Every year, players from the US and the rest of the world enter the NBA draft. Wealth and fame await those lucky few picked in the first rounds of the draft. That’s where most of the stars in basketball come from, but not always. Most players go undrafted. They have to attract NBA scouts in different ways. Some of them enter summer camps and hope to impress that way.
Others end up playing in the minor leagues or in Europe to build up a steady resume for themselves, but it’s a slog. So today, we’re going to take a look at 40 of the best players who weren’t selected in the NBA draft. Some of these athletes became big stars, winning championships and fame. Others had to be content with backup roles for most of their careers, but they all made it to the NBA despite facing adversity.
Boykins is the second-shortest player in NBA history. At just five-foot-five, it’s no surprise that he went undrafted. However, he refused to give up on his dream of making it as a professional basketball player. The Eastern Michigan college star clearly had talent because he signed short contracts with several NBA teams before he truly made it with the Nuggets.
In the end, he enjoyed a stellar and successful career. He tasted Olympic gold with Team USA and was a regular fixture in the NBA. As well as success in the U.S, he played with distinction in Italy. Boykins finally retired in 2012 after becoming a cult figure in the league. When an athlete is so short amongst so many giants, he was always going to attract attention.
One of the few athletes on this list to win an NBA Championship, VanVleet has an incredible story. He earned that ring with the Toronto Raptors but it will have felt extra special for him. His journey to the NBA saw him play in the lowest depths of basketball. After he went undrafted, the Raptors signed him but sent him out to play with their G-League affiliate, Raptors 905.
When he came back, he was a new man and helped Toronto to their first-ever title. Furthermore, he finished second in voting for the Finals MVP award which was amazing considering his background. When an athlete really has to fight to prove themselves it can define their character. VanVleet earned his place in the NBA the difficult way and doesn’t want to give it up.
One of LSU’s best-ever players, Temple was excellent on the college scene. But despite this, he went undrafted and ended up in the G-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. This came after the Houston Rockets waived the Baton Rouge native. In sum, he had everything to prove if he wanted to feature in the NBA, nevermind win a Championship ring.
It took Temple several years to prove that he was ready for the big leagues. After bouncing up and down between the NBA and the development league, Temple finally established himself. He spent several seasons in Washington with the Wizards before spells with the Kings and the Nets. In 2020, he joined the Chicago Bulls. It must have felt crazy to pull on the same shirt as Michael Jordan after playing in the G-League.
When a skilled college player goes undrafted, the Summer League can provide another gateway into the NBA. For most of these potential stars, it’s a case of the last-chance saloon. This is a high-pressure competition where dreams are made and crushed. McConnell proved himself enough to attract the Philadelphia 76ers and win himself a contract. He was one of the lucky ones.
This was the start of a strong professional career for the former Wildcats star. McConnell spent four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before he moved to the Indiana Pacers in 2019. They signed him to a two-year contract worth seven million dollars. He may never win an NBA Championship unless he is very lucky, but simply being in the league is a win for the young man.
This Texas native took a long and meandering route to the NBA. O’Neale went on a Grand Tour after he finished college because he went undrafted. First of all, he played in Germany. Then, he spent time in Spain before his final European adventure in Lithuania. This gave him a wealth of experience and his perseverance paid off because he eventually found his way to the NBA.
O’Neale deserves credit because not many Americans have managed to bounce back like this. He impressed for the Salt Lake City Stars in the Summer League. Then, the Utah Jazz brought him back from their affiliate and gave him a contract. He continued to play well and it looks like he has found his home in the home of the Mormons. What a wild ride it has been.
U.S. players have an advantage over their global counterparts because NBA scouts operate so close to them. Of course, franchises snap up the biggest international names, but players who go undrafted face an even bigger challenge. Kleber played for three years in his native Germany before entering the draft. But it didn’t work out so he had to spend a couple more seasons in Europe.
In 2017, Kleber moved from Germany to the Dallas Mavericks after finally impressing. It was a major slog but he stood firm and enhanced his skills. He impressed the Mavericks who extended his stay in Texas. While he isn’t one of the biggest global names in the NBA, he’s a solid performer for the Mavs and a decent option. It was an incredible journey for the German.
