The NBA Draft is perhaps the most vital tool to the success of any NBA franchise. Obviously, trades and free agency play prevalent roles in shaping modern NBA teams (especially the wealthy ones), but the foundation for future titles is built when those 60 names get called in the latter part of June.
However, scouts and general managers know that even though you have added some new names through the draft, their work is not done. Odds are, your team could still use hungry young competitors that will put all of their energy into fighting for a roster spot.
In some cases, they may fill out benches. In the cases of Gary Neal and Udonis Haslem, they may provide even more than that for teams that fight tooth and nail for the NBA Championship. San Antonio has been incredible in finding undrafted role players, from Bruce Bowen to Avery Johnson. John Starks played a major role on some Knicks teams on the cusp of a NBA Championship. Ben Wallace became the unquestioned leader of a franchise that competed over a long period of time in Detroit, winning the title in 2004.
While expectations for these players should be tempered, a few hidden gems develop each year into positive contributors for a number of teams. Last season, 21 undrafted rookies made their NBA debuts. Many of these players take a longer road to the league, spending time in Europe or the NBA D-League.
Players such as Chris Copeland, Alexey Shved and Brian Roberts each made an impact last season. More recent undrafted free agents that held down roster spots this past season include DeQuan Jones, Kent Bazemore, Maalik Wayns and Kevin Jones. Here are 10 players who may have gone undrafted, but through hard work and the right opportunity, may end up on a NBA roster in the near future.
Robert Covington 6-7, 209, SF, Summer League Team(s): Houston Rockets
Some teams list their players a tad taller than they actually are. If scouts didn’t know Covington was a couple inches shorter than the 6-foot-9 he was listed on the Tennessee State website, they found out for sure at the combine in Chicago. Though he still has great length for a small forward, losing those two inches of height hurt Covington’s draft stock.
Covington is a jack of all trades with an adept shooting touch, but he underwent knee surgery that made him miss a chunk of this past season, while also struggling to stand out in the larger non-conference games. Covington has a solid skillset for the small forward position, showing defensive potential and a nice spot-up game. All he needs is an opportunity to show he can do this against competition outside of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Dewayne Dedmon 6-11, 240, C, Summer League Team(s): Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks
Standing almost 7-feet tall with a long wingspan and high-level mobility, Dedmon certainly passes the eye test for a NBA center. He made significant strides during his time at USC, though still showed he was a project with a ways to go, as he was not allowed to play competitive sports until after high school. Dedmon brings defense and rebounding to the table, along with physical and athletic characteristics teams want out of their center.
The 24-year-old Dedmon got into an altercation with a teammate near the end of last season, which contributed to his low draft stock. Still, the big man shows a decent touch. If a team is willing to bring him along slowly, he could pay dividends as a back-up center.
Trevor Mbakwe 6-8, 236, PF/C, Summer League Team(s): Philadelphia 76ers
With an NBA-ready body and top-notch strength (21 bench-press reps, tops at the NBA combine), Mbakwe seemed like a likely second-round flyer. Unfortunately, his injury history and some off-court issues hurt his cause. Some might have looked at a supposed lack of size, though his ridiculously long wingspan (7-foot-4) allows him to be a pesky defender.
He showed flashes of first-round talent during his time at Minnesota, including a relatively dominant performance against No. 4 pick Cody Zeller, but this performance was more of an outlier than the norm. However, if a team gets Mbakwe into a situation where he is playing for his livelihood, it might be possible to get much more than originally expected.
CJ Leslie 6-9, 209, SF/PF, Summer League Team(s): New York Knicks
Say what you will about Leslie, but it was still shocking that an athlete of his caliber went undrafted. No player posted a faster time in the lane agility drill than this lanky, bouncy combo forward. The knocks against him are with his focus and his relatively frail frame. It seems to be a major challenge for Leslie to put on weight. He didn’t necessarily show what teams would want to see from a stretch-four, much less a small forward, at NC State.
He was more aggressive this past season, but he still had moments where he seemed to lose composure at the end of games in what had to be considered a disappointing season for NC State. Leslie will have a chance to show his major upside to the Knicks during summer league and prove that teams made a mistake letting this once promising prospect slip through the cracks.
Myck Kabongo 6-2, 180, PG, Summer League Team(s): Miami Heat
A top-rated high school recruit, Kabongo was known for having supreme quickness and strong leadership capabilities that had many feeling he would be a first-round pick. After an inconsistent freshman season (where he still showed flashes of upside), his sophomore campaign was cut short by an NCAA suspension. While the suspension did appear to be unfair and left next to no character concerns, it unfortunately gave him very little time to show the improvements he had made. Over 11 games, Kabongo showed he had improved his body and his defense. The major questions lie in his decision making and outside shooting, both of which are still works in progress.
