Very few rookies make a splash in their first NBA season. For an undrafted rookie, making even a ripple in their first season is highly improbable.
Drafted rookies remain as the centerpiece to build a team around. While undrafted rookies serve most effectively in a contributing role.
Generally, undrafted rookies tend to be a gritty, resilient type with the proverbial chip on their shoulder.
Just how hard is it to make it in the NBA as an undrafted rookie?
According to the Stanford University Press, less than 1.5 percent of undrafted rookies will provide any meaningful impact. This makes the likes of Ben Wallace, Raja Bell, Jose Calderon and Udonis Haslem anomalies, overachievers and exceptions to the rule.
Could there be any of their ilk as an undrafted rookie?
Currently, there are six undrafted rookies on NBA rosters. Only three of them really stand out.
1. Gary Neal
Easily, Gary Neal has emerged as the best undrafted rookie. A 26-year-old, 6'4", 210 pound guard out of the Euro League playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Neal has appeared in all but two games this season, serving as a reliable scoring punch off the bench.
His averages are 20.8 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 1.1 apg, 2.2 rpg while shooting a respectable 44 percent from the floor. Even more stunning is his three-point percentage, at 41.6 percent.
At first glance, Neal looks like a spot-up shooter that stretches the floor. He has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor for dribble drives, create his own shot, moves very well without the ball for curls and off screens.
Neal is smart enough to read defenses, serves reliable as a help defender, possesses good anticipation in rotations and plays the passing lanes effectively.
Overall, Neal has fit seamlessly into the Spurs system. Very polished for an undrafted rookie.
How do the Spurs keep finding these guys?
2. Manny Harris
Manny Harris, 21 years old, 6'5", 180 pound guard, left the University of Michigan as a junior in hopes of being drafted in the NBA as one of the best scoring guards from the Big Ten. It didn't happen. Instead, he's had a baptism by fire in his first NBA season as a Cleveland Cavalier.
In the wake of a series of injuries to Cavalier guards Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker, Harris was prematurely thrown in to start 28 games for Cleveland. This occurred when the team was only able to suit up eight players per game.
Averages as a starter during this time were 41 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.3 spg. In all he has appeared in 51 games averaging 17.8 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 1.6 apg, 2.7 rpg, .8 spg.
Harris has a tendency as a slasher scorer with very good quickness and leaping ability. He has a woeful shooting percentage of 37 percent and must develop a reliable pulled up jumper to complement strong finishes at the rim. With his propensity to attack high traffic areas, Harris will also have to bulk up that long wiry frame. His ball handling has shown signs of progression as he has improved his assist/turnover ratio from 1:1 to 2:1.
Defensively, he maintains good position in front of his man, rebounds well for a guard and effectively uses his long limbs to close out on shooter, deflect passes and force turnovers.
As with all newcomers, Harris suffers from inexperience at a high level. Commonly referred to as rookie mistakes--very forgivable but needs to continue to work on his game if he hopes to stay competitive in the league. For the Cavaliers this season, he has shown more potential and upside than negative aspects.
3. Samardo Samuels
Samardo Samuels is a 22 year old, 6'8", 240 pound forward out of the University of Louisville. Samuels shocked many by petitioning eligibility for the draft following his sophmore year. He was left undrafted and found his way to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Following season ending injuries to Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison, Samuels has appeared in 36 games and started ten of them. Season averages include 18.7 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.5 bpg with a respectable field goal percentage of 45.
What is making Samuels a fan favorite is his tenacity to battle hard on the low block. Lacking in height to match opponents, he is very adept at using his wide body to gain positional advantage at both ends of the court.
Skill set includes terrific footwork (attributed to playing soccer in home country of Jamaica), impressive strength, huge hands and a reliable shooting range of 10-12 feet.
Deficiencies include athletic quickness and lateral movement to guard positions that can beat him off the dribble. Samuels also can become predictable as he looks to score every time he has the ball. The inability to pass to a teammate could prove problematic against better defenses. Additionally, a miserable FT percentage of 62 needs to improve as he becomes a scoring threat in the paint.
Samuels has made a pretty good start for his NBA career but unfortunately suffered a likely season ending injury when he sprained his wrist on March 27.
Cracking an NBA lineup on any team is a near impossible task. Perhaps there isn't anything harder to do in any sport,
These players were already deemed unworthy as a draft pick. Only they can prove the nay-sayers wrong by continuing to show their worth as valuable additions that contribute meaningfully to their respective teams.