When you have a championship-winning team, all 12 guys on the team contribute in some way or another. And in some cases, there’s an undrafted player on the roster who is a key component of the team chemistry, playing with a chip on his shoulder, proving all the other teams that passed him up in the draft wrong.
When you’re not drafted, when you don’t hear your name called on draft night, it stirs up something different in an undrafted NBA player. Okay, you didn’t draft me? Use it as motivation. To keep going. To know what you’re worth. And to go out and get what you’re worth (shout out to Rocky Balboa movie quotes).
In the midst of the NBA Finals, why not put together a team of 12, from the starting five to the bench to the head coach? The catch, this team is made up of some of the best undrafted NBA players.
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An important note first, though, is that, according to The Ringer’s Zach Kram, “The NBA draft shrank from seven to three rounds in 1988, then to the now-standard two rounds the following year. Less than 1 percent of NBA players who appeared in the 1987-88 season were undrafted because every viable talent before then had been selected at some point in the late rounds…The…most obvious reason for the rise in undrafted players is supply and demand. Starting in 2011-12, active rosters expanded to 13 players (along with two inactive spots), and in 2017-18, the introduction of ‘two-way’ contracts gave each team two more players who are essentially allowed to move freely between its NBA and G League rosters.”
Because of that, with more undrafted NBA players getting a shot in this era, you may see more undrafted guys who are in the league now or recently were, in this list.
Get this. According to Kram, “When (LeBron) James shared the court with Alex Caruso, who went undrafted in 2016, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 18.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark out of 864 two-man combinations that played at least 400 minutes. No other teammate in LeBron’s long and storied career—not fellow no. 1 picks, not future Hall of Famers—has formed such an efficient pair.”
Now that’s what you call being a good teammate and a good NBA player, showing those other teams what they missed out on not drafting him.
If you watched Michigan Wolverines basketball, you knew Duncan could flat out shoot the rock. With one of the best shots in the game, the Miami Heat are glad no one else took him on draft night as Kram mentioned, “Caruso and Duncan Robinson started in the Finals (in 2020 when the Lakers beat the Heat)…“Miami was the 5-seed in the East, and they went to the Finals featuring a few undrafted guys,” one agent says. “I think any team…is going to say, ‘Why didn’t we sign Duncan?’”
Now, ladies and gentlemen here is: Some of the Best Undrafted NBA Players: The All-Undrafted NBA Team
The team’s head coach:
If the name sounds familiar, you may recognize him as the coach who took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals, the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2010, or more recently, being the coach of the Washington Wizards. Brooks will now be the Portland Trail Blazers’ “Chauncey Billups’ top assistant coach, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski…” according to ESPN.
Before he was an NBA coach, Brooks was also an undrafted player according to Sports Naut‘s Jarrett Hoffman, who stated that as “(a)n undrafted free agent in 1987, he signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. After time in Philadelphia and with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was traded to the Houston Rockets in 1992.”
Brooks won a NBA title with the Houston Rockets. So, he knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be undrafted and have success in the NBA. I’d say that’s the right type of coach to have on this team.
Center – Ben Wallace
No question, Ben Wallace is the best player on this team. Wallace, in many lists and many would agree, that he’s the best undrafted NBA player in history. Recent news would prove it, as he was recently selected to the Hall of Fame and is “the first undrafted NBA player in the modern era to ever be elected to the hall of fame” according to NBA.com.
Big Ben was a catalyst behind the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons team. Wallace’s hustle, work ethic, defensive prowess, and team mentality helped the ‘Goin’ to Work’ Pistons pull off one of the greatest upsets of all-time, beating the ’04 Lakers who had multiple Hall of Famers on the team. Wallace showed how not being drafted doesn’t equate to not being able to have an incredible NBA career.
As one of my favorite NBA players, Wallace really embodied the defense-wins-championships mentality and showed how that roll-up-your-sleeves hustle, grit, and determination can lead to success.
Cue the Big Ben London clock sound (as would be the case when the Palace of Auburn Hills staff played the noise whenever Big Ben made a big block), Wallace would lead this undrafted team to a lot of wins.
Forward – Udonis Haslem
Since 2003, Udonis Haslem’s played his whole career with the Miami Heat, averaging 7.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. That’s a feat within itself to have that kind of longevity in the league, let alone with the same team! Haslem is a three-time NBA champion with the Heat and was on the 2003-04 All-Rookie team. With a frontcourt duo of Wallace and Haslem, it would be a pair to be reckoned with, swatting shots and grabbing boards all day.
Forward – Bruce Bowen
Three-time NBA champion and eight-time All-Defense forward, Bowen showed that defense wins championships and how you can be an integral part of a team by being great, excelling in a certain area to help the team. In this case for Bowen, it was primiarly with his defense.
Bowen also showed that it doesn’t happen overnight. The Spurs forward put in the work before having a shot at the league after going undrafted and before eventually landing with the Spurs to help them win those three titles. According to Hoffman, “Bowen’s professional career began in France, where he played for two seasons before coming back to the United States. After a year in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), he returned to play in France for one more season.”
Guard – John Starks
John Starks was a NBA All-Star, a one-time All-Defensive guard, and the 1996-97 Sixth Man of the Year. Starks had a successful 14-year career in the league. Throughout his career, he put up averages of 12.5 points and 3.6 assists. For many, he’s most known for his time with the New York Knicks. And showed that hard work pays off.