There are a limited number of places in the draft so it shouldn’t feel like the end of the world to go undrafted. Jones took a pragmatic approach to his future in 2016, when he was eligible for the draft. He didn’t even hire an agent initially because he wanted to keep the option of another college year. Finally, he decided to turn pro but went undrafted. However, he impressed the Phoenix Suns at training camp.
They duly handed him a contract but he was inconsistent in Arizona. Next, he signed with the Miami Heat on a two-way contract. He spent time in the G-League to develop his game before bouncing back on a standard contract. Jones’s life changed and he played in the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Furthermore, he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 2020 before signing with the Trail Blazers.
Nunn almost ruined his future before it arrived when he was in college. Police arrested him on battery charges and Illinois kicked him off of their basketball team. This forced him to move to Oakland where he had no choice but to sit out for a year. Finally, after a good season for the Golden Grizzlies, he wanted to turn pro. But he went undrafted in 2018 and ended up with the Warriors’ G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz.
Finally, he made it to the NBA after impressing the Heat during their final preseason game. He scored a franchise preseason record of 40 points. That was definitely an emphatic way to prove himself. Meanwhile, Nunn had a great season for Miami as he made the All-NBA Rookie First Team. Nunn is also exceptional as the first undrafted player to win multiple Rookie of the Month awards.
Stephen Curry is one of the most famous basketball players in the NBA. Furthermore, he is one of the greatest shooters of all-time. But his younger brother Seth doesn’t have the same profile. He is also an NBA star but he had to fight tooth-and-nail to make it as a high-level pro. In 2013, Curry went undrafted before playing games for the Golden State Warriors in the preseason.
However, they didn’t want him and he ended up in the D-League. While the ‘D’ stood for development, it could have meant desperation. So many young athletes find themselves treading water for affiliate teams and want to prove themselves. Finally, in 2015, his big break came. The Phoenix Suns signed him and he built an NBA career from there.
After impression in the Mountain West conference with UNLV, Wood expected to be a late first-round pick in the 2015 draft. However, to his dismay, he went undrafted and found himself in the wilderness. But all credit to the young man because he didn’t give up. He slogged his way through the D-League for three seasons until he finally earned an NBA contract.
Finally, in 2019, Wood got some consistent minutes in the NBA. He played for the New Orleans Pelicans for a season before moving to the Pistons. Then, Detroit traded him to Houston where he exploded into life. Wood suddenly looked like an All-Star in Texas. It just goes to show that the right environment can make or break a player at the highest level.
Currently a free agent, Johnson knows all about the struggle to make it in the NBA. After playing in the D-League he finally got his big move. The Miami Heat gave him a shot in the 2014-15 NBA season, playing 32 total games. He slowly increased his role and became one of the best sixth men in the league.
Johnson averaged a career-high 13.7 points per game in 2016-17, including a 32-point performance against the Sacramento Kings. The Suns have just waived his contract but at the age of 27, he’s still got miles on his tread. He should have no shortage of offers.
The first of several Australians on this list, Dellavedova went to college in the US at St. Mary’s College of California. It was the Cleveland Cavaliers who first gave him a shot in the NBA and he took it with open arms. He played a big role in helping them win the title in 2016, as he played stellar defense against Stephen Curry.
Dellavedova cashed in the following offseason, signing a major 4-year, $38 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. However, they didn’t give him enough starting opportunities and he pushed to leave. Now back with the Cavs, he’s helping them rebuild and improve for the future.
Now starring for the Brooklyn Nets, Temple is in the twilight of his career. After five NBA teams effectively rejected him, he ended up in Italy. But he came back rejuvenated and joined the Washington Wizards. Temple is useful for nearly any roster. His size, defense, and shooting skills make him a very useful backup option for most teams.
However, he’s also a testament to what it means not to get drafted. In short, it’s a true slog and you have to work hard to get an NBA side to take a chance on you. Temple was one of the lucky ones but that’s because he was able to persevere. That’s why he’s been in the league for over 10 years.
Baynes has been around the world in pursuit of NBA glory. After leaving his native Australia on a scholarship to Washington State University, he ended up playing in Europe. But he didn’t give up on his major league dream and subsequently got signed by the Spurs, even winning a championship from the bench.
