The NBA’s 30 teams employ around 450 of the world’s best basketball players. Some of them are household names, like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook. Every single detail of their life is put under a microscope, such that almost anything they do becomes national news. Even casual sports fans know that Kevin Durant took his talents to Golden State over the summer, and we all remember Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant finally bidding the game farewell after historic careers.
But not every player has millions of eyes paying attention to their every move. Some guys operate from the periphery, quietly plying their trade in near-anonymity for the entirety of their careers. Others experience brief moments of prominence only to slowly fade back into obscurity, becoming half-remembered flavors of the week. If you watch a lot of NBA games, you become familiar with a lot of these less-heralded players. Maybe they spent several seasons riding the pine on your favorite team, or catapulted your fantasy team to victory one year thanks to a temporary spike in production.
Because there are so many players and so much player movement between and throughout seasons, knowing who plays where is a near-impossible task to keep up with. The peripheral players are inevitably the ones who fall through the cracks, of our memory, entering a sort of basketball purgatory in our heads. Is he still playing on Team X? Did he go overseas? Wait, is he back from playing overseas?
When a name stays out of the headlines for long enough, we often just assume they must no longer be playing, particularly if they’re on the older side. But this is not always the case; it’s amazing how many former minor celebrities are still collecting paychecks well past their prime.
If you’ve ever asked yourself “what ever happened to that guy?” he might very well be on this list, hiding deep on an NBA roster.
15 Jeff Green
As a member of Seattle/Oklahoma City’s original “Big Three”, Green was part of an exciting young nucleus of talent with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In just his second season he became the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, and the future looked bright for the versatile combo forward. But when Green’s development appeared to have stagnated by his fourth year, the Thunder decided to move ahead in a new direction, trading him to the Celtics.
It was during a routine physical the following season that doctors diagnosed Green with a serious heart condition which would require surgery and an extended recovery period. Thankfully, he was able to resume his career the following season and had a couple decent years for Boston before bouncing around a bit and ending up in Orlando this season. Because of his frequent moves over the past few years, I’d lost track of where he was, but it’s nice to know that he’s still healthy and playing after such a major medical scare.
14 Devin Harris
Once a leading contender for the title of “fastest player in the league”, Harris would experience a lot of success as well as heartbreak early in his career as a member of the Mavericks, losing in the 2006 Finals to the underdog Miami Heat, and then winding up on the losing side of one of the biggest upsets in NBA history the following year against the eighth-seeded Warriors. A trade to New Jersey took him out of a winning environment, but also gave him more opportunity to shine as an individual. He quickly took advantage of his newfound offensive prominence, parlaying it into an All-Star campaign in 2009. That would represent the peak of his powers however, as his production has gone into a tailspin since that time. Ironically, he’s now back on the team where it all started for him, spending the last four seasons as a minor bench contributor for the Mavericks.
13 Jared Dudley
After a standout four-year career with Boston College, Dudley was seen as a relatively safe pick, a low-upside but low-risk role player. His positional versatility, solid defensive effort, and dependable outside shot have made him a sort of poor man's Shane Battier. He really took to the role in Phoenix, averaging double figure scoring for three of his five seasons there. That would represent the peak of his career. Basically, he’s been the epitome of mediocrity, which is why I was a little surprised he was still kicking around, back in Phoenix this year, of all places. But that’s the thing about mediocrity; it means you’re not exceptional at anything, not even sucking. Don’t be surprised if he manages to hang on and keep hunting for a ring until he’s 40.
12 Ramon Sessions
Sessions first burst onto the scene as a rookie, where he was a surprising bright spot in his brief run near the end of another disappointing campaign for the Bucks. He ended the season with five straight 10+ assist outings, including a monster 20 point, 24 assist effort that really turned heads. While he never quite lived up to that level of brilliance, he had a very solid sophomore campaign for the Bucks, a terrific boon for them considering he’d basically been an afterthought as the 56th pick in the 2007 draft. Since then he’s carved out a niche as a backup point guard, which happens to be a highly sought after commodity in today’s game. That probably explains why he’s still playing despite being past his prime, which was average at best in the first place.
