From going undrafted to starting, Wayne Selden Jr. is making his own path

“I feel like me going undrafted made me more of who I am now. Going through the G-league, through the 10-day contracts. All of that makes you who you are.” - Wayne Selden Jr.

It happens more often than it doesn't. Someone looks like an NBA player and plays like an NBA player, meets all the prerequisites. There's the size and speed and athletic ability, the wow dunks and know how, the special prep school, the McDonald's and Brand Jordan game, the right university of higher scoring and coach whose been an NBA gateway, and then it just doesn't happen like it was supposed to.

The difference, often, is negligible. It seems sometimes you can slip a piece of onion skin between the guy who is a celebrated first round draft pick and the one who looks and seems just like him who isn't, who is begging for a look at Summer League, dragging through all those nights in Canton and Stockton and Grand Rapids and out of the rotation in NBA places that are out of the rotation themselves.

It can be a gateway to disappointment and despair or a process that hardens you in that fiery kiln of doubt.

From where Wayne Selden Jr. seems to be emerging.

"Obviously, I wanted to be drafted," said the 6-5 swingman who moved into starting small forward when Chandler Hutchison was injured. "But I feel like me going undrafted made me more of who I am now. Going through the G-league, through the 10-day contracts. All of that makes you who you are. I think I still have that fire from going undrafted, that burning in me that I still feel like there are always things to prove every day. So I take things day by day and go to work."

"Just trying to get better," Selden says as the eye roll begins. "Yeah, I know that sounds like a cliche. But you have to understand, it is day by day. Come in and focus on that one day, try to get better day by day and get to that next day. Just keep going."

And perhaps Selden finally has found a place, if not a home, to get off that fickle merry go ‘round.

Everyone in the NBA becomes distracted with the famous names, the stars, the high draft picks, those projected for the greatness that will bring the team an audience of No. 1 foam fingers. Wayne Selden isn't that guy anymore, so he's trying to prove he's worthy, nonetheless. Not necessarily James. Just Wayne.

In his three starts for the Bulls, Selden is playing 33.7 minutes per game and averaging 13.7 points, 4.3 assists and four rebounds. He's shooting 60 percent and 58 percent on threes, coming off one of his best games of his career against Miami Wednesday in three spotty seasons in the NBA. He had 20 points on six of 10 shooting with four of six threes, eight assists, four of four from the free throw line, which was a one time flaw, and a steal. It followed 15 points with three of four threes in the last minute loss to Cleveland Sunday, Selden with the only Bulls points in the last three minutes.

"What I think he's done well is he has driven the ball and made some plays off the bounce," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said after practice Friday in Miami before the team left for Charlotte. "He's a physical body who takes pride at the defensive end of the floor. We lost —you heard me say it and it's not excuses—but we lost Justin Holiday, a defender in our system who was very productive, (lost) Wendell (Carter), Hutch. So now Wayne has come in and given us a little bit of offense, but also lock down size and physicality at the wing, which I believe in. So I am very thankful for that. When we have him and Archie (Ryan Arcidiacono) and Shaq (Harrison) out there with our other guys, that's some tough dudes getting after it.

"What I like about him," Boylen added, "is he's said to me multiple times, ‘I'll do whatever you need for me to do, coach. And I'll be ready when you call on me.' He didn't say, ‘I've got to start, or ‘I have to get so many minutes.' It's, ‘Whatever you need me to do coach, I'll do.'"

It's always been Selden's way, and there's no good reason he wasn't drafted and with an NBA guaranteed contract. That's the fine line that often makes for a vagabond role player. First round picks, more than half of whom often are busts, have three year guarantees. So teams often end up trying to justify the investment, which can often lead to an extension. Limited roster spots are occupied. The Wayne Seldens of the world can outplay one of those guys, which sometimes makes management look bad. So they are sent back to the G-league. Like in many professions, there is no precise scale that measures ability.

"I feel like me going undrafted made me more of who I am now. Going through the G-league, through the 10-day contracts. All of that makes you who you are. I think I still have that fire from going undrafted, that burning in me that I still feel like there are always things to prove every day." - Wayne Selden Jr.

