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Pelicans fall apart in crunch time to lose to Raptors but Cheick Diallo goes off for 27 points

At least we learned New Orleans may have two future regular season rotation players on display in Las Vegas.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans fell to the Toronto Raptors, 96-93, in the first summer league game of the Las Vegas schedule. Cheick Diallo led all scorers with 27 points and Quinn Cook added 16, but it wasn’t enough to earn the victory.

Questionable defense throughout and bad crunch time offense were responsible for Friday’s defeat. With a little over six minutes remaining, New Orleans held an 83-76 advantage, but an 8-0 run by Toronto quickly erased their deficit. Although Diallo and Cook had plenty of highlights earlier, the two best players down the stretch were the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The duo scored or assisted on all 20 points during this final stretch.

Let’s jump right to the game notes because in exhibitions like these, one shouldn’t dwell on the highs or lows too much but just focus on overall impressions.

Cheick Diallo’s offensive skills have increased significantly (hooray!) — thanks to an extended range, more fluid footwork and a better understanding of the game — so lets nitpick a few remaining bad habits: defensive awareness and a black hole mentality. Simply put, Diallo still doesn’t like to pass once he has the ball in his hands across half court, consequently it led to a few too many forces. The one play that sticks out in my mind is when he received the ball in transition and was about eight feet from the rim. Instead of dishing to a wide open teammate running down the other side of the lane, he tried to score himself against a defender draped all over him.

Turnover.

Despite the Ryan Anderson-like mentality, Diallo did manage a wonderful assist in the closing minutes to a cutting Keith Benson under the rim, and as mentioned, Diallo’s offensive skillset has been upgraded. Check out this play where he looked an awful lot like Anthony Davis in execution and finish.

Diallo’s defense was a mixed bag as evidenced by Siakam’s 24 points on 10-14 from the field. He’s got to strive for better positioning and he still needs to learn to not fall for every ball fake. However, his help defense, when called for, was solid, and I thought he did a great job in transition, counting three times in the first half where he slowed or stopped an opponent’s attack. If a big is able to ward off a smaller ball handler in the open floor on a consistent basis, he should be able to find minutes under Darren Erman.

Similar things can be said of Quinn Cook. His offense was impressive, namely his ability to hit shots when given just a small amount of clearance. On one drive, he kept the opponent on his hip and then created some space by a quick change in direction and launched a shot all in one motion. Later, he showed off his incredible range by knocking down a three-pointer from about six feet behind the arc.

Defensively, though, Cook struggled. VanVleet was able to get to any part of the floor as he wished, leading to quite a few breakdowns by the Pelicans. Cook is not only going to have to learn to stay in front of his man better but also improve on navigating screens. There’s no doubt his shot is ready to appear in NBA games, but his defense will need to make strides to crack any rotation.

Probably the most impressive player next to Cook and Diallo was Jalen Jones. He stroked the three-ball well, didn’t shy away from contact on drives and showed glimpses on defense — staying with his man on occasion and exhibiting fundamentals like boxing out the opposition for rebounds. I know it’s been just one game, but watch this guy over the remaining games because he could be in line for one of the CBA’s new two-way contracts.

With Jones third on my list, that means I wasn’t particularly enamored by Axel Toupane and James Young. Toupane had one nice pull-up three, but his drives reminded me too much of Solomon Hill — awkward and off the mark. As for Young, I can see why the Celtics threw in the towel. The guy gives effort, but both his shot and playmaking need work. Despite knocking down a couple of threes, he didn’t appear to have the requisite shooter’s touch, and in lacking contributions in other areas, gives little hope of being a useful rotation player one day.

Peter Jok, the famed shooter out of Iowa, had a forgettable five minutes of action. His first shot attempt wound up missing the mark by a country mile, indicating nerves were probably at play. Thus, it’s not a surprise coach Jamelle McMillan didn’t give Jok any minutes during the second half... but hopefully this won’t remain the theme for the rest of summer league play.

As for the rest of the roster who saw action, there isn’t much else to say. Jaleel Cousins’ biggest contributions was a charge and a few screens. Isaiah Cousins had five assists, but his defense was noticeably worse than Cook’s. Royce O’Neale and Keith Benson, meh.

During halftime, Alvin Gentry gave an interview and listed below are some highlights of that conversation.

  • The coaching staff is looking at player activity levels in Las Vegas and how well they are getting up and down the floor. Additionally it is important to watch how well each player can guard his position.
  • Gentry was happy with Cook’s first half, stating he did a good job of showing he can run a team. (We promise to forget about the attempted pass to Diallo late in the game that led to a crucial turnover.)
  • On the Jrue Holiday re-signing, the head coach said it feels like $126 million on having him back. Plus, he believes Jrue still has a bright future ahead because he’s only 27 years of age.
  • The hope is DeMarcus Cousins can shoot about 40% from three-point range.
  • Boogie and The Brow will run a lot of high/low action this upcoming season.
  • The Pelicans got a decent look at Frank Jackson while Holiday was scrimmaging with college guys when he was in North Carolina by wife Lauren’s side.

The next game is scheduled for Sunday at 3 pm central against the Atlanta Hawks. It will air on NBA tv once again, but it can also be viewed on WatchEspn.