One of the most important storylines for the Miami Heat in their improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals as a No. 8 seed has been the play of their undrafted players, though their 3-0 lead on the Celtics has disappeared.
While All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have carried much of the load just as they did in Miami’s last Finals trip in the Bubble in 2020, they’ve been supported by the consistent production of guards Gabe Vincent and Max Strus and wings Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin, none of whom were drafted out of college. In Game 3 of this series, they combined for 79 of the Heat’s 128 points.
There has been debate — some of it driven by the always vocal Draymond Green — as to how much mention their draft status should receive now that they’ve each been in the NBA for at least three years. Though some may consider it disrespectful to the players themselves, it certainly speaks to the Heat’s ability to find and develop talent. Even though there are just two rounds each year in the NBA draft and lots of all-conference and even All-American quality players go untaken, it’s still rare for such players to not only make a roster, but impact an NBA team, especially at playoff time.
The Pacers, for instance, have very rarely had success with undrafted players or even players selected in rounds three and beyond before the draft was shortened to two rounds in 1989. There have been success stories, though many of them have come because of undrafted players who had already established a place in the league before arriving in Indiana.
That being said, there have been a few undrafted — or lowly drafted — players who have made an impact in Indy. The following are the five best Pacers players who were either undrafted or drafted after the second round since 1980, before which the Pacers still had players from the ABA years.
The undersized former Arizona point guard wasn’t taken in the 2015 draft after two All-Pac 12 seasons and two Elite Eights, but he caught on with the Philadelphia 76ers during the early stage of The Process and was a starter by his second season before moving to the bench when Ben Simmons was drafted. He signed with the Pacers after two playoff seasons with the Sixers as a backup and established himself as the leader of the Pacers’ second unit. In 2020-21 he led the NBA in total steals and this season he had arguably his best offensive season of his career with a career-high 8.7 points per game on 54.3% shooting to go with 5.3 assists per game.
After a solid but unspectacular career at Washington, Holiday broke into the NBA on a 10-day contract with Philadelphia in 2013. He spent time with the Warriors, Hawks, Bulls and Knicks before he went back to Chicago and won a starting job in 2017-18. The Pacers signed him on a free agent deal in 2019 and in two seasons he averaged 9.8 points and 1.0 steals per game and shot 38.8% from 3-point range, hitting 434 3-pointers over three seasons.
Marquis Daniels, small forward, 2007-09
Daniels went undrafted in 2003 after two All-SEC seasons at Auburn, but he caught on as a rotation player with the Mavericks on a playoff squad before the Pacers acquired him in a trade for Austin Croshere. In his third season in Indiana, he was pressed into service as a starter and averaged 13.6 points and 4.6 rebounds before leaving for the Celtics the following season.
Brad Miller, center, 2002-03
A Kendallville native, Miller went undrafted after a strong career at Purdue, but caught on with the Hornets as a rookie and established himself as a starter and a low-post presence with the Bulls. The Pacers acquired him in a deadline deal in February of 2002 along with Metta World Peace and Ron Mercer and sent Travis Best, Norm Richardson and Jalen Rose to the Bulls. Miller averaged 15.1 points per game the rest of that season, then reached his first All-Star Game in 2003 in a season when he averaged 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He was traded to the Kings the following season but ended up playing 12 seasons in the league.
Jerry Sichting, guard, 1981-85
Of all the players on this list, the Pacers did the most to unearth Sichting.
The Martinsville native and former Purdue star was taken in the fourth round by the Golden State Warriors in 1979, but he didn’t make the roster after training camp. The Pacers picked him up for the 1980-81 season and he appeared in 47 games, averaging 2.0 points per appearance on a team that reached the playoffs. He played just one minute of postseason action, but did well enough to keep his roster spot for 1981-82 when he averaged 15.7 minutes.
By the 1982-83 season he was in the starting lineup most of the time, averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 assists per game. He started all 80 games in 1983-84, averaging 11.5 points and 5.7 assists per game, then he averaged double figures again the next season even though he started just 25 of the 70 games he appeared in. Before the 1985-86 season, he was traded to the Celtics for two second-round picks and he went back to the bench for Boston. However, he posted 3.2 points and 2.2 assists in their 1985-86 playoff run as they won the NBA title.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers have historically struggled to find undrafted talent
Source: Yahoo Sports