MArreese Speights; Amir Johnson

Who looked good in Vegas Day 1: Marreese Speights, Iman Shumpert

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Monday was Day 1 of the Impact Competitive Training Series out in Las Vegas. That is some organized run for NBA guys, a chance for them to fine tune their games and get in shape for training camps and a season that may or may not come soon.

About 40 guys were there for the first day (guys are expected to drop in and out). A. Sherrod Blakely of was out there and filed a report on who looked good.

Just a word of caution: Impact is like Summer League — you can get some insight into who has been working on their game and might take a step forward, but don’t read too much into the results. These are glorified pickup games, not NBA run. That said, Sixers and Knicks fans should be happy.

Marreese Speights, C, Philadelphia: After seeing limited time last season with the Sixers, Speights is out to regain the form and promise he showed as a rookie three years ago. The 6-foot-10 center showed a nice inside-outside game, tallying 21 points (including a 3-pointer) along with 12 rebounds.

Isaiah Thomas, G, Sacramento: The smallest guy on the floor put up big numbers while playing in two games. In his first game, the 5-foot-9 guard barely missed having a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He followed that up with a 26-point, seven-assist effort.

Iman Shumpert, G/F, New York: There were a handful of rookies here, but Shumpert was hands-down the best of the bunch. His athleticism was impressive, but he showed the ability to knock down jumpers as well which would make him an extremely tough cover in the coming years. He had 25 points and six rebounds.

Again, any run where Thomas and Shumpert are stars should not be taken too seriously. But when we looked what the Kings should do post lockout the big question was “who will be the facilitator on this team?” Maybe Thomas can grow into that role. Shumpert is not going to get a lot of shots in NYC — they pay a couple guys named ‘Melo and Amar’e a lot of money to take the lion’s share — but if he can knock down jumpers he will get minutes under Mike D’Antoni.

Other guys Blakely said looked good were Austin Daye and Jermaine O’Neal, at least until O’Neal started to tire as the game wore on. Boston can’t count on him for big minutes.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.