You have to be the best of the best in order to get a shot at playing in the NBA—the pinnacle of basketball. After all, there are only 60 picks in the annual NBA draft. That’s why there are a lot of undrafted players who don’t get to play in the league.
Best undrafted NBA players
Undrafted players have one thing in common: determination.
Not being selected didn’t stop them from making a name for themselves in the NBA. Outside of NBA draft eligibility, they played overseas or signed with NBA teams on a two-way contract to prove that they belong. It’s not easy, but certainly possible.
Now, let’s take a look at the seven best undrafted NBA players of all time…
7. Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin went undrafted due to his thin frame and bad defense. NBA scouts only saw him as a “smart passer”, nothing more. However, the Warriors signed him after his strong Summer League play in 2010.
After a season in Golden State, Lin signed with the Knicks where he will forever be remembered. There, he stepped up when they needed a spark the most. He went on a rampage in 9 straight games wherein averaged 24 points per game during the Linsanity period. The Knicks were 9-2 in that span.
Lin played six more seasons and ultimately won a championship in 2019 with the Raptors.
6. Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen started his career playing overseas in France. After that, he tried his luck again in the NBA and signed with the Celtics. He slowly gained traction as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. After all, teams covet defensive-minded players. In the end, Bowen corralled eight All-Defensive selections in his career.
He shined the most in San Antonio where he became a three-time NBA Champion.
5. Fred VanVleet
VanVleet was a major factor in the Raptors’ success in 2019. Despite lacking height, he emerged as one of the best point guards in the league. In 2020/21, he averaged 19.6 points and 6.3 assists per game. At this point in his career, VanVleet is already one of the best undrafted NBA players.
4. Udonis Haslem
After going undrafted, Udonis Haslem played in France. After a year, he was back in the NBA and signed with Miami, his hometown.
Despite his lack of size, that didn’t stop him from contributing and helping Miami win multiple championships. At age 41, he’s still on the roster to provide a veteran presence. Haslem will go down as a Heat legend when he finally retires.
3. Avery Johnson
Avery Johnson holds the record for most assists per game (13.3) in the NCAA. Still, it wasn’t enough to get him drafted in the NBA.
The Little General shined the most in his stint with the Spurs. There, he won the 1999 NBA Championship with Tim Duncan and David Robinson. His reliability and leadership allowed him to last 16 seasons in the league.
2. John Starks
John Starks was one of the most iconic players in the 90s. Like with most undrafted players, he also had a rough first season in the NBA. Shortly after, he went overseas before trying out again with the Knicks.
His competitive nature made him an instant fan favorite in New York. He even went head-to-head with Michael Jordan despite lacking size. Starks had a stellar career and was one-time All-Star, Sixth Man of the Year, and one-time All-Defensive.
1. Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace had a rough start in his first three seasons in Washington. However, things started to turn around when he was traded to the Pistons.
At 6’9, Big Ben was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, six-time All-Defensive, and four-time All-Star. His defensive presence was key in Detroit’s championship run in 2004. He proved that scoring isn’t everything in basketball. Wallace is arguably the best undrafted player in NBA history.