Tonight is draft night.
Every team has the potential to have their franchise turned upside down. Every team are looking for that key piece that will steer them towards championships. Every team are looking for a LeBron James, a Kevin Durant, a Dirk Nowitzki or a Steph Curry.
The top picks have historically garnered the top talent. After all, that is the way it is structured. This year the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks have the biggest upside when making their picks.
But often times, teams can make absolute steals outside of the Top 10. Maybe it’s a player that is being slept on, a player that hasn’t proved much in college or high school, or simply a player that doesn’t have an immediate fit with a team with a top pick.
Let’s take a look at the best NBA draft picks, inside the last decade, that were drafted outside of the Top 10.
Pick – 35 (Round 2)
College – Texas A&M
Team – Los Angeles Clippers
Runners up – George Hill, Serge Ibaka, Goran Dragic.
It’s amazing to see that DeAndre Jordan, who could arguably have been a Top 30 player in the league at one stage, wasn’t even a Top 30 player in his own draft.
The L.A. Clippers Centre , in hindsight, was an absolute steal at 35, especially given the minutes he’s put in for the Clippers in the last decade.
Jordan was an essential part of the Clippers ‘Big 3’ alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that made 6 playoff appearances in a row between 2012-2017. The eventual departures of both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul has left Jordan in limbo to steer the team in the right direction.
Jordan put free agency talk to rest by re-signing with the Clippers before the trade deadline. It will be interesting to see what they do in this offseason, acquiring Kawhi Leonard will be the biggest priority. None the less, Jordan has cemented himself as one of the greatest Clippers of all-time, and that’s what makes him the biggest steal in the 2008 draft.
Pick – 17 (Round 1)
College – UCLA
Team – Philadelphia 76ers
Runners up – Jeff Teague, Patrick Beverley, Danny Green.
2009 was a stacked draft. Blake Griffin, James Harden, Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan all went within the Top 10. But some players turned out to be very useful pieces for teams outside of the Top 10.
The biggest outlier outside of the Top 10 this year was UCLA’s Jrue Holiday. Holiday might not be the calibre of draftee as the players I mentioned above, but at 17, many teams would be more than happy to have acquired him. Holiday is a one-time all-star, making his lone appearance in 2013. This year he made the All-Defensive first team.
Holiday had to operate on a number of sub-par, pre ‘Process’, Philadelphia 76ers teams in his early years. In 2014, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. Only this year did we see Holiday really live up to his potential. He averaged 23.7/5.7/6.3 in the 2017/2018 playoffs, dropping 41 points in Game 4 vs. Portland.
Pick – 33 (Round 2)
College – Marshall
Team – Sacramento Kings
Runners up – Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe, Ed Davis.
For most of the featured players on this list, they were immediately part of regular season rotations, proving their worth either starting or coming off the bench. For Hassan Whiteside, his road wasn’t as easy.
Whiteside bounced between D-League affiliates and overseas teams before the Miami Heat picked him up one month in to the 2014-2015 season. Whiteside quickly made an impact, two months in to his Heat tenure recording a triple double off the bench. He became the first player since Manute Bol with 25 minutes or less played and 12 blocks recorded.
It became clear that Whiteside was a defensive force to be reckoned with. This led him to be named on the All-defensive second team in 2016 and becoming the blocks leader for the same season. Just one year later, he became the rebounds leader for the season.
It’s an unusual pick, especially now as Whiteside finds himself in a lot of uncertainty. He was very vocal about being benched in the Heats short playoff run this year – a move that more often than not leads to being traded. None the less, his defensive presence has made him the most desirable pick outside of the Top 10 in 2010.
Pick – 15 (Round 1)
College – San Diego State
Team – Indiana Pacers (traded to San Antonio)
Runners up – Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas.
It’s amazing that a player outside of the three runners up named above are the biggest steal of the draft. Thompson, at 11, has become one of the most efficient 3 pointers in NBA history, and a 3-time champion. Butler has been a perennial all-star and elite two way guard. Thomas, the last pick in the draft, was a borderline MVP candidate last year. But anyone of Kawhi Leonard’s calibre does not deserve to fall out of the Top 10.
Kawhi helped lead San Antonio to their last title in 2014. Achieving Finals MVP that year, he has went on to be a two time All-defensive player of the year and a two time All NBA first team feature. His accolades speak for themselves. Kawhi is a top top player.
What’s even more devastating for the teams inside the Top 15, is that the Indiana Pacers passed up on the 15th pick to acquire George Hill. Who would you rather have on your team right now?
Leonard is in a weird state of affairs at the moment. Similar to Whiteside, it seems like he has fallen out of favour with is team, and will more than likely be donning another team’s jersey come the start of the 2018-2019 season. None the less, the Indiana Pacers should find it hard to sleep since.
Pick – 35 (Round 2)
College – Michigan State
Team – Golden State Warriors
Runners up – Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder and Evan Fournier.
I could just leave all of Draymond Green’s accolades in a list and finish up this paragraph. The fact that Draymond Green went at 35 has become a historical example. When players are taken late in the draft, and they far exceed any reasonable person’s expectations – we call that a Draymond Green.
That’s exactly what happened to Green with his current GSW run. All three core pieces pre-Durant – Curry, Thompson and Green, were picked outside of the Top 5 in the NBA draft. It’s incredible to think.
