By Jake Winderman, for NBAGLeague.com
The road to an NBA roster is a grind. While some players find an NBA home through the draft, others hone their skills in the NBA G League before joining the Association.
Let’s take a look at 10 former NBA G League players who earned NBA contracts this offseason.
Jonathon Simmons, Magic
Jonathon Simmons certainly took the road less traveled to the NBA. Simmons’ college career included stints at Paris Junior College and Midland Community College before finally ending up at the University of Houston.
After going undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, Simmons played one season with the Sugar Land Legends of the American Basketball League before trying out for the then-Austin Toros (now Austin Spurs) in 2013. Simmons played with Austin during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons before landing an NBA deal with the San Antonio Spurs. Simmons was named to the NBA D-League All-Defensive Third Team in 2015 and parlayed his minor-league into a full-time gig with San Antonio.
He became a household name after a strong performance in the 2016-2017 playoffs, averaging 10.5 points while shooting 46% from the floor. This offseason, Jonathon Simmons signed a multi-year contract with the Orlando Magic, earning the first non-minimum contract of his young career.
Andre Roberson, Thunder
Roberson is regarded as one of the better defenders in the NBA, but earned his spot on the Thunder via the Tulsa 66ers. Roberson was the 26th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was traded later that night to Oklahoma City.
In 17 regular season games with the 66ers (now the OKC Blue), Roberson proved his worth. He averaged 15.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Following another strong showing in the 2014 NBA Summer League, Roberson stuck with the Thunder and opened the season as a starting wing. His performance in the 2016-2017 postseason, where he averaged 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.4 steals per game, was enough for Oklahoma City to re-sign the young guard to a long-term deal.
James Johnson, Heat
Who would’ve thought that a player’s breakout season would come at age 30 in his 8th year in the Association? James Johnson did just that during the 2016-2017 season with the Miami Heat. Johnson was drafted into the league in 2009 by the Chicago Bulls, who used the 16th overall pick to select the forward out of Wake Forest.
After three difficult seasons in the Windy City, Johnson was optioned down to the NBA G League’s Iowa Energy, the Bulls’ then-affiliate, in 2011. After an eight-game stretch where he averaged 19.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting a 54% from the field, Johnson was recalled back up to the Bulls for the rest of the year. But after being waived, he would re-enter the G League for 10 more games during the 2013-2014 season when the Rio Grande Valley Vipers acquired his contract.
He once again proved his worth, recording 18.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest. This past season, Johnson had his breakout year with the Heat after signing a one-year deal. He averaged career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.1) and three-point percentage (34%) during the 2016-2017 season and this offseason signed a multi-year deal to stay in Miami.
Vander Blue, Lakers
In 2013, any Big East basketball fan would’ve told you Vander Blue was the real deal. Despite the hype coming out of Marquette, Blue went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft and started his career with Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel. In 2014, Blue began his NBA G League career with the Delaware 87ers.
From 2014 until 2016, Blue played with four different NBA G League teams: the Delaware 87ers, Maine Red Claws, Idaho Stampede and the Los Angeles D-Fenders. He had to prove in the NBA G League that he was more than just impressive collegiate talent — and that he did.
Blue became a household name for NBA G League fans, earning All-NBA G League First Team honors in 2016 and 2017. He was also selected to three straight All-Star games between 2015 and 2017, and punctuated his 2017 with MVP honors. This offseason, after starring for the affiliate, Los Angeles D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers) for three seasons, Blue inked a deal with the Lakers.
Willie Reed, Clippers
“Showtime” Willie Reed was one of the most popular players in the NBA G League during his three seasons with the Springfield Armor, Reno Bighorns, Grand Rapids Drive and Iowa Energy. He was named to the All-NBA G League First Team, All-Defensive First Team and All-Star Game in 2015.
In his three NBA G League seasons, Reed totaled 15.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. The rim-protecting big man saw similar production in the NBA, he averaged 5.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per contest in his first full season in the NBA with Miami Heat this past year despite averaging only 14.5 minutes per game. “Showtime” will be a member of the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2017-2018 season after signing a one-year deal.
Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks
2014 NBA G League All-Star Dewayne Dedmon didn’t always expect to be an NBA player. Dedmon didn’t start playing organized high school basketball until his senior year, which limited his college basketball opportunities. Despite that, Dedmon used a successful season at Antelope Valley College as a stepping stone to a scholarship with USC.
After completing his eligibility in 2013, Dedmon went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. His NBA G League career started off with the Santa Cruz Warriors before he joined the Erie Bayhawks in 2016. Dedmon’s impressive work down low and defensive skill earned him a deal with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.
Brandon Paul, Spurs
The former Mr. Illinois Mr. Basketball and two-time All-Big Ten Third Team guard has finally found his footing in the NBA after playing three years overseas and 45 games in the NBA G League with the Canton Charge from 2013-15.
Paul averaged 15 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, while shooting 46.5% from the floor and 38.2% from downtown during his time in Canton. After his most recent season with Anadolu Efes S.K. of the Turkish Basketball Super League, playing alongside teammates such as C.J. McCollum’s brother, Errick McCollum, Paul earned a contract with the San Antonio Spurs.
Abdel Nader, Celtics
Hailing from Alexandria, Egypt, Nader was a second-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. Nader spent his first professional season in the States in the NBA G League with the Celtics’ affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. The 6-6 forward didn’t disappoint the fans in Maine, earning NBA G League Rookie of the Year honors.
Nader’s 21.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during the 2016-2017 NBA G League season were enough to earn him a contract with the big-league club.
Dakari Johnson, Thunder
The former McDonald’s All American was drafted 48th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2015 NBA Draft, but spent his first two professional seasons in the NBA G League with the Oklahoma City Blue. Johnson made his biggest statement during this past season, when he averaged 18.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He was named as a NBA G League All-Star in 2017 and was eventually earned All-NBA G League First Team honors as well. Johnson reached a deal with the Thunder this offseason and is looking to start his NBA career on the right note during the 2017-2018 season.
Eric Moreland, Pistons
For the past three seasons, Eric Moreland has been one of the most proficient rebounders in the NBA G League. The formerly undrafted power forward/center out of Oregon State averaged 12.4 rebounds per game in his 56 NBA G League games.
He was named a NBA G League All-Star this past season with the Canton Charge. His work within the Sacramento Kings’ and Cleveland Cavaliers’ organizations earned him a multi-year deal with the Detroit Pistons this offseason.