game. A win would have been nice, but this game was as much about getting a look at some other guys on the roster as it was getting the ‘W’. While none of the supporting players stood out, Rivers and Darius Miller had rather impressive games and Jeff Withey had a solid first half. For Miller, it was his second straight quality game after sturggling in the first three. He finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds, but missed what would have been a game tying three-pointer with two seconds left, leaving it just short.

Jeff Withey came out strong in the first quarter, putting up 4 points, 3 rebounds, and a block in his first four minutes on the court, but he didn’t do much the rest of the game, as teammates never really looked for him down low. At the end of the day, it came down to rebounding, with the Pelicans seemingly unable to secure any shots missed by the Wizards down the stretch. Jon Brockman, who averaged over 7 per game coming into today, had just 4 and was pushed around fairly easily in the paint.

But Summer League is not about wins and losses; it never really was. It is about giving some young guys on your roster a chance at some major minutes so that you can see where they are on the different parts of their game that you want them to work on over the offseason. Darius Miller and Austin Rivers have been working non-stop since the season ended on their games, and the result of their hard work was seen this week. With more than three months still remaining between now and the beginning of the regular season, you know that both of these young men will continue what they started this summer, and the result could be some vast internal growth to pair with all of this summer’s exciting acquisitions.

Notes and Observations

– Austin Rivers averaged 18.2 ppg this year in Summer League, shooting 48.6% from the floor and 72.4% from the line. Last Summer League, in just two games, Rivers averaged 10 ppg on 21.1% shooting from the field and 61.1% from the line. Again, you take Summer League with a grain of salt, but you can’t possibly look at Rivers this year vs. Rivers last year at this same exact time and not see a significant difference in his game.

He is no longer settling for fade away three-pointers off the dribble. Instead, he is attacking the rim and finishing with an assortment of floaters and finger rolls, and more impressively, finishing through contact. His base is a lot more solid and his pace has improved considerably. And while his offense has gone from terrible to solid, his defense has gone from bad to great. He asked to take the opponents best backcourt player in all five games, and his on-ball defense was fantastic.

The reports of Austin’s work ethic were not overblown, and you are starting to see now what happens when Rivers figures out what he needs to work on in order to succeed. He is relentless in his pursuit, and he has a clear plan of attack for how he is going to get better. He cited his left hand and his balance as two things he has been working on so far. Next step is the mid-range game, and I am sure that once he feels comfortable with that, he will move on to something else. Starts to get you excited about where he could be this time next year. And the year after that. And the year after that…

– After three games where he struggled mightily at times, Darius Miller showed that hard work does pay off with his performance in the final two. The coaching staff really wants him to succeed, and you can see why when you hear about how much works he puts into improving his game. The team feels good about his ability as a spot-up shooter, so they wanted him to attack more during Summer League. While it looked awkward at times, you can see that Miller feels more comfortable putting the ball on the floor than he did last year, and the hope is that he can continue to improve that part of his game.

– I will have a full recap of Summer League this weekend, but one of the things that sticks out as I leave Vegas is that there is just such a positive vibe around this team, and all the players seem thrilled about everything that went down this offseason. Enthusiasm within an organization is one thing that can’t be measured with fancy WARP statistics or financial calculations, but it is something that is real nonetheless. Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Gordon have acknowledged that perhaps they weren’t thrilled with being traded here initially, but now they are both all in, and they can’t wait to start the season. Anthony Davis lights up every time you ask him about the talent he now has surrounding him. Austin Rivers saw the new additions as reasons to work just that much harder. Coach Gates says the coaching staff can’t wait to work with the new talent on the roster. And on and on.

There is an energy that you can feel around this team, as the guys seem anxious to get the stink of these last two seasons off of them. It’s a whole new era, not just because of the rebrand or the acquisitions, but because of the culture shift, the heightened expectations, and the contagious enthusiasm. It is something that we are all going to be lucky to be a part of, and quite frankly, all of you who have stuck with this team through the last few years deserve it. There is a whole new energy ¬†surrounding this team. Wait until you enter that arena for your first Pelicans game. Trust me, you will feel it too.

 

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