New Orleans Pelicans basketball is back. Though it seems like the season just ended, the Pels will be on the court for the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League, which runs from Aug. 8-17 on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
In an interesting bit of irony, the New Orleans Pelicans will open their summer league schedule facing the Chicago Bulls at 2:00 pm. The game airs on ESPN2 from the Cox Pavilion.
The two franchises are already facing an NBA investigation into tampering from the Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade, now they will facing each other on the basketball court.
There was no summer league last season due to the pandemic, so with training camps less than 50 days away, this is a critical period for a Pelicans roster still heavily stocked with inexperienced players.
It’s also a big step in the integration of Willie Green and his coaching philosophy. Green will coach all five games in Las Vegas, with the chance for some extensive time with a number of the Pelicans’ young guns.
“I thought it was important for synergy,” Green said. “The synergy with the coaching staff and our young (players). We have five, possibly more guys who could be on our (fall) roster. Just getting an early start to putting in the system and implementing the way we want to play… It kind of gives us a head start going into training camp.”
That was a huge concern last season as Stan Van Gundy was rushed from his hiring through an abbreviated camp and into a difficult regular season.
New Orleans will play every other day, starting with this afternoon’s matchup with the Bulls.
Wednesday, they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday the 13th, and the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
A fifth game will be played, but the date and time will be determined by the results of the first four.
Fans will most likely be watching the returning Pelicans, looking to see if the flashes of brilliance that the youngsters displayed will burn brighter and longer this season.
Last season’s first round pick, Kira Lewis Jr., was probably most disadvantaged by the strange league calendar. The transition from college point guard to the NBA is one of the most difficult to make, even more so when having just one season of college experience and limited practice time.
Lewis will be expected to run the offense without generating turnovers, particularly in live ball situations. He must also show the ability to finish at the rim and knock down the open jump shot. Defensively, Kira has to be able to pressure the basketball, an area of weakness for the Pelicans for far too long.
Naji Marshall, who filled in quite well for Josh Hart last season, and Didi Louzada are the other returnees. Louzada and Marshall are expected to improve the Pelicans perimeter defense, so their opportunity to impress their new head coach should be plenty motivation to stay engaged on that end of the floor.
This year’s draft picks, forwards Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones, also enter the league with strong reputations on defense, though Murphy was an excellent shooter in college as well.
Other players to watch include guard Jose Alvarado, who has a two-way contract with the Pelicans, along with undersized but active center Moses Wright.
New Orleans still lacks depth at the power positions and at point guard, so an outstanding summer league would go a long way to securing their immediate futures in the NBA.
Though the games don’t count, they do present the first opportunity to see what, if anything, these players have been working on this offseason, and their ability to translate those skills into game situations.
It’s also an opportunity for Willie Green to begin to create the culture that hopefully leads the Pelicans to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Let the games begin, and let the hope be renewed.