Corey Webster: Down by the Bayou

New Zealand Breakers star Corey Webster will be flying to the U.S. today for a tryout with the New Orleans Pelicans and a legitimate shot not only at a training camp invitation, but at a roster spot for the upcoming NBA Season.

Webster has had interest from several NBA teams after his excellent showing at the recent FIBA Oceania Championships, but it’s the Pelicans that have snapped him up for a tryout.

“My agent has been communicating with them (New Orleans) and says it is based on my form over the past couple of months since coming back from Europe, in particular up against NBA caliber players such as Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova,” Webster said this morning.

“I guess they were watching and I have done enough for this invite, I have to work hard and show them I am worthy of the next step and get an invite to stay for longer.”

When you look at the Pelicans roster, Webster is actually a great fit.

Currently, their shooting guard depth chart reads Eric Gordon and Bryce Dejean-Jones. Obviously they have Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Alonzo Gee at small forward who are all capable of playing minutes at the two spot, while Norris Cole  (a restricted free agent) has a qualifying offer and may return, but none of them are natural twos. Corey certainly is.

Pondexter is still recovering from off-season knee surgery and may not be ready for training camp, while Gordon had another injury interrupted year last year, playing just 61 games and his production dipped for the third straight year. Adding some depth behind him as insurance makes complete sense for GM Dell Demps and new Head Coach Alvin Gentry.

Dejean-Jones has a non-guaranteed training camp contract only and is considered a long shot to make the roster for the season. He played well for the Pelicans during Summer League, averaging 12.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 assists during his six games, but he went undrafted in the 2015 draft following a, shall we say, storied college career which saw him walk away from three different college programs.

Webster has pro and international experience and his game, which thrives off curl cuts, spotting up off screens, and creating in the pick-and-roll, is something that the Pelicans could use.

Jrue Holiday has a massive injury cloud hanging over him and will be restricted at training camp. He may not be able to practice without restriction until November. He would be the best pick-and-roll creator on the team if he can stay healthy, but he will play his minutes at point guard.

Tyreke Evans will slide to the three spot this season and can attack with the ball, but cannot shoot the way Webster can. Gordon obviously can, but again struggles with health so having another shooter with deep range and the ability to create and pull up off the dribble, would be appealing to Demps and Gentry.

Webster, who attended a Pacers mini-camp in June, is coming off a standout season with the NZ Breakers in which they captured their fourth title, a solid stint with KK Mega Leks in Serbia from late March to early June, plus that outstanding series for the Tall Blacks against the Boomers last month as well as some big lines in the warm up games.

With the Pacers mini-camp experience giving him a taste of the NBA environment, Webster should be able to go in to the Pelicans facility and focus solely on displaying the skill-set that got him there, without any nerves about what it will be like.

That skill-set was the talk of the Oceania region and the Boomers coaching staff after his performance in Game 1. He continuously came off high picks, or created separation off the dribble, causing headaches for the Green and Gold.

“He’s a tough cover, he’s turned into a hell of a player,” Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis said mid-series. “You can’t take a second off with him.”

Webster knows how important those Oceania games were.

“I think those games against Aussie were huge for me, those guys have proved themselves in the NBA and I competed well against them,” he said.

“It was a little bit of a tryout going against those guys, with scouts, agents and NBA teams watching you have to perform in those moments.”

Breakers coach Dean Vickerman, who spoke with Downtown ahead of the Pacers mini-camp, was not surprised at the NBA attention Webster is getting, given the improvements in his game the past year.

“He’s a great pick and roll player,” Vickerman said. “He’s really developing his passing ability but if there’s any space and time he has the ability just to pull up in that pocket or pull behind a screen and make shots. You have to be pretty aggressive in the way you defend him.”

Vickerman also spoke of Corey’s ability at the other end of the floor and that is certainly something that the Pelicans will be exploring closely as he works out for them.

“He’s more than capable defensively. He chooses when he really turns it up and I think, you look at the 6’1” guys in the league and the Patty Mills types and the way they’re consistently after it the whole time defensively and so he’s got the speed and the agility,” Vickerman told Downtown.

The mention of Patty Mills is an interesting one as that is the kind of role that Webster would likely play for the Pelicans. The role of bench gunner and defensive harasser is something the Pelicans sorely need.

Webster stands 6’2”, so he’d likely have to play some combo guard and being able to hold his own defensively against bigger two guards will be key to his ability to earn a roster spot and minutes.

“Nothing has been achieved yet though, this is just a chance to show the coaches what I can do, it is up to me now to put my head down and make the most of the opportunity,” Webster said.

That focus will get him a long way. There is no question he is talented enough offensively to compete in the NBA and there’s a great opportunity for him to find a roster spot with the Pelicans given the current construction of their roster.

However, it will be his ability to impact a game at both ends, as Mills has proven adept at doing, which will define Webster’s success.

“At that level of basketball you have to contribute at both ends of the floor so defence will be a huge focus for me,” Webster said this morning.

For now, Webster has a great shot to stick with the Pelicans. They really lack perimeter shooting, ranking just 19th in three-point makes last season, despite being 4th in 3FG%. Outside of Gordon and Ryan Anderson, no other Pelican made more than 74 triples last season.

They also lack players who can create their own shots in pick-and-roll situations or off the dribble, ranking 26th in points off pull-ups (per, 28th in FG% and eFG% off pull-ups, while in catch and shoot situations, they ranked 19th in 3PM and 14th in points per game.

Clearly there is a fit for someone with Webster’s skill-set on their roster and he has a legitimate chance to not only make the roster, but become a rotation player.

“My agent said I have a real chance if I get to training camp as there is a spot available in my position so I’m not just making up numbers,” Webster said.

With Norris Cole no certainty to come back and Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson – the Pelicans two most reliable perimeter shooters – both headed for unrestricted free agency after this season, the Pelicans need to add some perimeter depth as a matter of urgency. That too, presents a great opportunity for Webster to fulfil his NBA dream.

“I have to thank the club for their support and blessing and my local agent at Full Circle Sports Management and their NBA partner Bell Management International for pulling this all together. I just need to give this my best shot now,” Webster said.

The first step is to get on that plane and show Alvin Gentry that the scouting reports are accurate. Then he can think about chilling with the Brow down by the Bayou.

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When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball

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