I know that this is a weird way to begin this article, but you know what the worst thing about participation trophies is? It's this idea that nothing bad can happen in sports and that, no matter how badly you play or how much better the competition is, you're always going to get rewarded.
Well, soccer moms, I'm sorry to rain on your parade but that's not always the case. In fact, when the competition is better, there's a chance you're going to get locked out or hurt. If you don't believe me, look no further than the NBA Draft, where hundreds of collegiate and amateur players compete for 60 draft spots, many of which aren't even guaranteed roster spots. For as great as some players are in college - take Cleveland's Kay Felder, for example, who led the nation in assists a year ago while playing at Oakland - they're not guaranteed anything when they try to move up to the pros.
When there's so few spots, players are bound to go undrafted and try to work their way up from the bottom; the popular NBA 2K series has actually used this idea in the past for their 'MyCareer' mode, where your player will be an undrafted rookie. Today, let's take a look at 15 NBA players that, whether it be because of when they played or simply lack of knowledge, you may have forgotten went undrafted.
The only thing to keep in mind here is that because the older NBA Drafts were much longer, these players will only be from 1989 to now as 1989 is when the current draft format of two rounds became a thing. Ready to see who went undrafted? Let's do this.
15 Udonis Haslem
The elder statesman of the Miami Heat (we're not talking about you, Pat Riley), Udonis Haslem is somehow STILL around and playing for the team down south. A three-time NBA Champion and the franchise's all-time leading rebounder, Haslem went undrafted in 2002 and spent a year in France, losing 70 pounds and getting back into NBA shape before coming home to America.
Though Haslem has never been a star in Miami - and, over the past decade, he really hasn't been much of a starter either - the veteran big man is a fan favorite and an icon for the local fanbase. Interestingly, two of the main players from the 2002 NBA Draft that are still active and still getting time, Haslem and Luis Scola, each nearly went undrafted; Scola was taken 56th overall by the San Antonio Spurs.
14 Kent Bazemore
Jokingly referred to as Kent Blazemore by fans of the Atlanta Hawks (and Bazemore's other stops), the Old Dominion product was a fine player in college but went undrafted during the 2012 NBA Draft. Why? Was Missouri's Marcus Denmon, the 60th and final pick who never even played an NBA game, really a better choice than Bazemore? How about Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom? What did they have that Bazemore didn't?
Anyway, Bazemore is slowly carving a niche for himself as a solid shooting guard for the Hawks who has started 152 games and averaged 11.3 points over the past two seasons. As the Hawks try to figure out if they want to go through a rebuild or keep trying to build something special, the 27 year old Bazemore will be an important piece of the process.
13 Jose Calderon
Here, it's hard to really hate on the 2003 NBA Draft class because so many players have turned out to be either stars or Hall of Famers, but mark my words: the trio of Calderon, Kyle Korver, and Mo Williams would not slip out of the first round if general managers got another chance.
The single-season leader in free-throw percentage and a former fan favorite in Toronto, Calderon is still going at the age of 35. Calderon has also enjoyed success with the Spanish national basketball team, winning a FIBA World Cup title in 2006, two Olympic silver medals in 2008 and 2012, and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. During international play, Calderon has also won a Eurobasket title in 2011, adding two silver medals in 2003 and 2007 and well as a bronze in 2013. Not too bad for a guy that went undrafted behind...Andreas Glyniadakis. Talk about a long name...
12 Earl Boykins
When it comes to talking about little guys from the Baltimore-DC area, Earl 'Malik Carr' Boykins has to come to mind (we have to wonder if he had as much game as Poot did, though) as he was the shortest player in NBA history at a tiny five feet, five inches. As someone who is 5'10" and considers themselves to be small, I'd have to imagine that me interviewing Boykins would be awkward. Boykins' game on the court, however, was anything from awkward, as the Eastern Michigan product averaged 8.9 points and 3.2 assists a game with 11 different teams - and that's not including a stint in Italy from 2008-09.
