Best of the NBA Summer League: Unexpected Players Edition

Hoops heads from all corners of the basketball world come together to watch NBA Summer League action in anticipation of seeing what the future of the league has in store.

Most watch to see the college/international stars of yesteryear turned NBA franchise saving heroes overnight. Some watch to see their favorite college players from back in the day who they won’t have a chance to really watch again (cough me, cough Matt Bouldin, cough). Regardless, the NBA does a fantastic job of giving its fans a two-plus week opportunity to get familiar with its incoming talent, and some great entertainment during a period of the sports calendar where not much is going on.

As much as Summer League means to fans, it also means a ton to the athletes who are being given a chance to impress teams who are still filling out their rosters, specifically the players who aren’t currently, and maybe never were heralded as tomorrow’s superstars.

While NBA fans would have expected second year guys like Aaron Gordon, T.J. Warren, and Kyle Anderson to make the most of this opportunity and look like the brightest non-rookie talents on display, I wanted to focus on some of the unexpected players who took Orlando, Las Vegas, and even Utah by storm over these past couple of weeks.

Let’s get familiar a little bit more familiar with several under-the-radar players who were so impressive that they were signed to guaranteed contracts:

Seth Curry, New Orleans Pelicans
It’s very cliche to talk about living in big brother Stephen Curry’s shadow all of his life, but when your brother’s coming off of a season that saw him win MVP and an NBA Championship, Seth Curry must’ve had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder heading into July. The Las Vegas Summer League scoring champ, Curry averaged 24.3 points, to go along with 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 3.2 steals per game. You have to be gunning if you want to lead the Summer League in scoring, which Curry demonstrated with a 30-point performance in New Orleans’ opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. For what it’s worth, the third year Summer League participant is coming off of a season that saw him average 23.8 points per game (shooting 47 percent from three!) for the NBDL’s Eerie BayHawks, so it appears it was only a matter of time before he found himself a guaranteed contract in the big leagues.

Pierre Jackson, Philadelphia 76ers
After tearing up the D-League as a rookie (2013-14 season) to the tune of 29.1 points and 6.2 assists per game, Jackson suffered a torn achilles in his first game for the Sixers during last year’s Summer League. He went on to miss the entire 2014-15 season, but the 5-foot-10 scoring machine out of Baylor was given another shot to play for Philadelphia this summer, and made the most of his second chance, leading to a four year deal with Hinkie’s Helpers (trademark it Bloguin!). In four games, Jackson averaged 10 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, highlighted by a 15 point debut, signifying that he was fully recovered from the achilles injury. Up next: competing for the Sixers starting point guard spot.

Scottie Wilbekin, Philadelphia 76ers
Jackson’s main competition for the Sixers starting point guard job appears to be none other than former Florida great Scottie Wilbekin, who was signed to the same four year deal (first two years guaranteed, second two years non-guaranteed) to be a part of Hinkie’s Helpers (do it!). A true floor general on both ends of the court, Wilbekin was one of the unique players who showcased his talents for two teams this summer, playing with Philadelphia in Las Vegas, and with the Orlando White team in Orlando. After a slow start in Orlando, Wilbekin came to Vegas looking to stand out, which he did with his three point shooting, going 13-for-22 in a three game stretch that saw him average 18 points per game. The vast majority of Wilbekin’s other games were relatively missable, but his ability to not just competently run an offense, but be able to take advantage of open looks from deep will help him make his NBA debut this Fall.

Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs
Meet future NBA Finals MVP Jonathon Simmons. Just kidding, maybe. The former Houston Cougar/turned Summer League championship game MVP spent the last two seasons playing for the NBDL’s Austin Toros/Spurs, having a bit of a breakout last season, as he averaged 15.2 points per game and was named to the NBDL’s All-Defensive Third Team. Simmons drew a lot of attention with his hustle play and efficiency from three point range (he converted 39 percent during Summer League competition, and shot 40 percent last season in Austin), but the most notable aspect of his game the last couple of weeks has been the way he handles the ball and attacks the basket, often resulting in monster dunks like the one below:

It’s great to see so many hardworking players, and young role models make the most of this opportunity, and I look forward to seeing what they bring to the league this upcoming season.

About Jared Mintz

Jared has worked in ESPN's Production Research and Stats and Analysis Departments, and has contributed to websites such as IamaGM, SBNation, FanSided, and Bro Jackson. He's a Knicks fan, so he's been forced to watch the NBA objectively for the last 15 (going on infinity) years. Follow him on Twitter at @JMintzHoops