"That's the NBA," Selden says with a smile and a shrug, apparently lacking resentment. "I feel in our profession you have to be ready for that; you have to be ready for quick turnarounds, you have to be ready for the unexpected. So you learn to take it day by day. Don't let anything throw you off."

Selden could easily have taken the bypass to Europe or his own bitterness. Many have traveled that uncomfortable road. He's preferred to believe there is a straightaway just past those roadblocks.

"In this league you don't go in with too many expectations," says Selden. "I feel I just what to come in and work every day; that's the biggest thing."

Selden doesn't say too much; he's still trying to show people.

The 6-5 athletic guard who is now a small forward had the pedigree, the hops and hoop that is supposed to be the sine qua non for his chosen avocation.

The Massachusetts native attended prep school in New Hampshire, was a top 15 in the high school 100, played in the big All-Star games as a leading scorer, went to blue chip Kansas and pro processor Bill Self, and then after a pair of cautious seasons in Kansas' controlled game averaged about 14 points and 40 percent three-three-point shooting as a junior.

He seemed to have it all with an ability to get to the basket and make spectacular dunks, extended shooting range, passing prowess, a long wingspan and a good attitude. But scouts didn't see one great thing in there and the draft crack opened wider and he slipped through.

A more athletic wing player who seemed more of a mystery, Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot, became a late first round pick. The Bulls Friday announced they had acquired Luwawu-Cabarrot from Oklahoma City for a second round draft pick. To open a roster spot, the Bulls waived Carmelo Anthony. Luwawu-Cabarrot reminds some of former Bull Thabo Sefolosha as an athletic, defensive oriented player.

Selden just seemed like so many other guys, 6-5 and athletic, could do a little bit of everything, and not so much one great thing. Scouts like one great thing.

So Selden, now 24, went undrafted. He signed with the Grizzlies for training camp in 2016 and was waived, ending up with the Iowa Energy. Later that season, he signed a 10-day contract with the Pelicans and when that expired, he got picked up again by Memphis and played all six games in the playoffs against the Spurs, scoring 10 points in one.

He started the next season with Memphis' G-league team and then injured his quad and missed a month. He wasn't playing much, but then got a chance against the Pelicans and had a career high 31 points, making five of seven threes. Whether a Teddy Roosevelt disciple or not, Selden speaks softly but can carry a big stick. The career game against his former team showed a bit of that hardness.

"Just do whatever the team needs," says Selden. "I feel I can take on different roles different nights. So I just want to take on what the team needs from me that night. I feel it's in me for sure. I'm fully confident in myself, so I just want to keep it going."

But just as quickly with a Memphis team heading toward the lottery, Selden went out of the rotation, emerged for a seven-game stretch in March to average 15.4 points and shots 12 of 16 on threes, and then out of the rotation again. Bad for lottery balls. When a team doesn't have a large investment in a player, he can become irrelevant no matter the production.

Selden was in and out of the Grizzlies rotation again this season with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley back, and then rarely playing before the Bulls traded Justin Holiday to Memphis. The Grizzlies saw three-point shooting and defense in Holiday when they still believed they had a playoff opportunity. They'd forgotten they had as much in Selden. He didn't seem to be as famous.

The Bulls also acquired MarShon Brooks in the deal, released him and retained Selden. After watching for a few games, Selden began to play off the bench with a couple of double digit scoring games.

And then came the break, to both Hutchison's toe and Selden's fate.

He's slashed to the basket, passed well on the move and hasn't hesitated taking clutch shots. He's fit well, especially with the other hard playing overachievers like Arcidiacono and Harrison. The Bulls haven't won much, but those guys never give in.

"I think he's increased his value in the league" - Coach Boylen

"We know our locker room," said Selden. "There aren't superstars in here. But we have a whole bunch of guys who want to fight, have some dawgs in there. So that's what we have to do."

Boylen said Selden sat out practice Friday with knee soreness and was a game time decision for Saturday in Charlotte. Boylen said, however, he expected Selden to play.

"I think he's increased his value in the league, I really do," said Boylen.

And certainly to the Bulls as well.

"With me I'm super blessed to be in the position I am in," Selden says. "I'm just happy to be able to play and get after it and play and compete. I thought it would be a good chance (with the Bulls). There really wasn't really one over there (with Memphis) for me. So I'm happy I'm in a good situation."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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