Quick Thoughts

1.    Morrow Time!:    The interesting news of this weekend was undrafted rookie Anthony Morrow’s 37-point outburst against the Clippers.  Morrow, a 6’5 shooting guard out of Georgia Tech, shot 15-20 from the field (4-5 from three) and even grabbed 11 rebounds.  There wasn’t much in Morrow’s college stats to indicate that he was a regular NBA player (14.3 ppg on 46% shooting as a senior) but Don Nelson does seem to have a knack for developing young offensive players against the mainstream.  Morrow’s 37 points are the most points by an undrafted rookie in the modern era, breaking Marquis Daniel’s 34-points from 2003-04 (Daniels was another Nellie find).  That got me wondering a couple of things: (1) how many unheralded young players have broken in under Nellie? and (2) who is the best undrafted player ever?

We’ve looked at Nellie’s record several times but here’s a nutshell list of players who found/developed (depending on your perspective) who people did not expect to be able to contribute in the NBA or greatly exceeded expectations: 

Bucks (1976-1987)

-Ricky Pierce

-Craig Hodges

-Paul Pressey 

Warriors (1988-1995)

-Latrell Sprewell

-Tim Hardaway

-Mario Elie

-Winston Garland 

Mavericks (1997-2005)

-Josh Howard

-Marquis Daniels

-Steve Nash

-Dirk Nowitzki 

Warriors (2006-present)

-Al Morrow (not a sure thing but looks good so far)

-Kelenna Azubuike

-Matt Barnes 

These lists don’t give credit for developing some players slightly above expectations in cases of college stars like Marques Johnson, Michael Finley, Mitch Richmond, or Chris Mullin but Nellie generally doesn’t bust on high draft picks.  We also have a bunch of blips, players who Nellie got good work from but were never heard form again (Victor Alexander, Keith Jennings, and Ryan Lorthridge).  It’s not clear that Nellie finds more players than other coaches who have been around a long time but he definitely has a nice record and quite a few doozies, guy like Dirk, Nash, Hardaway, and Sprewell who were at least a level or two above what people expected on draft night. 

2.    Undrafted Guys:    This leads us to question two…who is the best undrafted player ever?  This is not a clear cut issue.  We can say with some degree of certitude that the existence of undrafted players is relatively new phenomenon.  Before 1987, the NBA draft went an absurd  number of rounds, essentially stocking the team with training camp fodder or allowing teams to have fun and draft guys like Carl Lewis or Dave Winfield, who would never play in the NBA in a million years.  In 1988, the draft was reduced from seven rounds to three rounds to reduce time wasting.  The third round of the 1988 draft actually yielded a decent amount of pros (ten pros), of which three were decent fringers (Winston Bennett, Corey Gaines, and Gerald Paddio) and one was a significant find (Anthony Mason).  Even so, in 1989, the draft was reduced to two rounds and that has been the format ever since.  

Since 1988, there have been a ton of NBA regulars who established themselves after being undrafted.  The highest scoring undrafted regular since 1988?  David Wesley, with John Starks following close behind.  Here’s the list of top undrafted scorers (as of the end of 2007-08): 

1. David Wesley

2. John Starks

3. Avery Johnson

4. Brad Miller

5. Chucky Atkins

6. Ben Wallace

7. Bruce Bowen

8. Raja Bell

9. Mike James

10. Bo Outlaw 

As you can tell, there aren’t too many stars from the undrafted list.  Miller, Wallace, and Starks are the only All-Stars of the group.  The list and the players who are just behind them (Earl Boykins, Troy Hudson, Damon Jones, Aaron Williams) demonstrates that NBA scouts don’t usually miss potentially good pros, and almost never miss starting big men.  Rather, the list is full of useful backups: guards (Chris Childs, Janero Pargo, Matt Carroll) and small forwards (David Benoit, Adrian Girffin) and a bunch hustling power forwards (Aaron Williams, Scott Williams, Terry Davis).  If I had to pick my starting line up of the All-Undrafted Stars, here it is: 

-PG: David Wesley: A solid slightly above-average point for a decade, just nipping out Avery Johnson for the starting job.

-SG: John Starks:  Easily the best shooting guard to found on the scrap heap so far.  Marquis Daniels might be a moderate threat to overtake him.

-SF:  Andres Nocioni:  He hasn’t compiled the career stats but is just a better player than Bruce Bowen or Bo Outlaw, who are the only real competition. 

-PF:  Ben Wallace:  Can (could) play center but we’ll put Brad Miller there.  At the power forward, there are a few players who could arguably qualify behind Wallace.  Udonis Haslem is the best power forward but Outlaw or Chuck Hayes might be able to fit the bill.

-C:  Brad Miller:  As noted, Wallace also fits.  In a world without Miller or Wallace, the rest of the field is not great and you have to take one of the undersized guys like Scott Williams or Mikki Moore.   

The best undrafted player has to be Wallace, who was a regular All-Star for several years, though Miller was about as effective in his prime. Wallace’s defense combined with Miller’s offense, however, would’ve been a great player.  Alas, these holes are probably precisely why neither player was drafted to begin with.  While it’s clear you won’t likely find a star from the ranks of the undrafted, the examination of the undrafted list shows that you can definitely fill roster holes cheaply and you don’t have to overpay and use up precious salary cap room for declining/mediocre vets.

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