NBA Draft 2022: Examining best undrafted free agents who could make an early impact

Now that the 2022 NBA Draft is in the rear-view mirror, who are the undrafted free agents that could make it big? We take a look at 10.

The NBA Draft is an exciting time. Players across the world are able to realize their dreams of being selected by an NBA team and continue on their basketball journeys. For others, though, the draft comes and goes without a selection. Yet, the world of the G League, two-way and Exhibit 10 contracts are growing in prevalence and exposure. Being an undrafted free agent also supplies some ability to choose where a prospect wants to play.

Now that the 2022 NBA Draft has come and gone, franchises across the league have acted quickly to secure such contracts for undrafted players who caught their attention. There are undrafted players who make remarkable impacts every single year, and finding those diamonds in the rough can be critical for NBA teams. Just last summer, Jose Alvarado and Austin Reaves went undrafted before playing more than games each as rookies. Several others also carved out substantial roles.

—2022 NBA Draft: Winners and losers

The 2022 draft class features several prospects whose journeys are not yet complete despite not hearing their names called. Many of these already signed two-way, Exhibit 10, or summer league deals within hours of Mark Tatum reading off the 58th pick. While the list below is far from comprehensive, and there are plenty other possibilities, let’s take a deeper look into 10 undrafted players who could add value to their new NBA teams.

Collin Gillespie, Villanova

Guard | Signed with the Denver Nuggets (Two-Way)

Let’s take a trip down memory lane of Jay Wright’s latest guards at Villanova: Jalen Brunson, Donte Divincenzo and Ryan Arcidiacono. Coach Wright not only sent almost all of his recent guards to the NBA but all have had enough success to play over 200 total games apiece. Villanova produces winners and guards who understand how to contribute at the next level. Collin Gillespie could be the next in that line, following Arcidiacono’s footsteps to a consistent role for his careful playmaking and deadeye shooting.

Gillespie, an unheralded recruit, played 14.4 minutes per game on Villanova’s 2018 championship team while backing up Brunson. He then proceeded to start all 124 of his games played after Brunson’s departure, winning Big East Player of the Year twice. Gillespie averaged 15.1 points and 3.9 assists per game over the past three seasons. He finished 20-2 for his career in Big East and NCAA Tournament games played, including two Final Four appearances.

Gillespie, 6-3, is not going to “wow” anybody with his play and is a relatively finished product. With that said, his resume is tremendous and he brings NBA-level skills with his shooting and feel for the game. Gillespie is a career 38.7 percent sniper on 843 total attempts. He has tremendous footwork as a shooter with a quick release. While he ran the point at Villanova, he is plenty capable as an off-ball mover and shooter. He is also an excellent ball-screen performer, something that should translate well to the next level.  

Gillespie is a steady performer, elite shooter, and comes from a winning program with a reputation for sending rotation-worthy guards to the next level. 

Keon Ellis, Alabama

Wing | Signed with the Sacramento Kings (Two-Way)

Keon Ellis started his collegiate career at a JUCO before filling a bench role in his first season at Alabama. He emerged as a full-time starter and lockdown defender this past year with the Crimson Tide while making a name for himself as possible NBA player. His archetype as a 3-and-D wing is quite valuable, even if he does not provide much in terms of self-creation. While his 6-5 frame and 6-9 wingspan is solid, he is listed at just 175 pounds; improving his strength will be important. The limitations are evident but what he does well is important.

First and foremost, Ellis is a disruptive guard defender. He was named to the SEC’s All-Defense team this past year while boasting the 100th-best steal rate in the country; his steal rate actually increased significantly in conference play as well. In terms of his offensive game, Ellis greatly increased his 3-point attempt rate this past season while maintaining efficiency. He shot 36.6 percent on 183 total attempts. He also cashed in on 88.1 percent of 101 free throws.

Ellis has a solid track record as a shooter:

Ellis ranked 96th in the country in true-shooting percentage (.614) last season as a byproduct of his playing style. He shot well from three, finished at the rim, and was deadeye on a high number of free-throw attempts. The key will be making sure his 3-point shooting and cutting ability will translate. If he increases his strength, proving he can defend more positions than just guards would also be an important step. Being an elite defender and efficient tertiary offensive player has value, though.

Justin Lewis, Marquette

Forward | Signed with the Chicago Bulls (Two-Way)

Most pundits anticipated that Marquette’s Justin Lewis would be selected in the second round of the NBA Draft. Alas, that did not come to fruition. Likely with the choice of several two-way offers from across the Association, Lewis signed with the franchise just about an hour south of his college home: the Chicago Bulls. The forward is fresh off an excellent season with Marquette in which he was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player and a First Team All-Conference performer. He averaged 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

One of the Lewis’ best attributes for projecting his impact at the next level is his size. He is a legit 6-7 with a plus wingspan at 7-2.5. His length and strength are significant. He also displayed sizable shooting development this past year. After shooting just 21.9 percent from three and 57.7 percent at the free-throw line as a freshman, he upped those numbers to 34.9 percent and 76.1 percent, respectively, in Year 2. On the downside, though, he did not finish particularly well; he made fewer than 50 percent of his halfcourt attempts at the rim.

