2017 NBA Summer-League Rookie Ladder: Lonzo Ball Is the Alpha Dog
The NBA rookie ladder puts long-term potential aside to determine the best players right now. These rankings are ultimately standings that reflect the Rookie of the Year race.
Markelle Fultz would still go No. 1 in a redraft, but others from his class outperformed him during summer league.
Those who didn't play, specifically Ben Simmons, Frank Ntilikina and Malik Monk, were not deemed eligible.
The rankings took into account production, efficiency, defense and overall impact.
Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)
Isaac would have likely finished top 10 if he didn't hurt his hip in his third game. He went for 15 points and 13 rebounds against the Heat, flashing his unique perimeter skills and defensive versatility. He is a good bet to climb the ladder, assuming he's given a shot to play through mistakes for the weak Orlando Magic.
Caleb Swanigan (Portland Trail Blazers, PF/C)
A double-double machine at Purdue, Swanigan averaged one in summer league. At the least, his rebounding and low-post offense should carry over to the regular season.
Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors, PF/C)
Bell created buzz with his 11-rebound, five-assist, five-steal, six-block game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He won't score much this season, but that's not what the Golden State Warriors will ask of him. Bell could give them a defensive specialist and energizer to make reaction plays off the ball.
Justin Jackson (Sacramento Kings, SF)
Jackson totaled 54 points between his last two games and gave fans a glimpse of his scoring improvisation and shooting. Like Klay Thompson, he doesn't need many dribbles to put up points.
Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets, SG/SF)
Bacon finished summer league with 29 points against the Orlando Magic. He made an interesting case as a scoring specialist for his ability to create and make shots from all three levels.
10. De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)
Stats (four games): 11.8 points, 3.0 assists, 2.2 steals, 44.4 percent FG, 12.5 percent 3PT
An ankle twist cut De'Aaron Fox's summer league short, but the Sacramento Kings should have seen enough to feel good about their No. 5 overall pick.
Fox's strengths and weaknesses were both evident, with his speed and explosiveness showing on fast breaks and drives, and his jumper missing on 7-of-8 three-point attempts.
Still, flashes of mid-range scoring and shooting were encouraging. And the defensive quickness and playmaking we saw at Kentucky carried over into Las Vegas, where he racked up five steals against the Phoenix Suns and three against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The question moving forward concerns Fox's role following the addition of George Hill, who'll take pressure off the 19-year-old point guard but will likely limit his chances of rising into the rookie ladder's top five.
9. Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF)
Stats (five games): 17.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 42.5 percent FG, 18.8 percent 3PT
After shooting 12-of-35 through two games, Josh Jackson rebounded to shoot 48.8 percent over his final three, looking more confident with his dribble and shot-making.
He finished summer league averaging 17.4 points, which he generated mostly by attacking off drives and transition, where his athleticism takes over. Jackson also showed he can create off ball screens and separate into pull-up, step-back and fallaway jumpers, though it could take years to become a consistent perimeter scorer.
Jackson shot 3-of-16 from behind the arc and isn't always smooth with his shot-creating or shooting. He'll earn minutes right away in Phoenix for his defensive energy and the versatility to guard multiple positions. And he'll give the Suns an additional offensive weapon to put pressure on the rim.
8. Luke Kennard (Detroit Pistons, SG)
Stats (five games): 17.2 points, 2.4 assists, 46.5 percent FG, 47.8 percent 3PT
Luke Kennard only played in the Orlando league, but he was nonetheless impressive, looking just as comfortable scoring as he did at Duke.
He saved his best for last with a 24-point game against the Dallas Mavericks, making 9-of-15 shots and all three of his triples.
Throughout the week, Kennard showcased his crafty offensive skills with tight ball-handling, passing, footwork and difficult shot-making ability. He also canned 47.8 percent of his 23 three-point attempts, drawing attention to his pure stroke and quick release.
Proving he can play adequate defense against NBA wings will be the key to earning consistent rookie minutes, but Kennard looks ready to come off the bench, knock down jumpers and move the ball.
7. Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, PF)
Stats (six games): 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 48.4 percent FG, 45 percent 3PT
Kyle Kuzma may have earned himself regular-season minutes by emerging as one of the summer league's top performers.
The momentum he built up at the NBA combine carried over to Las Vegas. Kuzma, who only hit 27 threes (career high) as a junior at Utah, hit 18 through six games for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Along with a surprising shooting stroke, Kuzma consistently flashed his versatility off transition finishes, post buckets, face-up moves and passes.