Guard – Avery Johnson
Need to have NBA champion Avery Johnson in the starting five as a point guard, distributing the rock, and helping move the ball. Being undrafted didn’t matter for the point guard. Over a 19-year successful NBA career, Johnson averaged 8.4 points and 5.5 assists. Johnson also’s had successful coaching stints as he led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006 and coached the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team from 2016 to 2019, leading the Crimson Tide to March Madness in 2018. Johnson is now broadcasting with CBS Sports and knows a thing or two about helping other guys who are trying to get to the league or are undrafted in the league now of how to be successful. Johnson would be an integral leader of this team.
Coming off the bench as the sixth man on this list but just as easily could start is Fred VanVleet. VanVleet has turned into not only one of the bet undrafted NBA players in NBA history but one of the best guards in the game today. The Raptors guard in November 2020, according to USA Today Hoops Hype’s Frank Urbina, “signed the largest contract ever for an undrafted player”.
VanVleet showed that whether you got drafted or not, you can get paid if you put in that work!
Another guard who got the job done to help his team win, Mike James played 16 seasons in the NBA. James averaged 9.9 points and 3.5 assists in his career and was played a key role in the Detroit Pistons NBA title run in 2004.
NBA champion and the ‘Lin’ in ‘Linsanity’, Lin has averaged 11.6 points and 4.3 assists over his career. Lin’s tenacity in driving to the basket, getting buckets from his jumper and layups, to distributing to his teammates, he’s helped his team out in every facet of the game. People may have counted him out, but his faith in Christ, his drive to get better, his will to win has helped him get through each adversity and obstacle thrown his way. That’s the heart of a true undrafted champ.
When Big Ben or Udonis needs a rest, Scott Brooks can call on Brad Miller to get the job done off the bench. Of course, Miller wouldn’t be used to being on the bench over his 16-year NBA career as he was a two-time All Star, yet he’d dominate as either a center or forward. Miller averaged 11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds over his career, where he spent a bulk with the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls.
Carl Braun put up 13.5 points and 3.7 assists over his 13-year NBA career with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
What’s also impressive is that he served his country as, according to HOF BB Players, he “missed the 1950-51 and 1951-52 seasons because he was serving in the military with the U.S. Army.“
HOF BB Players also noted that Braun “pitched in the New York Yankees organization in 1947-48…(and) was the first superstar to play for the New York Knicks. He retired as their all-time leading scorer with 10,449 points. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern said that when he was growing up in the 1950s he used to spend hours trying to copy the over-the-head shot that Carl was known for.”
According to Hoffman, “Braun made five All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections. He also led the Knicks to three NBA Finals…He became an NBA champion with the (Boston) Celtics…Braun was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2019.”
With the need for some more three-point shooting, Brooks can call upon Ingles to enter the game for some instant offense in the form of outside buckets. The Aussie has averaged over 41% from 3-point land so far in his career, all with the Utah Jazz.
Ingles’s basketball journey also took him to play overseas before coming back to play in the league. According to Sporting News’ Gilbert McGregor, “After missing out on being selected in the 2009 NBA draft, Ingles played Summer League with the Golden State Warriors, then signing a deal with Spanish club CB Granada. He would then spend three years playing for Barcelona, before going on to win the 2013/14 EuroLeague championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ingles then made the move to the States, linking up with the Los Angeles Clippers in pre-season before being cut, proving to be a blessing in disguise as he went on to join the Utah Jazz…”
Rounding out this list, we need another forward. Anthony Tolliver fits the bill. Tolliver is a consummate professional and would play a steady, reliable role playing good defense and knocking down three’s. Brooks could even start AT, as well and plays a good stretch-four being able to guard multiple positions.
Tolliver’s been in the league since 2009 and has also played a pivotal role off the court with the NBPA, advocating for players and letting his voice be heard as a man of faith, a man of action, a family man.
Tolliver, like all these other guys on this list and the many more who are undrafted NBA players, proved to themselves that they do belong in the league. Their routes may have not been the most conventional or easy, yet they didn’t let that stop them. They kept putting up shots, waiting for their shot at…the NBA. And once they got their shot, they made the most of it.
There you have it. Hope you enjoyed this list. Thanks to USA Today Sports’ Matt Eppers compilation of ‘Some of the NBA’s top players didn’t get picked on draft night. Here are 10 best undrafted stars.’, Hoffman’s ‘NBA Champions: 15 undrafted NBA players who won a championship’ and 2k Ratings’ ‘List of Active Undrafted Players on NBA 2K21’, which were helpful resources in researching who to add to the team.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 Honorable Mentions:
- 2 Alex Caruso
- 3 Duncan Robinson
- 4 The team’s head coach:
- 5 Scott Brooks
- 6 Starting Five:
- 7 Center – Ben Wallace
- 8 Forward – Udonis Haslem
- 9 Forward – Bruce Bowen
- 10 Guard – John Starks
- 11 Guard – Avery Johnson
- 12 Bench:
- 13 Fred VanVleet
- 14 Mike James
- 15 Jeremy Lin
- 16 Brad Miller
- 17 Carl Braun
- 18 Joe Ingles
- 19 Anthony Tolliver
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