Being a switchable defender is a prized attribute in the modern NBA. Lewis needs to improve his lateral quickness to get to that point, but you cannot teach the size that he brings to the forward position. He is not a great self-creator (65.6 percent of his FGM were assisted last season), so a good chunk of his potential rides on blossoming as a defender and improving as an off-ball shooter and finisher. His physical tools and strong statistical season at Marquette, though, are intriguing as an undrafted free agent.

Alondes Williams, Wake Forest

Guard | Signed with the Brooklyn Nets (Two-Way)

Alondes Williams was one of the biggest success stories in college basketball last season. After two solid – albeit not spectacular – seasons at Oklahoma, he transferred to Wake Forest last offseason. That proved to be a great decision, as Williams blossomed into the ACC Player of the Year while displaying superb playmaking and finishing ability. He averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game as a 6-5 guard. Turnovers were a bit of an issue, but you would be hard-pressed to find many prospects with better vision and passing ability.

Perhaps most importantly, Williams is deadly as a live-ball passer. He has a bag as a playmaker, able to make a multitude of reads out of different sets with his creativity and size to see over defenders. Williams is also an elite finishing guard. He attempted a whopping 249 shots at-the-rim last season, converting 66.7 percent of them. Nearly three-fourths of his makes were unassisted as well. Give him a path to the basket and it’s probably two points.

The downsides in Williams’ game are his shooting and age. He shot under 30 percent from three and under 70 percent at the free-throw line over his 90 career college games. If he is not able to prove he can hit perimeter jumpers at the NBA level, how much value can he have in ball screens? Defenders will sink underneath and take away some of the intrigue from his playmaking and finishing. Developing as a shooter could be vital. He is also already 23 years old as well. 

All that being said, his feel for the game as a passer and finisher are worth taking a flyer on. He broke out in a big way this past season; is there another step in him?

AJ Green, Northern Iowa

Guard | Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks (Two-Way)

AJ Green had collegiate eligibility remaining, with most pundits believing a transfer to either Iowa State or Duke was in the cards this offseason. Yet, the Northern Iowa product chose to spurn another year in college in favor of the NBA Draft process. He played well at the G League Elite Camp in May but was unable to turn it into a draft selection. Nonetheless, he has already found a spot with the Milwaukee Bucks on a two-way contract.

Green’s calling card is his elite 3-point shooting ability. He has always been one of the best shooters for his age group dating back to being a top 100 recruit out of high school. That continued throughout college. Elite free-throw shooting also backs up his reputation in this department: 

Green won the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Year award as a sophomore while averaging 19.7 points per game. After missing almost all of 2020-21 with an injury, he returned this past season to once again win the award. He is simply hardwired to score, especially from beyond the arc. Green attempted over 7.5 3-pointers per game – hitting over 38 percent – during his last two seasons.

The Bucks recently tested this route of securing an experienced shooting threat from a non-power conference when it selected Sam Merrill in the 2020 draft. That did not quite work out, but the system fit makes sense. Milwaukee wants to space the floor the best it can around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Green boasts an elite skill with his flamethrowing shooting ability. If his athleticism and defense can hold up at the next level, he could land as a reserve. Green will also be nearly three years younger at the start of this season than Merrill was for his rookie year.

Dereon Seabron, NC State

Wing | Signed with the New Orleans Pelicans (Two-Way)

Dereon Seabron earned the ACC’s Most Improved Player award this past season while blossoming as an attacking scoring guard. The 6-6 wing does a tremendous job attacking in transition and uses quality length to finish at the rim. He attempted a whopping 319 shots at the rim during this past season and converted on 55.5 percent of his attempts. The vast majority of his makes in that area were unassisted as well. He knows what he does well too, as nearly 80 percent of his total shot attempts were at the rim. Seabron never settles; he wants to get to the basket and does.

With that said, he will likely need to diversify his offensive game at the next level. He shot just 25.6 percent on 43 3-point attempts this past season. His track record at the free-throw line is not superb either, hitting under 70 percent over his two seasons with NC State. He also has a lot of room to grow defensively. 

As an undrafted free agent, he is worth a gamble given what he already does at an elite level: he is a plus athlete who does a great job creating shots for himself in high-efficiency areas (primarily at the rim). Not many players can generate as many at-the-rim shots as he did. 

Tevin Brown, Murray State

Guard | Signed with the Indiana Pacers (Exhibit 10)

Murray State is no stranger to sending players to the NBA. Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne and Ja Morant are all former Racers that have spent time in the league over the last decade. Tevin Brown, Morant’s heir in stardom the past couple of seasons, has now gone undrafted. Brown did not carry the same draft stock of the three Murray guards that came before him but has some translatable skills that will get him on the radar of professional squads.

