LAS VEGAS — The Kia Rookie Ladder after summer league concluded Monday in Las Vegas:
1. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
Talk about a recovery. Ball went from a 16-car pileup of a first game July 7 – two of 15 from the field, one of 11 behind the arc, five assists, three turnovers and bad defense in 32 minutes – to impacting the event more than any rookie. Even though the shooting struggles continued to 38.2 percent overall, the hit to what otherwise was an easy victory, the No. 2 pick also finished with 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 2.50 steals. He had four games of double-digit assists. No other rookie has ever had more than one in Vegas.
2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The No. 3 pick took advantage of the big minutes that won’t come once he joins the real Celtics and has to start at the back of the line of the depth chart at small forward. Tatum was the best rookie through the Orlando and Salt Lake City portions of summer, averaging 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 46.8 percent in three Utah games, and followed that with 17.7 points, eight rebounds and 42.2 percent before the Celtics shut him down after three games in Las Vegas. That’s a lot of encouraging moments.
3. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
This just in: Ball was not the only Lakers rookie in Vegas. Kuzma was impressive without the breathless updates on what shoes he would be wearing, finishing sixth in scoring among all players there at 21.9 points an outing while shooting 51.4 percent and also contributing 6.4 rebounds in 32 minutes. He created, scored from the perimeter as a stretch four, looked fluid and, bottom line, gave the Lakers reason to think they would get a 2017-18 return on the No. 27 pick acquired from the Nets as part of the D’Angelo Russell-Brook Lopez deal. He was second-team all-tournament only because balloting was finished before the championship game. Make the vote late Monday night and Kuzma is easy first team.
4. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Averaging 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds over five games in Las Vegas would be a case for the top five no matter what. Collins, though, did it while playing just 23 minutes per. And while shooting 59.3 percent. Now imagine he got the same 30-plus minutes as some of the other top rookies. His play plus the dramatic shift on the Atlanta front line since draft night – Dwight Howard being traded, Paul Millsap leaving as a free agent – will likely move Collins from unranked coming out of the draft into the top 10 for the start of the regular season.
5. Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers
Zach Collins, the No. 10 selection, remains the top Portland prospect from the first round, but Swanigan, picked 16 spots later, has a chance to contribute sooner while better able to handle the physical play of the NBA. Swanigan needed just 30.9 minutes to average 10.6 rebounds, second only to Matt Costello of the Timberwolves in Las Vegas as the only players there to finish in double digits, and also contributed 16.1 points to the second-place team in the tournament. The big improvements from 2015-16 at Purdue to 2016-17 has continued into his early days as a pro.
6. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
Las Vegas confirmed what should already have been obvious: Smith as the fifth point guard drafted says a lot more about the depth at the position than about Smith. He was fourth on the post-draft/pre-summer league Ladder, then posted 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.20 steals in 25.8 minutes over six games. Barring unexpected developments before October, he either holds that spot or inches up for the season-opening ranking and opens as a legit Rookie of the Year candidate.
7. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
What a valuable summer experience. Mitchell paired with Dante Exum in Salt Lake City in a backcourt alignment that could be used during the regular season, and got the chance to play in front of energetic big crowds at the University of Utah that gave him a sense of what it will be like with the real Jazz. That was while averaging 15.3 points and 3.30 steals. Without Exum in Las Vegas, Mitchell seized the opening for a larger role by collecting 56 points and 12 steals in 65 minutes over two games before the Jazz shut him down, including 37 points and eight steals Tuesday against the Grizzlies.
8. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Going from second to eighth is more about the rarest of late charges from the rest of the field (multiple triple-doubles, stringing together double-doubles) than an Adebayo stumble. Shooting 35.2 percent in four games in Orlando was the negative, before he bumped that to 43.3 in three outings in Las Vegas. Otherwise, he contributed 17.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in 30.8 minutes in the first session and 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 29 minutes after the Heat shifted to UNLV.
9. Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons
The 17.2 points and 46.5-percent shooting in Orlando made sure Kennard would not be overlooked about the same time the Pistons traded for Avery Bradley and pulled the qualifying offer for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Instantly showing why he was considered one of the best deep threats in the draft, Kennard also made 47.8 percent (11 of 23) of his attempts behind the arc. The Pistons were not in Las Vegas.
10. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
The Suns got a long look at the Jackson-Marquese Chriss-Dragan Bender front court that will be deployed in the regular season, maybe a lot, potentially making this an especially beneficial summer league for Phoenix. Jackson’s part was 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds mostly at small forward and while playing alongside two experienced bigs with NBA experience, especially Chriss coming off second-team All-Rookie. That was enough to beat out several deserving candidates for the final spot, including teammate Mike James, Minnesota’s Costello and Justin Jackson of the Kings.
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