Interestingly, only one player from that draft class never played in the NBA, that being Charlotte's Andrew Betts. Clearly, Charlotte should have taken Boykins...or another player we'll see later on this list.
11 Matthew Dellavedova
The Australian fan favorite for the Cleveland Cavaliers who upset many with a dirty play style - people don't like how the game is played overseas, apparently - Dellavedova went undrafted in the awful 2013 NBA Draft. Really, scouts? Lorenzo Brown was so much of a better point guard? How about Erick Green? Colton Iverson hasn't even played in the NBA yet!
Delly's grown on myself and others as a player, so him going undrafted is still perplexing. With a chip on his shoulder, Dellavedova quickly became one of LeBron James' favorite teammates once the King returned to Cleveland the following year and was a vital component to the Cavaliers' title run last year. Now, Delly is cashing checks with the Bucks. Take that, scouts who doubted him!
10 Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson is one of the few I genuinely did not remember going undrafted...because I thought he was a late first-round pick. Seriously? Seriously. Johnson also has the rare distinction of being one of the few on this list to actually start his professional career in the D-League, signing with the Sioux Falls Skyforce after being waived by the Heat in October 2014 - though he'd make his NBA debut with them in January 2015, scoring 5.9 points and grabbing 2.5 rebounds a game in 32 games with the post-LeBron Heatles.
Now, Johnson is a key reserve on a team trying to build a young core for the future with Dion Waiters, Hasaan Whiteside, and others. If the Heat can land a marquee free agent this summer (Kevin Durant, anyone?), Johnson should see his play grow even more come next season.
9 Jeremy Lin
And we go from a player who many seem to think was drafted (or, if you're me, think that he was a first-round pick) to someone who was the epitome of why an undrafted player should have hope. Not selected by any team in the 2010 NBA Draft despite a stellar career at Harvard, Jeremy Lin landed with the Golden State Warriors but didn't solidify himself as a mainstay in the association until he hit New York the next season.
All it took for Lin to show that he could stay in the pros, of course, was a 25 point outing against the rival New Jersey Nets. Yep, it was the Nets who helped Lin's career skyrocket. If there's any good to come from that, it's that Lin has had a major impact globally and is serving as an inspiration for more Asian-Americans - and those from China - to think about making basketball a dream of theirs.
8 Timofey Mozgov
Going from one ex-Knick to another, how about the job that center Timofey Mozgov - an undrafted center in a 2008 NBA Draft that also saw Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, and Roy Hibbert all drafted at that position - has done since making his debut in 2010? Granted, we may laugh at the job he's done with the Lakers since signing a major contract last season, but to be fair, that's all on the previous regime; Mozgov was overpaid and expected to produce at a level he never has, though that's not to say the the Russian-born center has been a bust.
In fact, one could argue that among players included in the Carmelo Anthony trade, Mozgov was the one who interested the Denver Nuggets the most. It's hard not to see why, as Mozgov has averaged seven points and five rebounds per game since 2010-11, though he's yet to return to the form he showed in 46 games with the Cavaliers in 2015 where he averaged 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds.
7 Chris 'Birdman' Andersen
From one center to another (and get used to that because we have a lot more big men on this list), let's talk about the tattooed, mohawked, bird that has flown in Denver, Miami, and Cleveland...and New Orleans...and Memphis...and Charlotte - oh wait, that one didn't happen. Undrafted way back in 1999, Andersen stuck around long enough and overcame a drug problem to become one of the league's more colorful characters and dominant big men in the paint.
While Birdman, much like Haslem, was never a star and often became forgotten in the shadows of bigger players, Andersen provided a major impact for the Heat in the 2013 playoffs, setting a league record or highest field goal percentage by making 80.7 percent of his shots. Now likely at the end of his line as he'll turn 39 this summer, we can only remember the good times with Birdman and his tattoos...and his mohawk.
