Summer League is always headlined by the opportunity to see the top draft picks in their first NBA action.
This year, the hype surrounded Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga, while another top-10 pick in Davion Mitchell took home Summer League co-MVP honours after leading his Sacramento Kings to a championship.
But every year, there are some under-the-radar rookies who were picked outside of the lottery that show out on the Summer League stage, displaying some promise to make an impact in their first NBA season.
Who were those rookies that made a name for themselves at this year's summer exhibition?
In order of their 2021 NBA Draft selection.
Alperen Sengün, Houston Rockets
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 16
Summer League averages: 14.5 PTS (43.2% FG, 37.5% 3PT), 10.8 REB, 2.8 AST, 3.0 BLK, 1.3 STL
The Rockets traded two future first-round picks to move up and take Sengün on draft night, and his Summer League performance made him appear to be worthy of that price.
A former Turkish League MVP at 18-years-old, Sengün wasn't phased in his first NBA action, recording double-doubles in two of the four games he played in. He finished tied for third in rebounds per game and flashed some improved skills, like his playmaking and ball handling.
Behind-the-back, spin move, bucket from Alperen Sengun! 👀- NBA (@NBA) August 11, 2021
Rockets up 2 on ESPN. #NBASummer pic.twitter.com/GfOtnf4KQk
Houston looks to have found a starting-calibre big man to slot alongside Christian Wood from Day 1 in Sengün.
Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 17
Summer League averages: 16.3 PTS (55.8% FG, 44.0% 3PT), 7.0 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.8 BLK, 1.3 STL
Murphy's name picked up steam following an impressive showing at the NBA Combine and his performance at Summer League proved exactly why he shot up draft boards.
The 3-and-D forward went off for 26 points and nine rebounds in his debut, knocking down six 3s on nine attempts.
Trey Murphy had a big @NBASummerLeague debut, connecting on 6/9 from 3 + 9/15 overall from the field for 26 PTS to go with 9 REBS + 2 ASTS in 28 MINS in @PelicansNBA's 94-77 win over Chicago. Showed his athleticism around the basket + quick, compact trigger from behind the arc pic.twitter.com/aZKhH1sY4P- DraftExpressContent (@DXContent) August 10, 2021
Murphy closed Summer League strong, going for 22 points on four 3s with six boards, three steals and two blocks in his last game, and his efforts earned him a spot on the All-Summer League First Team.
He shot 44.0 percent from 3 in Las Vegas, an asset that can immediately help the Pelicans create some spacing for superstar forward Zion Williamson. His defensive presence and versatility will also be a welcome sight in New Orleans, as the Pelicans were the 23rd-ranked defence in the league last season.
Murphy looks like he will crack a rotation spot in New Orleans right away.
Jalen Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 20
Summer League averages: 19.0 PTS (57.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT), 9.5 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.3 STL
Johnson was a bit of an unknown heading into the NBA Draft after leaving Duke just 13 games into his freshman season. He put a lot of the questions surrounding his name to bed after dominating on the Summer League stage, earning an All-Summer League First Team bid.
He recorded three double-doubles in four games, crashing the defensive glass and pushing the ball in transition. His ball handling and athleticism were on full display, proving to be a player who can create his own offence as a power forward.
Jalen Johnson throws it down with authority on NBA TV! 💥- NBA (@NBA) August 10, 2021
Watch #NBASummer Live: https://t.co/YuGpAi3U4m pic.twitter.com/kBJEU6JoUa
He shot extremely efficiently from both the field and from 3-point range, and the Hawks appear to have bolstered their frontcourt depth with this 19-year-old prospect falling to them at No. 20.
Johnson will make for a terrorizing pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop threat with Trae Young, giving Atlanta another forward with a similar skill set as John Collins, who just inked a $125 million extension.
Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 26
Summer League averages: 19.8 PTS (46.4% FG, 40.0% 3PT), 4.8 AST, 3.3 REB
Hyland was another name that gained momentum after a strong showing at the NBA Combine. He has a lot of NBA-ready skills as a crafty scorer with a shifty handle, a nice floater and confident step-backs. He is a solid playmaker, too.
He let all of those weapons shine on the Summer League stage, nearly averaging 20 points per game. He went off for 28 points on five 3-pointers in his best performance while also dishing out four assists.
BONES BUCKETS 🦴- NBA (@NBA) August 14, 2021
No. 26 pick Nah'Shon Hyland drops 28 PTS (5 3PM) to lead the @nuggets to their first win of #NBASummer! pic.twitter.com/Sh9Gd6bU8T
With Jamal Murray expected to miss the start of the season after suffering a torn ACL last year, the Nuggets were in desperate need of some guard depth. Hyland looks like he is poised to take on a significant role to start his NBA career, playing big minutes for Denver while its star guard recovers.
Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 27
Summer League averages: 27.0 PTS (42.3% FG, 36.0% 3PT), 2.0 AST, 1.8 REB, 1.3 STL
Thomas proved what we knew about him heading into the 2021 NBA Draft - the 19-year-old is a flat-out bucket.
His 27.0 points per game led the entire Summer League in scoring, helping him earn co-Most Valuable Player honours alongside Mitchell. He went for over 30 points twice, one being a 31-point outing capped off by a game-winner, the other being a 36-point outing in his final game to leave his mark on the summer exhibition.