11 Jameer Nelson
For Nelson to have ever made it to the league is a miracle in itself, never mind the success he’s had and the fact that he’s still playing today at nearly 35 years of age. His diminutive stature and small school origins belied his great talent, which became evident during his time at St. Joseph’s where he and Delonte West formed one of the most formidable backcourt tandems in the entire NCAA. After being selected by Orlando in the first round of the 2004 draft, Nelson gradually won the starting job and helped take the franchise, led by Dwight Howard, to heights not seen since the Shaq and Penny days. Nelson even managed to make an All-Star team.
Since his glory days in Orlando though, Nelson’s faded from memory a bit, but he’s still chugging away as a backup for the Denver Nuggets. It’s incredibly rare for someone his size to last this long in the league since those players often rely on superior quickness which sharply declines with age, but Nelson has once again proven to be an exception to the rule.
10 Mike Dunleavy Jr.
White dude who starred at Duke? Check. Coach’s son? Double check. Dunleavy had all the ingredients to become the most annoying player in NBA history, but he’s had to settle for a career in being a mild disappointment. His pedigree got him picked third overall in the weak 2002 draft, but he’s been pretty average for most of his career, peaking in 2007-08 when he averaged 19.1 points per game for the Pacers. Now 36, Dunleavy’s basically been relegated to the role of spot-up shooter, which is probably the only reason he still has job thanks to the NBA’s infatuation with the outside shot as of late.
The only reason you might know he’s still active is because the Cavaliers recently used him as part of a trade for a better white three-point shooter in Kyle Korver.
9 Mike Miller
Yet another entry in the category of “old white sharpshooter”, Miller has actually been much more than just that in his 17 year NBA career. After winning Rookie of the Year in Orlando, he reached his prime in Memphis, becoming a gifted playmaker and above-average rebounder to compliment his reliable shot-making ability. As he aged he ran into injury problems which forced him to transition into becoming a role player. Though often hobbled, he was a valuable contributor to the Miami Heat in limited minutes and helped LeBron James win his first championship by scoring 23 points in the title-clinching game.
Now on Denver’s roster, he’s played sporadically this year in a total of just eight games, so it would appear the end is near for Miller’s career and he will soon be actually retired, just like you probably thought he was for the past few years.
8 Nick Collison
Taken with the 12th pick in the same historic draft class that produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, Collison’s career has unfolded with notably less fanfare, but the fact that he’s still earning a paycheque from the same team that drafted him is a testament to his character and reliability. Or maybe the Thunder front office has just forgotten he’s on their roster. Collison was never good enough to be a full-time starter at any point in his career, but he did exactly what a backup big should do: rebound, hustle, and finish at the rim.
Energy and dirty work alone are usually not enough to stick on an NBA roster for 13 years, so credit must be given to Collison’s frequently lauded professionalism and positive impact on team culture for his continued relevance.
7 Chris Andersen
One of the NBA’s most colorful characters, Andersen has morphed from gangly, athletic youth to scowling shot-blocking menace. Through dunk contest embarrassments and substance abuse scandals, Andersen has persevered thanks to his superb physical tools and defensive instincts. He notably won a ring in Miami in 2013, essentially acting as LeBron James’s bodyguard. At that time, Andersen was still effective in spurts, but it seemed too much to expect a perennial energy bench player to keep up that role into his mid-30s.
LeBron seems to be loyal to many of his ex-teammates however, and Andersen has taken full advantage of that by wiggling his way onto Cleveland’s roster this season. At 38, it’s hard to imagine him playing another season, so enjoy his antics while you can!
6 Anthony Morrow
Morrow burst onto the NBA scene as a rookie, going from undrafted to leading the league in three-point accuracy. He’s continued to find success since then as a specialized secret weapon, but unfortunately he never really added much else to his game except shooting the heck out of the ball. However, as we’ve seen with several other entries on this list, sometimes just shooting is enough to take you a long way in today’s game. Now on the Thunder, shots are in short supply with Westbrook jacking up most of them, which is perhaps why he’s been largely invisible.
While he’s a few years removed from his prime, and struggling mightily this season (28.1% from three), chances are he’ll be floating around on rosters for several more years if he manages to stay healthy.
