FOR every touted prospect that gets his name called by Adam Silver in the NBA draft, there’s a poor soul left sitting in the infamous green room. Yes, only first-rounders get to have all the fun, hoopla, and fantastic loot that come with being the supposed studs of the draft.
A basketball player’s journey to the professional league doesn’t end at the draft combine or a private workout, though.
Manute Bol’s son, 7’2 Bol Bol, didn’t get picked until the second round (44th overall) by the Miami Heat, which traded him to the Denver Nuggets, after being once tabbed as a Top 5 talent. He told ESPN, “I just want to prove everyone wrong and come out and be the best player I can be.”
Bol was actually fortunate to even be drafted. Many aspiring pros in NBA draft history were completely ignored on draft night and were only signed as free agents. But just like the second-generation hooper, some of them used the snub as motivation to be better than their much-ballyhooed counterparts. Newly crowned NBA champion Fred VanVleet is a good example.
May the following undrafted players serve as an inspiration to those were overlooked this year.
Best undrafted NBA players
Jeremy Lin (2010)
The Jeremy Lin fever may have been short-lived, but, make no mistake, Linsanity was the real deal. After being signed by the pre-Splash Brothers Golden State Warriors, he was claimed off of waivers by the New York, where the fourth-string guard seized the opportunity during a blowout to show he was made of sterner stuff. Since then, the Harvard grad has become a journeyman in recent years. Despite keeping the Toronto Raptors bench warm, Lin is an NBA champion now.
David Wesley (1992)
Unlike most of the entries in this list, you’ve probably never heard of this undersized combo guard. Wesley played in the CBA after going undrafted before joining the New Jersey Nets and five more teams in his 14-year NBA career. His unlikely journey to the NBA didn’t stop the two-way player to average double-digit scoring in 10 straight seasons.
Barea is one of the smallest players to make it to the league. The Dallas Mavericks guard’s international resumé is more decorated than his NBA career, in fact, but he has certainly made a huge impact off the bench in the pros. Barea was instrumental in the Mavs winning their first championship in 2011 at the expense of the Big Three-led Miami Heat.
Avery Johnson (1988)
Another diminutive and discounted player, the former Coach of the Year was first a floor general for Gregg Popovich during the early years of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty. Listed at 5’10, Johnson played bigger than his size throughout his career and hit the title-clinching shot for the Spurs in 1999 against the Knicks. He was the first undrafted player in NBA history to have his number (6) retired.
Udonis Haslem (2002)
Miami might be Wade County, but it would be wrong to ignore Haslem’s contributions to the franchise that has always believed in him. The blue-collar guy repaid his hometown team’s trust serving as the "glue guy" in each of the Heat’s three championships. He even took less money to stay with his maiden squad during the Big Three era.
Darrell Armstrong (1991)
Armstrong bounced around international leagues after a failed draft, before finding himself with the Orlando Magic in 1995. It didn’t take long before he hit his stride, becoming the first player in league history to win the Sixth Man and Most Improved awards in the same year. You may know him from the 1996 dunk contest, where he accidentally converted a layup dunk.
Bruce Bowen (1993)
Say what you want about the corner-three-point-shooting forward, but Bowen made a name for himself with his game-changing lockdown defense. The thing about him, though, is that his credentials validated his infamy. He was a three-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team, a five-time All-Defensive First Team honoree, and, more importantly, a three-time NBA champion with the Spurs.
Brad Miller (1998)
The two-time All-Star was among the forefathers of the current stretch-big revolution. Miller, at 6’11, had the unique ability to make you pay from inside the paint and beyond the arc, as well as find the open man. His most successful stint was with the Sacramento Kings, where he averaged 13 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in close to six seasons there.
John Starks (1988)
Rounding up the list of overachieving guards is the former All-Star, All-Defensive Second Team member, and Sixth Man of the Year. During a tryout with the New York Knicks, he tried to dunk on Patrick Ewing and twisted his ankle. From being someone whom the team couldn’t release due to injury, Starks turned into one of the Knicks’ superstars in the '90s.
Ben Wallace (1996)
Big Ben, who was picked up by the then-Washington Bullets after going undrafted in the 1996 draft, had his best years as one of the Detroit Pistons’ post-Dennis Rodman-era Bad Boys. Wallace made every other team who didn’t draft him regret their decision by terrorizing opponents on defense, on his way to four Defensive Player of the Year awards, four All-Star inclusions, and a championship ring.
Best undrafted players in the PBA
If you're looking for counterparts in the PBA, here's one example of an undrafted player who's now making a name for himself.