🔥 36 PTS 🔥@24_camthomas scores 15 PTS in the fourth quarter and finishes with a game-high 36 in the @BrooklynNets' #NBASummer win! pic.twitter.com/5kEZiI3jzd- NBA (@NBA) August 16, 2021
Learning underneath three of the best scorers in the NBA today in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, it's scary to think of what Thomas can become as an offensive player. As if the Nets needed any more scoring, they landed themselves one of the most prolific scorers in this year's draft, one who could make an impact off the bench during the regular season.
Deuce McBride, New York Knicks
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 36
Summer League averages: 15.2 PTS (53.2% FG, 50.0% 3PT), 3.5 AST, 3.5 REB, 1.3 STL
McBride fell to the second round in the 2021 NBA Draft but played like a first-round pick at Summer League.
The 20-year-old showed the poise of floor general on offence while letting his West Virginia scrappiness shine on the defensive end, often picking up his matchup on the other side of halfcourt.
PICK. HIM. UP. DEUCE. MCBRIDE.- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) August 12, 2021
His in-your-face defence likely has head coach Tom Thibodeau grinning from ear-to-ear, looking like every bit of a Knicks guard on that side of the ball. He also knocked down some timely shots and proved capable of orchestrating an offence, looking like a hit on a second-round pick for New York.
Playing time will be tough to come by in Year 1 with how crowded the Knicks' backcourt is, but McBride is a name to remember down the line in New York.
Sharife Cooper, Atlanta Hawks
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 48
Summer League averages: 14.8 PTS (46.3% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 7.3 AST, 1.5 REB
Cooper had the reputation of being one of the best playmakers in this draft class and he further proved that in Summer League. His 7.3 assists ranked first among all rookies and third to only Payton Pritchard (8.5 APG) and Immanuel Quickley (7.8), two second-year players who played significant minutes as rookies last season.
Cooper's most impressive game was his lone double-double, going for 21 points and 12 assists, making some ridiculous passes along the way.
SHARIFE COOPER #TrueToAtlanta- Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 13, 2021
21 PTS (team-high)
12 AST (game-high)
in 33 MINS pic.twitter.com/bSXlmyG1i2
He also had 21 points and nine assists in a game where he knocked down the winning shot at the buzzer, flashing a clutch gene.
Although the Hawks re-signed Lou Williams, they could still use some guard depth behind All-Star guard Young, and Cooper might be the playmaker to eat up some minutes in their backcourt.
Luka Garza, Detroit Pistons
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 52
Summer League averages: 15.0 PTS (52.0% FG, 40.0% 3PT), 9.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.0 BLK
Garza ran away with every Player of the Year award the NCAA had to offer last season, yet because of his lack of speed and lateral mobility, he fell all the way to pick No. 52 with the Pistons.
A relentless worker, Garza reportedly shed about 30 pounds in just two months to prepare for the NBA Draft, and he looked much more lean and ready to play at the next level at Summer League. He went from strictly being an interior player in his first few years of college to slowly extending his play beyond the 3-point line to adapt to today's game, and that work showed in Vegas, knocking down 40.0 percent of 20 3-point attempts over five games.
There was no guarantee that he would land a roster spot with the Pistons, but his efforts impressed the front office enough to receive a Two-Way contract before the end of Summer League.
He concluded his standout performance in Vegas with consecutive games with over 20 points and 10 rebounds, even notching a double-double by halftime in one of those two contests.
Luka Garza (@LukaG_55) gives the @DetroitPistons a 20-PT, 14 REB double-double in their #NBASummer win 🙌 pic.twitter.com/3nVKyCycly- NBA (@NBA) August 15, 2021
He was rewarded for a strong showing by landing a spot on the All-Summer League Second Team. With the work ethic that Garza possesses, don't be surprised to see him stick around in the NBA for years to come.
Jericho Sims, New York Knicks
2021 NBA Draft pick: No. 58
Summer League averages: 8.2 PTS (81.0% FG), 8.2 REB, 1.0 BLK, 1.0 AST
Sims nearly went undrafted, but the Knicks will be glad they selected him with only three picks remaining in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The 22-year-old center is an athletic freak, showing his value as a lob threat and rim protector at Summer League. He was insanely efficient, shooting 81.0 percent from the field, which mostly included a variation of alley-oops, putbacks and dunks.
Go up and get it, Jericho Sims! ✈️#NBASummer on NBA TV pic.twitter.com/XrySfm1yXM- NBA (@NBA) August 16, 2021
New York is fairly deep at every position, but having an athlete of Sims' calibre in-waiting at center could become valuable because he can stay on the floor against teams that play small. He'll have to be patient for playing time, but Sims could be a problem as a rim-runner in the future.
Eugene Omoruyi, Dallas Mavericks
2021 NBA Draft pick: Undrafted
Summer League averages: 14.8 PTS (55.3% FG), 5.3 REB, 1.3 AST
Omoruyi didn't get drafted but the 22-year-old impressed the Mavericks enough to offer him a Two-Way contract before the end of Summer League.
The Oregon product is a tough and energetic defender, but he can also put the ball on the floor and score at the rim. He scored over 15 points in three of his four Summer League appearances, leading his team with 14.8 points per game.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) August 15, 2021
Eugene Omoruyi | vs. Denver
2 BLOCKS@dallasmavs // #NBASummer pic.twitter.com/uWgNQYAUF2
He'll have to develop as a 3-point shooter if he is going to be able to play alongside Luka Doncic and crack Dallas' rotation, but his aggressiveness on the defensive end could prove useful for a team that could improve on that side of the ball.
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