When the Miami Heat closed out the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, they did it with an eight-man rotation that included five undrafted players. Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Haywood Highsmith each made it through their respective drafts without hearing their names called and are now one series victory away from being NBA champions.
All five of those players spent time in the G League before cracking the Heat's rotation. All five also played some or all of their collegiate careers outside one of the sport's Big Six conferences, with three of them spending time playing at non-Division I schools. Collectively, the group provides a path for other undrafted and unheralded players to follow as the 2023 NBA Draft looms just three weeks away.
While it's an uphill climb for undrafted free agents to find long-term NBA stability, it can be done. With 30 G League teams now dotting the map, including 28 that are directly affiliated with NBA franchises, there is a developmental landing spot available to players who aren't selected. From there, two-way contracts provide another avenue for players to latch on with an NBA team and prove they have what it takes to make it in the league.
So what about the 2023 draft class? Our writers have identified one player each who they believe could make a long-term home in the NBA even if they go undrafted this year.
Bailey is projected by most to be a second-round pick and thus is susceptible to completely slipping out of the 2023 NBA Draft. Will it happen? Not sure. But even if the one-and-done former five-star prospect doesn't hear his name called later this month, I'd still bet on him eventually finding a role with some NBA franchise after having a solid lone season at UCLA, where he averaged 11.2 points while shooting 38.9% from 3-point range for a team that won the Pac-12 regular-season title. Simply put, top-10 high school prospects who have good-enough athleticism, good-enough positional size and good-enough shooting ability tend to make it, one way or another. Bailey checks all of those boxes, which is why I believe he'll likely spend years in the NBA regardless of what happens June 22. -- Gary Parrish
Will a Final Four MOP actually go undrafted? It's possible. But Sanogo has the durability, mobility and shooting to eventually crack into the NBA as a longtime role player. (For the purposes of this exercise, I made sure to pick someone outside of the top 50 on the CBS Sports Big Board. Sanogo checks in at 54th.) Coming off an All-American season, Sanogo was the best player in the NCAA Tournament and the central force to UConn's fifth championship. Most importantly, he upgraded his shooting. Sanogo attempted one 3-pointer in his first two seasons. As a junior, he shot 52 of them and made 19, a 36.5% completion rate. Not bad for a relative newbie. At 6-foot-9 and approximately 245 pounds, Sanogo's a tweener big, but there's a place for him in positionless NBA schemes. He has good touch, good instincts and understands pick-and-roll well. I'd draft him, but even if that doesn't happen, he's got a great chance to stick. -- Matt Norlander
Whether Johnson is drafted or not may ultimately be determined not by his talents but rather his medicals. The former Florida standout and Kansas State product took a season away from the game in 2021-22 as he dealt with a medical issue early in the 2020-21 season, following an on-court collapse during a game vs. Florida State. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Johnson has been medically cleared by the NBA's Fitness to Play panel, paving the way for him to overcome the odds that once seemed improbable, but it's fair to wonder if there may be some trepidation from teams as they weigh whether to gamble on an elite talent -- and at what cost. Johnson averaged a career-high 17.4 points per game last season for K-State and shot 40.5% from 3-point range, making him a valuable commodity as a wing who can shoot and play defense. Even if he doesn't get invested in with draft capital, health willing, he's a player I'd bet on sticks in the league given his two-way skill set. -- Kyle Boone
Lundy is No. 64 in the CBS Sports NBA Draft Prospect Rankings after averaging a career-best 14.2 points for the Nittany Lions in the 2022-23 season. He's a 6-6 wing who shot 40% from beyond the arc as a senior while averaging 6.3 rebounds and hitting 81.4% of his free throws. He's not a shot creator or some crazy athletic defender, so we're not talking about a future All-Star here. But when you've got the size to defend multiple positions and shoot as well as Lundy did on 6.4 attempts from beyond the arc this past season, there is a place for you in the NBA. He also If the second round ends without Lundy's name called, expect him to be snatched up quick and eventually a find a roster spot in the league. -- David Cobb