6 Takeaways from Day 1 of 2014 Las Vegas Summer League

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2014

6 Takeaways from Day 1 of 2014 Las Vegas Summer League

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    Orlando Summer League action was fun while it lasted, but now our favorite up-and-coming stars have taken their talents to Las Vegas.

    And needless to say, what happens in Vegas isn't staying in Vegas.

    The world is watching to see how highly touted rookies like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker fair in their first taste of post-NCAA action. There are plenty of other young standouts to keep things interesting, including 2013 first-round pick Anthony Bennett, who—spoiler alert—looked pretty good Friday night.

    While the day's news zeroed in on LeBron James' return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was plenty of other hoops drama worth following.

    Here's a rundown of the opening action from Vegas.

New York Knicks Have More Young Talent Than You Think

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    It's long seemed as though the New York Knicks were saddled with overpaid veterans and desperately thin on promising youth.

    That may be changing.

    Tim Hardaway Jr. dropped 25 points in New York's first summer league contest, and he wasn't the only one making contributions in the team's 76-64 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Cole Aldrich tallied nine points and an impressive 15 rebounds on the same day the organization re-signed him to a new deal.

    Rookie Cleanthony Early got off to a nice start as well. He scored an efficient 13 points and cashed in on 3-of-4 three-pointers. He also had an emphatic dunk over Ivan Johnson and Chris Goulding.

    Quietly, second-year point guard Shane Larkin also opened some eyes. His 10 points won't drop any jaws, but the five assists and four steals rounded out a pretty nice line.

    At this point, New York will take what it can get. The club is desperately in need of young help, and so far there are signs the Knicks may have more than any of us anticipated.

    Whether it's enough to convince Carmelo Anthony to return remains to be seen, but the Knicks suddenly appear to be in the best long-term shape they've been in for some time.

Jordan Clarkson Looking Like a Steal so Far

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    Jordan Clarkson wasn't selected in this summer's draft until the second round. Eventually the Washington Wizards took him with the 46th overall pick and subsequently traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    "He's good," Lakers rookie Julius Randle said of Clarkson, according to Fox Sports West's Rahshaun Haylock. "He had a big game against us [at the NCAA level] and really caught our eye. I, kind of, already knew what kind of player he was coming in here so he's really good."

    Per Haylock, Clarkson said, "I got a chip on my shoulder from the draft and stuff and I'm just going to come out here and work. I feel like I was one of the better point guards in the draft, maybe the best."

    That remains to be seen, but Clarkson was certainly off to a solid start Friday.

    The Missouri product tallied 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in nearly 36 minutes of action against the Toronto Raptors. Though the Lakers ultimately lost 88-78, it certainly wasn't on account of Clarkson.

    The young guard's opportunities may be limited next season while playing behind Jeremy Lin, Kendall Marshall and Steve Nash, but he could certainly cement a long-term role with the franchise if he keeps this up.

    Given Clarkson's confidence, he probably has little doubt he'll do just that.

Andrew Wiggins Has More Than Just Upside (And so Does Jabari Parker)

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    Going into the NBA draft, the consensus view seemed to be that Jabari Parker was the more NBA-ready prospect, while Andrew Wiggins possibly had the higher ceiling.

    One summer league game certainly won't change that assessment, but Wiggins proved he was more ready than some might have suspected in his first outing. On the same day his Cleveland Cavaliers learned LeBron James was returning home, Wiggins showed what he was already capable of.

    The Kansas product scored 18 points to go along with three rebounds, a steal and a block. 

    There were some rough patches to be sure, namely making just 1-of-8 three-point attempts. But Wiggins looked like a guy who understood his role, turning it over just once. In the end, his Cavs prevailed over the Milwaukee Bucks 70-68.

    No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker also had a strong game for Milwaukee. He posted an efficient 17 points and nine rebounds, matching Giannis Antetokounmpo for team-high scoring honors.

