The much anticipated and earthquake-shortened start to the Pelicans’ 2019 Summer League featured that year’s first draft pick Zion Williamson and third overall pick RJ Barrett. With an instant classic steal and slam to boot, it was about as exciting as a Summer League game could get.
The Summer League Pelicans returned today after sitting out the 2020 festivities with the rest of the NBA due to the COVID pandemic. The pandemic has unfortunately not gone away, and NBA play continues to be affected, but the league has opted to continue nonetheless.
Expectations for today’s contest against the Chicago Bulls paled in comparison to the 2019 matchup against the Knicks, but this year’s first round pick was sure to challenge the highlight standard set by Williamson:
Trey Murphy III, the 17th overall pick this year and the Pelicans’ only selection in the first round, let Marko Simonovic and the rest of the league know that he isn’t only on the court to knock down open jumpshots. Unfortunately for all of the Bulls defenders this afternoon, he did a great job of doing that, too. Murphy’s 26 points and six made threes (on nine attempts) were each game highs, leading New Orleans to a 94-77 victory over Chicago.
A made three from Murphy were the very first points of the game for New Orleans, but his teammates in the starting lineup were quick to follow with contributions of their own. The starting five, which featured Murphy, Anžejs Pasečņik, and Naji Marshall in the front court with Kira Lewis Jr. and Didi Louzada in the backcourt, evenly distributed the first five baskets among themselves. That balance maintained itself for most of the first half, but by the end of the first 20 minutes, Marshall had stolen the spotlight.
Marshall made seven of his first ten shots, many of which were created off the dribble and topped with a healthy serving of fancy footwork.
Yes I know it’s just 1 half of summer league, with that being said….Naji Marshall looks really good. #JustSayin— Antonio Daniels (@adaniels33) August 9, 2021
After playing 700 minutes for the Pelicans last year, many of which were low-leverage, such assertive play was both a welcome sight and a necessary development for a player who will need to continue to play well to earn a regular season rotation spot. The 1-5 shooting in the second half was less impressive, but the ability to heat up in a hurry is one that could win the Pelicans a game or three this season.
New head coach Willie Green must be quite happy with the fact that Lewis Jr. also had an impressive showing. The sophomore point guard tallied seven assists without ever turning the ball over, which is made more impressive by the fact that Marshall is the only player he’s played somewhat meaningful minutes with on an NBA court. Lewis Jr.’s speed is already so impressive as is, but in tandem with his improving knack for finding his teammates in opportune positions to score, it could become a real game changer.
Though Marshall (and, very briefly, Louzada) are the only players Lewis Jr. has played with in the NBA, he has shared a court relatively recently with Pelicans second-round pick Herb Jones.
Kira Lewis Jr. on Herb Jones' defensive ability: “He’s a guy who can guard multiple positions. He’s long. He’s disciplined. He’s always at the right spot at the right time. I know on defense, I can trust him. I know what he’s going to do.”— Christian Clark (@cclark3000) August 7, 2021
After just 21 minutes of in-game action, it is hard to argue with the young point guard’s assessment. Jones tallied five rebounds, four assists, and a pair of steals and blocks, counting stats that just barely recognize the energy he brought to the floor.
On the ball…Herb is pressuring, contesting and moving.— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) August 9, 2021
Off the ball his hands are everywhere…
The Pelicans recently acquired Jonas Valanciunas as their starting center, but the frontcourt rotation beyond him and Williamson remains one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Jones doesn’t need to be a scorer (he was 1-4 today with a made three) to find minutes in this rotation, and he wouldn’t need to do much more than he did today to make a positive impact in it.
Louzada’s showing was the biggest disappointment of the afternoon, but even he didn’t walk away completely empty handed. There is only so much a player can do when so many guys are out there trying to make positive impressions, so with just six shot attempts in 21 minutes, the ceiling is quite low. But a nice alley-oop pass helped to seal the end of the game and six rebounds, a trio of assists, and two steals filled out the box score enough to be encouraged for what he could bring to the table next game.
Oleh Kosel mentioned in the game preview the fun that is inherent to having two players who just finished their college careers together back in the same uniform. Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado combined for just 29 minutes, many fewer than they were used to playing together at Georgia Tech, but they made a real difference in the early going:
@OlehKosel's note to watch former Georgia Tech teammates Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright playing out right away -- Wright finishes an and-1 after a handoff from Alvarado, then Alvarado gets 3 points the hard way on his own.— Mike Delayo (@NolaYanks2740) August 9, 2021
23-22 Pels as the first quarter nears its end.
Stories like that make watching Summer League fun even when the bright lights of Las Vegas are focused elsewhere. That one such as Wright’s and Alvarado’s got to share the spotlight with a bevy of other early bright spots is a blessing that basketball-hungry Pelicans fans should not take for granted.
The Summer League Pelicans will play their next game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central against the Oklahoma City Thunder.