8 Takeaways from Day 2 of 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

8 Takeaways from Day 2 of 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League

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    The second day of Las Vegas Summer League action got off to an unexpected start, and not just because New York Knicks rookie Shane Larkin hit an impossible, high-arcing floater to give his team a victory.

    No, there was more to the Vegas festivities than a rainbow runner from a new Knick.

    There was an overarching sense of optimism and, oddly, for the Knicks anyway, a legitimately fun atmosphere. New York saw some of its younger prospects spread their wings, and so did a handful of other clubs.

    Otto Porter, forgotten No. 3 pick from a forgettable draft, also got loose.

    Elsewhere, the Golden State Warriors continued an improbable streak, the Chicago Bulls got a glimpse into their future and lottery stud Dante Exum showed the Utah Jazz he's perfectly capable of playing exciting basketball north of the equator.

    Here's what you need to know from a scorching Day 2 in Vegas.

The Knicks Are Kind of Fun

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    I know; I can't believe it either.

    Last season, the Knicks were one big bummer—marked by on-court underperformance, front-office tomfoolery and a lack of defensive intensity that had to be seen to be believed. There was nothing fun about the 'Bockers in 2013-14.

    Now, though, things are different.

    The second day of summer league action in Vegas saw Larkin (newly acquired from the Dallas Mavericks) hit a game-winning floater from the right baseline with 28.5 seconds left in the Knicks' 71-69 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers.

    He finished with just three made buckets on 11 attempts, but his performance down the stretch was vital to a Knicks win, per a tweet from Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press: "Shane Larkin just took the last 30 seconds of this game over for the Knicks. Game-winning J, help defense sealed it."

    At any rate, it was a step up from being absolutely annihilated by Eric Griffin in the Knicks' first summer league tilt on July 11.

    Plus, Tim Hardaway Jr. put up 20 points, Cleanthony Early was extremely active both inside and out, filling up the box score with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and five fouls in just under 29 minutes, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo had a sweet follow dunk that got the crows buzzing.

    Yes, it's only summer league. And yes, getting Carmelo Anthony to agree to return on a new contract is far bigger news, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

    But it's just nice to see the Knicks play some entertaining, mildly hope-inducing ball. 

Otto Porter Is a Person Who Exists

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    Otto Porter, arguably the most inconspicuous lottery pick in a 2013 draft full of forgettable selections, looked like a real, honest-to-goodness NBA player in the Washington Wizards' 90-74 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

    One qualifier: He looked like a real, honest-to-goodness NBA player who collected points on a seemingly endless string of mid-range jumpers. And if you've been watching much basketball over the past couple of years, you're probably aware that scoring from that section of the floor isn't exactly a reliable way to get one's buckets.

    Still, Porter provided 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, sharing lead-dog duties with Glen Rice Jr., who hunted shots relentlessly, a tendency that shows up in his 16 free-throw attempts.

    We can't be sure how Porter's summer league effort will translate to the regular season. In fact, we probably shouldn't make too much of anything until we at least see him put together another solid Vegas performance.

    But with Trevor Ariza bolting to the Houston Rockets and Martell Webster sidelined for three to five months following back surgery, Porter figures to play a much bigger role with the Wizards this season.

    ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports the Wizards will bring in Paul Pierce to man starting small forward duties, but there will be rotation minutes to be had if Porter wants them. For a Wizards team with hopes of taking another step forward this season, a bigger-than-expected contribution from Porter sure wouldn't hurt.

Gary Harris Can Shoot the Ball

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    Gary Harris didn't leave any doubt about his stroke on Saturday night. The 19-year-old Michigan State product scored 33 points on an efficient 10-of-17 performance, cashing in on 5-of-10 three-point attempts and showing promise from all over the floor.

    Harris was selected with the 19th overall pick this summer, drafted by the Chicago Bulls and later acquired via trade by the Denver Nuggets.

    The early experience will be helpful for Harris in cementing some minutes on an otherwise crowded ring rotation in Denver.

    Per The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, Nuggets assistant Noel Gillespie said"Realistically, we want Quincy [Miller] and Erick Green and Gary to be put in positions where they can excel and they can score and we can get a look at what they can do on both ends of the floor." 

    Of shooting the three-ball, Harris said, via CBS4 Denver, "I’m still trying to work on that, just get adjusted to that 3-point line and just get as many reps as possible."

    The reps are paying off. Harris didn't hesitate to shoot the ball and looked capable of making an immediate impact at the NBA level. There may not be many 30-plus-point games in his immediate future, but he appears to be a ready-made spark plug off the bench.

    Denver ultimately prevailed over Toronto's summer league squad 110-82. Quincy Miller added 23 points and four blocks, while Erick Green tallied an efficient 17 points, six boards and four assists.

Can Shabazz Muhammad Find a Way?

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    Shabazz Muhammad is still trying to justify the fact that he was selected with the 14th overall pick in 2013's draft, when he was taken by the Utah Jazz and then traded (along with Gorgui Dieng) for point guard Trey Burke.

    Burke had an exceptional rookie campaign for the Jazz. Save for 37 games with Minnesota, Muhammad spent most of his season in the D-League.

    We always knew he could be a project, but there was never any doubting his potential. He's a born scorer and showed Saturday night that he could rebound the ball as well—tallying 11 boards, including seven on the offensive end. The 21-year-old's tenacity on the glass made up for the fact he stands just 6'6". 

