Top 20 best undrafted NBA players of all time
NBA talent evaluators generally do a good job of finding the best players around the world, but every now and again a hidden gem falls through the cracks. That was especially evident during the 2020 NBA Playoffs as undrafted guard Duncan Robinson nearly propelled the Miami Heat to the franchise’s fourth title.
The former Division III standout scored 15 points or more seven times in the postseason and exploded for 26 against LeBron James and the Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Robinson is just the latest example of an undrafted player who has made a meaningful impact in the Association. Join us now as we rank the 20 best undrafted NBA players of all time.
20. Aron Baynes
College: Washington State
NBA teams: San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns
Accolades: NBA Champion (2014)
Aron Baynes may not have cracked this list a year ago, but that was before he became one of the league’s most improved three-point shooters. The 6’10” bruiser nailed 35% of his treys during his first season in Phoenix, and has likely added another five years to his career by moving away from the paint and out to the perimeter.
19. Joel Anthony
NBA teams: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs
Accolades: 2x NBA Champion (2012, 2013)
Joel Anthony is your prototypical late bloomer. The Montreal native didn’t play competitive basketball until his senior year of high school and was cut from his local college team. Although it took the rugged center longer than most to figure out how to play the game, once he did he became an integral part of two NBA Championship squads in Miami thanks to his tenacious defense and willingness to sacrifice his body for the good of the team.
18. Kent Bazemore
College: Old Dominion
NBA teams: Golden State Warriors, L.A. Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings
Accolades: Bazemore ranked seventh in the NBA in steals percentage in 2017-18
The league is full of undrafted players, but Kent Bazemore is the only one to ever sign a four-year, $70 million deal. The Old Dominion product inked his lucrative extension with the Hawks in 2016 after averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists during his second season in Atlanta. Bazemore has since been traded to the Trail Blazers and Kings, and has provided both teams with dependable defense and highlight reel dunks.
17. Earl Boykins
College: Eastern Michigan
NBA teams: New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, L.A. Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets
Accolades: Boykins posted the NBA’s fifth best offensive rating in 2002-03
At just 5'5", it’s easy to look over Earl Boykins, but it’s impossible to overlook what he accomplished in the NBA. The diminutive point guard was a fearless scorer and crafty distributor who averaged 12.3 points and 4.1 assists over a four-year stretch with the Nuggets from 2003-07. His size made him a liability during the NBA’s hand-checking era, but he was an electrifying scorer when given the chance.
16. J.J. Barea
NBA teams: Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves
Accolades: NBA Champion (2011)
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd get most of the credit for Dallas’ 2011 NBA Championship, and understandably so, but they may not have rings on their fingers were it not for Barea. The plucky point guard was inserted into the starting line-up with the Mavs down 2-1 to the Heat in the NBA Finals, and helped sparked Dallas to three straight wins with his gritty play. He remains on the roster more than nine years later (after a brief detour to Minnesota), and is still one of the most popular players in franchise history.
15. Joe Ingles
NBA teams: Utah Jazz
Accolades: Ingles ranked seventh in the NBA in effective field-goal percentage in 2017-18
Joe Ingles is well aware of the fact that he looks like a substitute math teacher and that opposing fans refer to him as "Slow Mo Joe." Neither of those bother him, however, because he also knows that he can also rain threes from all over the court. The Australian marksman has hit 41% of his three-point attempts since entering the league in 2014, and was handsomely rewarded for his accuracy in 2019, when he agreed to a one-year $14 million extension with the Jazz.
14. Wesley Matthews
NBA teams: Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks
Accolades: Matthews has twice ranked in the top 20 in minutes played (2012, 2014)
Don’t let the fact that Wesley Matthews has been with four different teams over the past two seasons dissuade you from his enormous value. The 34-year-old vet is a phenomenal floor spacer who has been among the league best three-point shooters for the past decade. Matthews recorded his finest season in 2013-14, when he averaged 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists for the Trail Blazers.
13. Jeremy Lin
NBA teams: Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, L.A. Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors
Accolades: NBA Champion (2019)
We’ll be the first to admit that “Linsanity” was a rather short-lived phenomenon, but at its height it absolutely gripped the nation. Lin appeared on the covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, Slam, and GQ after becoming the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts. That level of production ultimately proved unsustainable, but for a brief moment the undrafted Harvard grad was the true King of New York.
12. David Wesley
NBA teams: New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers
Accolades: Wesley ranked in the top 20 in assists four times during his career
NBA scouts considered David Wesley too small and too one-dimensional when he declared for the draft in 1992. Turns out they were dead wrong. The 6'1" sparkplug averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists over a nine-year stretch from 1996-to-2004, and became one of the league’s top combo guards.
11. Jose Calderon
NBA teams: Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers
Accolades: Calderon ranked in the top 10 in assists four times (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012)
Few players have a more impressive international resume than Jose Calderon. The crafty point guard helped Spain capture silver at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and powered his national team to first place finished at the FIBA World Cup, EuroBasket, and FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup. Calderon’s ability to set up teammates also served him well in the NBA, where “Mr. Catering” dished out 5,148 dimes over 14 seasons.
