Isn’t it interesting that many all time great players in NBA history weren’t Lottery Picks? Even if some were picked in the top 3, they were slighted by other teams because they felt that players like Sam Bowie or Greg Oden had a higher upside than Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant (This is for you, Trailblazers).
However, it can be very difficult to determine who is going to turn out to be what. Which player falls into a perfect system like the Spurs, or fall into the never ending Cesspool that is the New York Knicks. Who knew players like Stephen Curry and Isaiah Thomas would become the players that they are today? It is very likely that many teams just got lucky and drafted the right player at the right time, but on the other hand…maybe not.
This list isn’t just for low draft picks becoming great players in this league. It’s for all of the great players that if you look back in their draft class it would be foolish to not take them at #1. Also after watching this year’s NBA Summer Leauge, seeing players like Dennis Smith Jr and Kyle Kuzma perform. It is very likely that this list will be extended in the future.
There are so many legendary players that have been snubbed in the Draft, an honorable mentions list is very appropriate to give credit to where credit is due and shame on GMs everywhere. These 5 players just missed the cut.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo 1st Rnd Pick 15, by MIL 2013. All-Star, All-Defense, 2017 MIP. Avg 22.9 PTS, 8.8 TRB, 5.4 AST in 2017. The Milwaukee Bucks struck gold in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory, as this 4th year freak of nature may eventually go down as an all time great and he’s only 22 years old. In the next 6 years, you’ll understand.
- Manu Ginobili 2nd Rnd Pick 57 by SA 1999. 2x All Star, 4x Champion, 2008 Sixth Man Award. Career Avg 13.6 PTS, 3.9 AST 1.4 STL. Who knew that at pick 57, the Spurs would draft the greatest sixth man ever. Many fans would say that Manu deserves to be on the top 10 list, which is very valid. The Argentinian six man has been arguably the most important piece for the Spur’s dynasty for 15+ years.
- Draymond Green 2nd Rnd Pick 35 by GS 2012. 2x All Star, 2x Champion, 2017 Def. POY. Avg 10.2 PTS, 7.9 TRB, 7.0 AST, 2.0 STL, 1.4 BLK in 2017. This all around forward can name all of the players that were picked before him in 2012 Draft. (Which is very impressive). Draymond is the reason the Warriors’ Defense is the best in the NBA. Nobody, except for Tom Izzo would have thought that Green would become the player that he is today.
- Kawhi Leonard 1st Rnd, Pick 15 by IND 2011. 2x All Star, 2x Def. POY, 2014 Finals MVP, Avg 25.5 PTS, 5.8 TRB, 1.8 STL in 2017. The Pacers drafted Leonard then traded him for George Hill and it’s safe to say the Spurs won the trade. Now Kawhi is a superstar and an MVP candidate and there is no ceiling on his game.
- Tony Parker 1st Rnd Pick 28 by SA 2001. 6x All Star, 4x Champion, 2007 Finals MVP, 4x All-NBA. Career 16.2 PTS, 5.8 AST. There seems to be a pattern that the Spurs can draft talent. Tony Parker was drafted in the same draft as Kwame Brown at pick 28 and the Spurs haven’t looked back ever since.
#10 Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol was the 48th pick in the 2007 draft. Drafted by the Lakers, traded for his brother, ever since then Gasol has been the cornerstone of the “Grit and Grind” movement in Memphis.
Marc is Coming off his best statistical season of his career averaging 19.5 PTS 6.3 TRB and 4.6 AST. Ever since 2011, the Grizzlies has made the playoffs every year. Also, a conference finals appearance which has never happened in the young franchise’s history.
#9 John Stockton
The 1984 NBA Draft consisted of players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley. Some might take all three of those players before drafting Stockton but being picked at 16th overall is a major steal for the Utah Jazz.
This pick and roll maestro led a basketball team in Utah to the NBA Finals for two years straight but were stumped by the greatness of Michael Jordan. (Sob story of the 90s) To this day the Utah community champion the accomplishments of John Stockton just for giving them something to cheer for.
