Ranking The Top 10 Undrafted Free Agents of the Last Decade
|Michael Tozer||Nov 22, 2013|
There can be many reasons as to why a player ends up undrafted. There could be concerns about a player's attitude, their lack of size, or if they just aren't seen as good enough to be worthy being selected into the top 60 players of that year.
This article is dedicated to the individuals who found themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum. These are the players that somehow slipped past the 60th pick of their draft year and into a pool of players ready for any team to take a flier on them. These individuals proved that they have the work ethic and talent to succeed in the most talented league in the world.
Once seen as players that won't go anywhere, these guys are slowly making a name for themselves as talented players in the NBA. The following 10 players aren't all-stars, or players you'll specifically watch on League Pass for, but they are guys who make a regular and important impact on their respective squads.
10. Greg Stiemsma - New Orleans Pelicans - 4 pts, 2.6 reb, 1.2 blk
A talented shot blocker and defender, Stiemsma elected for the 2008 NBA draft after staying with Wisconsin for four years. Left undrafted, Greg chose to play in South Korea and was taken with the 2nd pick in the South Korean Basketball International player draft. Averaging 14.3 points and 9.1 rebounds in Korea, Stiemsma elected to return to America to play in the D-League. A successful stint with Sioux Falls attracted the Minnesota Timberwolves to sign the big man, but Stiemsma did not appear in a game while with the Timberwolves. Cleveland signed him 2 weeks after being released by Minnesota, but was waived 10 days after signing his first 10-day contract. Successful stints in Turkey and back in Sioux Falls found the attention of the Boston Celtics, where he finally found a home. Stiemsma has worked his way to Minnesota for a second stint, now finding himself in New Orleans. To call Greg a journeyman is somewhat a loose term to describe someone with such a multicultural experience as his.
Stiemsma is a severely underrated player. His stats simply don't justify the presence he brings to whichever team he ends up playing for. Greg's biggest asset to the New Orleans Pelicans is his ability to deflect opponents' shots. Greg's first game with Boston saw him reject 6 shots. Sgnalling his impact as a high-octane shot blocker. Stiemsma ranked 6th in blocked shot per 48 minutes last season, with 3.57 blocked shots in that time span.
Defense has been my go-to, my foundation...When you get a coach who appreciates guys who play defense and preaches that from Day 1, that’s a team I want to be part of. First and foremost, I’m a rim protector. I block shots and defend the paint. I have a defensive presence and mind-set, and try to make sure nothing comes easy" - Greg Stiemsma, Stiemsma brings defensive pressure to Pelicans
Greg has been highly courted by coach Monty Williams who tried to recruit Stiemsma the season before. The reason why Monty was so set on acquiring Greg was because of his defensive presence. Not highly talked about, Greg alters shots and forces opponents to move out of the key with a strong defensive presence.
You'll more likely be shocked watching how good Stiemsma is on defense than finding somebody to actually spell his last name correctly. Greg continues to fly under the radar of opposing teams and fans, but I'm sure he likes it that way.
9. Alexey Shved - Minnesota Timberwolves - 8.6 pts, 3.7 ast, 37.2% FG
Slim, as his teammates like to call him, finally made his NBA debut for the Minnesota Timberwolves after 6 long, gruelling seasons in Russia playing for CSKA Moscow. Signed by the Timberwolves on a 3-year, $10 million contract, the oversized (6'6) Russian point guard joined his European comrade Ricky Rubio in the Gopher State.
Shved's first season in Minny wasn't as good as he would have planned. He was a terrible shooter of the ball, he was out-muscled easily by bigger opponents, and his defense wasn't the best at times either. However, there were moments when Shved's court vision and passing ability were second-to-none, showing the abilities that Minnesota had brought him over from Russia for.
I make muscles" - Alexey Shved, Wolves Guard Alexey Shved off-season
Alexey is looking to get better in any way possible. He has a great work ethic and used this off-season to focus on the deficiencies previously mentioned. If he learns to smile more, his teammates say he'll be a better player. It might take more than a simple smile to push Alexey up this list, but he has a lot of positives to build on for his second NBA season.
8. Gary Neal - Milwaukee Bucks - 9.5 pts, 1.9 ast, 2.1 reb, 41.2% FG
Gary Neal was left undrafted in 2007 because of a rape allegation 3 years prior. Even with scoring averages of 25.3 and 25.6 points per game in his final two seasons with Towson, no team decided to take a chance on Gary. Neal had stints in Turkey, Spain (twice) and Italy, before finally gaining a spot in Gregg Popovich's rotation.
