The road to success is not about how you start; it’s about how you finish. It is no different from professional athletes pursuing their dreams to play in the NBA or any top professional league. Normally, stars are selected in the NBA Draft, but some players slip through the cracks for many different reasons.
Many undrafted players opt to play overseas or play in the G-League to hone their skills with plans to either re-enter the draft or be eligible to get signed by a team. Though some of these undrafted players never attain their sought-after spotlight, some have gone on to become integral parts of high-performing teams. We compiled a list of the top ten undrafted NBA players who proved the haters wrong.
Ben Wallace is one of the most decorated defensive players in league history, but at the top of this list as the greatest un-drafted of All-time. Big Ben made a name for himself in the early 2000s, long before the Malice at the Palace.
He anchored the Detroit Pistons teams that went to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals, including two NBA Finals appearances in 2004 & 2005—winning the championship in 2004. The Hall of Fame nominee also won Defensive Player of the Year four times, was named All-NBA five times, and made the All-Defensive team six times.
Johnson played 16 years in the NBA for six different teams, but he was best known for his ten seasons with the San Antonio Spurs during three different stints.
A reliable point guard, Johnson averaged 8.4 points and 5.5 assists for his career and helped the Spurs win the 1999 championship. After his playing career, Johnson went on to coach both at the NBA and college level, most recently heading up the University of Alabama basketball team. Johnson is now a basketball analyst with CBS Sports.
Starks scored a tryout with the New York Knicks in the early 1990s, and during one of those practices, he attempted to dunk on Patrick Ewing. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because he ended up injured and couldn’t be released due to a deadline for recovery.
Lucky for Starks, he didn’t heal in time, and the Knicks had to keep him. He would later become a starter and became a fan favorite over eight seasons in Madison Square Garden for his scrappy play and never-back-down attitude. He made the All-Defensive second team in 1993, was an All-Star in 1994 and won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 1997.
Following four years with Cal State Fullerton, Bowen spent five years between France and the Chinese Basketball Association. Bowen eventually joined the San Antonio Spurs in the 2000s and became one of the league’s top defensive players.
He was selected to the All-Defensive team eight times and has won three championships with the Spurs.
Miller had a 14-year career as a stretch center a decade before the bigs.
Miller was a two-time All-Star who averaged 11.2 points for his career and was best known for his time as a key role player with the Sacramento Kings (2003-09) when they were perennial playoff contenders.
Standing shy of six feet, Armstrong found his role as an offensive spark and a defensive pest with the Orlando Magic in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He earned the 6th man of the year and the most improved player in 1999 after averaging 13.8 points and 6.7 assists. Armstrong played 14 NBA seasons.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get drafted coming from a Black College D2 school, but after I got to be a Semi-Pro league. I made them find me,” said Armstrong when ONE37pm spoke to him for this story. He is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.
Wesley spent one year in the Continental Basketball Association before joining the New Jersey Nets in 1993. He played 14 years in the NBA as a strong combo guard and persistent perimeter defender.
Wesley averaged double-figured points in 10 straight seasons from 1995-96 to 2004-05. Wesley now works for Fox Sports Southwest, covering the New Orleans Pelicans.
Bell played 12 seasons as a 3-and-D wing before anyone knew about it. He was twice an All-Defense selection and a career 40.6% shooter from beyond the arc.
The best years of Bell came as a key cog in the “seven seconds or less” mid-2000 Suns alongside two time MVP Steve Nash.
After playing a year in France, Haslem, now 40, signed with the hometown Miami Heat in 2003 and hasn’t left.
A key piece of three NBA title teams as an inside defender and rebounder, Haslem is one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Last month, he announced that he plans to return in 2020-21 for his 18th season.
After spending three years as a starter at Wichita State under Gregg Marshall—who just parted ways with the university after an investigation into how he was treating his players—, VanVleet signed with the Toronto Raptors and spent most of his first season in the G League.
However, VanVleet was one of the major contributors to the 2019 Raptors’ Championship and recently signed a four year / $85,000,000 deal after averaging 17.6 points per game in 2019-20.
Bo Outlaw had a solid 16-year career in the NBA, playing for five different teams while averaging 5.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.
Following a stint in the CBA before signing with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994, he played for three seasons.
After four seasons at Harvard, Jeremy Lin went undrafted in 2010 but was invited by the Dallas Mavericks to join them in Las Vegas as a part of their summer league team. He would eventually get an opportunity with his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, on a two-year deal partly guaranteed contract, but a patellar ligament injury to his knee during the 2011 NBA lockout sidelined him for a bit.
He would play a few games in the Chinese Basketball League due to the uncertainty of the season. He later signed on with the Knicks, and “Linsanity” was born. Lin would play six more seasons after finding fame in New York and won a Championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. Lin was reportedly working out with the Golden State Warriors earlier this off-season as he makes an effort to get back into the NBA.
After a four year career at Texas A&M University, Alex Caruso went undrafted in the 2016 draft but joined the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2016 NBA Summer League. He then signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was later waived.
However, he didn’t have to wait long for his next opportunity because their G-League signed him for the rest of the season. The next season, The Lakers signed him to a two contract to play in their G-League, but he would get a call up in 2019. As we all know, he was then a key part of the Lakers championship run this past season.
Quinn Cook went undrafted as a part of the 2015 NBA draft. He then joined the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Orlando part of the Summer League before joining the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Las Vegas Summer League. After six preseason games, he was cut by the Cavaliers and then spent some time down in the G-League before signing a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks.
After the deal with Dallas expired, he signed another 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans before finding a home with the Golden State Warriors and the Santa Clara Warriors. He would eventually win a championship with Golden State and then again with the Lakers this past season. Cook recently re-signed with Los Angeles after being waived earlier in the off-season.