The Hall of Fame inductee was a 10x All Star, 11x All-NBA and averaged 17 PTS and 14 AST in one season. Stockton ranks first all-time in assist with over 15k, and first all-time in steals with over 3k. All with the Utah Jazz
#8 Larry Bird
Who would have thought that one franchise had the opportunity of a life time to draft Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Kevin Durant? Well, the Portland Trailblazers should be cringing at this list because there could have been multiple banners hanging up in the rafters from the Bird and Jordan duo. Instead, they decided to draft Mychal Thompson (Klay Thompson’s father) for the 1st overall pick who was never an All Star.
Larry Bird was drafted 6th overall in a draft where he is the only HOF, which makes him a true diamond in the rough.
If Larry Bird isn’t the greatest Celtic ever, then he is undoubtedly the most beloved. Bird saved the Celtics from its post-Bill Russell mediocrity and helped save the NBA from its lowest rated decade that is the 70s.
The 3-time League MVP was a 6’9 double -double machine, that had the best 3-point shot of his time shooting 37% from deep. The 12x All Star averaged 24.3 PTS, 10 TRB and 6.3 AST for his career. Bird, was an offensive juggernaut while winning 3 All Defense awards. Not to mention 3 Championships.
#7 Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman was selected in the second round (27th Overall) by the Detroit Pistons in the ’86 Draft. On that night, the “Bad Boys” were born. Rodman brought that edge that many championship teams like the Pistons and Bulls needed. His rebounding and in your face defense is what put those teams over top of the rest of the competition.
The Worm racked up 7.3 PTS and 13.1 TRB for his career. He also averaged at least 15 RPG for a span of 7 years ( ’91-’98). While being a 5x champion, Rodman was one of the most eccentric and outgoing players in history. Many teams would love to trade their draft pick back for this Hall of Famer.
#6 Steve Nash
Similar to John Stockton, Steve Nash got Unlucky and was in a very deep Draft class in 1996 which had players like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen. On the other-hand, the Phoenix Suns were very lucky to draft a 2x League MVP.
Drafted out of Santa Clara, Nash was the 15th pick and there could be an argument made that he had the most individual success in that Draft (Besides Kobe Bryant of course).
The 8x All Star was one of the best dimers in the mid to late 2000’s, having multiple double-digit APG seasons. While being the bread and butter for the Suns he also had the help of Amare Stoudemire who was one of the most dominant forces in the paint. In Nash’s prime, he was a 20-point 10-assist star with a killer 3-point shot.
Although Nash could never get past the Lakers and the Spurs in Mike D’Antoni’s system, he gave them the best years Pheonix had since Barkley in ’93.
#5 Karl Malone
The Utah Jazz had one of the best back-to-back first round draft pick ever, by picking John Stockton in ’84 then, Karl Malone with the 13th pick in ’85. By doing that it set them up for the next 18 years. Stockton may have been the distributor and the quarterback of the team, but Malone was certainly the best player, check his win shares.
Karl was an All Star for 11 straight seasons. The only reason why he did not make it for 15 straight seasons is that of Injury. Malone has always been an advocate for if you are healthy you must play and it showed on the court. He is listed 2nd All-time in Minutes total at 54,852.
Unfortunately, he has gone down as the greatest player to never win a ring, but that does not solidify his legacy. Many people forget but, Malone is second in all-time points scored at over 36k. That accomplishment alone puts you in the top 5 for Draft steals.
#4 Isaiah Thomas
No, Isaiah Thomas is not ranked #4 because of his number, it’s because there were 59 players selected in the 2011 Draft. None of those players scored more points than him this year.
Thomas is a 5’9 point guard who currently averages 28.9 PTS and 5.9 AST. The NBA has not seen someone of his stature be this dominant in one season. He was drafted by Sacremento, then traded from Pheonix to Boston, and he is now the focal point of the Celtics’ offense.
It is imperative to put IT in the top 5 draft steals list because this has never happened before. When a player is 5’9 and the last pick in the draft, they are expected to become a D-league talent. Through all of the obstacles that Thomas had to go through, he still wowed all of the NBA. 2017 was his breakout year as he led the Celtics to a 53 win season and a trip to the ECF.
It is questionable to predict how long this dominance will last since Gordan Hayward is a Celtic now. Also the fact that he is a 28-year-old 5’9 guard. However, he has exceeded everyone’s expectations to epic proportions.
6 years ago IT was not guaranteed a spot on an NBA roster, now he is 2x All Star.
