Pelicans like how players progressed in summer league

LAS VEGAS — The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t come close to winning the first NBA Summer League Tournament championship, but that doesn’t mean their minicamp and 2-3 record was an unsuccessful experience.

For roster players Austin Rivers, Darius Miller and Brian Roberts, their personal progress plans were achieved. Most of the other players also made positive impressions on the coaching staff.

“One thing that I am happy for, that I think we have established, that matters for us, is Pelicans on the front of the jersey and the effort that we’re going to put out,” Pelicans Summer League coach Bryan Gates said. “I think we were down by eight a couple times (in a 78-77 loss to Washington on Friday) and I think we were even down seven late. We have fought back every way. Sometimes when the jumper doesn’t go, regardless of what you’re shooting from the field, you can still grind it.

“We were two defensive rebounds away from winning that game. The first and the third game, we made those plays at the end of the game where we got that loose ball and we made that effort play. We’ve just got to go back and keep grinding. This step of the process is over, now we move into August and September.”

The Pelicans most likely will move into the autumn months with second-round draft choices Jeff Withey and Pierre Jackson, who were acquired via trades, vying for roster spots at center and guard, respectively.

“I like Jeff Withey a lot. I like what he brings,” Gates said about the 7-foot, 235-pound center who averaged 5.0 rebounds and led the Pelicans with six blocked shots in four games. “I like his attitude toward the game. Jeff Withey is going to give you effort, he cares, and I was really pleased with Jeff.”

Gates, who is the Pelicans’ assistant coach for player development, saw a lot of things he was pleased with, but he also saw areas for improvement.

“In these settings, I wish we shared the ball a little bit better,” Gates said. “We had that play at the end of the first quarter (against Washington) where we ... shared it. I thought that was really going to get us going in the passing game.

“I think when you share the ball, it really gets the team going.”

Individually, Rivers, Roberts and Miller performed well under the microscope.

“They gave me kind of like a discharge paper, what you need to work on when you come back,” Rivers said. “And that was basically it right there.

“One is to trust my work; everybody knows how hard I work. And when I go on the floor sometimes I can be too unselfish. I want to go out there, play my game, be aggressive within the team’s concept. Just getting back to my ways, just going out there and playing and having fun, and that’s what I did tonight. It was fun just being out there and playing.”

Rivers, who broke his hand late last season, led the Pelicans with an 18.2-point scoring average for five games.

“I don’t think Austin lacks confidence,” Gates said. “I think Austin has got the confidence down. So, I think it’s always great to play; this was his first competitive setting since he hurt his hand. In that aspect it was good and now he’s got some competitive games over. Now it’s time for another step.”

Roberts, with a 14.2 average, and Miller, at 13.8, were the next highest scorers for the Pelicans.

“I still want Darius to compete on the defensive end,” Gates said. “I want him to be that guy. I want him to be that guy that gets in there and grinds out those loose balls and is automatically diving on the floor and is automatically getting rebounds. The offense is easy to work on. It’s the defensive attitude that is his next step.”

“They want to know what you can do consistently,” Roberts said about the coaching staff. “I think they know what I can do, and I am going to do that. I’m pretty happy with how things went here.

“Even with the kind of year I had I still had to show that OK, let’s come back in the summer and show that it wasn’t just a one-time thing or whatever. In my shoes, I have to show what I can do.

“I think it shows in the games that guys have worked on their game, and this is the time to showcase that. Guys like Austin and Darius, they came out and they played well, and they showed the improvements that they needed to do. I think over the course of this minicamp, it was a good time for all of us.

“I think they wanted me to be more of a vocal guy and to be more of a floor leader, a floor general, out there on the floor and that’s what I tried to work on. That was one area that I wanted to focus on.”