10. Udonis Haslem
NBA teams: Miami Heat
Accolades: NBA Champion (2006, 2012, 2013)
Younger fans mostly know Udonis Haslem as that intense, towel-waving dude who yells at his teammates during timeouts, but there was a time when “U.D.” was a nightly double-double threat. The undrafted Florida alum averaged 10.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game from 2005-10, and was a key contributor to all three of Miami’s NBA Championship teams.
9. Fred VanVleet
College: Wichita State
NBA teams: Toronto Raptors
Accolades: NBA Champion (2019)
This spot may seem a little high for a player who just wrapped up his fourth season in the NBA, but Fred VanVleet more than proved his worth in the 2019 NBA Finals, when he helped the Raptors capture their first championship by averaging 14.0 points, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. "Steady Freddy’s" gritty defense and clutch playmaking have made him one of the most sought after combo guards in the league, and he should be rewarded handsomely when he hits free agency this year.
8. Brad Miller
NBA teams: Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves
Accolades: 2x All-Star
It’s hard to believe Brad Miller went undrafted after averaging 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game during his senior season at Purdue, but many scouts believed the 6’11” center lacked the explosiveness and lateral quickness needed to survive in the NBA. To their credit, Miller never became a standout defender, but he did mature into a dependable scorer and phenomenal passer who excelled at finding open teammates from down on the block. His offensive prowess earned him a pair of All-Star selections and paved the way for eight playoff appearances.
7. Avery Johnson
College: Southern University and A&M
NBA teams: Seattle SuperSonics, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks
Accolades: NBA Champion (1999)
Look up "leader" in the dictionary and you’re apt to see a picture of Avery Johnson. The undersized point guard was a strong-willed motivator who always got the best out of his teammates. That was especially true in 1999, when he led the San Antonio Spurs to the team’s first NBA Championship in franchise history. Yes, having David Robinson and Tim Duncan on the roster certainly helped, but without "The Little General" barking out commands, the Spurs may never have won it all.
6. Darrell Armstrong
College: Fayetteville State
NBA teams: Orlando Magic, New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets
Accolades: NBA Most Improved Player (1999), NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1999)
Although many people would like to forget the NBA’s strike-shortened 1999 season, Darrell Armstrong is decidedly not among them. The fiery 6'0" point guard played in all 50 games that season and was named the league’s Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 13.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per contest. Armstrong put up even bigger numbers for the Magic over the next two seasons, but 1999 deserves special attention as being his breakthrough year after going undrafted and toiling away in Cyprus and Spain.
5. Bruce Bowen
College: Cal State Fullerton
NBA teams: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs
Accolades: 8x All-Defensive selection, 3x NBA Champion (2003, 2005, 2007)
It’s amazing what can happen when the right player finds the right coach. That was the case for Bruce Bowen, who made seven-straight NBA All-Defensive teams and won three titles after joining forces with Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. The crafty coach made the most of Bowen’s talents by unleashing him on opposing wings and turning him into the league’s most fearsome 3-and-D specialist.
4. Raja Bell
College: Florida International University
NBA teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors
Accolades: 2x NBA All-Defensive selection
Unlike Bruce Bowen, who is on our list mainly because of his defensive prowess, Raja Bell was a lockdown defender and a capable scorer. The 6'5" wing averaged 14.7 points per game in back-to-back seasons with the Suns from 2005-07, and shot 40% or better from the three-point line seven times. His ability to get out in transition and space the court were huge reasons why Phoenix’s vaunted "Seven Seconds or Less" offense was so lethal.
3. John Starks
College: Oklahoma State
NBA teams: Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz
Accolades: NBA All-Star (1994), NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1997)
Plenty of players on our list played overseas or in the CBA before getting their big break, but John Starks is the only one who worked as a bagger at a grocery store. The Tulsa native went from making $3.35 an hour at a local Safeway to bringing home more than $5 million a year as a member of the Knicks. That tremendous pay increase was a reflection of Starks’ fearless shot-making and lockdown defense, two qualities that helped the Knicks to advance to the NBA Finals in 1994.
2. Ben Wallace
College: Virginia Union
NBA teams: Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers
Accolades: 4x All-Star, 5x All-NBA, 4x Defensive Player of the Year (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), NBA Champion (2004)
Ben Wallace is the classic example of a player who was good at basketball without actually being good at basketball. The 6’9” grinder couldn’t shoot, dribble, or pass, but he was seldom outworked and never, ever gave up on a play. His commitment to stopping opponents earned him four Defensive Player of the Year awards and helped the Pistons to overcome the heavily favored Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
1. Connie Hawkins
NBA teams: Phoenix Suns, L.A. Lakers, Atlanta Hawks
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 4x NBA All-Star
Under regular circumstances Connie Hawkins would have been a No. 1 draft pick in nearly any year, but the hyper-athletic forward was blackballed by the NBA after his alleged involvement in a college point-shaving scandal. Although never arrested or indicted, "The Hawk" was forced to toil away in the ABA until 1969, when he finally made his debut with the Phoenix Suns. Hawkins made four All-Star teams over the next four seasons and became one of the league’s most marketable stars thanks to his dazzling above-the-rim play.
Honorable mentions: Carlos Arroyo, Chucky Atkins, Alex Caruso, Marquis Daniels, Reggie Evans, Bryn Forbes, T.J. McConnell, Anthony Morrow, Kendrick Nunn