5 Udonis Haslem
A three-time champion, Haslem has been the soul of the Miami Heat franchise for the past 14 seasons. With Dwyane Wade departing in the offseason, Haslem became the sole holdover from Miami’s improbable 2006 Finals victory over the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks. He stepped up big time in the series-clinching Game 6, pouring in 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. His tenacity has helped make up for his undersized stature as a power forward, and his loyalty has made him one of the most beloved figures in Heat franchise history. Still, he’s been pretty much a non-factor in Miami’s rotation for the past couple seasons, and a less popular player probably would have gotten the boot by now.
But all good things must come to an end eventually, and Heat fans might not have much time left to enjoy Haslem’s patented high-arching baseline jumper and scrappy rebounding.
4 Marcus Thornton
As a mid-second round pick, nothing much was expected of Thornton, but he quickly made the teams that passed over him pay by averaging 14.5 points per game in his debut season. He maintained his reputation as a consummate scorer over the next few years, including a career-best 18.7 scoring average for the 2011-12 season. Since then however, he’s struggled to stick, playing for six different teams over the past four years. His minutes, scoring, and efficiency have all taken significant hits as well, to the point where he’s now averaging a mere 6.6 points on 40% shooting for the Wizards.
It seems that teams are still betting on him regaining the scoring touch he showed as a rookie, but at some point, they’re going to lose patience, especially when he can’t really do much else. Thornton will be 30 this June, so my guess is his days are numbered unless he makes some drastic improvements soon.
3 Aaron Brooks
At just 161 pounds, Brooks is probably one of the sknniest players to ever make it to the NBA. His severe deficit in size and strength didn’t hinder him in college however, where he starred for the Oregon Ducks. His blinding speed and shooting ability mitigated some of the fears about his tiny frame, and got him picked in the first round of the 2007 draft. Though ostensibly a point guard, Brooks’s best attribute is his uncanny knack for putting the ball in the hoop. It netted him a Most Improved Player of the Year award, after improving his scoring average from 11.2 to 19.6 between his second and third years. During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Brooks decided to take his talents to China before returning stateside the following year.
He never really made much of a splash after that, which is why many probably assumed he had just stayed overseas. He’s currently plying his trade with the Indiana Pacers.
2 Sasha Vujacic
If you weren’t a Lakers fan, you probably remember Vujacic as the single most annoying character to ever set foot on a basketball court. His constant whining and flopping, accentuated by his long, greasy hair has made him an unpopular figure among many NBA fans. Lakers fans probably have mixed feelings about him. On the one hand, he was a holdover from the post-Shaq-pre-Pau era, one of the darkest periods in Lakers history. On the other hand, he was one of the few to survive the transitional climb back to relevance, managing to stick with the team for their back-to-back titles. He was traded to the Nets the following year, then spent essentially the next four seasons overseas, at which point most NBA fans had probably written him off as a distant bad memory.
But no, turns out Vujacic was not done infuriating North American fans, quietly making his return last season and continuing to play this season with the Knicks. New York seems to be a hotbed for washed-up talent these days, so it’s really kind of a match made in heaven.
1 Joel Anthony
Tristan Thompson isn’t the first undersized lefty(ish) Canadian center to win a championship with LeBron James. That title belongs to one Joel Vincent Anthony, the staunch rim protector with bricks for hands on the offensive side of the ball. Though his role was limited, especially come playoff time, Anthony was actually the starting center in the regular season during Miami’s first title run with James. He really was incredibly painful to watch on the offensive end though, bobbling passes and struggling to convert all but the most wide open shots at the rim. It felt like his unique situation, surrounded by three supremely gifted offensive talents, was the only possible way for him to survive in the league, so when Miami traded him I figured his career was done.
Apparently not, as he’s played for Boston, Detroit, and now San Antonio. For a guy who was barely an NBA-calibre player to begin with to have two rings and still be playing at the age of 34 is nothing short of a miracle. It’s one that looks like it will be ending soon however, as his time with the Spurs this season has been limited to 10-day contracts, usually a sign that the end is near.
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