After his issues with the NCAA, it is hard to fault Kabongo for not wanting to risk further scrutiny and possible suspension. The upside is still there, as are the qualities that made him such a highly touted prospect. If he gets a chance, a team may be getting a floor general with definite NBA ability.
Kenny Kadji 6-10, 242, PF/C, Summer League Team(s): Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami was one of the surprise teams in the NCAA this past season, winning the ACC regular-season crown outright. They had many contributors, but Kadji’s increased toughness and defensive presence was a major reason why this was possible. Possessing excellent height, length and athleticism for a power forward, Kadji also can stretch the floor with his shooting ability. It seems that this might have not been enough, given his age (25) and his limitations as a rebounder.
Kadji’s performance at the NBA combine was a bit of a shock — not that people didn’t expect high-level athleticism from him, just to see that he measured well above his peers in the jumping portions. He finished with a no-step vertical behind only Cody Zeller for big men. However, he doesn’t seem to use his leaping ability to his advantage, preferring to roam the perimeter as opposed to using his gifts to attack. This is where the combine can lead to as many question marks as accolades.
Amath Mbaye 6-9, 215, SF, Summer League Team(s): Utah Jazz
Perimeter defense is always highly sought after. That is what M’Baye would bring to the table. He has great size for the three-spot to go along with top-level athleticism and lateral quickness — qualities that could make him into a potential stopper off of the bench.
The rest of his game, at this point, is rather limited.
While his ball skills are not bad, he was quite inconsistent as an offensive option during his lone season at Oklahoma. He did not get to the line much and shot below 30 percent from 3-point range. Despite his athletic gifts, he was inefficient in transition offense. As a French citizen, perhaps some time in Europe could benefit him greatly. He could develop into a prospect for teams looking for some help from a slasher who could provide some pesky defense.
Rodney Williams 6-7, 200, SF, Summer League Team(s): Philadelphia 76ers
High-level athleticism hardly begins to describe what Rodney Williams is capable of. Though some may point to DJ Stephens as this class’s most athletic prospect, Williams is not far behind. Compared to Stephens, he possesses a more well-rounded offensive game. He has tremendous potential as a perimeter defender and can even effectively guard larger forwards in a pinch.
While he may be ahead of his other athletic counterpart offensively, he still has a long way to go.
Williams never developed into a go-to scorer for the Golden Gophers, as he was an unreliable long range shooter and struggled outside of transition. He rarely attacked the basket, struggling to put the ball on the floor and create for himself. He never showed much improvement from the foul line, which led him to look more like an undersized power forward than a potential slasher. With rare athleticism to go along with some raw skills, it is not hard to see Williams get a chance to prove he can hack it on the wing. It will likely involve a lot of work in the D-League before he sees time on an NBA floor.
James Southerland 6-8, 221, SF/PF, Summer League Team(s): Philadelphia 76ers/Golden State Warriors
Southerland could carve out a role as a floor-stretching forward with his size and shooting ability, potentially providing intriguing match-up issues. He had some games this season where he caught fire from long range, going 9-13 from downtown in a game against Arkansas and 12-15 in back-to-back nights against Seton Hall/Pitt.
But when his shot was not falling, his impact was quite limited. With more than half of his shot attempts coming from beyond the arc and his allergy to the foul line, some felt that he was just not aggressive enough. There are also the typical questions surrounding a perimeter defender who is used to playing in Jim Boeheim’s well-constructed 2-3 zone. Southerland still has excellent skill for his size, and that should get him looks, considering he is a well-seasoned player from a winning program.
Adonis Thomas 6-6, 232, SF, Summer League Team(s): Atlanta Hawks
Though we have other highly rated high school prospects on this list, Thomas was the highest at No. 9 in the 2011 final RCSI rankings. His build, strength, and athleticism are all top notch, especially for a player who only recently turned 20. Thomas occasionally showed why he was so hyped coming out of high school, but he always left scouts and fans wanting more. His rebounding, for a player of his size and length, was well below average.
He also regressed as an outside shooter, dipping below 30 percent from 3-point range after showing promise as a freshman. Though he was not kept out of games by the injuries that shortened his freshman season, there was concern that they affected his play at times. Thomas has youth on his side and some characteristics that lead one to believe he could still offer something down the line.
Thanks to site regulars Jacob Stallard, Aamir Shaikh and Chris Patterson for their help with this article. Be sure to watch these players and others fight for roster spots in the Las Vegas Summer League. Are there any undrafted prospects that have impressed you? Feel free to leave a comment below!