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What happens to undrafted players in the NBA?

If a player has gone undrafted, they have several avenues that they can pursue. They automatically become unrestricted free agents, and are free to sign with any team. Undrafted players who are still well-regarded may receive contracts, most commonly two-way contracts, Summer League deals, or Exhibit 10 contracts, from NBA teams. They can also return to college, provided they have fulfilled the eligibility requirements necessary for their return, and declare for the next draft if they choose. Undrafted players can also pursue professional basketball in other leagues, usually overseas.

Fred Van Vleet, Alex Caruso, Duncan Robinson, TJ Mcconell, Joe Ingles, Ish Smith, Kent Bazemore, Wes Matthews, Gary Payton II – all went undrafted and are currently making an impact for NBA teams.

How can college players prepare themselves against the risk of going undrafted?

Preparation and analysis around the NBA Draft is a very complex and in-depth process. There is a general understanding of which players are highly likely to get drafted, at which stage of the draft, what team needs are, etc. This information is publicly available, including to hopeful players who want to see if they can get drafted and what it would mean for their college eligibility.

Previously, should a player declare for the NBA Draft, they were no longer eligible to play in the NCAA. For undrafted players, this meant being stuck potentially without a guaranteed NBA career and/or a college degree. The NCAA lightened up on the rules starting with the 2019 NBA Draft, that allowed players to opt out of the draft and/or retain their college eligibility after going undrafted. However, there are a few steps they need to follow.

Firstly, players need to schedule an appointment with the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee at sometime between the end of the collegiate basketball season and before a date in mid-April. The UAC is composed of NBA team executives who provide an assessment of a player’s draft prospects. The UAC is meant to give neutral feedback to players, who may then choose to forego their eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft. The UAC is usually quite accurate in their assessment: 91% of players assessed by the UAC to be drafted in the first round were drafted as predicted. All applicants who were assessed to go undrafted did in fact go undrafted.

Once a player has received feedback from the UAC, they must participate in the NBA Combine, which happens in late May. The Combine is an invite-only event, and usually only 100 players or less get invited. Players can get into the Combine by playing at the NBA G League Elite Camp, consisting of 40 draft hopefuls who didn’t get an invite to the Combine alongside promising G League players. A number of the best performers in the G League Elite Camp then get to go to the NBA Combine.

Once the Combine has finished, and players did not decide to withdraw from the NBA Draft, they can still go back to college in the case they go undrafted. Players must inform their college athletic director no later than 5 PM on the Monday following the draft, which may only be a handful of days. Undrafted players may receive contracts from NBA teams immediately following the draft, so players need to make a decision before the deadline depending on their prospects.

If an undrafted player returns to college, they may no longer join an NBA team until after the end of the collegiate season. The NBA only allows players to declare for the draft twice, which means players need to be sure about their decisions. If an undecided player decides not to return to college, they may choose to sign a contract with an NBA team or some other professional team, or pursue some other interests.

What type of contracts do undrafted NBA players usually get?

There are 3 types of contract that undrafted players usually sign. These contracts give a chance to secure a roster spot on a team, while also allowing teams to develop and retain talent that they can use, at minimal cost:

  1. Summer League deal: signing a contract to play with an NBA team’s Summer League roster
  2. Two-way contract: signing a contract to play with an NBA team and/or its G League affiliate when needed. The contract is guaranteed at 50% of the rookie minimum salary, and players can play a maximum of 50 regular-season NBA games (no playoff games).
  3. Exhibit 10 deal: signing with an NBA team’s G League affiliate, with a potential $50K bonus for players should they sign a two-way contract or staying with their G League team for more than 60 days

Who are some notable undrafted NBA players?

Undrafted players do not usually find profound success in the NBA, although there have been a few great undrafted players. Perhaps the most notable undrafted NBA player is Ben Wallace. Wallace was a center who most notably played for the Detroit Pistons, among other teams in his 15-year career. His collegiate career consisted of two years of playing basketball for a community college, then 2 more years with a Division II school. While highly heralded as a defensive star, he went undrafted.

Wallace won an astounding 4 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 5 years. He was integral in helping the Pistons win an NBA Championship in 2003 over the Los Angeles Lakers. His 4 All-Star Game appearances, 5 All-Defensive NBA First Teams, 2 rebounding titles, and 1 blocks title led him to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. As of now, Ben Wallace is the only undrafted player to ever be inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame.

Alongside Wallace, only 4 other undrafted players have ever become NBA All-Stars. The list includes Connie Hawkins (5x All-Star), John Starks (1x All-Star), Brad Miller (2x All-Star) and Fred VanVleet (1x All-Star). VanVleet, star point guard of the Toronto Raptors, is one of the more notable active players who went undrafted: others include Christian Wood, Alex Caruso, Dorian Finney-Smith, Gary Payton II, Jose Alvarado, and more.

Going undrafted in the NBA is not an end to one’s chances of playing professional basketball; in fact, it’s not even the end of a potential career in the NBA. Through the Summer League and the G-League, players who work hard and show their skills can often earn themselves a roster spot. While undrafted players who have managed to secure themselves on a roster aren’t usually stars, they are often incredibly important role players. To go undrafted and find a permanent place in the NBA when the odds are stacked against them is a testament to the will and skill of these high-level athletes.