Friday marks the start of the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League which will bring together a host of undrafted players, first round picks getting used to the speed of the pro game, young players trying to incorporate new things into their games and veteran players trying to make NBA comebacks. For the New Orleans Pelicans their roster includes players on each category. With so many new names on the roster below is a quick rundown of each member of the Pelicans Vegas roster and how likely they are to actually stick in the NBA.
The Guys to Watch:
Jeff Withey: Summer League head coach Bryan Gates has already proclaimed this team as Withey’s which is a good sign for the second year player out of Kansas. With the possibility that Alexis Ajinca gets used to make salary work in the Omer Asik trade the signs point to Withey being in position to be the backup center for the Pelicans next season. Summer League is a tough place for bigs to shine, especially bigs like Withey who does his best work on the defensive end of the floor but Withey will have every chance to shine for the Pelicans.
Russ Smith: Smith is the Pelicans lone drafted player this season and is one of only two players (Withey is obviously the other) that Gates has already named as a starter for tonight’s opener. The biggest thing for Smith in Vegas will be getting used to the increased speed of the NBA game and making the right decisions. Vegas is a place where perimeter players can shine by just jacking up a ton of shots in a high paced game and Smith has a history of questionable shots and decisions. Vegas will be very important for him and the Pelicans in seeing if he can be counted on as the backup point guard this season or not.
The Guys With a Shot to Make the Team:
Patric Young: Young surprisingly went undrafted after a solid, if unspectacular, four-year career at Florida. His body is already NBA ready and it shows in things like pick-and-roll defense and offensive rebounding. The tough part for Young in New Orleans is that the Pelicans seemingly already have the big man rotation for next year set with Asik, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Withey. But a strong showing in Vegas could prompt the team to keep Young around and figure out how to use him later. If not expect to see him land with a team before the start of the season, Young has a long unspectacular NBA career in front of him.
James Southerland: Southerland signed with the Pelicans at the end of last season and could potentially take advantage of the lack of depth at small forward to make the team next season. Southerland’s biggest strength is his shooting ability which should give him a chance to shine in the perimeter oriented Summer League game. What remains to be seen is if Southerland does enough of anything else at an NBA level. Vegas will be important to see if Southerland can defend NBA level athletes well enough to allow his shooting to be useful.
Dequan Jones: I tend to think that Jones has as good of a chance as Southerland to make the Pelicans roster this season depending on what happens at small forward the rest of the summer. Jones had a short stint with the Orlando Magic during the 2012-2013 season and is clearly an NBA level athlete. What Jones needs to show is that he can shoot well enough from the three-point line to let those athletic gifts show. Jones has been playing with the Indiana Pacers in the Orlando Summer League so he should be in good enough shape to have a shot to play really well.
The Comeback Attempt:
Josh Howard: Howard was at one point in his career an All-Star but knee injuries have wrecked what was once a promising career. It remains to be seen exactly what Howard has left and if it is enough for an NBA team to give him a spot instead of a younger player. Howard played in the D-League for a bit last season but struggled to stand out, scoring 14.7 points per game on 13.3 shots for the Austin Toros before suffering another season ending injury caused him to be waived in February. I supposed Howard could make the Pelicans with a great week but it seems highly unlikely.
Courtney Fells: Fells was a teammate of Howard’s with the Austin Toros last season and he had a solid season. His biggest strength is his outside shooting and it showed as he shot 37.6 percent from three for the Toros last season on over five attempts a game. Fells biggest struggle is his lack of athleticism and it remains to be seen if he can compete at the NBA level defensively.
Abdul Gaddy: Gaddy spent last season with the Maine Red Claws and played very well, especially in the second half of the season. Gaddy is a very heady player who combines elite outside shooting (42 percent from three last year for Maine) with intelligent and instinctual play at the point guard position. Gaddy isn’t a great athlete which will hurt his NBA chances but with his shooting and size (he stands 6’3”) some team may take a chance on him going forward. It just doesn’t seem likely that a Pelicans team with Jrue Holiday, Austin Rivers (for now) and Russ Smith on the roster will be that team.
Arinze Onuaku: There is a role for Onuaku somewhere in the NBA but it doesn’t seem like that place is New Orleans. He is a defense and rebounding specialist with incredible length and strength but his offense is so raw, and his free throw shooting so poor, that sticking in the NBA has been tough so far. Some team is going to need an extra cheap big man though and Onuaku will be playing to make sure he is the guy that gets that shot.
The College Guys:
Cameron Ayers: Ayers was the 2014 Patriot League Player of the Year for Bucknell and he earned the honor by doing a bit of everything. Ayers shot 40 percent from three, pulled down 4.5 rebounds per game, dished out 1.5 assists per game and corralled almost a steal a game for the Bison last season. It is very unlikely that he makes an NBA roster but he should have a nice career in Europe going forward.
Drew Crawford: Crawford played over 30 minutes per game in each of his four years at Northwestern and like Ayers does a little bit of everything. During his sophomore and junior seasons Crawford shot over 37 percent from three but that number fell to just 32.7 percent in his senior season. Crawford also pulled in 6.4 rebounds and dished out 2.2 assists per game for Northwestern but it like Ayers an international career seems most likely. Also his father is NBA referee Dan Crawford, so that is cool.
The European Imports:
Josh Carter: Carter has bounced around Europe since he graduated from Texas A&M in 2009. Carter is a decent shooter but not good enough to stick in the NBA. His time to actually make an NBA roster has probably passed.
Keith Chamberlain: Chamberlain is most likely here because he is the cousin of Pelicans star Anthony Davis. Chamberlain tried out for the Iowa Energy D-League team last September before heading back to Europe to continue his career. He can score a bit and rebound some but don’t expect anything spectacular.
Eric Buckner: Buckner, who went undrafted out of Georgia State in 2012, replaces NBA veteran Samardo Samuels for the Pelicans. Buckner is a springy 6’10” forward who set the Georgia State record for career blocks by swatting away 167 shots in just two seasons. For the past few years Bucker has been over in Turkey where he actually won MVP honors this past season. He won’t make the Pelicans but he could potentially put up a highlight or two in Vegas.
Play begins for the Pelicans tonight at 9:30 CT against the D-League Select team and can be found on the NBA Summer League Live app. Make sure to check back at Pelican Debrief for a recap of what happened after the game.