Best Undrafted Players in NBA History

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJune 29, 2012

Best Undrafted Players in NBA History

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    The NBA draft is a glorious time for the teenagers and young adults that will soon be making millions of dollars in endorsements and basketball contracts.

    However, this is for only 60 players. Unlike the NFL, NHL and MLB drafts, the NBA draft only goes two rounds. That means there is an extremely limited availability for the large amount of talent that is expecting to get drafted, especially in this year's draft. The amount of talent in this year's draft is staggering. It's one of the deepest in recent years.

    Few will get picked, and many will get left behind. That's why we are here to dedicate this particular piece to the players who went undrafted and still managed to become relevant NBA players due to their work ethic and strong commitment to excellence. Even after they were passed over—and some forced to play overseas to make ends meet—they still maintained the idea that they were ready for the NBA.

    Sure enough, these 10 players were ready. While they don't have the glitz and glamor of your average all-star, they have molded themselves into solid role players who have found a niche helping out their team. Whether it's their passing, scoring or defensive skills, these 10 players utilized all the talent and potential they had to make it to the NBA.

    We take the time to honor the 10 best undrafted players in no particular order.

Brad Miller

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    A graduate from Purdue who made his NBA debut midway through the 1998-'99 season, Brad Miller has had one of the most successful careers of any undrafted player.

    Following four productive years with the Boilermakers, Miller would make his professional debut in Italy with Bini Viaggi Livorno after failing to get drafted.

    The Charlotte Hornets must have liked what they had seen in Miller and decided to become the first NBA team he would play for. It would last two seasons before Miller signed with the Chicago Bulls for the first time. Following two quiet seasons in Chicago, Miller broke through upon getting traded to the Indiana Pacers and would average 14 points and eight rebounds in just his fourth season.

    He'd also make his first of two consecutive all-star appearances in 2003.

    Miller would then go on to play for the Sacramento Kings, where he would set his career high in scoring and rebound at 15.6 and 10.3. He would have his best years starting for the Kings and would average as much as 13 points and nearly 10 rebounds at the age of 31.

    Since getting traded by Sacramento in 2009, Miller has played for three different teams. He recently spent time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but only played in 15 games.

    Miller now plans on retiring. He's made $90 million over a 14-year career as a player who started out his career in Italy.

Udonis Haslem

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    A hugely successful undrafted player on account of his team achievements, Udonis Haslem has become known as "The Warrior" among the Miami Heat community.

    It's obvious why he is called that. He's the fighter for this team—the player with the most heart, grit and determination. He spends more time laying down on the court than standing on it. Haslem is the definition of an energy player, and it shows every time he is on the court.

    If you ever needed a player that will stand up for his teammates or do the little things necessary to win, Haslem is the perfect player for that job.

    Haslem went undrafted after four solid years at the University of Florida. His professional career appeared ready to hit a steady slope after he reportedly weighed in at 300 pounds upon leaving the Gators. Since no NBA team required his services at the time, Haslem played in France and would lose 70 pounds. The weight loss earned him workouts back home.

    Udonis ended up signing with the Heat a few months prior to the start of the 2003-'04 season. He would start in 24 games and average seven points and six rebounds, far more than what anyone had expected at the time. The next season, he'd play in and start 80 games and would finish the season averaging 11 points and nine boards.

    Haslem would then help the Heat win a title the following year, providing the team with a huge boost thanks to his physical defense on Dirk Nowitzki.

    Even though Haslem was dealt a significant injury last year, he still maintains his role as the Heat's resourceful rebounder and defender, and managed to play a key part in the Heat's 2012 championship run.

Bruce Bowen

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    Bruce Bowen didn't start playing in the NBA until he was 25 years old. His first season came with the Miami Heat in 1996, where he would play in one game and record one minute and one block.

    Bowen was dropped by the Heat following the conclusion of his 10-day contract with the team.

    He would then get signed by the Boston Celtics four months later. He would play two seasons with the Boston Celtics before choosing to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers two years later as a free agent. He'd play only 29 games with the team before getting sent to Chicago. The Bulls waived him two days after the trade went through.

    Then his breakthrough occurred. Bowen signed with the Miami Heat for a second time and his defensive accomplishments were finally put on full display. In his first full season with the team, Bowen played in 82 games and earned a nod to the All-Defensive Second Team. It would be the first of three consecutive; he was already 29 years old. 

    Bowen would depart for the San Antonio Spurs and would immediately get thrust into the starting lineup as the team's small forward. One year later, he would become a starter for an NBA champion, as the Spurs would win the 2003 NBA title over the New Jersey Nets. Bowen would lead the league in three-point percentage in the same season.

    Bowen remained a starter for the Spurs until 2009. He was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, waived a week later and retired. Over the final seven years of his career, Bowen missed a total of three games.

    The player who could barely hold a job in Europe from 1993 to 1997 and hailed from California State University, Fullerton ended up with five consecutive appearances on the All-NBA Defensive First Team and three championships.

Ben Wallace

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    Ben Wallace was such a prolific rebounder and defender that you probably didn't notice he will finish his career with the worst free-throw percentage of any individual in NBA history.

    Wallace is currently shooting 41 percent from the line. He never shot better than 49 percent in a season.

    "Big Ben" was never called upon for his offensive repertoire, however. Despite only being 6'9", Wallace was asked to become the starting center for a contending Detroit Pistons team because of his defense and rebounding capabilities. The Pistons snatched him up after trading away Grant Hill.

    Wallace had spent the previous four seasons with the Washington Bullets/Wizards and the Orlando Magic. He averaged 12 boards per 36 minutes in the year prior to joining Detroit, and it was more than enough to persuade the organization to pick him up as their anchor.

    In his first year with the Pistons, Wallace won Defensive Player of the Year. In his second year, he won it again. He did the same in his fourth and fifth season to make it four Defensive Player of the Year awards in total. He would also earn five nods to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, three All-NBA Second Teams and four all-star games.

    He led the league twice in rebounding, as much as 15.4 per game. He also led the league in blocks per game after registering 3.5 in the 2001-'02 season.

    Wallace also helped lead the Detroit Pistons to an NBA championship victory in 2004 over the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers. Wallace's defense on Shaquille O'Neal proved to be a factor because his athleticism and timing would prove to be a major factor in the outcome of a 4-1 series win.

    Not bad for a guy who hails from Virginia Union.

John Starks

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    John Starks should consider himself fortunate for going from an undrafted guard out of Oklahoma State to a starting shooting guard on a perennial championship contender.

    However, he also has to consider himself unfortunate for playing in the same era as Michael Jordan, who constantly denied Starks and his New York Knicks a championship. Starks would come close in 1994, but Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets would topple the Knicks in seven games in the NBA Finals.

    Even without a ring, Starks still set a huge benchmark for undrafted players everywhere. He spent 36 games with the Golden State Warriors in his first season and would then be out of the league the following season. He would end up spending time with the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets of the CBA and the Memphis Rockers of the WBL before signing a deal with the New York Knicks.

    Starks impressed in his first season with the Knicks, so much so that he'd play all 82 games the following season. By his third year with New York, Starks was a starting shooting guard on a Knicks team that was giving the Chicago Bulls a run for their money.

    Starks averaged as much as 19 points per game with the Knicks and would even win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year for the 1996-'97 season, averaging 13.8 points and 2.8 rebounds.

    He would play with the Knicks up until 1998 when he was eventually traded to Golden State.

    Starks would end his career with the Utah Jazz, still giving quality minutes as a starter at the age of 35.

Jose Calderon

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    Jose Calderon may be the single worst defender in the NBA, but it only means he deserves even more credit for being an undrafted star to make it in this league.

    While Calderon can't always completely make up for his lack of defense, he manages to contribute to the team in the form of facilitating, making the occasional three-pointer and not turning the ball over. The Toronto Raptors point guard has averaged 7.2 assists for his career and only 1.7 turnovers per game.

    Calderon has averaged 8.9 assists on two occasions and has averaged at least eight assists per game in four of the past five seasons.

    It wasn't easy for Calderon to get to this point. While his NBA career began in 2005 upon getting signed by the Raptors, he had already been playing professional basketball overseas since 1998. He'd play in Spain for four different teams from '98 up until '05 when he was eventually discovered by a Raptors team that was on the lookout for a facilitator of his standing.

    Calderon has called Toronto his home since 2005 and even made history in the 2008-'09 campaign when he converted 151 of his 154 free throw attempts on the season. He finished the year with a free-throw percentage of 98 percent, the greatest free-throw shooting display in the history of the NBA.

    Calderon also had the second longest streak in NBA history for most consecutive free throws made with 87.

    Jose has finished in the top five in assists per game four times.

Raja Bell

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    Before becoming recognized as one of Kobe Bryant's mortal enemy, Raja Bell was just looking for a way to get himself some rotation minutes.

    Bell played two years at Boston University and two years at Florida International University, leading the team to a Sun Belt Conference title in his final season. However, it did little for Bell's draft stock because he failed to get drafted by a team. He would have to take a year off of basketball before eventually getting signed by the San Antonio Spurs.

    He wouldn't play a game with the Spurs and wouldn't get much playing time in his first year with the Philadelphia 76ers, either. He played five games in his rookie season and would get 72 the next season, but the majority of his appearances were relegated to garbage-time minutes. It wouldn't be until signing with the Dallas Mavericks where we would finally begin to see what Bell was made of.

    Bell only spent a year with Dallas, but he received 32 starts to garner some needed experience. He would only play a year with the Mavericks before setting his sights on the Utah Jazz. In his first season, Bell would average 11 points to the surprise of many. He would spend one more successful year with the Jazz before heading off for the Phoenix Suns.

    Raja would play over three years with a Suns team that was in a championship contender. Bell found himself in a starting lineup that included the likes of Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. With Phoenix, Bell would have his best shooting years, which includes averaging 2.6 three-pointers per game at a 41 percent clip in the 2006-'07 campaign.

    Since being traded from Phoenix in 2009, Bell has jumped from team to team. He found himself on Charlotte and Golden State and is now on the Utah Jazz roster once again.

    Among Bell's career accomplishments are shooting 41 percent from deep for his career, making it on to the All-NBA Defensive First Team and the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.

Darrell Armstrong

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    A 6'0" guard out of Fayettville State University, Darrell Armstrong took a few years before he actually made it onto an NBA roster.

    After going undrafted, Armstrong first found himself playing in the USBL for the Atlanta Eagles from 1991 to 1994. Armstrong then went to play in the CBA for the Capital Region Pontiacs for a short time. The saga continued for Armstrong, as he went to play for the South Georgia Blues in the GBA from 1992 to 1993.

    By that point, Armstrong had enough of the second- and third-tier American leagues and took his talents to Europe. He'd end up playing a year in a league in Cyprus and another year in a Spanish league before the Orlando Magic decided that they just had to have him.

    Armstrong would only play 16 games in his first two years with the Magic, but he'd eventually be given rotation minutes by his fourth year in the league. By his fifth year, Armstrong was averaging 14 points and seven assists per and starting in 15 games. Over the next three seasons, Armstrong would start in at least 75 games.

    In that span, he would average as much as 16.2 points and seven steals per game.

    In the 1998-'99 campaign, Armstrong managed to win both Most Improved Player and the Sixth Man of the Year.

    He'd also receive some MVP votes, finishing 15th in 1999 and 13th in 2000. Armstrong would play 14 years in the NBA until the age of 39.

Avery Johnson

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    Before becoming a championship contending head coach with the Dallas Mavericks, Avery Johnson was a championship chasing player who switched teams 10 different times.

    Johnson's career was so unique that he actually had three different tenures with the San Antonio Spurs. He played with them for part of the 1990-'91 campaign and part of the 1991-'92 season before getting traded to Houston. Johnson then signed back with the Spurs in the following offseason only to go out and sign with the Golden State Warriors the next offseason.

    Wouldn't you know it? The very next offseason, Johnson signs back with the Spurs and spends the next seven seasons there. During that time, Johnson would average a career-high 13.4 points, as well as 9.6 assists. He was also the starting point guard of the 1998-'99 team that defeated the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals.

    Johnson's claim to fame as a player comes from that series, with this shot to close out the series in particular.

    Avery would sign with the Denver Nuggets in the 2001 offseason. He then went on to play for the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors (again) before retiring at the age of 39.

    Before he joined the NBA, however, Johnson was a little-known 5'10" point guard who spent his college years at New Mexico Junior College, Cameron University and Southern University. Johnson led the NCAA in assists in his senior year at Southern after averaging 13.3 per game.

    Johnson would go undrafted and would play with the Palm Beach Stingrays of the USBL before signing with the Seattle SuperSonics in the offseason of 1988.

David Wesley

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    A 6'0" guard who spent time at Temple Junior College and Baylor, David Wesley wasn't expected to be capable of making the jump as a combo-guard, despite averaging 20.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in his final season with the Bears.

    His size played too large a factor. As a result, Wesley was passed on draft day and wouldn't get picked up until the offseason by the New Jersey Nets. He'd play 60 games there over the course of a season before signing with the Boston Celtics. Wesley would prove himself with the Celtics, and would play as much as 40 minutes per game by the time he was done in Boston.

    Wesley would then move on to the Hornets franchise, where he would have the most productive years of his career. He would average as much as 17 points per game and would shoot as well as 42 percent from beyond the arc. Alongside guys like Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn and Jamaal Magloire, Wesley would help lead the Hornets to a number of postseason appearances.

    From 1997 to 2005, Wesley would play with the Hornets. He would then get traded to the Houston Rockets and would spend two seasons there before signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He would play 35 games with Cleveland as a 36-year-old before getting traded back to the Hornets franchise and eventually ending his career.

    For someone who was described as undersized and possibly being unable to make the transition to the NBA, Wesley ended up having quite the career for someone who went undrafted.