For 60 young men, Thursday night's NBA draft was a dream come true. They heard their names called by NBA commissioner David Stern in his final draft at the post or by deputy commissioner Adam Silver, the man who will be taking over for Stern in February.
Every year, the story is mostly the same for players taken. First-round picks get the spoils of guaranteed contracts and being set for life, while second-rounders get a smaller version of that pie. Second-rounders do not carry a guaranteed contract stipulation, but they do get to hear their names called at the Barclays Center—a distinction that carries more weight than anyone realizes.
However, for those players who enter the draft and don't hear their names called, Thursday night was one of heartache. While many will see summer league and training camp invitations sent their way, being undrafted takes on a massive set of challenges.
Even after being signed, undrafted free agents don't get the same investment as even a second-round pick. They are brought in, tested out and then shipped off if they aren't deemed good enough. There's a reason so few undrafted players become real stars—and it's not only because the NBA does a better job of drafting its players than other sports leagues, though it does.
That said, every year there are a few guys who slip through the cracks and find themselves being vital cogs in NBA rotations. Jeremy Lin and Wesley Matthews are just two undrafted names who have made notable impacts over the past half-decade.
And while nothing is guaranteed, there are a few guys who stand out as potential undrafted contributors in this year's crop.
With that in mind, here's a complete look at a few guys who could succeed if they find the right situation.
C.J. Leslie (SF, North Carolina State)
Easily the most shocking name to go uncalled on Thursday night was Leslie. A tantalizing combination of raw athleticism, shot-blocking ability and quickness, the N.C. State product was considered by most to be an early second-round pick.
In fact, prior to the festivities getting underway, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Leslie stopped working out for teams early in the process, convinced he'd be drafted in the 30s:
After two workouts, N.C. State forward CJ Leslie shut it down w/ teams. He's expected to be selected in 30's. One of draft's top athletes.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 27, 2013
Whoops. Whether that decision was made by Leslie or his advisers, he probably needs new people making decisions for him. If there is one thing in the draft process that is clear, it's that if you're not a guaranteed lottery pick, you prove yourself any way possible. Leslie is an impressive enough athlete that he probably would have wowed at least one team's scouting staff into selecting him in the mid-to-late second round.
Instead, he'll be left scrounging for an invite to summer league. Perception is everything in these processes, and if Leslie was perceived as having a promise in the 30s—usually the main reason a player stops working out—or merely as being self-entitled, it was clear teams were turned off by that decision.
That said, whichever team winds up landing Leslie could get a motivated version of him—and that could be a huge boon. His athleticism has always lent itself to making him an elite stopper on the outside, but Leslie never completely committed to on-ball defense with the Wolfpack. The 6'9" swingman would swat shots with a ferociousness that was great for the highlight reel, but his commitment and focus on that end was inconsistent to say the least.
With a 7'2" wingspan and strong lateral quickness, Leslie projects at the very least as a pesky defender if he can get with the right team. Still a work in progress on the offensive end, Leslie also showed some improvements in his jumper.
Fit means everything with this kid, though. If he gets with an organization with a rotten core, one unavailable to properly develop talent, he'll flame out by November. If he can get in with a good coach—again, this will be on his handlers—then it's very possible Leslie has a future as a wing defender and replacement-level offensive player.
Seth Curry (PG-SG, Duke)
Leslie was the most shocking unselected player. Curry, however, was easily the most high-profile name not to be called by David Stern or Adam Silver on Thursday night. The son of Dell and brother of Stephen, Seth was expected to become the third in a lineage of Curry family members to lace them up in the NBA.
It's likely he'll still do that, but not the way he expected. While undoubtedly disappointed, Seth tweeted out that going undrafted did not alter his career goals:
I will be good! The journey doesn't stop and the goal remains the same. Back to work in the AM.. Congrats to my dudes Mase and Ryan!— Seth Curry (@sdotcurry) June 28, 2013
Being the older brother that he is, Stephen had a more strident defense of his younger sibling via his Twitter account:
Major congrats to all the Draftees. Enjoy the moment! Sidebar: sleeping on @sdotcurry again...that man WILL be in the league this year.— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) June 28, 2013
That's heartwarming to see, but is the Golden State Warriors star right? In a word: yes. While there are questions about Seth Curry's lateral quickness and size for the 2-guard spot, he's was one of the country's best shooters last season—the one skill that almost always translates from college to the pro level. Curry can create quick separation for himself off the dribble—almost like a poor man's version of his brother—and he excels catching and shooting off screens.
That said, the writing was definitely on the wall for Seth to fall out of this draft.
A likely mid-second-round pick at his peak, Curry ultimately fell off boards entirely because he was unable to workout in the pre-draft phase. He battled a shin injury throughout the 2012-13 season and had surgery on the lingering stress reaction in April. While Curry undoubtedly doesn't regret helping his Duke team to the Elite Eight, one has to wonder whether he would have been impressive enough in workouts to make teams change their minds.
Either way, there is a place in the NBA for Seth Curry. His NBA journey, should he get a chance to take it, reminds me a bit of Jimmer Fredette. While Fredette was a lottery pick, both have similar skill sets and deficiencies. The former BYU star is viewed mostly as a failure in the Association, but that's only because the Kings inanely thought he was a franchise point guard.
There will be no such bastardization of Curry's expectations. If he finds a bench role, there's little reason he can't be good for five-to-seven points per night in limited minutes. Curry will always be a defensive liability, though.
Myck Kabongo (PG, Texas)
I might be the last man alive still touting for Kabongo. His career at Texas was marred with suspensions and disappointments, starts and stops that never allowed the talented point guard to ever even scratch his potential.
After Kabongo's freshman season saw him struggle with the field and with turnovers, he decided to return as a sophomore, hoping to reclaim his lottery hype. Kabongo's reinvigoration of his draft stock never got underway. In one of the most jaw-dropping acts of NCAA hypocrisy, college basketball's governing body suspended Kabongo for the first 23 games of the 2012-13 season for receiving illegal benefits totaling $475.
The overarching reason for Kabongo's punishment—initially a season-long ban—was that he lied to investigators. As reported by USA Today, ESPN's Jay Bilas was among the most strident critics of the punishment, which many deemed excessive beyond comprehension.
By the time Kabongo returned to the lineup, Texas was out of the NCAA tournament race. That left him with little motivation to show off his excellent, unselfish tendencies—the ones that got him so highly touted in the first place. Rather, Kabongo went into full proving himself mode for the draft. He improved his averages up to 14.6 points, 5.5 assists and five rebounds a night, flashing those pure point guard skills just enough to rebuild some intrigue.
And it seemed to work. While he didn't find himself in the lottery the way many expected two years prior, Kabongo was seen as a pretty solid lock to be taken in the late first round or early second round on Thursday.
So much for those projections. Kabongo, should he link up with a team, could wind up being a steal. He's still a creative playmaker with length, athleticism and an improving jumper. He was worth a second-round flier at the very least, so it will be interesting to see where he winds up signing.
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