#3 Kobe Bryant
In 1996, Kobe Bean Bryant was fresh out of Lower Merion, waiting to be drafted. Then on draft day he fell through the top 10 and was picked at 13 by the Charlotte Hornets. Later that night they traded him to the Lakers. Little did they know that they would be trading away the leader of a generation.
There were many questions that surrounded a young Kobe. “Can he lead a franchise?” “Is he willing to trust his teammates?” “Can he bring glory back to LA?” Bryant answered all of the criticism with 5 championships, MVPs, and an 81 point game.
In retrospect, the ’96 Draft turned out to be one of the most successful drafts ever. There were legendary three point shooters in Peja Stojakovic and Ray Allen. 2 MVPs in the draft as well (Allen Iverson, Steve Nash). Also a lot of solid players that were drafted like Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, and Antione Walker. But none of those players are Kobe.
Bryant averaged 25 PTS 5.2 TRB and 4.7 AST for his career and retired in 2016 on his terms as the 3rd leading scorer in NBA History. not to mention an unforgettable 60 point game as his last hoorah.
Through all of the drama, trade rumors, criminal cases, and subpar rapping career. Bryant outlasted his class. Jerry West saw something in him that none of those 12 teams saw. “Mamba Out.”
#2 Michael Jordan
A young NBA fan would think that Michael Jordan was taken first by the Chicago Bulls. No, the Houston Rockets selected the Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon who delivered them back to back championships in the ’90s. For the second pick, the Portland Trailblazers selected one of the biggest draft busts of all time in Sam Bowie. At 3rd overall, Jordan was drafted by Chicago then changed the whole landscape of sports forever.
Starting at day one Jordan was averaging 28/game in his rookie year. His Sophomore year he was dropping 63 on Larry Bird’s head and was called “God disguised as Michael Jordan”. Year three, he was averaging 37 a night with 3 steals and 1.5 blocks. By then everybody knew that Chicago had something special.
In Jordan’s 7th year he won his first championship against the old “Showtime” Lakers. Magic Johnson passed the torch to Jordan, he never looked back. By year 10, he is an outfielder for the Birmingham Barons. There are already 3 rings on his fingers and he was hungry for more. Finally, in year 14 he has 6 championships, 10 scoring titles, 5 MVPs and is claimed the G.O.A.T.
All of his accomplishments could have been worn in a Trailblazers jersey, but the fact of the matter is it wasn’t. Even the Bulls did not know what they got themselves into, but they are fortunate they drafted him.
#1 Stephen Curry
Yes, the number one draft steal in NBA History is Steph Curry. Please don’t stop reading, here is why. The Golden State Warriors were not much of anything during the post-Baron Davis, “We believe” era. Monta Ellis was the team’s best player and beloved by the fans, but there were no wins to show it. in 2009 they had the 8th pick in a draft that consisted of all star players like James Harden, Blake Griffin, and DeMar DeRozan. However, none of those players compare to what Curry brings to the table.
Like it or not, Steph has been the face of the League for the past 3 years. Curry leads the NBA in jersey sales for the second consecutive year. He has 17 million followers on Instagram and has every famous rapper name dropping him. He is the leading athlete for Under Armour and has had twitter buzzing whenever his shoe release. There are small kids seeing themselves in Curry and using his style of play and size as inspiration. The Baby-Faced Assassin transcends sports.
Curry started a pro-three pointer culture that has every basketball team in America mimicking their game. This style of play has built a powerhouse in the NBA and has every team is in a frenzy this summer to stop them. However, his game isn’t loved by all. In 2015 TNT analyst Charles Barkley said that a jump shooting team will never win a championship because they lack in size. Well, since then they have 2 championships in 3 years and there are no signs of anything changing. The Warriors created such a great culture, that Kevin Durant swallowed his pride and decide to join the team to win multiple championships.
That culture starts and ends with Curry. He has been on the roster longer than all his teammates and head coach. What makes Curry’s story even better is that he was a skinny, light-skinned kid coming out of Davidson. Nobody, not even the unanimous MVP saw any of this coming. His first few years in the league he was a 17/game scorer and suffered numerous ankle injuries. Now he is a 4x All Star, 2x MVP, and is viewed as the greatest 3 point shooter in history in his 8th season.