The Las Vegas NBA Summer League began Friday, with 23 NBA teams and one squad of D-League All-Stars convening in Vegas for 12 days of basketball. The New Orleans Pelicans are one of these teams, and this year’s Summer League could hold significant importance for them.
The Pelicans currently have a very messy cap situation, with about $67 million tied up in ten players once the Omer Asik trade goes through. With minimal room to make roster moves, the Pelicans will likely need to sign at least a couple of players to league minimum contracts in order to make it to the necessary 12 active players.
The players on the Pelicans’ LVSL roster hold special importance then, because they represent players who, if they perform well, could be easily signed to a roster spot for limited salary.
The Pelicans have one of the more interesting Summer League rosters, a combination of undrafted rookies, players who spent time with the team or the D-League last season, and former NBA players who have spent time in Europe. One or two of these players may be full-time Pelicans this year, so let’s get to know what these players can do before they play their three round-robin Summer League games: Friday vs. the D-League Select team, Sunday vs. the Lakers, and Monday vs. the Spurs.
Cameron Ayers, Guard, Bucknell
Ayers is an undrafted free agent guard from Bucknell, and essentially was a spot-up shooting specialist in college. Ayers shot just 41.2 percent from the field as a senior, but hit 40.8 percent from 3, and 41 percent of his overall shots were 3s.
Ayers struggled to produce efficiently as a number one scoring option last year for the Bison, but was much more effective as a junior, when he was a complementary option for bruising forward Mike Muscala on the Bison’s NCAA tournament team. Ayers has decent length and size for the NBA level, but he has to prove he can do something else besides shoot threes if he’s going to make the NBA, because he’s a fairly poor defender.
Look for him to be a floor spacer off the bench for New Orleans this weekend.
Luke Babbitt, Forward, New Orleans Pelicans
A fourth-year pro from Nevada, Babbitt is one of two regulars from the Pelicans’ rotation in 2013-14 that will play in Summer League. Babbitt joined the team in January last season after being released from Russian team Nizhny Novgorod, and averaged 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 27 games for the Pelicans.
He’s another player that is almost exclusively a 3-point shooter, hitting 37.9 percent from 3 last year. He also almost led the league in 3-point shooting in 2011-12 at 43 percent.
He’s a fairly solid rebounder as well for a small forward, but like Ayers, he’s a sieve defensively. It’s likely that he’ll get some good run this summer for the team, as he has a partially guaranteed contract for 2014-15 and was decent in a reserve role for the team last season.
(EDIT: Babbitt is not playing in Summer League even though he is on roster. He may be a piece of the coming Omer Asik trade with the Houston Rockets, per @Mike Pellissier of Bourbon Street Shots)
Josh Carter, Forward, Siena (Italy)
Carter was last seen in the U.S. during the 2012 Summer League as a member of the Denver Nuggets. He played college ball at Texas A&M, and since has spent time professionally in Italy, Russia, Israel, and Germany.
Carter spent last year with Siena in the Italian league, and if you sense a pattern, Carter continues it: He’s another solid 3-point shooter that doesn’t do much else. Carter shot just better than 44 percent from 3 last year, and while he isn’t a great rebounder or defender, he does have the best size of any player between he, Babbitt, and Ayers.
However, Carter likely isn’t an option for the Pelicans this season, as he signed a contract with Turk Telekom in Turkey earlier this week. It’s unlikely that he gets much playing time for the Pelicans in Summer League.
Keith Chamberlain, Forward, Hacettepe (Turkey)
Chamberlain played in Turkey last year, and is a former member of the high-flying Grinnell college scoring circus in Division III college basketball. Chamberlain has also played in Latvia and Germany.
He’s best as a face-up scorer and off-ball cutter, and can rebound a bit, but doesn’t really appear to be an NBA player. The big reason he’s been so closely linked to the Pelicans over the last year? He’s Anthony Davis‘s cousin.
Drew Crawford, Guard, Northwestern
Crawford was a very talented scorer last season for Northwestern. After missing the 2012-13 season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Crawford was the top player for the Wildcats last year, and performed fairly well in that role, averaging 15.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game last year.
Crawford is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades offensively, as he can spot up and create for himself, although he’s far less efficient when asked to do the latter. Defensively he’s not very strong, and has a lot to learn because Northwestern played mostly zone for much of his career.
However, he is a very smart player on both ends, and has the quickness and strength to perform at the NBA level. If he can demonstrate decent efficiency as a shooter and defensive potential during Summer League, Crawford could earn a training camp invite from the Pelicans.
Courtney Fells, Forward, Austin Toros
Fells was a regular for the Austin Toros last year in the D-League, where he averaged 18 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 47 games of action. Fells, now 27 years old, is a solid all-around scorer, and is another player who could easily break onto the Pelicans roster.
Fells has impressive athleticism and size, and he can do a little bit of everything; he’s a talented passer, a decent defensive player, and he is around a 38 percent 3-point shooter. Fells will likely play a little bit at both wing spots for the Pelicans’ Summer League team, and if he can show he’s a solid two-way player, he might finally be able to break into the NBA.
