It is a lofty dream for all aspiring young basketball players to hear their name called at the NBA Draft, and while there are varying levels of disappointment within the draft itself, it is incredibly difficult to have declared eligibility only to watch as all 60 picks go by without hearing your name called. So while the announcers focus on the last highly touted prospect to remain in the green room as he slides down the draft board, there are a whole host of others who have declared for the draft but must find their way to the pros through a much more difficult route.
In some ways it is better to go undrafted than to be picked at the end of the second round, as undrafted players become free agents and can choose the team that presents the best opportunity for landing a roster spot. Even with this small bit of upside, making an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent is incredibly difficult, and very few have the wherewithal to deal with the trials and tribulations that are inherent for any undrafted player.
That is not to say that it is impossible for an undrafted player to make it in the league. There are countless examples currently on NBA rosters, and quite a few have had long and lucrative careers. So while there are a number of players toiling on ten-day contracts and hoping to get a guaranteed deal someplace, there are also many established NBA players who went through an entire draft without getting picked. A lot of those players are now being compensated very well, and what follows are the top 15 highest-paid undrafted NBA players.
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15 T14. Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat - $2,732,000
It’s hard to believe that Haslem’s long career in the NBA began as an undrafted free agent. Haslem enjoyed a nice career with the University of Florida that included a run to the NCAA Championship game, but after leaving UF he found himself undrafted by the pros. He was cut by the Atlanta Hawks before the start of the 2002-2003 season, so he went overseas to play professional basketball in France. Upon his return, he caught on with the Miami Heat, where he has since spent his entire career and has won three NBA Championships with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James. Haslem is currently the all-time leader in rebounds for the Miami Heat franchise -- ahead of Alonzo Mourning, a player taken second overall in the 1992 NBA Draft.
14 T14. Brian Roberts, Charlotte Hornets - $2,732,000
Like Haslem, Brian Roberts had to go overseas after not being selected in the NBA Draft. Roberts, however, spent quite a few more seasons overseas than Haslem, playing professional basketball in both Israel and Germany before landing a roster spot and a guaranteed contract with the New Orleans Hornets, who then became the Pelicans. After two seasons in New Orleans, Roberts signed with the Charlotte franchise that had just recently adopted the Hornets nickname as their own. Roberts, a point guard, has averaged 7.9 PPG and 2.4 APG during his two-plus seasons in the NBA.
13 Anthony Tolliver, Detroit Pistons - $3,000,000
Tolliver’s career path is somewhat typical of an undrafted NBA player, as he had to bounce around multiple professional leagues before gaining something of a foothold in the NBA. Even so, Tolliver’s career has been as a journeyman, playing for eight different NBA franchises in seven seasons in the NBA. His longest stint in any one place was a two-season run with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and despite the constant switching of teams, Tolliver can boast career averages of 6.0 PPG and 3.5 RPG. Before making it to the NBA, Tolliver played for several different teams in the D-League and also spent several years playing professional basketball in Germany and Turkey.
12 Chris Copeland, Indiana Pacers - $3,135,000
Copeland played his college basketball at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but did not hear his name called during the 2006 NBA Draft. Though he caught on with the Fort Worth Flyers in the D-League, Copeland would still have to spend several years refining his game in the overseas professional leagues. After stints in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, Copeland finally found a brief home in New York with the Knicks. He played well enough for the Knicks that, as a restricted free agent, the Indiana Pacers signed him to an offer sheet worth $6.1 million over two years. The Knicks did not match the offer sheet and Copeland joined the Pacers. Over the course of his 2-plus seasons with the Knicks and Pacers, Copeland has averaged 6.8 PPG and 1.9 RPG.
11 Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder - $3,200,000
Though Morrow was not drafted in 2008 NBA Draft, he had made a strong enough impression during pre-draft workouts that he was able to land a spot on the Golden State Warriors’ Summer League team. After a nice run in the summer league, the Warriors signed Morrow to a guaranteed contract. He was immediately successful in his first start with the team, scoring 37 points and grabbing 11 boards. A perimeter scorer capable of scoring in bunches, Morrow has carved out a career as a role player, and after playing for six different teams in seven seasons, Morrow is currently on the roster with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he has averaged 9.6 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 42 games so far this season.
10 Gary Neal, Charlotte Hornets - $3,250,000
Coming off a senior season in which he averaged over 25 PPG for Towson University, Neal was considered as a potential second-rounder in the 2007 NBA Draft, but he ultimately went undrafted and began an overseas basketball career that took him through Turkey, Spain and Italy. The San Antonio Spurs, ever-attentive to the goings-on of the European pro leagues, signed Neal in 2010 to a three-year deal that kept him in San Antonio through the 2013 season. Before leaving San Antonio, Neal had an outstanding Game 3 performance in the NBA Finals, scoring 24 points in a blowout win over the Miami Heat. Neal then joined the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats. Over five NBA seasons, the shooting guard has averaged 9.9 PPG and 2.2 RPG for three different teams.
9 Alexey Shved, Houston Rockets - $3,282,056
A fair amount of foreign-born players appear on this list, as teams are sometimes wary of drafting players who may not be immediately available due to contractual obligations to another professional team overseas. After enjoying a relatively long pro career with CSKA Moscow, Shved was granted his release and was able to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012 after going undrafted in 2010. He played two seasons in Minnesota before being traded to the Philadelphia Sixers and subsequently being traded again to the Houston Rockets. A 6’6” guard, Shved still has a great deal of potential for improvement at age 26, and he has thus far averaged 6.7 PPG and 2.4 APG in parts of three NBA seasons.