Brown will be 24 years old at the start of the next NBA season, and that is a detractor from his stock. With that said, though, he boasts an incredible high-volume track record as a shooter. He concluded his college career as a 38.6 percent 3-point shooter on a whopping 917 attempts from beyond the arc. Murray State ran him off a lot of screens in his career, and he possesses excellent footwork in being able to curl and get his shot up quickly.

Brown projects as an off-guard with his 6-5 frame and off-ball movement. He has the potential to be a secondary playmaker from that role as well, having recorded 3.3 assists per game for his college career. Brown does not force the action much as a playmaker but rather just looks to make the right read. He is a passable defender with enough size to guard 2s. 

The Murray State edge is also worth noting. The Racers have supplied the NBA with a pair of reserve guards and a star in recent years. There might be something to be said about how the program prepares guards for the next level. Brown started all 125 of his games at Murray State.

Jared Rhoden, Seton Hall

Wing | Summer League with the Sacramento Kings

Jared Rhoden was always a very good defender at Seton Hall. After Myles Powell graduated, though, Rhoden showcased his offensive chops for two seasons. He averaged 15.2 points per game over his junior and senior seasons while blossoming as a shooter. His 3-point percentage might not indicate as much, but his free-throw shooting does. Rhoden hit 60.4 percent of his foul shots as an underclassman; that number skyrocketed to 81.7 percent as an upperclassman.

Rhoden’s free-throw shooting is a strong indicator of what his 3-point shooting might look like when he is not the top offensive option for a team. He was solid in catch-and-shoot situations with the Pirates, and he will have more of those types of opportunities if he cracks an NBA roster. He also cuts well; if the shot translates, so should his cutting.

Those skills are ancillary to his defensive potential, though. Rhoden stands at 6-6 with a 6-11 wingspan. His hand width would have been the third-largest at the NBA Combine as well (his measurements were from the G League Elite Camp). His invite to the combine came via a call-up from the G League Elite Camp after winning the MVP award at Portsmouth. 

Rhoden did not get drafted but had a great spring. His upside is limited at 22 years old but he is a strong defender. He will look to continue what has been a good run at showcase events while playing with the Kings during Summer League.

Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers

Wing | Signed with the Toronto Raptors (Two-Way)

Ron Harper Jr. is a proven college player who got better in each of his four seasons at Rutgers. He increased his scoring average with each campaign, notching All-Big Ten honors twice along the way. Having shot 39.8 percent on over five 3-point attempts per game this past season, he is coming off his best shooting campaign. Harper already came into the NBA combine at a lower weight than his listed number at Rutgers; that is a strong first step. Harper brings plus frame numbers at 6-6 with a 7-1 wingspan. He has legitimate 3-and-D potential.

Harper’s shooting development as a senior is worth believing in due to his ever-improving numbers at the free-throw line. He upped his free throw percentage by about three points in every single collegiate season; that improvement is important to monitor when it comes to projecting his perimeter shooting at the next level. He is still getting better as a shooter and is also not just a standstill threat at the collegiate line. Harper can shoot a bit off-movement and hit a lot of deep threes with the Scarlet Knights; that projects well to a deeper 3-point line.

Harper’s size and wingspan should aid his defensive ability. Quickness is a concern, but he measured with the third-highest body-fat percentage at the NBA combine. Continuing to work on that area, especially in a professional development program, could unlock more of his potential. There is already a lot to like about his collegiate track record and trajectory as a shooter.

Hyunjung Lee, Davidson

Wing | Unsigned

Hyunjung Lee suffered an injury just a week before the NBA Draft, which may have contributed to him going undrafted. He was already on the fringe of being a potential second-rounder. The injury is a huge blow, but as long as it is not disastrous, he should still reappear on the NBA radar at some point. The Davidson product is one of the best 3-point shooters in this draft class while also standing at 6-7.

Lee played three years with the Wildcats, posting superb shooting numbers and film along the way while reaching the 50/40/90 club as a sophomore. He concluded his collegiate career as a 39.7 percent 3-point shooter (436 attempts) and 82.3 percent free-throw shooter (220 attempts). The numbers jump off the page, but the film pops more. He is an impressive off-movement shooter with pristine footwork, ability to adjust in-air, and a lightning-quick release. 

Lee also understands the value of his 3-point threat. He intelligently cuts to the basket when opportunities present themselves. As a result, he shot over 60 percent inside the arc for his career.

Determining whether he can defend at the NBA level will be critical. His athleticism is a question mark. If those two skills come along in the next couple of years, a team will be happy that it took a risk on him post-injury. The injury might eliminate opportunities to showcase his skills in the Summer League this offseason, but hopefully he can still get his chance. He is too good of a shooter to not get an opportunity once healthy.