Every year on draft night, Adam Silver and Mark Tatum call out 60 names. 60 young basketball players get to see their long-awaited dream turn into a reality, right in front of their eyes.
For the rest of the NBA hopefuls, the ones that no team chose, they are to be labeled “undrafted.” These players have a challenging journey ahead of them. The vast majority of undrafted players never make an NBA roster. They generally will play in the G-League, overseas, or they might decide to pursue another career altogether.
However, there are a select group of players who defied the odds. Through persistence, dedication, and never losing hope, these players climbed their way into the NBA scene.
On this list, we take a look at the top ten players who never heard their names called on draft night. Taken into account in these rankings was a holistic analysis of what each player has proved to be capable of, as well as what potential they may have.
Honorable mentions: Derrick Jones Jr, Damion Lee, Yogi Ferrell, Bryn Forbes, Christian Wood, Quinn Cook, Torey Craig, Daniel Theis
10. Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin has one of the most inspiring stories of all time. After going undrafted out of Harvard, Lin crawled his way onto bench roles for a couple of NBA teams. Eventually, he ended up on the New York Knicks, and through a miracle stroke of luck, their starting point guard went down with an injury. With nowhere else to turn to, Lin finally got his shot.
Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin took the NBA by storm, the climax coming when he dropped 38 points on Kobe Bryant and Lakers in Madison Square Garden. Since his Knicks days, Lin has sadly seen quite a significant decline. Knee injuries combined with an overall loss in confidence resulted in Lin going unsigned this past summer. Nevertheless, Lin had one incredibly special year, which by itself warrants him a spot on this list.
9. Duncan Robinson
Duncan Robinson started out playing Division III basketball at Williams College. His play was so good that basketball-powerhouse Michigan University gave him a scholarship after his freshman year. Robinson put in three solid years of Division I basketball, but after draft night, the shooting guard remained unsigned. Luckily for him, shortly before this season began, Robinson was picked up by the Miami Heat.
From there, his career took off, establishing himself as a top long-range marksman in the league. Through his rookie year, Robinson averaged 13.3 points while shooting 44.8 percent from three. This percentage makes him statistically the 4th best three-point shooter in the entire NBA, a remarkable number for an undrafted player.
8. Dorean Finney-Smith
Dorian Finney-Smith has emerged as a key role player for the 40-27 Dallas Mavericks. Finney-Smith plays on a team full of offensive juggernauts, so he doesn’t see too many offensive looks. He has a scaled-down role, but he makes the most of it and does whatever his team needs to win.
This season, Finney-Smith averaged 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, on 59% from the field and 37 percent from three. Every team needs a role-player like Finney-Smith, someone who won’t complain about minutes or touches yet will be an efficient shooter when needed.
7. Fred Vanvleet
After going undrafted in 2016, Fred Vanvleet was picked up by the Toronto Raptors in the offseason. In his first year in the NBA, Vanvleet was a third-string point guard; he saw, on average, seven minutes of play per night. However, after multiple years of steady improvement, Vanvleet is currently a starting point guard in the NBA. In the 2019 NBA Finals , Vanvleet played a crucial role for the Raptors and certainly deserved much credit in their championship.
This year he has taken his game to a whole another level, taking advantage of the starting role. Through 48 games this season, Vanvleet is averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 assists. To go from being undrafted to securing a starting point guard role in the NBA is no common feat, and for that, we are putting Vanvleet at the seventh spot on our ranking.
6. Seth Curry
When your older brother is a 2-time NBA MVP, a 3-time NBA Champion, and arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history, you are operating in a pretty massive shadow. However, over the last few years, Seth Curry has been making a name for himself as one of the elite catch-and-shoot guards in the NBA.
For his career, Curry is shooting 44.3 percent from three, and this past season with the Mavs, his percentage is up to 45.3. After going undrafted and even struggling at one point to get out of the G-League, Seth Curry is finally a household name.
5. Kent Bazemore
Kent Bazemore is an effective wing player in the NBA, and there’s not much more to it. He is athletic, can score the ball, and plays hard defense. Bazemore’s numbers might not pop out to you on the stat sheet, but he always contributes winning plays to his team.
Now going into his 8th year in the NBA, it’s safe to say Bazemore will put together a long and complete basketball career when he retires. His value is reflected in his contract with the Atlanta Hawks–last year, he cashed in on 16 million dollars. Any NBA player earning that much, nevermind an undrafted one, must be doing something right with their career.
4. Danuel House
Danuel House is a key reason the Houston Rockets are able to play their style of small-ball. At 6’6’’/215lbs, House has the strength and size to defend positions one through four. On the offensive end, House has one role–knock down open three-pointers when James Harden drives. He does this one role efficiently, knocking down two per game on roughly five attempts.
Although he is restrained to this smaller role, it will be interesting to see what House can do if ever given more chances on the offensive end. In high school and college, House was a drive&dunk machine, but playing alongside Harden takes its toll on your opportunities with the ball.(take a look at this video if you’ve never seen House’s athletic ability before)
3. Robert Covington
Robert “Roco” Covington is as consistent as they come. Through his seven NBA seasons, Covington has averaged 12+ points per game in six of them. Covington is also a skilled defender, with his 1.6 steals per game career average to back it up. Overall, Covington is a well-rounded, balanced player in the NBA. There’s not much else to it.
2. Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews has always played with a chip on his shoulder. Back in 2014, after a breakout year with the Portland Trailblazers, Matthews was put on record, claiming he was the best 2-way shooting guard in the NBA. Albeit true or not, that year, Matthews did have some pretty impressive numbers, averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 39 percent from three.
Since then, his numbers have leveled off a bit as he has taken smaller roles, but no matter the situation, Matthews has never lost his token confidence. Through ten years in the NBA, Matthews has shot above 36 percent from three every season. That level of consistency speaks for itself.
1. Kendrick Nunn
Coming in at the No.1 spot on our list is Kendrick Nunn, the only player in NBA history to go from undrafted to a contender in the rookie of the year race. Nunn came into the NBA as a polished basketball player, with little weaknesses in his game.
Nunn has started in every game for the Miami Heat that he’s played in. Through 62 games, Nunn is averaging 15.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. He’s doing all that on 52 percent from the field, 36 percent from three, and 83 percent from the free-throw line. What’s most remarkable about this all is Nunn is in his first year in the NBA. Going forward, the sky is the limit for this young star.