It was with the Boston Celtics that he became more well-known. Baynes has played for some great coaches like Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, and Tony Bennett. More importantly, he’s good at fitting into a system. In short, what he lacks in talent he makes up for with effort. Even undrafted players taste success.
Smith was the only player in Wake Forest history to reach 1000 points and 600 assists, yet still went undrafted. Eventually, the Houston Rockets picked him up and he spent most of his first three years in the NBA as a backup point guard. He didn’t see significant minutes until with the 76ers in 2015.
It was in Philidelphia that his game numbers improved. In recent years he’s been a useful third guard for the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. However, Smith has played for 11 teams in the past eight years. It’s nice to keep getting those big-money contracts.
Hayes has always been undersized for his position. At just 6-foot-6 and unable to spread the floor, it wasn’t a surprise at all that he went undrafted. But he got his shot with the Houston Rockets, whom he stayed with for five years. Hayes went from the bench to starter in no time.
Yao Ming endured health problems during this time. Hayes had to step up to the plate and he did. To sum up, he was one of the best individual defenders in the NBA from 2007 to 2010. Later, he’d get a big $2o million payday from the Sacramento Kings. It all turned out well for him.
Despite impressing in the NCAA, Tolliver failed to satisfy draft scouts with his offensive ability. As a result, he went undrafted. So he spent his early years in the development league as well as a stint in Germany. Since getting a break with the Golden State Warriors, Tolliver has been a dependable rotation option.
He’s also got a reputation for being one of the best teammates in the league. Several teams with youthful rosters have snapped him up to add a bit of experience and maturity to the locker room. In short, he’s never been spectacular. but he has 10 years in the NBA on his record.
After graduating from FIU, he went undrafted. Then, the Toronto Raptors signed Arroyo but released him quickly. He went to Spain before a short spell with the Pistons. However, being a professional basketball player isn’t an easy career path. When the Utah Jazz came in for him, his career trajectory changed.
Initially their third point guard, Arroyo found himself as a starter when John Stockton retired. However, he proved to be up to the task, as he averaged 12.6 points per game and pushed the Jazz towards a playoff position. Now retired, he’s playing in the Big3.
Anthony joined the Miami Heat at just the right time. He was an established starter by the time the Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He was in the perfect place as Miami pushed for championship rings, winning two in a row. All of this came after he went undrafted.
However, his career has been nomadic the past few years. The former free agent still managed to play in the NBA for 10 years. That’s something that a lot of young basketball players would definitely love to say. Now he plays for San Lorenzo in Argentina.
Ingles is one of the most interesting players in the NBA today. He looks on course to be a one-team player, which is very unusual for a foreign import. After spending the preseason with the Clippers, he joined the Utah Jazz in 2014. He’s been there ever since.
Known for his on-court aggression, he’s not afraid to get into it with other players in the league. Jazz fans appreciate his durability and consistency. Is he the most spectacular player on their roster? No. But every team needs players like Ingles; that’s why he’s been in Utah for so long.
Currently playing for the Sacramento Kings, Bazemore has been in the league since 2012. The Golden State Warriors picked him up as a free agent after he left Old Dominion. He only lasted a couple of years there before moving to the Lakers. But it was with the Atlanta Hawks where he finally settled.
Bazemore helped them to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The Hawks rewarded him with a four-year, $70 million dollar deal in the 2016 offseason. He never really lived up to that price tag, but has been a solid NBA presence and looks likely to stick around for another couple of years.
“The Birdman” didn’t even know he had to apply for the NBA draft. Anderson definitely didn’t come from a traditional basketball background. First of all, he played in China before bouncing around the minor leagues. He finally made it to the NBA with the Denver Nuggets.
An NBA Championship winner with the Miami Heat, Anderson has experienced good and bad in his career. The league suspended and reinstated him after a drug battle. One of only two Binn students to ever play in the NBA, he’s currently playing with Power in the Big3 league.
To say that Evans was not a prolific attacker is an understatement. Over a 13-year NBA career, he averaged just 4.1 points per game. In short, that’s an atrocious record. But it’s also important to note that he played for a dozen franchises. While never magnificent, he did fill a specific role for his teams.