Neal has made a living by being a lights-out three point shooter. Averaging 41.9% from deep in his first two seasons, Neal had a disappointing drop from beyond the arc last season mainly due to his plantar fasciitis, only hitting 35.5% from downtown. Neal can come up big in pressure situations, as seen in the recent Finals. His biggest performance in a Finals' series was Game 3 against Miami in 2013. Joining Danny Green who hit 7-9 from beyond the arc in the 3-point onslaught of Miami in the 2013 Finals, Neal hit 6 out of 10 from deep scoring 24 points in 25 minutes.
However, Gary struggles to take the ball into the paint and is fairly one-dimensional on offense, with a mid-range or 3-point jumper always being his first option. 432 of Neal's 597 field goal attempts came from mid-range or beyond, with less than 19% coming in the paint. Neal also struggles on defense - struggling in man to man situations, lacking the IQ high enough to predict what his man may do next.
Simply put it, he's too much of a one-trick pony to be further up on this list.
7. Will Bynum - Detroit Pistons - 9.8 pts, 3.6 ast, 46.9% FG
Will Bynum, the undrafted point guard out of Georgia Tech, has been a member of the Detroit Pistons for the past 6 seasons. Bynum was a member of the Boston Celtics Summer League team in 2005 - his draft year, but was left unsigned. He made 15 appearances that season for the Golden State Warriors in the 05-06 season. Stints in the D-League with Roanoake and in Israel with powerhouse squad Maccabi Tel Aviv attracted the Detroit Pistons to sign him. Ever since then, he has been an Auburn Hill's loyal.
Bynum's biggest strengths are his ability to create shots for himself off the dribble and he's a quick ball-handler with a good knack of finding cutting big men. Bynum sees shooting as his first option every time which has led to him being noted as a dynamic scorer off the bench. Sporting a fantastic field goal percentage (46.9 last season) Bynum uses his quickness to burn defenders off the dribble, giving himself an open shot once he beats his defenders.
The biggest weakness apparent to Bynum-ite is that he doesn't show the tenacity he demonstrates on the offensive end of the floor when performing his defensive duties. More often than not, Piston fans witness Bynum's lack of interest to fight through screens, or close out on defenders. Injuries have also plagued Bynum; he has yet to play over 65 games in any of his 6 seasons in the NBA.
6. CJ Watson - Indiana Pacers - 6.8 pts, 2.0 ast, 41.8% FG
Without a team picking him in the 2006 NBA Draft, Watson had stints playing in Italy and Greece, as well as back home for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League. In 2008, Watson attracted the attention of legendary Warriors coach Don Nelson. Playing off the back of two 10-day contracts, Watson did enough to impress the coach, as has since cemented his spot as a quality point guard in the league. After playing well in Chicago and then seeing his stock drop in Brooklyn, CJ will look to bring back the ability which we saw in his Chicago days.
Watson has terrific handles and is a lights-out three-point shooter, while being an adequate defender. CJ shot at a clip of 41.1% from downtown for the Nets last season and is a career 38.2% shooter from beyond the arc, with 64% of his shot attempts from deep coming on spot-up attempts, signalling CJ's intention to work off his defender for open shot attempts. CJ's ball handling ability is sorely needed by the Indiana Pacers, last year's back-up DJ Augustin struggled to keep a hold of the ball. CJ is a strong dribbler of the basketball who doesn't panic against a strong defense or in pressure situations.
Watson's weakest aspect in his game is that his inability to make plays, let alone great ones. He lacks the vision and ability to penetrate that A-list point guards need to succeed, but still manages to keep his head above water when inserted as the team's primary ball-handler. CJ also tends to take more shots than he needs to while on the court. A volume shooter, as previously mentioned, Watson lacks the vision to picture out open teammates while the ball is in his hands, instead attempting to create a shot for himself.
5. Juan Jose Barea - Minnesota Timberwolves - 11.3 pts, 4 ast, 41.7%FG
Like everyone else on this list, JJ Barea was left untouched in his respective draft. Off the back of strong Summer League play in 2006 for the Dallas Mavericks, he snuck his way into a final roster spot. A spark plug off the bench, Barea made a name for himself by being an aggressive and intense scorer off the bench while being competent on both ends of the floor.
