LAS VEGAS — The Kia Rookie Ladder heading into the final six days of Summer League:
1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The best rookie of the Orlando and Salt Lake City portions has dipped statistically in Las Vegas, but maybe it was inevitable after 18.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 46.8 percent from the field in three games at the University of Utah. The UNLV numbers are 17.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 42.2 percent in 31.3 minutes, a solid run in a comparison or on its own and enough to hold the top spot with one final summer Ladder to go. Tatum’s work on the boards shows he can contribute with more than offense.
2. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Making six of 12 shots in the Heat’s Las Vegas opener (on Saturday against the Spurs) and four of 10 the next outing (on Monday against the Wizards) was especially welcome after the 35.2 percent from the field in four Orlando appearances. The rest of his game had been filled with positives. Adebayo averaged 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the first session and is at 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 43.3 percent in Nevada. He is keeping the pressure on Tatum for No. 1.
3. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Talk about a promising first step in filling the instant need for big men in Atlanta. Collins opened with three consecutive games of double-digit rebounding while scoring eight, 22 and 15 points and shooting a combined 60 percent. He could finish first among the entire Las Vegas field, not just rookies, on the boards.
4. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
His speed has already created several “Wow” moments, and not just because it’s Summer League competition. Nothing has changed from the pre-Draft read that experienced guards will have trouble staying in front of him in the regular season. It’s not just breaking down defenses, though. Smith averaged 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals in 27.7 minutes the first three games in Las Vegas while shooting 47.2 percent. The work on the boards for a point guard obviously jumps out.
5. 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 are not in Las Vegas.
6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mitchell filed his official response Tuesday in the wake of going from a bad offensive game in the final Salt Lake City appearance into a bad offensive game in the first Las Vegas outing: a monster offensive game. The 37 points against the Grizzlies were the most by anyone in Summer League 2017 and came with a Summer League record-tying eight steals. Consistency has been a problem, but the Jazz are understandably pleased with what they have seen so far.
7. Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers
Swanigan’s image makeover from underwhelming Purdue freshman in 2015-16 to 2016-17 sophomore with much more focus and conditioning has carried into his first days as a pro as one of the best players in Las Vegas. Though struggling with his shot – 42.1 percent – the No. 26 pick had a double-double in two of the first three games and posted 15.6 points and 11.0 rebounds overall. His lowest production on the boards was seven, in 30 minutes Sunday against the Celtics.
8. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
The Suns are getting 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 has been to average 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds at small forward despite playing alongside two experienced bigs with NBA experience, especially Chriss after making second-team All-Rookie. The 37.7 percent from the field is the obvious drawback for Jackson.
9. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
The anticipated point-guard showdown Monday between the No. 5 pick and No. 2 selection Lonzo Ball, the first pro matchup after two head-to-head college meetings last season, fell apart when the Lakers said Ball needed to rest a minor groin injury. Fox didn’t need that stage to stand out, though. He has scored 18, 17 and 12 points while shooting 47.1 percent and contributing beyond offense in a boost to a Ladder candidacy, including five rebounds one game and outings with five steals and three steals. The drawback: nine assists and eight turnovers.
10. Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Johnson was assertive in the way a player with two seasons in the G League should be, averaging 18 points, the second-most in Orlando, and shooting 56.9 percent. He just wasn’t as overpowering inside as an experienced 21-year-old 7-footer should be. The 2015 second-rounder collected just 5.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes over four games.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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