    The Cavs had a difficult decision to make when choosing between Wiggins and Parker. According to The Associated Press (via NJ.com):

    The Cavs debated over Wiggins and Parker for days before finalizing their choice in the last hours leading into the draft. There was a reported rift between Griffin, who preferred Parker, and owner Dan Gilbert, who wanted Wiggins. However, two hours before the draft started, Gilbert posted a photo of the team's decision room on his Twitter account with the words: "United and busy."

    It's also worth noting 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett had an impressive outing for the Cavs. Though his 6-of-16 showing from the floor left something to be desired, the 21-year-old finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.

    He also looked to be better-conditioned than he was last season, which could be a precursor to increased minutes with the Cavaliers this season.

Golden State Warriors May Have All the Point Guard Depth They Need

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    Nemanja Nedovic spent some of his first season in the Development League and played in just 24 games for the Golden State Warriors.

    He could, however, be well on his way to establishing himself as the Warriors' third point guard behind starter Stephen Curry and reserve Shaun Livingston. Entering his second year, Nedovic has something to prove in this summer league.

    So far, he's proving plenty.

    Nedovic posted 17 points and five rebounds in just over 24 minutes of play. In addition to making two of his three attempts from three-point range, the 23-year-old attempted 11 free throws.

    Even better, he did it all on what might have been a slightly injured ankle. On Thursday, the Contra Costa Times' Diamond Leung reported Nedovic "rolled his left ankle during a scrimmage."

    So add "resiliency" to the young guard's list of positive traits, a list that's sure to grow in time.

    Finally, here's a fun fact courtesy of NBA.com: "The win gives Golden State 15 consecutive Summer League victories, the longest winning streak of all time in Vegas Summer League play."

    Well played, Warriors.

San Antonio's Youth Movement Is Alive and Well

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    The San Antonio Spurs got off to a slow start against a Sacramento Kings squad headlined by Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, Derrick Williams and rookie Nik Stauskas. But a 30-11 third-quarter margin in San Antonio's favor changed all that.

    While all five Kings starters had scored by game's end, San Antonio had five players of its own scoring in double figures, including undrafted rookie Bryce Cotton, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the Spurs' breakout third quarter. Cotton played just over 16 minutes.

    And while he didn't score in double figures, 30th overall pick Kyle Anderson looked a capable floor general from the forward position, showing off his versatility and tallying six points, six assists and four rebounds in over 25 minutes of action.

    Stauskas was the big story for Sacramento, scoring 14 points and getting to the free-throw line seven times. Known for his shooting, the swingman showed some aggressive instincts and added two steals, two blocks and three assists for the night.

    After the game, he tweeted, "Tough loss for us, but felt good to get out there for the first time. We'll learn from our mistakes. On to the next one!"

    Sacramento is looking for its youth to help the team emerge from an extended rebuild. San Antonio is hoping its new faces will obviate the need for a rebuild altogether.

Remember Devin Ebanks and Josh Howard

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    In a game that went down to the wire, it was two NBA veterans whose services were most valuable Friday night. 

    Devin Ebanks played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2010-13, but he's currently on his fourth Development League team. He made his case for an NBA return in Vegas, posting 15 points and 13 rebounds against the New Orleans Pelicans.

    His D-League Select team ultimately came up short 83-81.

    That had a little something to do with an incredibly efficient performance from 34-year-old Josh Howard, who most recently played for the D-League's Austin Toros. He's hoping to stick with the Pelicans and made an impression with an efficient 14 points that came on 4-of-6 shooting and a perfect 5-of-5 night from the free-throw line.

    Louisville product and rookie Russ Smith led New Orleans with 20 points while adding nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

    But it was the contributions from Ebanks and Howard that remind us why the summer league is so unique. While it's dominated by younger names, it's also a way for hard-working vets to make their returns.

    Two of them could be well on their way after their Friday performances.

    Journeyman Delonte West could follow suit Saturday in his first summer league contest playing for the Los Angeles Clippers. He last played in China.