The NBA Draft is a time where dreams come true. Young basketball players everywhere have always fantasized over having their name called at the podium as their journey to the NBA begins.
But for the 60 players whose names get called at the draft, there are plenty of guys out there who wait all night who never get the honor. As heartbreaking as that can be, that does not mean their NBA dream is dead. It only means they’ve got some work to do.
Now we enter the field of undrafted free agents. With the latest provisions made with the CBA, teams are taking full advantage of rookies who are on the open market. Some have been signed to two-way contracts while others have been signed to deals that last up to four years. Teams pounce for opportunities like these because history has demonstrated that some undrafted free agents are diamonds in the rough.
The term “diamond in the rough” needs to be defined because some may confuse that with the notion that you can find a star in an undrafted free agent. Technically teams have. Ben Wallace, one of the best rim protectors of his generation, came into the league undrafted. He collected so many accolades in his career, but he is the best-case scenario and nobody of this particular breed has come close to what he’s achieved.
But you can find valuable rotation players, which is impressive on its own. After coming into the league undrafted, several players found their own ways to glory.
-Wes Matthews worked his way up to a near-max contract
-Bruce Bowen was one of the pioneers of the 3&D wing prototype
-Udonis Haslem was a pillar of loyalty in Miami in a league
-Jeremy Lin gave us “Linsanity”
And that’s just to name a few examples. This season alone, some undrafted free agents got some shine. Allonzo Trier got some love for the All-Rookie voting, and Fred VanVleet played a defined role in the Toronto Raptors winning their first championship. Their success individually shows teams that even if the success rate isn’t exactly high, it’s still worth giving it a shot.
So who among the undrafted rookies could be the next diamond in the rough?
Luguentz Dort – Guard – Arizona State
Dort was projected to go as high as the late first round. Seeing him go unselected was one of the draft’s biggest shockers. Dort definitely has his warts – he’s not the best decision-maker and is not an efficient shooter – but the intangibles he brings should have made him appealing as a prospect.
Everything about Dort spells aggression. He attacks the rim. He will run the fast break. He will go up for a rebound. He will always hustle. Basically, he’ll run through a brick wall if it can help his team win.
At the very least, teams will probably bring him in to challenge those who are on the roster bubble. Even if he winds up not making it into the league, teams will love that he truly gives it all when he steps onto the court.
Jontay Porter – Center – Missouri
Porter going undrafted isn’t really as surprising as Dort. Any prospect who tears his ACL is usually bound to see his stock drop. In Porter’s case though, after going against doctor’s orders, he re-tore it again. Teams were probably turned off both by his injury history and his negligence.
But you can’t deny the talent he has nor how he would it in the NBA like a glove. Porter demonstrated his freshman year his skills both as a passer and a shooter. As Nikola Jokic, Al Horford and Marc Gasol have demonstrated, having bigs who can do that can take you a long way in the modern NBA.
Don’t be surprised if someone gives Porter a shot and have him take the year to recover fully from his knee injuries. His skill set is too good to pass up.
Shamorie Ponds – Point Guard – St. John’s
Not every single prospect that teams missed has an exciting upside to them. If Ponds pans out in this league, he’d be much more suited for a back-up type role as a scoring plug. There are plenty of those in the NBA, but as Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford have demonstrated, those players are still very much a necessity.
Ponds isn’t a sure thing to replicate the same career that those two have, but he brings similar abilities. He has a reliable shooting stroke, and his 5.1 assists a game illustrate that he can run the show.
Every NBA team craves a reliable second unit scorer. Ponds is of course not a sure thing, but with no NBA experience to speak of, he offers an economical option in that department since scoring plugs don’t grow on trees in the NBA.
Louis King – Forward – Oregon
In a league that emphasizes shooting and versatility, Louis King would have for surely been someone who couldn’t be passed up. Yet here we are. King’s 38.6 shooting from three should be appealing to anyone looking to find a malleable shooter in the NBA, and Lou definitely fits the bill.
It’s not just his ability to space the floor that makes him worth looking at. King has all the physical tools to be another 3&D perimeter player with a height of 6-foot-8 and a wingspan of 7-foot, 1/4 inches. His defense isn’t great by any means, but it has potential. What he really needs is the right team to mold him into the best player he can be.
The leg injuries he’s suffered may have also played a role in going undrafted. No matter what happened there, teams want guys who can be a threat on both sides. Lou isn’t that right now, but he can be if you give him the time necessary to develop him.
Those are just a few of what could be many undrafted rookies from this year’s class. Or maybe none of them do. We’ll only know for sure when we see them take the court.
Undrafted rookies are like one dollar scratch-off tickets. The odds of you getting anything from them are slim to none, and if you do get something, the reward probably won’t be that large.
But, with the very little you’re paying for it, there’s no skin off your nose if they don’t work out.