The New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Utah Jazz, 79-72, in the second game of the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League schedule. The Pelicans remain winless, but Buddy Hield finally resembled the player that walked away with the most recent Naismith Player of the Year award. He finished with a line of 21 points, 5 threes, 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Hield was mired in another poor shooting slump, connecting on just 3 of 13 from the floor and 1 of 7 from beyond the arc. Then, as though a switch was flipped, he converted on 4 straight three-point attempts. In the span of 2:35 of the clock, Buddy Buckets helped the Pelicans reduce a 7-point deficit to just 1. There was nobody more relieved in the gym than Buddy himself.
"I got a little rhythm, it's about time I got a little rhythm. I've been waiting for that to happen all Summer League. I felt better today even though I didn't make as many shots as I wanted to. I was more calm. Each game I'm going to keep getting better."
Buddy would go on to add that all of his struggles have stemmed from the fact that he's simply missing shots, not because he finds the defense to be tougher at this level.
"Naaaah, I don't think it's the defense. I get good looks, but I'm not putting it down."
I have to agree with him. During warmups, I noted he struggled to find any consistency, missing a string of perimeter attempts that included four in a row at one point. If Buddy can't find the range with no opponents standing in front of him, the feel isn't there and that's vital for perimeter shooters of his caliber.
Unfortunately, both he and the rest of the team ran out of gas in their comeback attempt. Once again, an anemic offense for much of the game was to blame for a loss that saw the deficit balloon to 14 points with 6:30 remaining.
I would argue the talent level simply isn't there for the Pelicans in this year's version. For instance, Larry Drew II, who enjoyed a lot of success last season because he not only had Seth Curry alongside, but also Bryce Dejean-Jones, Fuquan Edwin and Victor Rudd on the wings, doesn't have the requisite options to dictate a potent offense. This year it truly looks like Buddy or bust.
However, there was another significant bright spot today: Cheick Diallo. In just two exhibition type of games, he's already become one of my favorite players on the team. His motor, combined with that incredible athleticism and instincts, gives New Orleans a real hope of finally possessing a player that can operate successfully alongside Anthony Davis without having to forgo one side of the floor.
In 27:44 minutes of action, Diallo notched a double-double: 12 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Within the first six minutes of the game, he had already registered three impressive blocks. He knows his role and has rarely shown any tendencies to venture outside of guarding the paint, helping on defense, rebounding and running in transition. Listening to him talk about defense is just beautiful because he's genuinely talking solely about the required effort.
"You have to will it. You have to will a defense. It's not going to stay there like... you have to watch everything."
Outside of Diallo and Hield though, I'm yet to see any viable players deserving to be considered candidates to enter the preseason with the rest of the regular season roster.
The Pelicans will play again tomorrow, facing the Sacramento Kings at 9pm central time. The game will be televised on ESPN2.