The NBA Draft is one of the most exciting times in the long NBA Off-Season. Fans tune in to see if that once-in-a-lifetime talent will be joining their roster for the next season and beyond, and franchises spend millions of dollars on scouting trips and workouts to try and uncover the next diamond in the rough.
But the draft isn’t always a sure thing, more so than the drafting process in other major sports. Often, the number 1 pick will always be the best player from that class, but it’s also common to see prospects drafted in the late first round to become All-Stars, even Hall of Famers.
That begs the question, which players are the best from their respective draft position? Who is the best number 1 pick in NBA history? Who is the best 30th pick? This list will count them down, starting with 30-21, the best players of all-time drafted at each position in the first round of the NBA Draft.
30th Pick: Jimmy Butler
Stats and Awards: 14.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2x All-Star, 3x All-Defensive Team, 2014-15 Most Improved Player
Honorable Mentions: David Lee (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.2 APG), Nate McMillan (5.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 6.1 APG)
As you can see from the honourable mentions, the 30th pick has a minuscule chance of letting a team draft a great player, or finding a steal. But Jimmy Butler shows that it is possible. Drafted in 2011, Butler was taken by the Chicago Bulls as the last pick of the first round. After being stuck to the bench for the first two years of his career, and being underwhelming in his third year, Butler exploded onto the scene, winning the Most Improved Player award in the 2014-15 season, and being an All-Star in 2015 and 2016.
29th Pick: Josh Howard
Stats and Awards: 14.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1x All-Star, 2003-04 All-Rookie Team
Honorable Mentions: Archie Goodwin (6.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.2 APG), Toney Douglas (7.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.3 APG)
Not many have heard of Josh Howard. Drafted in the 2003 Draft by the Dallas Mavericks, he averaged 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game in his rookie campaign, even starting in 29 games. This earned him All-Rookie second team honors, on which he only improved upon. He continued to become an important part of the Mavericks starting 5 between 2003 and 2009, and was an important part in the 2006 Finals series against Miami, averaging 16.7 points and 7.4 rebounds for that year’s Playoffs.
28th Pick: Tony Parker
Stats and Awards: 16.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.8 APG, 6x All-Star, 4x NBA Champion, 4x All-NBA Team, 2001-02 All-Rookie Team, 2007 Finals MVP
Honorable Mentions: Greg Ostertag (4.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.6 APG), Leandro Barbosa (10.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.1 APG)
What more needs to be said about Tony Parker? Selected by the Spurs back in 2001 out of France, Parker would only solidify how great of a coach Greg Popovich was, as Pop turned a hot-headed Parker into arguably one of the greatest point guards of the mid-2000’s. Parker would improve every year after being drafted, and would help lead the Spurs offense, combined with Duncan and Ginobili, to 4 titles (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014), and would even win the Finals MVP award over Duncan in 2007, with a sweep against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
27th Pick: Elden Campbell
Stats and Awards: 10.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 2004 NBA Champion
Honorable Mentions: Arron Afflalo (11.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.9 APG), Kendrick Perkins (5.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 APG)
Elden Campbell was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1990 Draft, out of Clemson University, primarily a football school. Campbell’s best years would come playing Power Forward for the Lakers in the mid 90’s. Campbell would start the majority of games, and his best season came in 1996-97, where he averaged 14.9 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, starting in 77 games.
Unfortunately for Campbell, he would be traded a year after the Lakers acquired Shaq, meaning he was not on the roster during their three-peat. Campbell would bounce around the league, landing on the Charlotte Hornets, Seattle SuperSonics, and the Detroit Pistons, where he would be a part of the Piston’s Championship team in 2004, coming off the bench.
26th Pick: Vlade Divac
Stats and Awards: 11.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1x All-Star, 1989-90 All-Rookie Team
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Martin (17.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.9 APG), George Hill (11.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.3 APG)
Another Los Angeles Lakers draftee, Vlade Divac was taken by LA in the 1989 Draft. Divac would perform reasonably well for the Lakers his rookie year, even starting in 5 games. His sophomore season and beyond was much better however, as he would improve to 16 points and 10 rebounds a game by 1994-95. This great year would turn out to be a curse for Divac, as he would be part of the trade that would send a kid named Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers on the day of the 1996 Draft.