8 Mirza Teletovic, Brooklyn Nets - $3,368,100
Teletovic, a native of war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina, was passed over in the 2007 NBA Draft, as he had only just begun his professional career in top leagues in Europe. Over the years, he developed into a standout player in the Spanish League and the Euroleague, and he was ultimately signed by the Brooklyn Nets to a 3-year contract that will pay him over $3.3 million for the 2014-2015 season. A power forward, Teletovic has averaged 8.5 PPG and 4.9 RPG in 40 games with Brooklyn so far this season.
7 Joel Anthony, Detroit Pistons - $3,800,000
A solid interior defender, Anthony went undrafted in the 2007 NBA Draft after starring at UNLV. Though he did have to spend some time in the D-League in 2008, Anthony enjoyed near-immediate success at the NBA level due to his ability to block shots and rebound in brief stints off the bench for a Miami Heat team that ultimately won two NBA titles. He has bounced around a bit recently, being traded to Boston during the 2013-2014 season and traded again to the Pistons just before the onset of the 2014-2015 season. His career numbers are not all that impressive (2.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG), but it is his defensive-mindedness that has helped him enjoy an 8-year career in the NBA.
6 Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers - $4,650,000
Mozgov began his professional career in the second-tier leagues of Russia, which may have contributed to his being passed over in the 2008 NBA Draft despite his 7’1”, 250-lb. frame. The Russian center would eventually sign with the New York Knicks prior to the 2010-2011 season, though he did not play very much until midseason. He impressed enough during his expanded time on the floor that he helped the Knicks land Carmelo Anthony in a trade with the Denver Nuggets, a team for which he played for parts of five seasons. With the Cleveland Cavaliers in need of a rim protector after losing Anderson Varejao to injury, the Cavs surrended two first-round draft picks to acquire Mozgov, who has averaged 9.9 PPG and 8.4 RPG for Cleveland in 15 games since the trade.
5 Chris Andersen, Miami Heat - $5,375,000
It is probably fitting that a character such as Chris Andersen took what may be one of the more circuitous routes to the NBA, as the player who would come to be known as “Birdman” did not realize that it was necessary to declare eligibility for the NBA Draft. He was therefore undrafted in 1999 and played some semi-pro ball before getting picked up by the Chinese Basketball League. Upon leaving China, he went on to play in the International Basketball League and Southwest Basketball League before finally making his way to the D-League with the Fayetteville Patriots in 2001. He has since had a long and successful career with the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets and his current team, the Miami Heat. He won a championship in 2013 with the Heat and has averaged 5.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG while also leading the league in tattoos over the course of his 12-year NBA career.
4 Chuck Hayes, Toronto Raptors - $5,958,750
Although Hayes had a very successful career at the University of Kentucky, he was passed over in the 2005 draft. He was signed by the Rockets as a free agent following the draft, but he was ultimately cut by the team during the preseason. He spent some time with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the D-League before making his way back to the Rockets on a 10-day contract, which he then parlayed into a contract for the remainder of the 2006-2007 season. That 10-day contract led Hayes to six seasons in Houston, followed by stints in both Sacramento and with his current team, the Toronto Raptors. His best season came with Houston during the 2010-2011 season, when he averaged 7.9 PPG and 8.1 RPG while playing a career-high 28.1 minutes per game.
3 Jose Calderon, New York Knicks - $7,097,191
Calderon had a solid pro career in Spain from 1998 to 2005, entering the Spanish pro leagues at just 17 years of age. Despite his success, he was passed over in the 2003 draft, spending several more seasons playing in Spain before joining the Toronto Raptors for the 2005-2006 season. Though he struggled with his shooting at first, his skills as a passer and playmaker were immediately evident, and he has had a successful run in the NBA for the past ten seasons. Currently with the Knicks after Phil Jackson targeted him in a trade in the summer before the 2014-2015 season, Calderon has averaged 10.2 PPG and 6.7 APG over the course of his NBA career.
2 Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers - $7,245,640
Matthews is likely the best undrafted player on this list in terms of his NBA impact, especially over the last few seasons. After four standout years at Marquette, Matthews saw every team pass over him in the 2009 NBA Draft. He joined the Utah Jazz for the Summer League that year, earning a contract with the club for the upcoming season. He appeared in all 82 games in his debut season for the Jazz, averaging 9.4 PPG in 24.7 minutes per game, leading him to receive an offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers worth $32.5 million over five years. That contract has worked out exceptionally well for the Blazers, and Matthews is averaging 16.5 PPG and 3.5 RPG on a very good Portland team. Matthews’ outside shooting has also earned him a place in the 3-point contest at this year’s All-Star game, and the undrafted shooting guard recently passed Terry Porter as Portland's all-time franchise leader in career three-pointers.
1 Jeremy Lin, Los Angeles Lakers - $8,374,646
Lin’s unlikely path to the NBA has been well documented. An outstanding high school player in California, he was not offered any Division-I scholarships and wound up playing at Harvard for four years. After starring in the Ivy League, Lin went undrafted and received just a single offer to join a Summer League squad. After a successful summer in which he showed up John Wall head-to-head, Lin was signed by the Golden State Warriors, though he only played sparingly during the 2010-2011 season. He was waived twice before being picked up by the New York Knicks, who enjoyed a half-season of “Linsanity” before allowing the point guard to leave via restricted free agency to the Houston Rockets. He was traded to the Lakers this offseason and has yet to live up to the lofty expectations thrust upon him after his outstanding 26-game run with the Knicks.
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