Today I’m ranking the top 10 players in the NBA that went undrafted. It’s a very underrated subject in the way that we look at high draft picks and their success and failures. Undrafted players aren’t talked about as much as they should be, so today I’m trying to bring them a fragment of the respect they deserve. We are only looking at players in the the NBA currently, so guys like Ben Wallace and John Starks aren’t on the list. I should also note that there is an honorable mention, who is mentioned because he was in the league in 2019, but not 2020. All I ask is that you read the reasoning for each player before making a comment. With that, let’s get into it, starting with:
Honorable mention: Jeremy Lin
We’re including Jeremy Lin only as an honorable mention because he currently plays in China, but last year was on the championship Toronto Raptors. Technically, he isn’t in the NBA today, but he was very recently and was a good player during his “Linsanity” era, so he still counts, but only as an honorable mention.
#10: Aron Baynes
Aron Baynes is an Australian big man who got passed on by all 30 teams in the 2013 draft. But, he was signed to the San Antonio Spurs, and won a championship ring his rookie year, alongside Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard. He was incredibly talented, but only a back-up role player. He then moved on to Detroit, and from there, Boston, where he made some deep playoff runs with Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum. He now plays for the Phoenix Suns, backing up Deandre Ayton and turning a bottom-of-the-western conference team into a mediocre team that has a chance at the 8th seed.
#9: Derrick Jones Jr.
Most known for his 2020 Slam Dunk Contest win (which Aaron Gordon should have won, but there’s a conspiracy on that in another blog coming soon), Derrick Jones Jr. has always been a high flyer, with his 40+ inch vertical. He won multiple dunk contests in high school, and his game basically just consisted of dunks. So it wasn’t to much of a surprise when Derrick Jones Jr. went undrafted in 2016, but joined the Sacramento Kings summer league team. Due to a groin injury, he was unfortunately unable to play for them. In the 2016-2017 season, he was a member of the Phoenix Suns, and participated in the Dunk Contest but did not win. On December 21st, 2017, the Miami Heat signed him to a two-way contract, and while flirting with the G-League team as well, he played for the Heat and has had multiple incredible dunks, including an incredible spike against the Atlanta Hawks, and posterizing Jonas Valanciunas. He also, as I said, won the 2020 dunk contest, in a rob for Aaron Gordon.
#8: Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews is the definition of an NBA veteran. He has been in the NBA for 10 seasons, and is now averaging 8 points per game for a Bucks team that is attempting to make a Finals run. He played college basketball at Marquette for four years, and his dad was briefly a member of the Showtime Lakers. After Wesley Matthews went undrafted in 2009, he played in the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. At the start of the regular season, he signed a one-year deal with the Jazz, and was the starting shooting guard after Ronnie Brewer was traded. He then was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, and played there for 5 years. After that, he moved to the Mavericks, and then the Knicks, and then the Pacers, and now is on the Milwaukee Bucks. He may not be the best or second or even fourth best guy on the Bucks, but he provides veteran leadership and experience.
#7: Joe Ingles
Joe Ingles is an Australian sharp-shooter, who had a very impressive pro career before playing in the NBA. He was a Euro-League champion, NBL (Australia’s league) Rookie of the Year, an Israeli League and Spanish League champion. After playing multiple years overseas, he decided to move from his home of Australia to the NBA, where he declared for the draft and went undrafted in 2014. He spent the preseason of the 2014-2015 season with the Los Angeles Clippers, but was then sent to the Utah Jazz, and has played there ever since. He had a slow start, but now he’s a reliable sharp shooter with veteran experience, especially if you include his European days.
#6: Alex Caruso
For Alex, it all started when Rajan Rondo missed a very long three as the shot clock was winding down. A 26 year old with a bald spot in the back of his head jumped up, grabbed the ball, and viciously pounded it in, posterizing his own teammate Javale McGee, and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. (you also have to wonder if McGee thought he was on the Warriors for a second; he was the year before) This play exploded Alex Caruso onto the national scene, and made him a fan favorite among the Lakers. Alex Caruso played college ball for Texas A&M, and went undrafted in 2016. He then was acquired by the 76ers for the summer league, and then played for Oklahoma City’s G-League team. He then played for the Lakers from 2017-2019, but only really exploded onto the spotlight after that dunk. He’s been on a hot streak since, with more posterizes and gaining lots of fans. So I can’t put him in good conscience in the top 5, and he probably should be ranked lower, but I must be spared from the wrath of Alex Caruso fans! Also, he was in the top 10 in all-star votes for the 2020 All Star Game! Hard to believe right?
