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Mavs drop first Summer League game to Knicks, 76-64

Bernard James led the way for Dallas in a losing effort, as Dallas gets off to slow start in Vegas.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks took on the New York Knicks in the first game of the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League.  Bernard James led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the mini-Mavs lost to the mini-Knicks 76-64 after trailing most of the game.

For those who are not veteran summer-league watchers, it should be stated straight away that summer league action is definitely a level of quality below the NBA, with at least half the players being fringe prospects, and the rest being either journeymen or kids a year or two out of college. The former are trying to do anything to show they can fit a particular system or style, and the latter are often trying to work on perceived weaknesses and expand their repertoire. The result is a few teases of pro-quality play here and there, but relatively often the game drifts into borderline un-watchable territory.

With that in mind, I'll spare you all a detailed play by play, and focus on the individual players and general observations:

  • Bernard "Sarge" James played well, as he done in Vegas twice already now. This combined with his stunning D-League performance could be a nice audition for a team, though there is a loud rumor it will be with someone other than Dallas. Sarge converted 7-of-9 shots, grabbed 10 boards (3 of them offensive), and blocked 4 shots. For the most part he caught the ball when throw to him, hustled, and even knocked down a mid-range jumper for good measure. That's essentially all you could ever ask of a third center. As has always been the case for the 29-year-old, his upside is limited, but I don't see a lot of reasons to say James definitely shouldn't be in the NBA.
  • Ricky Ledo finished second on Dallas with 14 points, and continues to be the most intriguing Mavericks player to have still not really done anything yet. The ball looks great coming out of Ledo's hands, but he shot 4-14. He made several nice dribble moves (one on a really good looking spin) that ended in his shot being brutally rejected at the rim. He took nine free throws but made just five. He turned the ball over six times. I am really looking to see something worth getting excited about with Ledo. It could still come, but in his second summer league stint with a decent D-League run under his belt, Ledo should probably be really doing work this time around. Stay tuned, though.
  • Eric Griffin, who went undrafted out of Campbell University in 2012, made just two shots, but they were memorable. The first was a gym-rocking dunk over former Mav Shane Larkin (courtesy of MMB's own Kirk Henderson), the second was another slam off a fast-break with a minute left. Griffin was one of the few Mavs to finish in the positive at +8, and while he did not exhibit much in the way of finesse, his athleticism and tenacity stood out. He played hard, showed off NBA-caliber explosiveness, and while he didn't contribute a ton in counting stats(aside from three blocks in 18 minutes), he made his presence felt.
  • Gal Mekel continued to look competent without really doing anything spectacular. He had a solid line of 10 points, 7 rebounds, and a 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but remains a non-factor from outside and certainly won't "wow" you unless you just really, really love a solid backdoor lead pass or box out. Dallas tried to post up Mekel on the diminutive Shane Larkin on the game's opening play, and it went nowhere. I'm not sure if that says more about Larkin or Mekel.
  • Ivan Johnson is maybe the highest profile guy on the Mavs squad this summer, as a multi-year pro and rotation player with the Atlanta Hawks. He played in China most recently, and when he joined the Dallas Vegas team there was speculation he might be returning stateside to play with the Mavs. Ivan had apparently been working with Rick Carlisle on his outside shot, and certainly let fly tonight (something that was not a featured part of his game in Atlanta), though more often than not he clanked or airballed. What Johnson is known for, however, is tough defense and a mean streak, both of which were on display tonight. Johnson enjoys getting in his man's face, committing six fouls (not a disqualification in summer league), and doesn't back down easily. I like his D, but the other end would seem to need a little work, still.
  • Aussie Chris Goulding made a couple of threes, and has a nice looking stroke, but amazingly was 0-fer in the other four big categories: zero rebounds, assists, steals or blocks. Clearly Goulding's M.O. is shooting, so we'll keep an eye on just how well he acquits himself there over the next week.
  • C.J. Fair -- Syracuse's leading scorer last season -- hit a three as his only field goal attempt in just ten minutes.  Expect more burn for him in the coming games. He was a relatively high-profile undrafted invitee, and likely deserves a little more attention. He will look to dispel the belief that he's a tweener forward and establish a position for himself.
  • Jackie Carmichael and Javon McCrea also bared played; infact, Carmichael didn't at all. Carmicheal played for Indiana in the Orlando Summer League and may just be getting rest. McCrea is an intriguing guy who analytics looked favorably on in his four stat-stuffing years at Buffalo. Expect both big man to see the court as Dallas could easily be in the market for a minimum contract big man to round out their roster.

So an inauspicious start to the Mavs' Summer League, as the offseason continues to dominate headlines. Dallas takes on Minnesota tomorrow at 6:30 Eastern Time. Be sure to check back here at Mavs Moneyball for continuing coverage of the games, including content from Tim Cato live from Vegas!