6 Brad Miller
Remember when Brad Miller played for the Chicago Bulls? How about his stint with the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves? Well, I think we'll all remember him for his stint with the Sacramento Kings from 2003-09, the first place that Miller had any longevity after going undrafted out of Purdue in 1988. A two-time All-Star with the Pacers and Kings, Miller averaged 11.2 rebounds and 7.1 rebounds in 868 career games, making a name for himself as a center who could pass the ball.
From 2003-04 to 2008-09, Miller had 3.2 or more assists a game each year, actually paving the way for the current generation of centers who excel at more than only scoring and rebounding. For all of the teams that passed on Miller in the 1998 NBA Draft...are you regretting it yet?
5 Bruce Bowen
When Bruce Bowen went undrafted in the 1993 NBA Draft - the same draft that that fielded Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Allan Houston, and Sam Cassell - and played for five different professional seasons from 1993-1997 before signing with the Miami Heat. By 1999, Bowen was making a household name for himself and by 2002, he was becoming one of the league's top defenders with the San Antonio Spurs, finishing twice in the NBA Defensive Player of the Award twice to Detroit's Ben Wallace.
Named to the first-team All-Defensive Team each year from 2004-08, Bowen was crucial to the Spurs winning the NBA Finals in 2007 and had his number retired in 2012. We all talk about how San Antonio finds diamonds in the rough and Bowen was far from an exception.
4 Raja Bell
Another defensive star from the Western Conference who went undrafted (how many more of them are there on this list?), the Florida International graduate wasn't selected in the 1999 NBA Draft and played with the Yakima Sun Kings before joining the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001. Bell was best known for his time with the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, where he made the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2007.
From 2003-04 to 2008-09, Bell averaged at least 11 points a game each year and was a key member of Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams alongside Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. For good reason, those two guys are going to get all of the attention in the history books, but we shouldn't forget about Bell either.
3 Wesley Matthews
The now-dangerous sniper for the Dallas Mavericks and a player who is finally active, Matthews went undrafted in the famous 2009 NBA Draft out of Marquette and immediately signed on with the Utah Jazz, where he averaged 9.4 points per game right out of the gate. Since then, Matthews has averaged at least 12.5 points per season with the Trail Blazers and Mavericks, though he's yet to make over 40 percent of his three-point shots since the 2010-11 season and has seen his numbers dip to below 39% the past two seasons.
If Dallas is planning on returning to contention any time soon - and as we've said in the past, they're going to be in the running for a new superstar sooner than we think - they'll need Matthews to play a key role.
2 John Starks
Undrafted in the 1988 NBA Draft for character issues that included an expulsion from Rogers State, Starks briefly found a home with the Golden State Warriors alongside Mitch Richmond before being cut and ending up with the New York Knicks. After that, as the cliches say, the rest is history; Starks was an All-Star in 1994, made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1993, and won Sixth Man of the Year in 1997 while helping the Knicks to an NBA Finals appearance in 1994.
Before James Dolan, Isiah Thomas, Phil Jackson, and the players they've acquired in the past two decades - how are you, Eddy Curry? - helped ruin the once-great franchise, Starks and Patrick Ewing were making the Knicks actual competitors with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. Imagine if someone did that with LeBron James?
1 Ben Wallace
But for as good as Starks was - and, in their own defense, there's a lot of players on this list who have churned out great careers - no one was topping Ben Wallace when it comes to undrafted players. We're talking about a four-time NBA All-Star, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time member of the All-Defensive First Team, and is the Pistons' all-time leader in blocks.
Also the cover athlete of the less-than-stellar NBA 2K5, Wallace actually began his career in 1996 with the then-Washington Bullets and also spent time with the Orlando Magic, but Detroit is where the home was, is, and always will be for the former Virginia Union big man. There's always going to be undrafted players, but if any of them can even come close to Ben Wallace's numbers, then they're doing something special.
Which NBA players do you remember going undrafted? Did you forget about any of these guys? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!
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