Top 10 Most Successful Undrafted Players in the NBA – No Draft, No Problem

NBA undrafted legends

Every year, thousands of hopefuls throw their names into the NBA draft, dreaming of hearing their name called by the commissioner. For some, that moment never comes. But for a select few, going undrafted is just the beginning of an incredible journey.

Let’s take a look at some of the most successful undrafted players in NBA history.  Spoiler alert: being overlooked on draft night didn’t stop these guys from making a massive impact.

10. JJ Barea

Undrafted NBA stars

JJ Barea might be one of the shortest players in NBA history, but his impact was enormous. Undrafted out of Northeastern University, Barea became a crucial player for the Dallas Mavericks, especially during their 2011 championship run.

His performance in the playoffs, particularly against the Miami Heat, was legendary. Barea showed that heart and hustle could overcome any height disadvantage.

9. José Calderón

José Calderón’s NBA career is a masterclass in efficiency. The undrafted Spanish guard became the Toronto Raptors’ all-time assist leader and was known for his impeccable shooting percentages.

With a high free throw and three-point shooting percentage, Calderón was the kind of player every coach loves—reliable and consistent. Plus, he brought a bit of European flair to the NBA.

8. Avery Johnson

Successful undrafted NBA players

Avery Johnson’s career didn’t start with fanfare, but it sure ended with respect. Undrafted out of Southern University, Johnson played for several teams before becoming a starting point guard for the San Antonio Spurs.

He was a key part of their 1999 championship run, earning the nickname “The Little General.” Johnson later transitioned to coaching, showing that his leadership skills extended beyond the court.

7. Brad Miller

Top undrafted NBA talents

Brad Miller’s path to the NBA All-Star game is a huge proof of what perseverance can do for a player. After going undrafted, Miller bounced around before finding success with the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings.

He became a two-time All-Star, proving that sometimes it just takes the right fit to flourish. Miller’s journey is a reminder that being overlooked doesn’t mean being forgotten.

6. Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet’s story is a modern-day fairy tale. Undrafted in 2016, VanVleet signed with the Toronto Raptors and quickly made a name for himself. In 2020, he set the record for the highest single-game scoring by an undrafted player with 54 points.

Not too shabby for a guy nobody wanted on draft night. VanVleet also signed the largest contract ever for an undrafted player, and he helped the Raptors win an NBA Championship in 2019. Talk about betting on yourself and winning.

5. Udonis Haslem

Best undrafted NBA careers

Udonis Haslem is the embodiment of the Miami Heat culture. Undrafted out of Florida, Haslem joined the Heat and never left.  Over 19 seasons, he’s won three NBA championships and has been the veteran presence every team needs.

While he might not fill the stat sheet, his leadership and toughness are invaluable. Plus, he’s probably got more Heat gear than anyone on the planet.

4. Bruce Bowen

Bruce Bowen might not have been a scoring machine, but his defense was a nightmare for opponents. After going undrafted, Bowen clawed his way into the NBA and became a key player for the San Antonio Spurs.

His defensive skills earned him eight All-Defensive team selections and three NBA championships.  Opponents hated playing against him, and that’s probably the best compliment a defender can get. Just go ahead and check out his defensive highlights – Bowen was a menace.

3. John Starks

Undrafted NBA success players

John Starks’ journey is the stuff of legends—or at least a fine sports movie. After attending four different colleges and going undrafted, Starks found himself working at a supermarket.

The New York Knicks eventually gave him a shot, and boy, did he take it. Starks became a fan favorite and played a pivotal role in the Knicks’ 1994 NBA Finals run. An All-Star and Sixth Man of the Year, Starks made sure everyone knew his name.

2. Connie Hawkins

Connie Hawkins had quite the rollercoaster ride. Wrongfully accused in a point-shaving scandal, he was barred from the NBA initially.  But the ABA welcomed him with open arms, where he dominated.

When the NBA finally came to their senses, Hawkins averaged over 20 points in his first three seasons.  A four-time NBA All-Star and a Hall of Fame inductee, Hawkins showed the world that he was more than just a victim of a scandal—he was a basketball legend.

1. Ben Wallace

Impactful undrafted NBA players

Ben Wallace is the epitome of the undrafted success story. Imagine the NBA scouts scratching their heads, wondering how they missed out on a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Wallace, undrafted out of a small mid-major college, became the heart and soul of the Detroit Pistons, leading them to an NBA championship in 2004.  Not to mention his four All-Star appearances and five All-NBA selections. Wallace didn’t just prove people wrong; he made them look foolish. He always was and still is my undisputed king of undrafted players.

Other Notable Undrafted Players

  • Wesley Matthews: Known for his defense, Matthews won an NBA Championship and ranked seventh in steals percentage during the 2017-18 season.
  • Jeremy Lin: The “Linsanity” phenomenon took the NBA by storm, making Lin a household name overnight.
  • Raja Bell: Twice selected for the NBA All-Defensive team, Bell was a tough, no-nonsense player.
  • Darrel Armstrong: Won both the NBA’s Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year in 1999.
  • David WesleyJoe Ingles, and Earl Boykins: All significant contributors to their teams, proving that talent can be found beyond the draft.
  • Kent Bazemore: Noted for his defensive skills and ranking high in steals percentage.
  • Joel Anthony: Won two NBA Championships with the Miami Heat.
  • Aron Baynes: Improved his three-point shooting and became a valuable player.

Final Thoughts

The NBA draft might be the starting point for many careers, but for some, not hearing their name called is just fuel for the fire. From Ben Wallace’s dominance to Fred VanVleet’s record-setting performances, these undrafted players have carved out incredible careers.

They remind us that determination, hard work, and a bit of grit can take you further than any draft pick ever could. Next time you hear about an undrafted player making waves in the NBA, just remember—they’re not defying the odds; they’re redefining them.