Each NBA team can have a maximum of 15 players, meaning that a maximum of 450 players are in the League at any one time. It is definitely hard work to get to the world’s premier basketball league, and players take a variety of routes to the top.
The Late Bloomer
Symbolic player: Russell Westbrook
Not every NBA player starts out in the limelight. Some pick up the game late, such as the Hall of Fame big men duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo. Olajuwon started out as a goalkeeper in football and only started playing basketball at 15 years old, while Mutombo went to Georgetown University on an academic scholarship and was only recruited to play basketball then.
For other, a late developmental phase caused them to be overlooked. Dennis Rodman and Russell Westbrook vie for the poster child in this regard. Rodman stood only 5-foot-6 when he entered high school and was completely ignored as a player, in the shadows of his sisters who starred for their school and clinched multiple state championships. While they went on to successful collegiate careers, he became a janitor until a sudden growth spurt at age 20 inspired him to try out basketball again. For the hyper-athletic Westbrook, he started high school at 5-foot-8 and could not dunk until his senior season when he experienced a growth spurt as well.
With their late development, the potential of players like Rodman and Westbrook are often gradually uncovered as they move up the ranks. Westbrook made to UCLA after his high school days, but struggled for minutes behind future NBA guards Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo with few opportunities to play point guard. Rodman took an even longer route, through community colleges and the less prestigious NAIA before earning a late second round selection in the NBA Draft.
Once they got to the NBA however, it became apparent that their games was built for the professional game, with Westbrook’s tenacity and athleticism and Rodman’s role as a defensive and rebounding specialist. Some players bloom even later, slowly developing their skills and eking out a career in their own ways. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver famously earned his first All-Star selection at 33 years of age, while two-time MVP Steve Nash found it hard to earn minutes alongside Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Sam Cassell, and only became a star as he reached his 30s. As the 2018-19 NBA season gets underway, some undrafted rookies will be looking to repeat their feats, for instance with diminutive playmaker Chris Chiozza and the versatile Deng Adel, who only started playing basketball at 14 after moving to Australia from Sudan.