Hornets' Davis dunks the ball over Spurs' Duncan during the second half of  their NBA basketball in New Orleans

Three Stars of the Night: Two stars are born, and another just changes systems

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Long live oddly polarizing facial hair! You wear that neckbeard with pride tonight, loyal reader, and come check out the three best individual performances from Wednesday’s great slate of games.

Third Star: Anthony Davis – 21 points, 7 rebounds

It’s rare for a rookie to just look like he belongs. Usually they have flashes, but Davis sustained a high level of play throughout his 29 minutes, displaying some nice scoring instincts and a soft touch at the free throw line. We know Davis is a great fit with defensive guru Monty Williams, but with Eric Gordon out indefinitely, it will be interesting to see how Williams features Davis offensively. As soon as he gets a more explosive guard to run pick-and-rolls with, Davis could be putting up big points on the regular.

Second Star: Damian Lillard – 23 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds

Damian Lillard joins Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson as the only players to hit 20 points and 10 assists in their NBA debut. Not bad. Beating the Lakers after everyone expected them to bounce back from their opening night debacle? Even better. Lillard is an explosive, scoring point guard that’s a little reminiscent of Steve Francis – he can dive into the lane and finish in traffic, and he can step out and stroke it from distance. For a rookie to lead his team to a 116 point showing in his first game while the best defensive player on the planet is patrolling the paint is probably worthy of a first star…but there can only be one.

First Star: James Harden – 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals 14-25 FG

Let’s empathize with Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti for a minute here. Sam, this is like the ex-girlfriend who turns into a supermodel after you break it off. Sure, you got a few good years out of the relationship – but you’re not getting the prime years. That ship has sailed. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kick yourself over it. All you had to do was get her a prescription for contacts…err…give him more shots!

Harden is and always was one of the game’s most efficient and most effective scorers. Prior to tonight, Harden had never attempted more than 17 field goals in a game. Oh, and in that 17 field goal attempt game? He dropped 40. That said, it’s not all that surprising that Harden was unstoppable in his debut as the number one option, as he navigated the pick-and-roll beautifully to an impressive 37-point, 12-assist performance. In 25 seasons, only Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade have put up at least 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and one blocked shot in a game. Harden has always been this good – now we just get to see more of it.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.