Taking a look at the greatest steals in the history of the NBA Draft in the lottery era, it’s easy to see why the San Antonio Spurs have been so successful over the years, picking and keeping two of the biggest: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Parker and Ginobili aren’t alone in being passed over, with future hall of famer Steve Nash or current hall of famers like Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, who in hindsight would have been taken a lot earlier.
15 – Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns – 15th in 1996
While you don’t expect to get a nobody with a middle-of-the round pick at first, greatness isn’t usually part of the deal. The 1996 NBA draft has already turned out to be one of the greatest in history, with 8 All-NBA team players. Nash took some time before reaching star-status in the NBA, but ended up winning two MVP awards while playing for the Phoenix Suns, leading the league in assists five times, and posting four 50-40-90 seasons.
14 – Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons – 18th in 1985
Uwe Blab will forever be a trivia tidbit for the guy picked before Joe Dumars in 1985 draft. Dumars ended up winning two NBA titles with the Pistons, playing all 14 NBA seasons in Detroit. He has one Finals MVP award, making the All-Star team six times and the All-Defensive first team four times. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
13 – Mark Price, Cleveland Cavaliers – 25th in 1986
Most of the talent in the 1986 NBA draft, filled with busts and tragedies, came from the second round and later. Not a lot was expected of Mark Price when he came out of Georgia Tech, but during his injury-riddled career Price was one of the best shooters in the NBA, and if it wasn’t for injuries and Michael Jordan, his Cavs probably would have gotten a shot or two at the NBA title. He has two 50-40-90 seasons, and averaged 15.2 points and 6.7 assists throughout his career. He was a four-time NBA All-Star, and was named to the NBA’s first team in 1993.
12 – Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder – 24th in 2008
Ibaka doesn’t have a long body of work like some of the players on this list, but the Thunder have gotten a lot more than you usually expect from a late first round pick. Ibaka has turned into arguably the best shot blocker in the NBA, leading the league in that category over the last two seasons, including being names to the league’s All-Defensive first team twice. He has turned into a dangerous mid-range shooter, and with a few more post moves might turn into a true force of nature in the paint. He averaged 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3 blocks last season for OKC.
11 – Nicolas Batum, Houston Rockets – 25th in 2008
Do the Rockets regret trading Batum in a three-team deal that only the Blazers got something out of? Probably. The talented Frenchman has slowly turned into one of the best small forwards in the NBA, adding a little more to his game with every passing season. He’s now 24, and most would agree he’s on the verge of becoming an All-Star, averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season. He might not be the next Scottie Pippen as some said when he entered the league, but he might not be too far off in a couple of years.
10 – Dražen Petrović, Portland Trail Blazers – 60th in 1986
Back to the bottom-heavy 1986 NBA draft, when European players weren’t something too popular among NBA scouts and GMs. When Petrovic was picked by the Blazers, he was already a superstar in Europe after some magnificent years with Cibona. It took him three more seasons to reach the best league in the world, playing behind Clyde Drexler and not impressing many in the Northwest. His trade to New Jersey changed everything, and Petrovic made the All-NBA’s third team in 1993, averaging over 20 points per game on his last two seasons with the Nets before he died in a car crash on June 7, 1993.
9 – Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks – 43rd in 2000
Redd is one of the few bright spots in the infamous 2000 NBA draft, turning into one of the NBA’s best shooters from 2002 till 2008, when a torn ACL and MCL took his career off the path it was on, preventing him from ever reaching the level of basketball he performed at for the first 8 seasons of his career. He averaged over 21 points per game for six consecutive seasons, making the All-Star game in 2004, and being chosen to the Redeem Team in 2008, winning a gold medal.
8 – Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics – 21st in 2006
Now that Rajon Rondo might be the reason the Boston Celtics have been torn apart during these last two summers, picking the enigmatic point guard might have been a mistake, but not really. Rondo had no problem blending in and standing out while playing next to the big three on the championship 2008 Celtics team, later becoming one of the best point guards in the NBA, with his rise halted in 2013 with a torn ACL. He’s a 4-time All-Star and two time All-Defensive team selection, averaging over 11 assists per game through the last three seasons.
7 – Carlos Boozer, Cleveland Cavaliers – 35th in 2002
It’s pretty clear that Carlos Boozer screwed the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 2003-2004 season, when it was becoming clear he’ll be a double-double machine for years to come, and might turn the Cavs’ frontcourt, along with LeBron James, into the most fearsome in the NBA. Boozer chose Utah and money, and later left to play for the Bulls and money. He is a two-time All-Star, a gold medalist from the 2008 Olympics, and with career averages of 16.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
6 – Rashard Lewis, Seattle Supersonics – 32nd in 1998
A combo forward who is a career 38.8% shooter from beyond the arc, Lewis was a big part of the Orlando Magic reaching two consecutive conference finals (and one NBA finals) in 2009 and 2010, not getting the appreciation he deserves because of his huge contract at the time, making him the second highest player in the NBA. Lewis averaged more than 16.8 points per game for nine straight seasons, and added an NBA title he wasn’t really part of in 2013 to his two All-Star appearances in 2005 and 2009.
5 – Gilbert Arenas, Golden State Warriors – 30th in 2001
Arenas played a total of 47 games for the Washington Wizards for three straight seasons, which signaled the end of his short golden age in the NBA, which inlcuded averaging over 25 points per game for three straight seasons on a very talented Wizards side that could have gone on to do much more than a conference semifinal in 2005. He was a three-time All-Star selection and the NBA’s Most Improved player in 2003, named to three All-NBA teams during his career.
4 – Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – 48th in 2007
From Pau Gasol’s little brother, Marc Gasol has become one of the best big men in the NBA, winning the defensive player of the year last season, forming a daunting frontcourt duo with Zach Randolph. He made the All-Star game for the first time in 2012, and his career averages of 13.3 points and 8 rebounds per game don’t begin to describe his importance to his team and his impact during the game, which is going to last for quite a few more years before he starts slowing down.
3 – Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs – 28th in 2001
A lock in the hall of fame once he retires, Tony Parker has been flying under the radar for quite a few years, but it’s hard to ignore a three-time NBA champions, with a Finals MVP and five All-Star appearances. He’s been leading the Spurs for the last five years as Duncan and Ginobili have declined, averaging over 18 points per game in six of his last eight seasons, including 20.3 per game in 2013.
2 – Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons – 27th in 1986
Players coming out of Southeastern Oklahoma State don’t usually reach the NBA hall of fame. Rodman wasn’t a pretty offensive basketball player to watch, but he was often the most important player on his teams, and the hidden reason why why Thomas, Dumars, Jordan and Pippen have so many NBA rings. He is a five time NBA champions, two-time defensive player of the year, with seven rebounding crowns, and five of the top 8 rebounding seasons in the NBA since 1973.
1 – Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs – 57th in 1999
Manu Ginobili was the best player in Europe when he finally decided to join the Spurs, three years after they picked him. Being a sixth man for most of your career is hard when you know you can play a lot more than 27.5 minutes per game, but it didn’t stop Ginobili from being a huge part in the Spurs’ three NBA titles (2003, 2005, 2007) in the new millennium, this time without any asteriks, making two All-Star games and winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008.
In the mood of the draft, you can also check out the biggest busts in NBA draft history, just to get a balanced view of NBA GMs.