Pelicans Promise To Be Worthy Summer League Follow

With the basketball world eagerly awaiting the first minutes of Victor Wembanyana — Friday has already been ruled a sell out, the New Orleans Pelicans will kick off their Las Vegas summer league schedule against the Minnesota Timberwolves later today. The opening game of this event will be televised live on the NBA TV channel at 3:30 p.m. CT and be available for streaming on the NBA App.

The results from exhibition play should always be taken with a grain of salt, but the Pelicans will be, once again, worthy of a close follow. They have perennially fielded good young talent since executive vice president David Griffin took the reins from Dell Demps. Additionally, they have showcased an exciting up-and-down style while demonstrating an observable winning mindset since the arrival of Willie Green.

This last point is particularly salient. Due to an approach that attempts to mimic the regular season more than most other teams, onlookers are able to gain a greater realistic look at the New Orleans summer league roster.

Trey Murphy III signaled a sophomore breakout was on the way one year ago when he averaged 26.5 points and 8.5 free throw attempts across two games.

During the previous summer, Herb Jones displayed a defensive savvy that could make him a prominent member of the rotation despite an unheralded second-round selection in the draft. He wound up in the starting lineup in just the second game of the regular season, guarded Zach LaVine admirably in that contest and has never looked back.

Who could next follow in the footsteps of Jones and Murphy? Dyson Daniels is the likeliest candidate, but don’t overlook E.J. Liddell and Jordan Hawkins. All three players, along with Dereon Seabron and Karlo Matkovic, are expected to receive the bulk of minutes.

“Jordan, E.J., Dyson, Dereon, Karlo, those guys that are on our roster, we want to give those guys a good look,” Casey Hill said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re going to play every game, they’re going to play the majority of the minutes, and we’re going to get really good film to try to develop these guys and ingrain them into our system.”

Much excitement surrounded the eighth pick of the 2022 draft, but a right ankle sprain robbed Daniels of the vast majority of summer league action a year ago. He was then thrust into the regular season fire early when injuries tore through the roster and responded with several stalwart performances, including against Luka Doncic.

As the season progressed, however, Daniels’ confidence began to wane. He stopped looking for his shot. He attacked the lane less aggressively on drives. The full-court pushes in transition seemingly evaporated. There remained constant reminders of what he could become, but the doubt was noticeable all too often in his game.

The downward spiral may have started with two missed free throws in the closing seconds of the Lakers improbable come-from-behind OT victory in Los Angeles. Either way, Daniels’ true shooting percentage plummeted as the months went by. A 79.9 TS% in October bottomed out with a 37.3 TS% in March.

Another ankle sprain, this one occurring in January, likely didn’t help matters too.

Fortunately, the offseason can function as a reset button for rookies who encounter an overwhelming amount of adversity.

“I’m coming in with a lot of confidence this year,” Daniels said. “Coaches have confidence in me and I’ve been putting the work in so I’m confident and ready to go out there and show that.”

Since the Pelicans fell 123-118 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the play-in game, Daniels has spent countless of hours preparing for second year. Expect to see him exhibit greater floor general skills.

“For me, it’s been about getting in the gym and working on my ball-handling, especially under pressure. Trying to be more in that point guard role. So a lot of ball-handling, a lot of shooting with Fred {Vinson}. A lot of time in the weight room as well.”

In addition to looking stronger in person, Daniels’ shot looked far less mechanical right before the summer league team departed for Las Vegas.

Liddell, whose two-way contract was converted to a full multi-year NBA contract yesterday, will receive his first game action since tearing the ACL in his right knee almost a year ago to the day. He’s expected, though, to appear in all five summer league games — a good sign that his knee is fully healthy.

“He’s worked his tail off to get back to where he is right now,” Hill said. “Confidence-wise, I’d say he’s probably at about 85 percent and growing from there. So that’s really the goal, is to allow him to kind of get back to the way he needs to feel so he can continue to attack his early career here.”

According to Hill and a number of teammates, Liddell’s jump shot displays improvement. He’s also shown defensive versatility and quick decision-making in practice. The plan is for him to guard the 3, 4 and 5 positions.

Despite all the good news, expect to see some growing pains along the way. Liddell has played very little competitive basketball since last summer and he mentioned to media that we’re likely not going to see his full arsenal.

“Like last month, I wasn’t able to play 5-on-5, but now I can,” Liddell said. “I feel good physically. Just have to get my game conditioning back. Up and down is nothing you can prepare on the bike, treadmill or anything.”

One thing is for certain, today is likely going to be an emotional journey for Liddell.

“I lot of nerves,” Liddell said. “If you see me smiling, a lot of nerves, but just know I’m going to be super excited to be back out there. To be able to play, be in front of the lights again, I’m excited.”

The last player to keep close tabs on that could crack the rotation in the first half of the season is Jordan Hawkins. The Pelicans 2023 first-round pick has a perimeter jumper that’s drawn a lot of praise.

“In person, his jump shot is crazy,” Liddell said. “I don’t know who’s going to win a 3-point contest between him and Trey. I’m going to give it to Trey because I’ve seen it a whole bunch this past year, but he’s got a great clip.”

“He can really shoot the basketball,” Dereon Sebron said. “I remember his first day, I think, we were playing against the coaches, and like every read I came off a pick-and-roll and found him, he made every shot.”

Hawkins could prove a deadlier marksman from the outside than was witnessed at the University of Connecticut, where he made 38.8 percent of his 7.6 3-point attempts per game, because the spacing in the NBA is greater.

“There’s a lot more spacing than in college,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got so many guys that are threats on a professional level so they can’t really key in on you like they did in college. I was still able to get shots in college, but it’s a lot easier now.”

One year ago, Dyson Daniels failed to last even nine minutes in New Orleans’ summer league opener before an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the exhibition. E.J. Liddell (torn ACL) and Karlo Matkovic (hand injury) didn’t fare any better as they were soon thereafter knocked out of competition as well.

Here’s to getting the 2023-24 season off on the right foot, with a number of Pelicans not only making it through the summer league schedule unscathed but also of giving Willie Green something to think about when it comes time to decide player rotations next October.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (0-0) at Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0)

When: June 7, 3:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: NBA TV, NBA App

Where to listen: & App

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunesSpotifyStitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.


One thought on “Pelicans Promise To Be Worthy Summer League Follow

  1. 30+ turnovers. I couldn’t even watch. Hope other games get better. A few bright spots. EJ, and Nolley had a few moments. Hoping Hawkins can do better than 1/6 on Free Throws but I was impressed with him, especially when he took it to the hole with the Euro and 1.

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