Looking back at the Draft nights of recent years in the NBA, one will surely notice the huge mistakes that were made on numerous occasions. However, some teams pulled massive steals, while others did good to draft players that actually turned out to be super-stars.
Some choices are straight up laughable, while others are to be respected. This is the very nature of the draft, it runs mostly on speculation. There is no telling whether a promising rookie will actually continue his strong career in the NBA, or will turn to the flop of the decade.
However, we are not here to judge (today), but to admire the best players that were picked in each of the last 15 editions of the NBA Draft. The 2017 season is still underway, so we won’t make a pick for now, but let’s take a look at the 15 best picks in the last 15 years of the NBA Draft :
2016 NBA Draft: Ben Simmons
Drafted at the 1st overall pick of last year’s draft, Simmons didn’t play a single game last season due to fractures in his right foot. However, he has exploded this season and is the undeniable candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award. Standing at 6 feet 10 inches (2.10 m) is considered as a Power Forward, but his handles are better than a lot of Point Guards in the league.
He currently averages 17.3 ppg, to go along with 8.9 rpg, and a whopping 7.8 apg. Moreover, he steals the ball on an average of 2.1 times per match and also has 0.8 blocks per match. While his shooting percentages might not be the best, his impact in the 76ers’ line-up is massive, and he is already showing super-start potential.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown
2015 NBA Draft: Kristaps Porzingis
People were actually heard booing when Adam Silver announced that the Knicks picked him at the 4th overall pick, but the joke’s on them. The Unicorn has such a rare skill-set for a man that stands at 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 m), being a constant double-double threat. He specializes in blocks and three-pointers as well, while not having a clear disadvantage to his game.
While we’ve seen other players his size rack up easy double-doubles, they lacked range. Some of the players that actually had his range, lacked in defensive stats. Now that Carmelo has been traded, Porzingis has been unleashed, posting 25.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg and at least two 3-pointers. The Knicks have found their franchise player, and all they need to do is surround him with the talent he deserves.
Honorable Mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker
2014 NBA Draft: Joel Embiid
Embiid was playing volleyball when he was discovered, but he has emerged as one of the best Centers in the league. He actually missed his rookie season due to a broken bone in his foot, and also missed the one after that due to a setback in that injury.
He was finally unleashed last season but only played 31 matches due to a torn meniscus in his “good” leg. Still, his numbers were impressive, and they still are this season. Through 24 matches he averages 24.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg and also one 3-pointer. If he can stay healthy, he can have the whole NBA world talking about The Process.
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Wiggins and Nikola Jokic
2013 NBA Draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis grew up under really tough conditions in Greece, where he was playing in the 2nd-tier league. However, he found himself picked at the 15th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, when the Milwaukee Bucks believed in the “Greek Freak”. He actually had a pretty rough rookie season, but he has been steadily increasing his production across the board since then.
He eventually broke free last season, when he earned his first All-Star appearance as a starter, and also won the Most Improved Player award. He led the Bucks in pretty much every statistical category, and this season he has broken a ton of scoring records. His athleticism is unmatched, and the only thing he, is the perimeter shot. It is only a matter of time before he fixes that, so the MVP Award is not very far for him.
Honorable Mentions: Victor Oladipo and C.J. McCollum
2012 NBA Draft: Anthony Davis
The Kentucky product was a no-brainer top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, with his all-around skill-set being one of the most unique in the NBA. He has been impressive even since his rookie season, and also led the NBA in blocked shots in each of the following two seasons.
He has also found success with the National Team, having already grabbed two gold medals.
However, a string of various injuries have prevented Davis from playing a full season up to now, with the 75 games he played last season being a career high. The Brow is now paired with DeMarcus Cousins, and even though his numbers have taken a slight hit, he still remains among the most talented players in the NBA right now.
Honorable Mentions: Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal
2011 NBA Draft: Kawhi Leonard
Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs pulled a rabbit out of the hat once again in the 2011 NBA Draft, when they picked Kawhi Leonard at the 15th overall pick. Just to put it into perspective, Derrick Williams was picked at the 2nd pick, Bismack Biyombo was picked at the 7th, and Jimmer Fredette at the 10th.
Coach Pop has an eye for players like him, and he has molded Kawhi into an All-Star caliber player. He won a title with the Spurs back in 2014, where he was also named MVP of the Finals. He has made two All-Star appearances, won Defensive Player of the Year Award twice, and was a Steals Leader in 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson
2010 NBA Draft: DeMarcus Cousins
The 2010 NBA Draft was one of the weirdest Drafts in recent years. Some teams made some horrible decisions, but the Sacramento Kings struck gold when they picked DeMarcus Cousins at the 5th overall pick. They actually also drafted Hassan Whiteside in the 33rd pick, but that’s a whole different story.
Cousins has become by far the most all-around Big Man in the league, being a constant triple-double threat. Besides shooting 3s like there’s no tomorrow, Boogie has also been impressive on the defensive end. He can drop 50 points on any given night, but he can also dish out 10 assists or swat 7-8 shots. If he can control his temper, he can become a legend in the NBA.