His 7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes were strangely low, but otherwise, Kuzma's offense was as impressive as any big man's in July. He could be the stretch 4 the Lakers have been missing since the start of their rebuild.
6. John Collins (Atlanta Hawks, PF)
Stats (five games): 15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 59.3 percent FG
Playing just 23.1 minutes per game in Las Vegas, he averaged 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 59.3 percent shooting. Collins had a number of show-stealing dunks that highlighted his Amar'e Stoudemire-like finishing mix of power, explosiveness and coordination.
His athleticism and motor consistently showed around the basket. He also looked confident with his jumper, having knocked down shots around the foul line and even a three after taking just one in two years at Wake Forest.
With plenty of minutes to go around in Atlanta, Collins jumps out as a solid bet to outproduce his draft position as a rookie.
5. Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, SG)
Stats (five games): 20.4 points, 2.6 assists, 4.4 steals, 39.6 percent FG, 31.4 percent 3PT
One of summer league's breakout stars, Donovan Mitchell climbed the rookie ladder with explosive offense and defensive playmaking.
His 37-point outburst against the Memphis Grizzlies was an eye-opener. Athletic, strong and shifty, he demonstrated high-level shot-creating skills with an advanced handle, both as a driver and step-back shooter.
Though erratic from behind the arc, he still sunk three triples in three different games, leaving little question about his shot-making ability.
It was ultimately the 4.4 steals per game that helped him leapfrog Josh Jackson and De'Aaron Fox on the board. Mitchell applied pressure and forced turnovers with his signature aggression and competitiveness.
4. Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)
Stats (three games): 16.0 points, 2.3 assists, 40.9 percent FG, 37.5 percent 3PT
Markelle Fultz gave Philadelphia 76ers fans a taste of his smooth, effortless scoring before suffering a summer league-ending ankle injury in his third game.
He flashed the handles and footwork behind his advanced shot-creation highlighted by step-backs, pull-ups and fallaways. We saw his razor-sharp skill level on soft floaters and off-hand finishes, as well as his shooting range with six combined threes against the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
Fultz went for 17 points in the opener and followed with 23 points and five assists.
He took too many tough shots, resulting in a disappointing field-goal percentage. But the sample size of action was too small to nitpick. Fultz appears on track toward becoming the Sixers' next cornerstone and All-Star guard.
3. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF)
Stats (six games): 18.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 44.6 percent FG, 33.3 percent 3PT
Jayson Tatum looked as ready for the regular season as any rookie in summer league.
It wasn't just the consistent production, though he did finish in double figures every game and hit the 20-point mark in three of them. Tatum's skills and polish stood out most. He put on a shot-creating and shot-making clinic and established himself as a go-to isolation option.
Tatum hit off-balance, contested jumpers throughout his time in Orlando and Las Vegas. He also converted a number of tough finishes off drives that showcased his handle and body control.
He only totaled nine assists in 194 minutes, and given the Boston Celtics' loaded roster and limited available minutes, he'll likely slip down the ladder once the regular season starts. But Tatum's scoring ability is ahead of every other rookie forward's.
2. Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)
Stats (six games): 17.3 points, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 45.7 percent FG, 34.6 percent 3PT
The uptempo summer-league setting appeared better suited for Dennis Smith Jr., who was up and down at North Carolina State without ideal spacing or support.
He looked comfortable in Las Vegas, getting to any spot he wanted by changing speeds and direction.
His explosiveness showed on exciting finishes at the rim, both above and below it. Smith was also proficient around the perimeter with his off-the-dribble shooting. Once his confidence started pumping, he showed he can make jumper after jumper and score in bunches.
We didn't see many signs of hero ball or over-dribbling, and if there was a takeaway about his playmaking, it was that Smith seemed more than willing to pass and prioritize his teammates.
Expected to run the show in Dallas right away, Smith has emerged as a dark-horse Rookie of the Year pick.
1. Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)
Stats (six games): 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 38.2 percent FG, 23.8 percent 3PT
Lonzo Ball's signature floor game and vision were on display throughout the Los Angeles Lakers' run in Las Vegas.
He consistently got teammates quality looks in transition with deep, on-the-money assists, a number of which traveled the length of the floor. His unselfishness was contagious and inspired others to move the ball and make the extra pass.
The highlight of Ball's summer league came against Philadelphia 76ers, when he carried the Lakers back and led them to a win with 36 points. He also triple-doubled twice and still managed to average 16.3 points despite converting just 10-of-42 three-point attempts.
He may not score as much as Dennis Smith Jr. or Markelle Fultz, but all signs point to Ball's leadership and basketball IQ immediately enhancing L.A.'s offense and shot selection.