He played extremely hard and was very difficult to outhustle. Though he was only 6’8”, he twice led the NBA in rebound percentage. In fact, his 21.87% career mark in that stat is second all-time behind Dennis Rodman. Evans was one-dimensional but very good at one thing.
If you google the definition of a ‘journeyman,’ then a picture of James should come up. He went undrafted but didn’t give up on his dream. The Duquesne alumni got his professional start in the Euro leagues where he was brilliant. When he finally got to the NBA, he was around for a long time. He played for an astonishing 11 teams.
He was a reserve in the Pistons’ 2004 Championship-winning team. James also averaged over 20 points a game for the Raptors, including a 39-point game against Detroit. A 26-year-old rookie, it’s no wonder that he was able to hang around the league so late.
‘Linsanity’ took over the NBA. He had a hard time proving he belonged in the NBA, but when he did, he became a star – if only briefly. During a 16-game stretch for the injury-ridden Knicks in 2012, Lin took over, averaging 21.1 points per game with 8.6 assists per game.
His greatest moment came in a duel with Kobe Bryant at Madison Square Garden when he outpointed “The Black Mamba” with 38 points. After leaving the Knicks, he became something of a journeyman. But the fairytale wasn’t over as helped the Toronto Raptors to a shocking 2019 NBA Championship.
Atkins definitely doesn’t have the most glaring resume on this list, but he was a solid NBA player for a good 11 years. He played for eight teams throughout that time period. After missing out in the draft, he went to the CBA before a spell in Croatia. But then he finally signed with the Orlando Magic.
He had value as a strong role player. This saw him traded in deals with the likes of Gary Payton, Grant Hill, and Rasheed Wallace. However, the result of the Wallace trade would have hurt him because the Pistons went on to win the NBA Championship. He was a dependable athlete.
Nocioni took an unorthodox route to the NBA. He first played in his native Argentina before heading to Spain, where he became one of the best players in Europe. To cap it all off, he won Olympic gold in Athens. This brought him to the attention of NBA scouts and a deal with the Chicago Bulls quickly followed.
The Argentinian star spent most of his US career in Chicago, where he became a fan favorite. However, opposing teams criticized him for his aggressive style of play. Several confrontations resulted from this. But overall, he’s one of the best Argentinians to play in the NBA.
The Golden State Warriors signed Morrow after he was undrafted. His start to life in the league was scintillating. In his first NBA start, he scored 37 points on 15-for-20 shooting against the Clippers—the most points ever scored in a game by an undrafted player in his rookie season.
Morrow finished the 2008–09 season as the first rookie and first Warrior ever to lead the league in three-point field goal shooting, going 86-for-184 for a .467 percentage. He produced in bursts for different teams after this, including a 42-point effort for the New Jersey Nets.
Now in his second spell with the Dallas Mavericks, Barea didn’t have an easy start to his NBA career. The Puerto Rico native’s size has always been against him. At 5″10, he’s one of the shortest players in the league. However, when he broke out in Dallas, he proved he could hang with the best.
That even earned him an NBA ring in 2011 when he played a career-high 81 regular-season games. Now 35, he’s still posting double-digits for the Mavs in a resurgent era for them. Barea also had three solid seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not bad for a small man who went undrafted.
Bell is a well-known hothead who went undrafted. He’s famous for his grappling match with Kobe Bryant in the 2007 playoffs. The referee dismissed him from the game after he clotheslined the Black Mamba. But living life on the edge made him exciting to a certain group of fans.
Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns turned him into a consistent player. A two-time pick for the NBA All-Defensive Team, Bell came a long way from his days of free agency at the start of his career. Now he’s the Director of Player Administration for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One of the Miami Heat’s most important players of the 2000s, Haslem almost missed out on his chance at the top. First of all, he wasn’t selected in the draft because he was pushing 300 lbs. After playing in France and losing weight, he came back and joined the Heat. His career then took off.
He was an unsung hero for a trio of the Heat’s championship-winning teams. First, he played a key role, scoring in double figures in the Wade-Shaq era. But then he had more of a cleanup role when Chris Bosh and LeBron James joined. Nonetheless, Haslem turned down big contracts elsewhere to become a Heat lifer.