Green has been the defensive stalwart on a super-team that has dominated the NBA in the past four seasons. Bar one slip-up to LeBron James, Golden State have won back-to-back titles that could have amounted to 4 in a row.
Per Justin Kabatko, the Warriors are the first team in NBA history to win back-to-back titles with a double-digit average point differential in both playoff runs. Green has been as important a piece as any for that success, a leader on and off the field. Saying he was merely a ‘steal’ at 35 might be an understatement.
Pick – 15 (Round 1)
College – Filathlitikos (Greece)
Team – Milwaukee Bucks
Runners up – Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder.
It can be easy to see why Giannis Antetokounmpo should have probably been the first pick in this draft. No disrespect to Anthony Bennett, but looking back it’s clear cut. But hindsight is very much 20/20.
Giannis was a risk at the time, as is any prospect coming from oversees without big league experience. His height, wingspan and athleticism was enough to gamble on, and that’s exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks did. And I’m fairly sure they’re glad they did.
Antetokounmpo, until Victor Oladipo joined him this year, was the only player in this entire draft selected on an All NBA team and All Star team. He was last years most improved player. It’s scary to think how far he has come in just a few seasons.
The 2013 draft embodies what his article is about. Even if you don’t fall in to the Top 10, there still could be someone out there with a franchise altering ability. The Bucks struck gold with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Pick – 41 (Round 2)
College – Mega Vizura (Serbia)
Team – Denver Nuggets
Runners up – Clint Capela, Dario Saric and Gary Harris.
39 teams passed on Nikola Jokic. Think about that for a second.
Probably the best passing big man in the league, Jokic has cemented himself as a franchise centerpiece for the Denver Nuggets. He recorded a career high 10 triple doubles during the regular season, despite not making the jump to a level many expected him to make by now.
The Nuggets have a lot of upside, and a lot of that has to do with their clever drafting. Their guard line-up of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris (who was traded by the Bulls on the same draft night) has garnered the Nuggets a young core to build around. A lot of things are expected of Jokic over the next couple of seasons.
Pick – 13 (Round 1)
College – Kentucky
Team – Phoenix Suns
Runners up – Myles Turner, Josh Richardson and Bobby Portis.
As we move up in the list, the decisions get harder and harder. The reason being, it’s easy to look back at 2008 and look at players that have been in the league for ten years. It allows more time to assess their play, their accomplishments and their overall impact in the league. Now it’s getting harder, but Devin Booker without a doubt was the biggest steal of the 2015 NBA draft.
The Phoenix Suns haven’t had great luck with their recent draft picks, but Booker is the exception. Surrounded by a team of mainly mediocre talent (bar TJ Warren, Josh Jackson and possibly Tyson Chandler if he stays), Booker has shined. His ability to run the offence and knock down shots has put him in the upper percentile in the league. Just reference his 70 point game last season.
The Suns are looking to make amends by possibly taking DeAndre Ayton at #1 this year. If Ayton and Jackson mature in to top talent, which they by all means can, the Suns are set for the next few years. Booker isn’t as much of a gamble, as he’s proven his offensive capability. If he can improve his defensive presence, he will be a top top player in the league for years to come.
Pick – 29 (Round 1)
College – Washington
Team – San Antonio Spurs
Runners up – Malcolm Brogdon, Taurean Prince and Damontas Sabonis.
The easy option here is going for Rookie of the Year, and second round pick, Malcolm Brogdon. It’s a great story. He is the latest pick in the draft to achieve such feat.
But upon watching Milkwaukee/Boston closely in the playoffs, Dejounte Murray overtakes Brogdon just a bit. Murray had a clearly defined role on the San Antonio Spurs team this year. In lieu of Tony Parker at the start of the season, Gregg Poppovich started Murray at guard, and continued to do so as Parker returned from injury. The gamble played off.
This year saw Murray make the All-defensive second team. He features alongside an impressive list: Al Horford, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green. Not too shabby.
To get a glimpse of Murray’s impact on the Spurs this season, they had the tied best defensive rating in the league, without Kawhi Leonard. In February Murray also became the first player since Kawhi to record 500 points and 300 rebounds in his first 100 games with the Spurs. The future is bright.
Pick – 13 (Round 1)
College – Louisville
Team – Utah Jazz (traded by Denver Nuggets)
Runners up – Kyle Kuzma, OG Anunoby and Jarrett Allen.
This might have just been the easiest pick of the entire list.
Mitchell proved throughout the regular season why he should have been taken in the Top 10. He led the Jazz’ offence with the maturity and prowess of a 5 season veteran. Two months in to his first ever season, he dropped 41 points. That bested the Jazz rookie scoring record and also made Mitchell the first rookie to score 40+ since Blake Griffin in 2011.
If that’s not enough, in February Mitchell surpassed Jazz legend Karl Malone for most 20+ point games during a rookie season. In February.
What might have been an impressive regular season on all fronts translated in to an even more impressive playoff run. Mitchell was the leading scorer for the Jazz in their playoff series win over OKC, a series many had written them off for. He averaged 28.5 points per game in the series, not too shabby. The Jazz would eventually run in to the Rockets in the next round, but they should hold their heads high. They might just have made the biggest steal in draft history.
– Jonathan Byrne