Abdul Gaddy, Guard, Maine Red Claws
Besides having the best name on the Pelicans’ roster, Gaddy should be the backup point guard to Russ Smith on this squad. Gaddy is originally from Washington, where he replaced Isaiah Thomas at point guard.
He spent last year with the Maine Red Claws in the D-League, where he averaged nine points, 3.2 rebounds, and five assists per game. Gaddy is another decent potential shooter for this team, as he progressed from a very inconsistent shooter for the Huskies to a 42 percent 3-point shooter last season.
He’s a very inconsistent shooter overall, as he paired that with an abyssmal 57.6 percent at the line. Gaddy also isn’t much of an athlete, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to be a decent defensive player.
He’s primarily a game manager that can shoot 3s, which has some use; however, make no mistake that Smith is going to be the primary point guard for New Orleans, and Gaddy likely won’t get much run.
Josh Howard, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last seen on the 2012-13 Timberwolves, this is in fact the Howard that was a mainstay in the frontcourt for the mid-2000s Mavericks. Howard has been suffering from chronic knee issues since tearing his ACL in 2010, and has been in and out of the league over that time.
Now 34, Howard is the oldest player attending Summer League, and is attempting to make a comeback as a full-time power forward. From the Pelicans standpoint, it’s going to be important to figure out if Howard has regained his shot, which died after the injury (Career 34 percent 3-point shooter, but shooting 25.6 percent post-injury).
Howard has also struggled to defend and rebound since his ACL tear, but shooting is probably the biggest indicator of whether Howard can make an impact again. If he looks anything close to 2008-09 Howard, he should make the Pelicans without issue as Al-Farouq Aminu‘s replacement.
DeQuan Jones, Forward, Reno Bighorns
Jones was the star of the post-Dwight Howard Magic’s Summer League and preseason squads, and while he was mostly a bit player on a terrible Magic team in 2012-13, he still has decent potential for the Pelicans’ Summer League Squad. Jones hit 40.6 percent of his 3s last year and is an explosive athlete, and while his defense is average, he could make an impact as a combo forward, especially if Howard flops.
The big test for Jones is going to be proving that he can rebound well enough to play on a weak rebounding team in New Orleans.
Samardo Samuels, Center, EA7 Armani (Italy)
Samuels will attempt to make one last push into the NBA after spending last year playing in Italy, where he was a fairly average player. Samuels used to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he slowly lost favor over three seasons of play.
He was criticized for being out of shape and little more than a scorer, and really hasn’t proven that he can do much else since. Samuels is a large man, but he is a sieve on defense and can’t rebound.
That’s a really bad combination. I still think he might be better than Alexis Ajinca, but it’s likely Samuels won’t do much to impress at LVSL.
Russ Smith, Guard, Louisville
I’ve pretty much covered everything that one needs to know about Russ Smith here. Smith is probably the player that is most likely to join the Pelicans this season, and he’s likely to get plenty of playing time at point guard and off the ball in Summer League.
The big things to watch with Smith will be whether he can defend opposing point guards, and how he fares attacking the basket off the dribble. If he does both well, the Pelicans may have gotten a steal with the 47th pick.
(EDIT: Per @Mike Pellissier, Russ Smith’s contract is guaranteed for next season. He, in all likelihood, will be on the Pelicans’ roster in some capacity next season)
James Southerland, Forward, Bobcats/Pelicans/Los Angeles D-Fenders
Southerland spent most of the year with the D-Fenders, where he was mostly an off-ball cutter and mid-range shooter. Southerland was supposed to be a solid shooter coming out of Syracuse, but he shot only 32.3 percent from 3 in the D-League, and that was an issue given he shot six 3s per game.
Southerland flashed decent rebounding skill, but he’s still incredibly raw defensively. Southerland’s big challenge this summer will be demonstrating that he can shoot threes consistently and showing some improvement on the defensive end.
Jeff Withey, Center, New Orleans Pelicans
Withey is probably the player with the most potential on this Summer League squad. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 58 contests last year, and just wasn’t ready to play regularly in the NBA.
However, he displayed decent touch around the basket, and his shot-blocking ability is strong, as he posted a solid 6.1 percent block rate. Withey has been working on his shooting and defensive ability alongside Anthony Davis this summer, and should get plenty of minutes to prove his worth.
That’s something that the Pelicans need him to do, because Withey right now appears to be in line to be the No. 1 backup to Omer Asik next season.
Patric Young, Forward, Florida
Young was projected to be a high second-round pick in the NBA Draft, but went undrafted. His inclusion on this team is a huge victory for New Orleans.
Young is a very talented post defender, and he can defend the pick-and-roll as well. Those are two areas where the Pelicans, and particularly Davis, struggled last season.
He’s fairly raw offensively as well, but can finish about as well as Withey could, and considering the Pelicans got nothing from the center position on that end last year, Young is likely an improvement. He needs to improve as a rebounder, but the Pelicans got a steal with Young, and he should definitely get plenty of chances to earn a camp invite.