Three games into the Las Vegas Summer League the New Orleans Pelicans have yet to taste defeat. Thanks to their 3-0 record the Summer Pels will be seeded no worse than fifth and no better than third behind the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors when the playoffs begin, earning themselves a bye into the second round to begin on Thursday. Given the limited number of games teams earn additional points for winning each quarter; the Nuggets and Raptors already stand ahead of the Pelicans.
Considering the Pelicans summer league team is nearly bereft of proven NBA talent or first round picks this is a surprise. Seth Curry, Larry Drew II, and James Varnado have had a cup of coffee in the NBA, but little more. The remainder of the roster consists of good D-League players and internationals like He Tianju and Jordan Aboudou.
However, what this roster does have is age and experience over many of their competitors. Both Curry and Drew II have nearly 3,000 minutes each in the D-League spread across two seasons; Curry led the league in made 3-pointers with 156 for the Erie Bayhawks while Drew II was second in total assists with 402 for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. (D-League mascots are amazing.)
This roster is much older and ready to compete than their competitors; featuring men 24 or 25 with a season or more of actual professional basketball experience. NBA sophomores are expected to go out and dominate the summer league to prove the level of competition is quite literally beneath them. The summer Pelicans have yet to truly prove that as individuals, instead using their collective experience to blitzkrieg opponents in the first quarter.
Curry continues to score in bunches and his D-League numbers tell us the 3-point shot will come around despite a 4-22 start. Khem Birch is shooting nearly 70% and has scored 27 points and corralled 23 rebounds in 67 minutes; not too far off from his record setting production with Sioux Falls last year
D-League shot chart for Pelicans Summer League big man Khem Birch. Shot 70% in 49 games! pic.twitter.com/PITMX3vzQJ— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) July 7, 2015
Still, Pelican fans hoping for a savior from this summer league team should pump the brakes. There is always a reason why these player went undrafted and have toiled away in the D-League. Might Dell Demps find another reclamation project such as Brian Roberts? Of course.
Before comparing summer league players to Luke Babbitt (16th overall pick in 2010), Alexis Ajinca (20th overall in 2008), or Jason Smith (20th overall in 2007) remember that Drew II, Curry, Birch, and Fuquan Edwin all went undrafted for a reason. They have combined for a handful of NBA minutes and a total of four ten day contracts (two each for Curry and Drew) because their ability to sustain in the league was questionable at best.
Taking a low cost flyer or extending a camp invite to any of those four (Curry, Drew II, Birch, and Edwin) would be reasonable. Expecting any of them to log meaningful minutes next year is not. If the Pelicans get to that point something has gone horribly wrong.
Enjoy the ride, but don't fall in love with these players. Chances are few, if any, will suit up for the Pelicans next season.