What is an undrafted free agent, and how do the rules work?

Many roads lead to the NBA, even if a player is not picked in the draft.
Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors
Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors / Andrew Lahodynskyj/GettyImages

Every year, more players declare for the NBA Draft than teams can select. That means some players are left over and become undrafted free agents. But what exactly does that mean?

Undrafted free agents—meaning players, who were eligible to be drafted but weren't selected—still have a chance to make their NBA dreams come true, however. Some people just have to take a longer route to get there. 

There are several examples of undrafted players making a living as role players in the NBA, like Fred VanVleet, Udonis Haslem, Alex Caruso, Naz Reid, and Lu Dort. 

How can undrafted free agents get a contract? 

Once a player becomes an undrafted free agent, they can negotiate with any team that has a roster spot available and is interested. Undrafted players thus have a lot of freedom to choose where they go to an extent, but the chances of making a roster are also much slimmer.

Likewise, contracts for undrafted free agents usually don't pay much, and it is much more likely to get a two-way deal rather than a full NBA contract. Players on two-way contracts can be active for up to 50 regular-season games and typically spend a significant amount of time in the G League. 

Two-way contracts have proven to be a real opportunity for undrafted prospects in recent years, especially for those who still need some freedom to develop. Keon Ellis, for example, started last season on his second two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings and in the matter of a season played his way into the starting lineup and a standard NBA contract. Likewise, the Memphis Grizzlies discovered Vince Williams and GG Jackson as future contributors.

Undrafted players can start negotiations as soon as the draft is over. So, this year, that would be Thursday, June 27, as soon as the second round concludes. 

What is in it for the teams? 

Signing undrafted free agents, especially to two-way contracts, is not only a positive experience for players. There is a lot in it for teams as well. 

It offers them the chance to take a swing at some additional young talent and develop them within their own system and at an individual pace. There is always the chance you will find a diamond in the rough for little money. Having capable contributors on cheap contracts is always a plus, especially with the crazy salaries we are seeing for star players.