Unlike many other players on this list, Matthews became a starter quickly in his NBA career. After missing out in the draft, the Utah Jazz signed him as a free agent. Now in his tenth season, he’s currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s always been a consistent player.
He became a massive fan favorite with the Portland Timberwolves. Fans nicknamed him ‘Ironman’ for his willingness to play through pain. He played through 250 consecutive games before missing a game with an injury. In recent years he’s lost a step, but his early NBA days were excellent.
At 6″11″ with a solid college career at Purdue, it’s somewhat of a surprise that Miller didn’t get drafted. However, the NBA was in a period of evolution. He entered the league the hard way as a free agent. But Miller became elite when he joined the Sacramento Kings.
Miller played for six teams in 14 seasons. But it was with the Kings he truly impressed. A two-time All-Star in back-to-back seasons in Sacramento, he was their most important player for a period. To sum up, he was one of the best passing big men in the league.
Armstrong took the long, meandering route to the NBA. The Fayetteville State alum was undrafted in the 1991 draft. He played a couple of seasons in the minor leagues before playing in Cyprus and Spain. Then he finally got his chance with the Orlando Magic.
It took him a few seasons to become established in Orlando, but he was excellent. 1999 was his seminal year as he won the NBA Most Improved Player and NBA Sixth Man awards. It was a gritty battle to make it to the top of the game but through sweat and toil, he made it.
Wesley proved to be a special find for the Celtics. Signed as a free agent by the Nets, he moved to Boston after his rookie season. The Celtics were awful but Wesley did his best, averaging 16.8 points per game. They had a problem but it definitely wasn’t his fault.
Unsurprisingly he didn’t stay in Boston. However, he kept up his consistent scoring in Charlotte and New Orleans. Most NBA scouts believed that the 6″1″ Wesley was too short to be an effective point guard. He definitely proved them wrong.
Calderon began his professional basketball career in his native Spain. He didn’t come into the NBA by the traditional route. However, he impressed the Toronto Raptors enough that they convinced him to sign for them. It turned out to be a great move for both parties.
After emerging as the starter in his third season, he helped the Raptors to a pair of playoff berths in the mid-2000s. He also had an influential role during his time with the Dallas Mavericks. But from then on, he took on a bench role, including spells with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks.
Nobody expected Bowen to be the player he was. He went undrafted in 1993 but after a long slog, the Boston Celtics signed him in 1997. From there it was onwards and upwards and finally, he found a home in San Antonio. That was when he became one of the best ‘lockdown’ defenders in NBA history.
A three-time NBA champion, he also made the All-Defensive Team five times. Gregg Popovich was able to get the maximum out of him as he became a Spurs legend. In total, he played for four NBA teams, overcoming the odds of going undrafted.
Another man who benefited from Popovich’s expert coaching was Johnson. He bounced around the league as a backup point guard for most of the first half of his career. But in the mid-1990s, he showed his true potential as a primary ballhandler. It was quite the turnaround for the New Orleans native.
Johnson averaged more than 12 points and 7 assists per game in the postseason of the first championship run of the Tim Duncan era. He showed a brilliant game IQ on the court as he became one of Popovich’s most trusted players. An NBA Championship was a just reward for his efforts.
The Yankees have been through some truly awful times in the past decade. However, the 90s were a different story. Starks was a big part of this success. First of all, he missed out on the 1990 draft. But the Golden State Warriors picked him up as a free agent. A brief stint in the minor leagues followed before his move to the Knicks.
Suddenly, Starks’ career exploded. He scored 17.5 points per game in a 60-win season in 1992-93. An All-Star season followed. A legend in New York, Starks is the franchise’s leader in on-field goals. He was also the first player in NBA history to make 200 three-pointers in one season.
The shining example to every player who wasn’t selected the draft, Wallace had a magnificent career. A four-time NBA All-Star, he was also the main man in the Detroit Pistons 2004 Championship win. In short, he totally belied initial expectations of his abilities, working hard to hone his technique.
To sum up, it totally paid off. Wallace was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year. All of this made him a force after going undrafted when he left Virginia Union. His early days included a spell in Italy and he showed dedication to the sport. Sometimes you have to climb to the top from the bottom rung.