Even with his short stature, Barea excels at getting to the rim as well as running a pick and roll. Barea converts at 57% at the rim, an outstanding rate for someone of his size. The extreme quickness of JJ allows him to push past slower opponents. He also uses his body effectively and finds gaps in the defense well.
JJ Barea is one of the best pick and roll players in the NBA. He uses this simple, yet effective play to catch a defense napping. Barea has the ability to pass the ball or shoot in each situation following the pick, leading to lapses on defense due to his unpredictability. He understands the play and knows when his teammate wants the ball in his hands. The pick and roll Barea ran with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas was a sight to behold.
On defense, JJ Barea is as annoying as a fly that just doesn't want to go away. Barea never lets his man have an inch of space, staying in front of his opponents with hands spread wide across opponents' passing lanes, always anticipating an interception. He regularly frustrates opponents, just ask Andrew Bynum. JJ effectively takes his opposition off their game, leading to lapses on their end of the ball with JJ ready to take full advantage of mistakes made.
4. Chris Copeland - Indiana Pacers - 8.7 pts, 2.1 reb, 42.1% 3PT
Chris Copeland, the 6'8 combo forward out of Colorado, had a difficult time trying to get an NBA team to finally give him a shot. Chris has experienced life in five different countries, playing basketball in the D-League, Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. After averaging 21.8 points and 5.5 rebounds for Okapi Aalstar (his team in Belguim), the New York Knicks finally gathered enough interest to sign the talented shooter. His rookie season in New York was seen as a revelation, winning the April Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month scoring a season high 33 points in a game against Atlanta Hawks.
Undeniably, Chris's biggest asset to his game is his ability to shoot and shoot at high percentages. Copeland, a 47.9% Field Goal and 42.1% 3-point shooter, is a match-up nightmare for opposing players at the 4. Copeland spreads the floor well and forces slower opponents at the position to come out and defend because if they don't, he'll put points up in a hurry. Copeland excels in almost all offensive situations. He is productive in pick and roll situations, finds easy buckets on the way to the rim, and is deadly on isolation plays when he uses shot fakes to help him make easy shots.
The are two sides to basketball: offense and defense. While Copeland is the messiah on offense, his defense lands him in a starting spot on a hypothetical All-No Defense team. Copeland struggles to fight through screens, has difficulty sticking with his man while playing one-on-one defense, unable to defend the pick and roll, gets lost while tracking his man across the floor, and struggles to pull in rebounds. Lucky for him, he knows of such weaknesses in his game.
One-on-one, I'm pretty solid I think. But rotations, I was really bad. I didn't know where to be in certain situations, and when to go or when not to go. I struggled in doing that. But I learned a lot from Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Rasheed Wallace. Those guys took me under their wing and taught me so much. I still have a lot to learn." - Chris Copeland, Copeland very likely to be in New York
"I'll be working out of Richmond, Virginia, mostly. I went to high school out there and I have some trainers there. Also, some NBA guys like Ben Wallace and Ed Davis. I'll be a much better player next year; that's my goal. My focus is defense, absolutely." - Chris Copeland, Copeland very possible to be in New York
3. Alonzo Gee - Cleveland Cavaliers - 10.3 pts, 3.9 reb, 41.0% FG
Consistently on the court for the Cavaliers and a key cog to their playoff push this season, it's hard to believe Alonzo Gee was left undrafted in 2009. After a D-League opportunity with the Austin Toros, Gee has played for the Washington Wizards (twice) and the San Antonio Spurs, before finding a home in Cleveland where he's been for a more extended period of time then the other two locations.
As described by former coach Byron Scott, Gee is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Forced to guard multiple positions, Gee stops the opposition's best player with absolute glee. Gee's stellar defense stems from hours of film study. Before he plays on the court, he already knows what his assignment is going to do.
Yeah. It keeps me on the floor." - Alonzo Gee on why he likes to take the opposition's best defender, The art of guarding
"Bigger guys, I try to pressure up on them too. Bigger guys can’t dribble as good." - Alonzo Gee and why he likes guarding bigger guys, The art of guarding
His highlight dunks, his ever improving offensive game and ability to stay out on the floor (played all 82 games last season) has aided Cleveland greatly since their acquisition of the Small Forward who was relatively unknown at the time. Other than the dunks, nothing is too dazzling about the way he plays, but he is consistent. The Cavs know he'll be out on the floor, night in, night out, doing what he does best. Giving his best efforts on both sides of the floor.
