NBA

Ranking the 10 best undrafted players in NBA history

While the NBA Draft is typically a chance for teams to land franchise-altering talents who can help shape the future of an organization, there are often players who fall through the cracks, later making people question how they were overlooked.

There are a handful of players in league history who went undrafted but grinded their way onto a roster, working their way into playing time and making a significant impact on the court.

With Ben Wallace set to become the first undrafted player in the modern draft era (1989) to enter The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 11, who are some of the greatest undrafted players in NBA history?

10. JJ Barea

College: Northeastern

Career averages: 8.9 PTS, 3.9 AST, 2.1 REB

Accolades: 2011 NBA champion

Barea went undrafted out of Northeastern University in 2006 but latched on with the Dallas Mavericks shortly after and the rest was history. Playing 14 years (and possibly counting) in the NBA, Barea's career will most be remembered by his pivotal role in the Mavericks' 2011 NBA championship run over the Miami Heat's "Big 3."

Barea scored in double figures seven times during that playoff run, going for over 20 points twice while capping off the Finals with an exclamation point, scoring 17 points in a series-altering Game 5 before scoring 15 points in Game 6 to close out the series to win the title.

9. Jose Calderon

College: International - Spain

Career averages: 8.9 PTS, 5.8 AST, 2.9 REB, 40.7% 3PT

Accolades: Retired as Raptors' all-time assists leader

Calderon may not have a lengthy list of accolades, but anyone who watched him play knows the type of playmaker and sharpshooter the Spaniard guard was. He retired as the Toronto Raptors' all-time assist leader, averaging over 8.0 assists per game four times over the course of his 14-year career. He led the NBA in free throw percentage in 2008-09, making a remarkable 151 of his 154 free throw attempts (98.1 percent). He also led the league in 3-point percentage in 2012-13, converting 46.1 percent of his attempts.

8. Avery Johnson

College: Cameron University, Southern University and A&M College

Career averages: 8.4 PTS, 5.5 AST, 1.7 REB, 1.0 STL

Accolades: 1999 NBA champion

It took Johnson a few years to find his footing in the NBA, but after four seasons, he became a solidified starting point guard and floor general. Johnson had six seasons where he averaged over 10.0 points per game and five seasons where he averaged over 7.0 assists per game. He played a key role in the championship run that kicked off the San Antonio Spurs' dynasty, starting in every game in 1998-99 before averaging 12.6 points, 7.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game during the postseason.

In pursuit of his sole NBA championship ring, Johnson had 11 double-digit scoring games and four double-digit assist games in the 1999 NBA Playoffs, notching three double-doubles.

7. Brad Miller

College: Purdue

Career averages: 11.2 PTS, 7.1 REB, 2.8 AST

Accolades: Two-time NBA All-Star

Miller went overlooked in the 1998 NBA Draft but still made a name for himself as one of four players in NBA history to go from undrafted to an All-Star.

Miller did so twice, being named to the All-Star team in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. In his first All-Star season with the Indiana Pacers, he averaged 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He was then traded to the Sacramento Kings that offseason, where he would man the middle for one of the franchise's best seasons in history, averaging 14.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per game.

6. Fred VanVleet

College: Witchita State

Career averages: 12.1 PTS, 4.5 AST, 2.9 REB, 1.2 STL

Accolades: 2019 NBA champion

VanVleet made history during the 2020 NBA offseason, signing the largest contract ever (four years, $85 million) by an undrafted player. Miami Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson surpassed that number this past offseason (five years, $89 million), but VanVleet's is still the richest deal annually.

VanVleet also set the single-game scoring record by an undrafted player this past season when he went for 54 points against the Orlando Magic, a total that marked the most in a single game in Raptors' franchise history as well.

VanVleet is coming off of the strongest season of his career, averaging 19.6 points, 6.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. At this current trajectory, it's safe to assume VanVleet will land much higher on this list by the end of his career.

5. Udonis Haslem

College: Florida

Career averages: 7.6 PTS, 6.7 REB

Accolades: Three-time NBA champion (2006, 2012, 2013), 2004 All-Rookie Second Team

Haslem joined the Heat as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and never looked back, going on his 19th season in Miami. During his prime years with the Heat, from 2005 to 2009, Haslem averaged 10.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, playing a huge role in helping Miami establish what is now commonly known as "Heat Culture."

He was a part of all three championship teams in franchise history, starting in every playoff game in 2006, 11 of 22 playoff games in 2012 and 19 of 22 playoff games in 2013.

4. Bruce Bowen

College: Cal State Fullerton

Career averages: 6.1 PTS, 2.8 REB, 1.2 AST, 39.3% 3PT

Accolades: Three-time NBA champion (2003, 2005, 2007), eight-time All-Defence

Bowen's career averages may not jump off the page, but his impact on the Spurs' championship teams was undeniable. His five All-Defensive First Team selections speak volumes, locking down any wing scorer during the 2000s playoff runs. He shot over 40.0 percent from 3-point range in six different seasons, and he was a career 42.2 percent 3-point shooter in the playoffs, often knocking down big shots.

3. John Starks

College: Oklahoma State

Career averages: 12.5 PTS, 3.6 AST, 2.5 REB, 1.1 STL

Accolades: One-time All-Star, 1993 Second Team All-Defence, 1997 Sixth Man of the Year

Starks' path to the NBA wasn't easy, but the tough-nosed guard found a way to develop his unique path into becoming a New York legend.

Going undrafted out of Oklahoma State, Starks played one year in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors before taking his talents overseas. When he returned to the NBA to play for the New York Knicks, his legacy as a player would change forever. From 1991 to 1998, Starks averaged 14.1 points, 4.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals for the Knicks, but his impact was much greater than advertised.

He averaged double figures scoring in seven of his eight seasons in New York, helping lead the team back to the NBA Finals in 1994, ending a 21-year drought. Although the Knicks lost in the Finals in seven games, Starks scored 19 or more points in five of the seven contests, going for over 20 points three times.

His attitude and demeanour left an imprint on Knicks basketball forever.

2. Connie Hawkins

College: Iowa

Career averages: 18.7 PTS, 8.8 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.2 STL

Accolades: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, five-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA, 1968 ABA MVP, 1968 ABA champion, two-time All-ABA

Hawkins' reason for going undrafted was unlike any other player on this list, being banned by the NBA for a wrongfully accused point-shaving scandal during his time at Iowa. While Hawkins had his situation figured out with the NBA, he bounced around in different professional leagues before dominating the ABA, averaging 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, winning an MVP and NBA championship in 1968.

His success translated to the NBA as well, averaging over 20 points per game in his first three seasons with the Phoenix Suns, being named an All-Star in his first four years in his new league.

Hawkins was later inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to both the ABA and NBA.

1. Ben Wallace

College: Virginia Union University

Career averages: 5.7 PTS, 9.6 REB, 2.0 BLK, 1.3 AST, 1.3 STL

Accolades: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, 2004 NBA champion, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-Star, six-time All-Defence, five-time All-NBA, two-time rebounding champion, one-time blocks champion

Wallace is undeniably the greatest undrafted player in NBA history.

One of the best defenders in league history, Wallace has four Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name, tied with Dikembe Mutumbo for the most all-time. Coming into the league during an era where big men ruled the NBA, it's easy to understand how an undersized center like Wallace could get overlooked in the NBA Draft. But his intensity, physicality, attitude, effort and athleticism made up for whatever he lacked in height, becoming one of the most dominant interior players in the 2000s.

He will become the first undrafted player in the new draft era (since 1989) to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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