The National Basketball Association (NBA) holds an annual draft where teams select eligible players to join the league. While most NBA players are drafted, undrafted players occasionally earn roster spots as well. Sometimes, they even outperform more celebrated draft picks. The number of rounds in the draft has evolved since the first one in 1947. The 1960 and 1968 drafts were 21 rounds, before settling at 10 rounds by 1974 (in 1977, however, the draft was held in eight); it was reduced to seven rounds in 1985. After negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association, the draft has been two rounds since 1989, leaving undrafted players free to negotiate with any team.
Unlike with American football in the National Football League (NFL), undrafted players are less likely to become recognizable stars in the NBA. Only one modern-day undrafted player has been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 2021 inductee Ben Wallace.[a] The first undrafted player to be voted an All-Star starter in 2003, Wallace played the most career games of any undrafted player with 1,088 games played in 15 seasons, won an NBA championship, was a four-time All-Star, and was a four-time winner of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Other undrafted players have made significant contributions; John Starks was the first undrafted player in the modern era to become an NBA All-Star in 1994, Udonis Haslem became the first undrafted player to lead a franchise (Miami) in career rebounds in 2012, and was a member of each of the Heat's three championship teams. Mike James from the 1998 draft was the first undrafted player to average 20 points in a season (20.3) in 2006. Jorge Garbajosa was the first to be named All-Rookie First Team in 2007. Troy Hudson, who enjoyed an 11-year NBA career after being passed over in the 1997 draft, alluded to his rise in his 2007 album Undrafted. D.J. Mbenga was able to win two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Undrafted in the 2016 draft, the Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet scored the most points ever in a game for an undrafted player, scoring 54 points on February 2, 2021.
List of undrafted players
The following players were undrafted in the specified year, but later played in at least one official regular season or playoff game in their career.
Professional players before/around the BAA's debut
The following players had previously played professional basketball before or around the inception of the Basketball Association of America (now NBA) but had played for the BAA/NBA at least once afterward.
- Generally not included are:
- Inducted players whose careers began in the 1950s or earlier, e.g. George Mikan played with the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League in 1946 (before the NBA draft existed) before being assigned to the Minneapolis Lakers in 1947 due to the Chicago team folding from that league.
- Connie Hawkins, who was assigned to the Phoenix Suns in 1969 due to winning a coin flip over the Seattle SuperSonics after he was not allowed to enter the league due to alleged college rule violations
- Don Barksdale, who entered more as a contributor to the sport and league by breaking through racial barriers, which included being an NBA All-Star
- Moses Malone, who began in the American Basketball Association (ABA) after being selected in the 1974 ABA draft before entering the NBA through the ABA dispersal draft in 1976
- Hudson, David L. (2005). Basketball's Most WantedTM II: The Top 10 Book of More Hotshot Hoopsters, Double Dribbles, and Roundball Oddities. Potomac Books. ISBN 9781612340401. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
Most players enter the NBA via the draft held each June.
- "Undrafted players can make an NBA roster". Post-Bulletin. July 6, 2007. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Jacobs, Joe (June 25, 2015). "Overlooked On Draft Night, But Making It In The NBA". WBUR.org. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Sund, Rick (2012). "Top 10 Undreafted Players of All Time". In Williams, Pat; Connelly, Michael (eds.). NBA List Jam!: The Most Authoritative and Opinionated Rankings from Doug Collins, Bob Ryan, Peter Vecsey, Jeanie Buss & Many Others. Hachette UK. ISBN 9780762446865. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
In his words: 'The NBA Draft has evolved dramatically since it began in 1947 ...'
- Hyde, Anthony (May 20, 2008). "NBA Draft Lottery: Back in the Day". NBA.com. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Bonnett, Bobby (March 1, 2012). "The 20 greatest undrafted NBA players". Newsday. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Sankofa, Omari II (May 15, 2021). "Detroit Pistons' Ben Wallace to be first undrafted player inducted into Hall of Fame". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved May 17, 2021.
- Kram, Zach (November 16, 2020). "There's Never Been a Better Time to Go Undrafted". The Ringer. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
- Kelly, Ross (June 26, 2015). "Top Undrafted Players In NBA History". CBS New York. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- "Detroit Pistons Legend Ben Wallace Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame". NBA.com. May 16, 2021. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
- "Wallace repeats as NBA's top defender". CBC.ca. August 23, 2003. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Gerstner, Joanne C. (February 15, 2012). "Wallace, Yesteryear's Lin, Sets Mark for Undrafted Players". New York Times. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- Starks, John; Markowitz, Dan (2004). My Life. Sports Publishing. p. 149. ISBN 9781582618029. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Zillgitt, Jeff (November 25, 2012). "Haslem goes from undrafted to Heat's leading rebounder". USA Today. Archived from the original on September 10, 2017.
- Chiang, Anthony (June 23, 2016). "Top 5 undrafted free agents in Miami Heat history". Palm Beach Post. Archived from the original on September 10, 2017.
- DiPaola, Jerry (February 22, 2017). "Duquesne retires James' No. 13 jersey". Tribune-Review. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- "Spurs' Neal 2nd undrafted player in NBA history to make All-Rookie 1st team". The Baltimore Sun. May 11, 2011. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- "NBA's Best Undrafted Players". SI.com. June 21, 2012. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.
- "'T-Hud' feeling tuned in". Pioneer Press. Associated Press. December 19, 2006. Archived from the original on September 10, 2017.
- "VanVleet sets Raptors mark with 54 in 123-108 win at Orlando". ESPN.com. Associated Press. February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 3, 2021.