The Draft Lottery is one of the most exciting and intriguing times for NBA fans, especially in an era where you can just google the top prospects of the NCAA or Europe and see what they can bring to the table for your favorite team.
Nevertheless, even if the first pick is the one that carries most of the hype, there have been a lot of times where the first or even second choice winds up being a major disappointment, while the other players end up becoming huge superstars.
Besides, some teams tend to ignore talented players due to age, injuries or because they simply don’t need them and believe other guys would be a far better fit for their squad in the foreseeable future, and when drafts are quite loaded with talent, lucky teams wind up getting huge steals at lower picks.
Having said that, and with the upcoming lottery right ahead of us, let’s take a look at the top 10 guys that didn’t go 1st or 2nd overall, but still managed to become a superstar in the NBA, listing the top 10 3rd picks in NBA Draft history.
10. Chauncey Billups - Boston Celtics 1997
Billups only spent a season with the Celtics before being dealt to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Kenny Anderson, Zan Tabak and Popeye Jones, being chosen just behind Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn. Still, he didn’t find consistency until he signed with the Pistons in 2002, where he took his game to a whole new level.
Making it to 5 All-Star games and leading the Pistons to the ring in 2004, where he also won the Finals MVP, Billups became a monster on both ends of the court, but especially on defense, averaging 15.2 points, 2.9 boards and 5.4 helpers per contest.
9. James Harden - Oklahoma City Thunder 2009
You definitely have to give it to the Sonics/Thunder organization for their outstanding scouting, drafting Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden in consecutive drafts, although they’re probably going to regret giving up on Harden to keep Ibaka until the very last day of their lives.
So, right after winning the 6th Man of the Year award and showing great signs of development, his lack of defense made Sam Presti consider him expendable, but nowadays he’s become one of the main MVP candidates and he’s keen to lead his Houston Rockets to an NBA Championship, becoming one of the best offensive players in the league.
8. Pau Gasol - Atlanta Hawks 2001
Despite being projected to go between 10 and 15, the Grizzlies determination to sign the Barcelona product made them aggressively pursue him with the 3rd overall pick, sending their franchise player Shareef Abdur-Rahim to the Hawks in order to acquire him right away and the rest his history.
Considered to be the best Spanish player in history, Pau found his way to back-to-back NBA rings, 6 All-Star games, a Rookie of the Year award, as well as a couple of silver medals with his national team and lifetime averages of 16.9 points and 9.6 boards per game.
7. Nate Thurmond - San Francisco/Golden State Warriors 1963
Nate the Great is considered to be one of the best defensive centers in NBA history, and he showed to be a really dominant presence through his entire 14-year career as a member of the Warriors, the Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he retired at the age of 35.
Carrying career averages of 15 points and 15 rebounds per night, Nate Thurmond was a regular name in the NBA All-Defensive team and even if he didn’t win a lot of personal distinctions, he was one of the ultimate role players and a more determined and sacrificed defender, also being the first player in league history to ever record a quadruple double.
6. Carmelo Anthony - Denver Nuggets 2003
After his successful career in high school and then Syracuse, it was pretty obvious that Carmelo was poised to completely dominate the NBA thanks to his outstanding athleticism and his offensive game, being alongside LeBron James the readiest player in one of the greatest drafts in NBA history.
People tend to forget how much of a dominant scorer this guy was, and now as he reaches the last years of his career, he’s not getting the credit he deserves as one of the most prolific basketball players in the history of the game.
5. Kevin McHale - Boston Celtics 1980
McHale was definitely the best substitute the league has ever seen, even ahead of Manu Ginobili or Jamal Crawford, with his incredible footwork and rebounding ability that made him one of the greatest players in Celtics history.
The 3-time NBA champion managed to average 17.4 points and 7.3 boards through his entire career despite coming off the bench for most of his career, being a 7-time All-Star and one of the ultimate two-way players in NBA history with his outstanding defense as well as his polished offensive game.
4. Pete Maravich - Atlanta Hawks 1970
Going after Bob Lanier and Rudy Tomjanovich, the Hawks got a major steal with “Pistol Pete”, available with the 3rd pick of the 1970 NBA draft, being just the perfect guy for their objective to bring more youth to the team after a very impressive college career with Louisiana State.
As a fierce scorer that was practically unguardable, Maravich was one of the regular leading scorers in the NBA, averaging over 24 points per contest in just 658 career appearances. Leading the league with 31.1 points per game, Maravich had some pretty impressive records, like 68 points against the Knicks, 16 free throw attempts in a quarter and 14 free throws scored in a quarter.
3. Dominique Wilkins - Utah Jazz 1982
Wilkins was immediately dealt to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for cash, John Drew and Freeman Williams back in 1982, becoming one of the ultimate scorers in NBA, as he didn’t average under 20 points per season until the final 3 years of his career.
The leading scorer in Atlanta Hawks history, the “Human Highlight Film” is remembered as one of the most explosive and athletic dunkers in NBA history, winning a couple of Slam Dunk Contest while averaging 24.8 points, 6.7 boards and 2.5 assists per game and scoring over 26,000 career points despite playing overseas for a couple of years.
2. Wilt Chamberlain - Philadelphia Warriors 1959
What can we say about Wilt Chamberlain that hasn’t already been said? He’s considered to be the most dominant basketball player in history due to his incredible videogame-like numbers of 24.5 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game through 13 seasons with the Warriors, Sixers and Los Angeles Lakers.
Owning the record for more points in a game with 100, Wilt the Stilt also owns 70 more records in the NBA, such as most games over 40, 50 and 60 points, as well as being the leading rebounder in NBA history. Besides, he won a couple of rings, 4 MVPs (winning one in his rookie season as well as the Rookie of the Year award) and 11-time leading rebounder of the NBA.
1. Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls 1984
If you were wondering who could actually go ahead of Wilt Chamberlain on our list, well of course it had to be the best player in the history of the game and one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, as well as the man responsible for today’s popularity of the NBA with his impressive performances that made millions of fans fall in love with this beautiful game.
6-time NBA champion, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, 5-time MVP, 6-time Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, 3-time All-Star MVP, 2-time Slam Dunk Champion, leading scorer in Bulls history, 2-time basketball player of the decade and 2-time Olympic champion, there will never be a guy like Michael Jordan again, with lifetime averages of 30.1 points, 6.2 boards and 5.3 assists per game.