#5: Duncan Robinson
This rookie has been nothing short of sensational. He’s an up-and-coming Klay Thompson, and coaches have drilled into his brain that he can’t shoot enough, and he must shoot more. In fact, he is so good at shooting that Miami Heat coach Erik Spolestra makes him watch film of how when he doesn’t shoot, it hurts the team. He makes him do wind-sprints when he doesn’t shoot enough. He had quite a phenomenal story, from barely making it onto a D3 roster, to working up to the D1 program of Michigan, to an undrafted player in 2019. From there, he played on the Miami Heat summer league team, and then spent some time in the D-League. He then was called up to the Heat, and now serves as their starting small forward on occasion. Mark my words, he and Tyler Herro will be “the next splash-brothers,” once Curry and Klay retire. He participated in the three point contest and made it far in, but did not win. Wall Street has dubbed him as “The Most Improbable Player in the NBA today.” He’s not higher because he’s a rookie, but he’s not lower because of how incredible he’s been so far, especially with all the low expectations that he surpassed.
#4: Quinn Cook
Quinn Cook is this high on the list because he is one of two players to win a championship. The other, we’ll get into later. Quinn Cook played at Duke and was a part of the 2015 NCAA championship. He went undrafted in 2015, but played in the summer league for the Cavaliers and Thunder in the 2015 summer league. He then played in the D-League for a couple of years, bouncing around teams and becoming a 2-time G League All-Star, a 1-time All Star Game MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a 2-time member of the First Team all D-League. For the record, the G and the D League are the same, just that it’s now called the G-League because of a sponsorship with gatorade. Back to Quinn Cook, he was called up to the Warriors and played there from 2017-2019, winning an NBA championship in 2018. From there, he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, and was playing there before the season postponed. He won a championship in college and the NBA, and is a decent role player in the league.
#3: Robert Covington
Robert Covington was not super well recruited coming out of high school. He was really known for his defense, only averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds; AS WELL AS 7 BLOCKS! He played at Tennessee State for 4 years, and went undrafted in 2013. He then signed with the Houston Rockets, but only played 7 games for them while spending the rest of the season in the D-League. He was an all-star and rookie of the year. The following year, Robert Covington signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. He played there for four years, earning an All-Defensive First Team Spot in 2018. He is the only player on this list to accomplish that feat, and his defensive presence is the reason he ranks this high. After being traded to Minnesota, he averaged nearly 15 points per game for a season before being traded to the Rockets, where he started his career. He’s averaged 12.8 points for his career and is a defensive beast.
#2: Kendrick Nunn
Kendrick Nunn is a rookie, and yes, I know he’s a little high on the list. But before Zion came out and averaged 20+ points per game after injury, Kendrick Nunn was a rookie of the year candidate, and still is even though Zion and Ja are on another level. He was undrafted, as everyone on this list is, and played college basketball at the University of Illinois. He was picked up by the Santa Cruz Warriors after the draft, and then went to Miami during the preseason. During that preseason finale for the Heat, Kendrick Nunn dropped 40 POINTS, the most ever by a rookie in a preseason game. He won Player of the Week as a rookie after the 1st week of the NBA was over, with an average of 22.3 points per game for the week! He reached 500 career points in 31 games, the fastest by any rookie in Miami Heat franchise history! He won multiple rookie of the month awards, and participated in the rising stars game in 2020 for Team USA, scoring 16 points during the event. As you can see, he is acquiring many accolades and with a young core in Miami, the sky is the limit for him. If Ja and Zion hadn’t played so strong, he could have been the first rookie of the year that was undrafted; ever.
#1: Fred VanVleet
The reason Fred VanVleet ranks this high is that he just helped the Toronto Raptors win a championship, and received a vote to win Finals MVP! Finals MVP is decided by 11 members of the media, and Kawhi Leonard gathered up 10 votes. Fred VanVleet stopped it from being an unanimous decision. He played college basketball for Wichita State for four years, and then declared for the 2016 NBA draft. He went undrafted, but eventually signed with the Raptors D-League team, Raptors 905. He was there for one season, and won a D-League championship with Pascal Siakam. He was then promoted to the Toronto Raptors, where in 2019 he averaged 12 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds, an incredible stat-line for a player who was only in the league for 2 seasons, and was undrafted. He’s a quick 6’1″ point guard who will one day be an all-star. Don’t let his stature fool you, he’s got a great basketball IQ, shoots 84% from the free-throw line, 41% from the field, and 38% from three. No other undrafted player averaged those numbers in their second or third year (not counting the rookies since they’re in their first year), and that along with the championship is why he is #1.
Thank you all for reading, let me know if you think I left someone out or ranked anyone too high or low in the comments below. And as always, have an awesome day!