    But it was Muhammad's 27 points that led all scorers against a Dallas Mavericks team that ended up winning the contest 93-85.

    Talking about the upcoming season, Muhammad said, per Fox Sports North's Phil Ervin, "It's a big one for me. I think this should be a breakout year for me."

    Ervin adds:

    The glimpses came sporadically last season -- a 20-point game at Phoenix here, a stellar NBA Developmental League stint (24.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) there -- but the downturns were more readily evident. Former coach Rick Adelman played Muhammad just 7.8 minutes per game in 37 appearances, even though he shot 46 percent from the floor and averaged 23.7 points and 8.8 boards per 48 minutes.

    The Timberwolves could be on the verge of a serious rebuild in the event Kevin Love gets traded. That could create a window of opportunity for Muhammad to show what he can do. He'll be joined by Dieng and rookie Zach LaVine, who added 13 points on Saturday.

    Bernard James and Ricky Ledo led Dallas with 21 points apiece. Ledo was especially impressive from beyond the three-point arc, where he converted on 5-of-8 attempts.

The Streak Is Alive...Barely

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    If the last two years have taught us anything, it's that the Golden State Warriors are kings of summer.

    Thanks to Justin Holiday's late putback of a Nemanja Nedovic air-ball, the Dubs stretched their summer league winning streak to 16 games, a span that dates back four years.

    That's right; Golden State hasn't lost a game in Vegas since 2010.

    Thanks to the 2011 lockout that erased summertime play and two perfect 7-0 runs in 2012 and 2013, the Warriors had a lot riding on their Saturday tilt with the Phoenix Suns.

    Holiday was the late-game hero, but he was also pretty darn dominant throughout. He led all scorers with 29 points and finished with a game-high 13 rebounds for good measure.

    Nedovic and center Ognjen Kuzmic are probably the only players on the Warriors' summer roster who can expect to ever see regular-season time, but if Holiday keeps on preserving history like he did in this one, new head coach Steve Kerr might be forced to consider making him a more permanent part of the squad.

    The rangy, 25-year-old guard enjoyed a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012-13, and though he's probably best known as Jrue's brother, the elder Holiday is doing his best to make his own way. 

    Golden State will look to continue its unbeaten run against the Los Angeles Lakers on July 14.

It Was a Good Day for Bulls Fans

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    The Chicago Bulls landed Pau Gasol, per a report from, well...Pau Gasol. And if the good news had stopped there, fans in the Windy City would have had themselves a nice little Saturday.

    But Tony Snell got loose for 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, and rookie Doug McDermott hit a couple of triples in his first professional game (he was just 2-of-8 from the field overall, but who's counting?). Basically, the Bulls got glimpses of their offensive present and future—all in the same day.

    For a Chicago team that ranked 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency last season, getting its hands on a passing dynamo who can still score at a respectable clip like Gasol is huge. But at 34, the big Spaniard is probably in for a mild, continuing decline.

    Having a couple of young bucks like Snell and McDermott ready to grow into their roles as serious rotation components bodes very well for the Bulls future—not to mention their chances at making a run to the Finals as soon as this season.

No LeBron, No Problem

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    Not having LeBron James, a reality the Miami Heat will become all too familiar with this season, is a huge problem. But hey, at least James Ennis looks like he might be a player.

    The 6'7" forward spent last season in Puerto Rico and Australia, not yet a ready (or necessary) component of a Heat team angling for a ring. Now, though, Ennis figures to be a key player going forward. He played well in the Orlando Summer League, notching 29 points against the Brooklyn Nets on July 6 and 17 against the Indiana Pacers on July 10.

    He poured in another 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in the Heat's 92-81 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

    The young wing's recent emergence might come as a surprise to some, but the Heat have had high hopes for a while.

    "We’re very optimistic about James. He exceeded what we expected. He should have been MVP in the league [in Australia]," Heat chief executive Chet Kammerer told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

    Nobody can fill the void James left behind. But with Ennis looking like a player, Chris Bosh back in the fold and Miami aggressively seeking out options on the free-agent market, there's a good chance the Heat will cope with the loss of their King well enough.

Dante Exum: As Advertised

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    Ridiculous bursts of speed on offense?


    Sharp, intuitive passing eye?


    Shaky jumper and definite growing pains ahead?

    Yeah, those too.

    Dante Exum gave the Utah Jazz exactly what they were expecting in his summer league debut, and you'd have to think they were mostly pleased with what they saw.

    The rookie from Down Under played 27 minutes, scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting and handed out three assists against just one turnover. The numbers weren't spectacular and were largely a product of a wholly ugly game that saw both teams shoot below 37 percent from the field while combining for 37 turnovers against 24 assists.

    But the flashes were there.

    Exum blew by defenders off the dribble, got up to finish a lob from Trey Burke and crammed in a two-handed flush from a standstill after snatching a backcourt steal. The athleticism and instincts were on full display. But as you probably gleaned from the checklist above, so were the areas for improvement.

    The lanky guard will need to iron out his jumper and work his way to the foul line more than twice if he's going to keep defenders honest in the future.

    As far as debuts for teenagers who have never faced anything close to NBA competition, though, Exum conducted himself awfully well.