2. Jeremy Lin - Houston Rockets - 13.4 pts, 6.1 ast, 44.1% FG
Who could have predicted the events that occurred only just 1 and a half years ago? Not even Jeremy could. Linsanity took the world by storm by bringing his team that was 8-15 - before he started to get decent playing time - back to 15-15. The Knicks went 9-3 with Jeremy as the starting guard. His rise to super-stardom was not predicted by anybody and the Knicks had planned to cut Jeremy before his string of break out performances. On February 10, 2012, Jeremy led his Knicks to a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. This game brought Lin onto the international scene, with his scoring battle against Kobe drawing worldwide praise. Lin finished the game with 38 points, while Kobe finished with 34. He was deservedly awarded Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The undrafted point guard out of Harvard had since made himself a worldwide name, all in the span of a week.
Lin's success in New York is greatly attributed to Mike D'Antoni's frequency to run pick and roll plays, a play that Lin excels running. Last season while playing for the Rockets, Jeremy Lin ranked 5th in points created through pick and roll opportunities. Even with the somewhat offensively-challenged Omer Asik as Lin's primary receiver of the ball, Jeremy still used his exquisite vision to set-up easy buckets for the defensive-minded big man. While Jeremy isn't a top defensive player, there are specific things he does well on that end of the floor. Lin ranked 11th in steals per game (1.6 per game), 11th in blocked shots (0.35 per game) and drew a charge 0.27 times per game, good for 12th amongst point guards.
Lin's biggest struggle is his inability at times to keep hold of the basketball. Jeremy had a 2.11 assist to turnover ratio last season, leaving him outside the top-35 for point guards, a number that simply isn't sustainable if Jeremy wants to push himself to an elite level. 13.3% of Lin's possessions last season ended up in opposing hands. This season for Houston, with Dwight Howard now in the fold, the three-point shot is a near necessity for the Rockets guards, due to the high probability of a Dwight double-team. Unfortunately, Jeremy struggled with that shot last season, only hitting 33.9% from range, leaving him outside the top 90 NBA shooters, a number that will be needed to be improved for Houston's success.
1. Wesley Matthews - Portland Trail Blazers - 14.8 pts, 2.8 reb, 2.5 ast, 43.6% FG
As a Blazers' fan, there could be some sort of bias here, but in my opinion, no other player has made as big of an impact throughout their time in the league as Wesley Matthews did. Somehow left untouched in 2009's NBA Draft, Matthews impressed Utah and head coach Jerry Sloan with strong Summer League play which lead to a one-year contract being offered his way. Matthews became the starting Shooting Guard for the Jazz after the 2010 trade deadline. Left a restricted free-agent, Portland managed to sign him to a 5-year, $34 million contract off the back of one season after being unmatched by Utah.
Scoring has been and always will be Matthew's biggest asset. A terrific spot-up, perimeter shooter and a player with a killer catch and shoot instinct, Matthews also spaces the floor well by moving to open spots for his teammates to find him.
My mom said the best way to get seen is to guard the other team’s best player, because all the college coaches are watching him...They had to see, ‘Dang, so-and-so had only five points. Who’s guarding him?' - Wesley Matthews, Matthews defense gets him noticed
Wes possesses a killer instinct on defense. "Tough", "Scrapper", "Hard-nosed" - all words used to describe how Wes goes about defense. The anchor of the Portland defense and the heart of the team, no-one pushes teammates harder than him. Taking the opposition's best player and being able to guard the 2 or 3 position comes naturally to Wes who plays stout, straight up defense.
Handling the ball isn't a strong point for him. Because of Lillard and Aldridge being ball-dominant players and Wes feeding off them, he isn't required to handle the ball much. Once again, Wes other weakness is well-hidden in Portland's system. He often has difficulty penetrating the defense. Wes doesn't struggle finishing, it's just a matter of making it there for him. Wes took 52% of his shots last season from the perimeter last season.
These players all fought through the adversity of being left undrafted to make their way onto an NBA roster. Proving the doubters wrong, these guys have ended up in better situations than many first-round picks, which proves scouting isn't always the most effective means of finding players. These guys are here to stay and will continue to make an impact towards the NBA.
What do you think of the players on this list? Any bad choices? Should anyone be higher up or lower in the rankings? Let me know with a comment down below.