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Suns' Ulis leads way of unheralded band at top

But expect reality checks when training camps begin in September

POSTED: Jul 17, 2016 10:33 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


All-Access: Tyler Ulis at Las Vegas Summer League

Listen in as the Phoenix Suns Tyler Ulis plays in Las Vegas Summer League.

Summer League ends Monday with the championship game in Las Vegas but without much change to the early, post-draft forecast of the first KIA Rookie Ladder just before the 2016-17 regular season, leaving the knee-jerk overreactions to others.

The disappointing developments from Orlando, Salt Lake City and Vegas were more along the lines of Kris Dunn only getting on the court twice because of a concussion or fellow first-rounders Ante Zizic and Furkan Korkmaz not making it from Europe at all. Beyond that, hyperventilate at your own risk at the prospects who put up big numbers or the top picks with shoulder-shrug production, like the guy who shot 39.6 percent and averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a year ago in the two UNLV gyms: Karl-Anthony Towns.

Nothing happened that would lead to a shakeup to the rankings for late-October. Maybe that comes with updates from training camp and better competition in exhibition games, complete with the lineup reality checks like Blake Griffin in front of Brice Johnson with the Clippers and Eric Bledsoe blocking Tyler Ulis' view in Phoenix. But for now, the long-distance look-ahead sketches out something along the lines of:

1. Ben Simmons.

2. Buddy Hield.

3. Brandon Ingram.

4. Jamal Murray.

5. Kris Dunn.

6. Dragan Bender.

7. Jaylen Brown.

8. Jakob Poeltl.

9. Joel Embiid.

10. Taurean Prince.

Maybe Dario Saric gets in, pending first impressions as he finally joins the 76ers as a 2014 lottery pick, and obviously teammate Embiid as the biggest uncertainty of all, with the chance to move up or down on the latest medical reports. Maybe Cheick Diallo, trying to push into a big-man rotation that needs help beyond Anthony Davis, plays in New Orleans. For now, though, the certainty: The best rookies based on what actually happened in Florida, Utah and Nevada.

1. Tyler Ulis, Phoenix Suns

Suns vs. Nuggets

Tyler Ulis makes the deep game-winning 3-pointer to give the Suns the overtime victory over the Nuggets.

In control, making the smart play, leaving scorch marks on defenses -- this was Ulis showing the same command that prompted John Calipari to call his University of Kentucky point guard the best floor general he ever coached. Ulis was solid at first, then put together a run of 16 points and seven assists, 20 points and eight assists, 19 points and four assists, before finishing with 11 points on five-of-21 shooting and seven assists in the semifinal loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday. His six-game totals were 38 assists against 11 turnovers while averaging 14.5 points, with three outings of at least three steals.

2. Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks

All-Access: Thon Maker

Listen in as Milwaukee Bucks Thon Maker plays in Las Vegas Summer League

The 37.7 percent from the field is the obvious problem. But Maker also averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds while collecting at least nine boards in three of five games. He was second among all players in Las Vegas in rebounding heading into Sunday. Summer League was going to be an especially valuable read while making the jump from prep school in Canada to the NBA, without the same college or international experience as other rookies. He made it a good one.

3. Cheick Diallo, New Orleans Pelicans

All-Access: Cheick Diallo at Las Vegas Summer League

Listen in as the New Orleans Pelicans Cheick Diallo plays in Las Vegas Summer League.

A second-round pick, like Ulis, Diallo's lowest rebounding output in five games was seven, done twice in 27 and 28 minutes. Otherwise, he had 11, 12 and 10 boards, moving the Kansas product into a tie for third in the category, and three blocks in three of the five games was some of the athleticism on display. While the offense needs work, 48.9 percent was a respectable first step.

4. Brice Johnson, Los Angeles Clippers

Johnson Throws It Down

Brice Johnson gets the pass in the post and throws down the thunderous slam dunk.

He had a solid five games in Orlando, shooting 50 percent while averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in 31 minutes. The three outings in between the bad start and bad finish on offense were especially encouraging because of the aggressive play for someone who dropped to No. 25 in the draft partly over concerns about his focus. If Johnson shows that determination all the time, combined with his athleticism and the experience of four seasons at North Carolina, he becomes especially intriguing.

5. Jonathan Gibson, Dallas Mavericks

Bucks vs. Mavericks

Jonathan Gibson scores 14 points to lead the Mavericks past the Bucks, 81-64 during Las Vegas Summer League action.

The five seasons overseas for a very atypical rookie -- Turkey, Italy, China -- is an obvious advantage. Gibson turned that running start into averaging 17 points in 25 minutes over six games while shooting 50.7 percent overall and 45.9 on threes. The 6-2 guard from New Mexico State had at least two makes behind the arc in each outing and multiple steals in three of the six.

6. Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City Thunder

Postgame: Dakari Johnson

Dakari Johnson talks about what skills he is working on during his second Summer League appearance.

His bid to be part of the new-look Thunder in the post-Kevin Durant world is off to a good start after spending all last season in the D-League. A second-round pick in 2015, he collected nine, 12, six, nine and seven rebounds in the five games in Orlando without playing more than 28 minutes. Johnson also averaged 11.6 points, though while shooting 44.2 percent.

7. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

First Impressions of Ben Simmons

Sixers rookie Ben Simmons and Philadelphia's coaching staff weighs in on his performance in the 2016 NBA summer league following his last game.

The No. 1 pick was exactly as advertised: bad shooting (32.2 percent, so "bad" is being kind) but rebounding (7.7 in 28.8 minutes in six games in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas) and the vision of a skilled veteran point guard. While the assist-to-turnover ratio looked bad (5.5 against 3.83), several passes went down as his mistake because teammates were not ready or didn't expect Simmons to be able to squeeze the ball through defenses. He did. And will.

8. Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves

Kris Dunn's Impressive Crossover In His Summer League Debut!

Take a look at Timberwolves' rookie Kris Dunn's impressive crossover during Las Vegas Summer League action.

Dunn was the best rookie in Las Vegas the first two games, and on his way to being the best rookie of the summer, except that he only played those two before being sidelined by a concussion. He got 27 points, five rebounds and three steals, then 21 points and nine rebounds, and then watched. Anywhere close to the same level for five or six games and Dunn is way up the list.

9. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Brown Drives and Dunks

Jaylen Brown gets his defender off his feet then drives in and throws down the monster dunk.

The big finish of 20 points and 10 rebounds, 25 points and nine rebounds, and 21 points and seven rebounds moved him to 16 points and 6.2, respectively, an encouraging outcome even with the cringing 30.7 percent from the field. The No. 3 pick also had at least two steals or two blocks in five of six appearances. He also got to the line 11 times or more in three of the six, the sign of an aggressive player, all the more noteworthy because some of that going hard to the basket came after he sat a portion of the Salt Lake City schedule with a knee injury that might have prompted other newcomers to become cautious.

10. Chasson Randle, New York Knicks

Randle left Stanford as the leading scorer in school history, went undrafted in 2015 and spent last season in the Czech Republic. Consider this a positive re-introduction to NBA front offices. He was second in scoring in Orlando at 18.3 points per in three games while making 11 of 20 attempts behind the arc and shooting 47.6 percent overall. That included July 25 against the Clippers with six three-pointers.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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