Honorable Mentions: John Wall and Paul George
2009 NBA Draft: Stephen Curry
In retrospect, the Warriors made a massive choice to pick him in the 7th overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft. Dubbed as the greatest shooter in NBA history (yes, they are forgetting Larry Bird), the Warriors went on to win a couple of NBA titles in 2015 and 2017.
He was actually named MVP in 2015 and 2016 and has been an NBA All-Star for each of the past four seasons. Last season he was the NBA Scoring Champion, and the NBA Steals Leader. While the Grizzlies picked Hasheem Thabeet in the 2nd overall pick, the Warriors picked Curry at the 7th. Kudos.
Honorable Mentions: James Harden and Blake Griffin
2008 NBA Draft: Russel Westbrook
He was actually the last pick ever by the Seattle Supersonics, as they were relocated to Oklahoma City six days later. Derrick Rose was picked at the 1st overall pick but had his career devastated by injuries, while the next two picks, Micheal Beasley and O.J. Mayo, aren’t even close to Russ.
While he has not earned an NBA title yet, he won the MVP Award last season, when he averaged a triple-double. He was by far the best player in that draft, and he has pledged his allegiance to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is a beast of a player, and the Thunder should be feeling grateful for his stellar career.
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Rose and Kevin Love
2007 NBA Draft: Kevin Durant
The NBA Draft was not very strong that season, but the Seattle Supersonics managed to grab one of the best players of all time in the 2nd overall pick. The Blazers actually had the chance to pick him at the top, but they chose the injury-prone Greg Oden instead.
Needless to say, the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder made some insane picks on three consecutive seasons, starting with KD in 2007, pairing him with Westbrook the next year, and by James Harden in 2009. The trio never won a title, but KD has. He signed with the Warriors in 2016, winning a well-deserved title last season.
Honorable Mentions: Marc Gasol and Al Horford
2006 NBA Draft: Rajon Rondo
He was without a doubt the steal of the Draft Day that year, in what was a pretty weak draft overall. Drafted at the 21st overall pick by the Phoenix Suns, he was subsequently traded to the Boston Celtics, where he really made a name for himself.
Rondo won an NBA title in 2008 alongside Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and was named an NBA All-Star in all seasons from 2010 till 2013. Moreover, he was the NBA assists leader in 2012, 2013 and 2016, and also lead the Steals category in 2010. He is now considered an elite-passer, and he is making a living while making plays for Cousins and Davis in the Pelicans.
Honorable Mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyle Lowry
2005 NBA Draft: Chris Paul
Chris Paul was by far the best pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and he was just picked at the 4th overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets. He won Rookie of the Year in 2006, and his career really took off after a couple of seasons with the Hornets.
Fast forward to today, he is now playing for the Houston Rockets, in an attempt to grab a well-deserved NBA title. He has a 9-time NBA All-Star, was the MVP of the 2013 All-Star Game, and made the All-NBA First Team four times. Moreover, he led the NBA in Assists on 4 occasions and also led in Steals in 6 seasons. He is considered one of the best play-makers in the league.
Honorable Mentions: Deron Williams and Monta Ellis
2004 NBA Draft: Dwight Howard
While the 2004 NBA Draft didn’t feature a lot of would-be stars, Dwight Howard was by far the most successful. Picked at the 1st overall pick by the Orlando Magic, he went on to become the youngest player to average a double-double in his rookie season.
He led the Magic to their first division title in 12 years and even led them to the NBA Finals in the 2008-09 season. He is an 8-time NBA All-Star, won the Defensive Player of the Year Award on 3 occasions, led the NBA in Rebounds five times, and the Blocks twice. His energy on the defense and his ability to easily rack up double-doubles had him among the top Centers in the league during his prime.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Martin and Al Jefferson
2003 NBA Draft: LeBron James
That was one of the strongest NBA Drafts of recent years, and quite possibly of all time. While there was no doubt that LeBron James would be picked at the 1st overall pick, the other teams also had some great players to choose from. Carmelo Anthony was picked at the 3rd pick, Chris Bosh at the 4th and Dwyane Wade at the 5th.
They are all excellent players, but they just can’t be compared with LeBron. He led the Cavaliers to their first Finals appearance in 2007 and helped his native city win their first sports title in 52 years. He won three NBA Titles, numerous personal records, and also a lot of success with the National Team. He is the King.
Honorable Mentions: Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony
2002 NBA Draft: Yao Ming
The Houston Rockets struck gold when they picked Yao Ming with the 1st overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. There were talks that the Chinese Basketball Association would not let him go to the NBA unless he was picked at the 1st overall pick. There is a lot of controversy surrounding his name, but he reached the NBA Playoffs four times, was named All-Star eight times and was eventually elected into the Hall Of Fame in 2016.
In July 2011, Yao announced his retirement from professional basketball because of a series of foot and ankle injuries that forced him to miss 250 games in his last six seasons. In eight seasons with the Rockets, Yao ranks sixth among franchise leaders in total points and total rebounds, and second in total blocks.
Honorable Mentions: Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer