By Ross Kelly
Last night 60 young men heard their name called in the NBA Draft. But that doesn’t mean the end of a dream for those who weren’t selected. Hundreds of players have gone onto play in the NBA without being drafted including cult favorites Jeremy Lin and Jamario Moon. As is the case with the draft in every sport, great players somehow always fall through the cracks and go unnoticed by coaches and scouts. But with drive, determination, and a bit of luck, there’s still a chance to make the league. These players did just that. Here is our list of the top undrafted players in NBA history:
10. Darrell Armstrong – DA navigated through five different pro leagues in three countries before making it to the NBA at the age of 26. Despite the late start, Armstrong would play in the league until 39 with nine of those years spent in Orlando. In 1999 he became the only player to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award and the Most Improved Player Award in the same season. He even received a couple of MVP votes in both 1998-99 and 1999-00. Armstrong is currently a player development assistant with the Dallas Mavericks.
9. Reggie Evans – Reggie Evans may be the active player who most closely resembles Dennis Rodman, on the court that is. Nicknamed “The Collector”, Evans is an absolute rebounding machine despite being just 6’8” and not having the greatest hops in the world. Total rebound percentage is the percentage of rebounds that a player grabs while he is on the floor and through the 2014-15 season, Evans ranks second all-time in that statistic (21.87%). The one man he trails is, of course, Rodman (23.44%).
8. Raja Bell – Deemed too small and not a great shooter, Bell was undrafted out of FIU in 1999. After a season in the CBA, he would make his way to the NBA and spend 12 seasons there. He is best known for his four seasons with the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns sharing the backcourt with Steve Nash. Bell was one of the first “3-and-D” wings before the phrase became vogue as he was a 2x member of the All-Defensive team and a career 41% three-point shooter.
7. Udonis Haslem – “UD” is still going strong with the Miami Heat and just finished his 12th season. Besides playing one year overseas, he has spent his entire life in the state of Florida after being born in Miami and attending UF. Haslem is the Heat franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds and is a three-time NBA champion. He’s been through it all in Miami and seems destined to join the team’s basketball operations team once he retires a la Alonzo Mourning and Juwan Howard.
6. Avery Johnson – After attending three colleges and playing in the USBL, Johnson finally made his way to the NBA in 1988. He would go on to play 16 seasons with most of that time coming with the San Antonio Spurs. He won a title with the Spurs in 1999 and is currently the all-time leader in career assists for an undrafted player.
5. Bruce Bowen – Long before Shane Battier became the posterchild for the “No-Stats All-Star”, there was Bruce Bowen. The 13 year NBA veteran was arguably the best perimeter defender of his era as evident by his eight All-Defensive team selections. He didn’t score, rebound, or assist much; but his on-ball defense was pivotal to three of the Spurs championship teams. The Spurs showed their appreciation for Bowen by retiring his number in 2012.
4. John Starks – Best known for his time with the Knicks, Starks went undrafted due in part to off-the-court problems. He was kicked out of three colleges before ending his career at Oklahoma State. He would eventually make his way to the NBA and played 13 seasons, eight of which came in New York. Starks is the first undrafted player to make an All-Star team (1994) and he also was the Sixth Man of the Year in 1997. When he retired he ranked 12th all-time in three pointers made and currently works for the Knicks in a fan development role.
3. Wes Matthews – It’s still a wonder why Matthews was undrafted out of Marquette. He was a four-year starter who played in the NCAA tournament each year and is also the son of a former NBA player. Since entering the league in 2009, Matthews has been one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league and the NBA’s “ironman” before suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon last season. If he’s able to return back to the form he displayed before the injury, Matthews has a good chance to end up even higher on this list.
2. Brad Miller – One of the best-passing big men of his era, Miller debuted in the NBA in the 1998-1999 season. He bounced around a couple of teams before finding his niche with the Pacers and Kings and made an All-Star team with each. With the Kings, he was part of the triumvirate with Vlade Divac and Chris Webber that revolutionized the Princeton offense with their uncanny passing ability. Miller would play 14 seasons in the NBA and also won two bronze medals at the FIBA World Championships with Team USA (1998, 2006).
1. Ben Wallace – The 4x Defensive Player of the Year would have been a part of that epic 1996 NBA Draft had he been selected, but he was passed over and signed with the Washington Bullets. He would go on to have his most success as a member of the Detroit Pistons where he was a 4x All-Star and won a title in 2004. Big Ben is the all-time leader among undrafted players in games played, rebounds, and blocked shots. In a couple of years Wallace has a very good chance of becoming the first, legitimate undrafted player in NBA history to be elected for the Hall of Fame.