Top draft picks shine in NBA summer leagues

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Alex Caruso shoots over the Portland Trail Blazers’ Caleb Swanigan during the second half of the NBA summer league championship basketball game Monday in Las Vegas. (AP photo)

The depth and quality of the 2017 NBA draft had teams tanking at the end of the regular season in hopes of vaulting into the top three picks.

With the huge caveat being that it was only summer league action, those at the top of the draft made quite a first impression.

Summer league play ended on Monday night after the Los Angeles Lakers beat Portland in the Las Vegas league championship game. Over leagues played in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Vegas, many of the top 10 picks gave their teams plenty to feel good about before heading into the league’s quiet period for the next two months.

No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball owned Vegas with a pair of triple-doubles and was named Vegas MVP. Top pick Markelle Fultz showed off his wide array of scoring tricks in Utah before sitting out much of Vegas with an ankle injury and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum of Boston was drawing comparisons to Paul Pierce while dominating both in Utah and Nevada.

The competition these rookies will face will increase exponentially when training camps open in October. And there is a long list of summer league standouts — Nikoloz Tskitishvili, anyone? — who never amounted to anything in the NBA. But for struggling franchises like the Lakers, Sixers, Suns and Kings, seeing some real promise from their youngsters the first time they step on the court is encouraging.

“Lonzo definitely gave the team a lot of confidence as this thing went along,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “The way he plays, he’s always got his poise about him, just an incredible basketball player and with the unselfish nature he plays the game, it just becomes contagious and I think other guys started picking up and playing off of that.”