Vlade would stay with the Hornets for 2 years, before signing with Sacramento in 1998. The 7’1 Center would spend almost the rest of his career in Sacramento, being named an All-Star in 2000, and facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the most controversial Western Conference Finals in 2002.
25th Pick: Gerald Wallace
Stats and Awards: 11.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1x All-Star, 2009-10 All-Defensive Team
Honorable Mentions: Al Harrington (13.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.7 APG), Tony Allen (8.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 APG)
For a 25th pick, Gerald Wallace exceeded all expectations. Taken by the Sacramento Kings in the 2001 draft out of the University of Alabama, Wallace had a lacklustre start to his career. Crash only averaged 9.7 minutes across his first three seasons with the Kings. That changed however when Wallace was selected by the new Charlotte Bobcats franchise in the 2004 Expansion Draft, where he was thrust into the starting Small Forward role.
Wallace flourished in his new uniform, and arguably became the best player in Charlotte Bobcats history, becoming the first player from the franchise to be selected to an All-Star game in 2009-10. During this season, Wallace averaged 18.2 points and 10 rebounds a game.
He was also a defensive juggernaut, coming away with 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. Unfortunately for Wallace, he was traded to Portland the very next season, and then onto New Jersey the season afterward. Crash would perform at a consistent level during these years, but nowhere near close to the level he was at in Charlotte.
24th Pick: Sam Cassell
Stats and Awards: 15.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1x All-Star, 3x NBA Champion, 2003-04 All-NBA Team
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Lowry (14.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.7 APG), Terry Porter (12.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.6 APG)
Sam Cassell was considered quite the journeyman in the NBA. Drafted by the Houston Rockets in the 1993 draft, Cassell played for a total of 8 NBA teams across his 14-year career. Cassell was lucky to be drafted when he was, as in his first two seasons, he won 2 championships while coming off the bench for the Houston Rockets in the mid 90’s. Cassell came off the bench for the majority of his early career, only starting a combined 51 games across his first four years in the NBA. As Cassell grew older, his game became more refined and polished.
By the time he was 34, Cassell had already been on 6 teams, but his year-to-year performances improved. With the Minnesota Timberwolves, his 6th NBA franchise, Sam Cassell made his first All-Star team at the age of 34 in 2003-04, averaging 19.8 points and 7.3 assists per game. After his short stint with the Wolves, Cassell moved onto the Clippers, and finally the Boston Celtics, where he wrapped up his career as a 3-time NBA Champion in 2008.
23rd Pick: Tayshaun Prince
Stats and Awards: 11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2004 NBA Champion, 4x All-Defensive Team
Honorable Mentions: A.C. Green (9.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.1 APG), Wesley Person (11.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Despite his low draft stock, Tayshaun Prince managed to carve out a very respectable career for himself. Drafted back in 2002, Prince was not given much of an opportunity to show what he was capable of in his rookie year. His sophomore year was much different however. Starting in 80 out of 82 games, compared to 5 in his debut season, Prince was a defensive stalwart, as he played a major role in bringing a championship to Detroit and stopping a Lakers dynasty in its tracks. Who could forget his chasedown block on Reggie Miller in the Eastern Conference Finals of that year, which was considered the greatest block in NBA history for a long time?
After this initial championship run, Prince was a fan favourite in Detroit, and was a solid contributor. He averaged just under a steal and a block a game, as well as chipping in around 14 points per game. In the 2012-13 season, Prince was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies, and has spent the rest of his career bouncing around from team to team as a veteran leader. As of the 2016-17 NBA season, Prince currently mentors the young core of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
22nd Pick: Norm Nixon
Stats and Awards: 15.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 8.3 APG, 2x NBA Champion, 2x All-Star, 1977-78 All-Rookie Team
Honorable Mentions: Reggie Lewis (17.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG), Scott Skiles (11.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 6.5 APG)
Coming into the league at the age of 22, Norm Nixon was considered a well-rounded prospect, but not one that had high potential due to already spending 4 years at Duquesne University. The Lakers took Nixon with the 22nd pick in the 1977 NBA Draft, and what a surprise he turned out to be. Nixon would go on to average 16 points and 8 assists for the Lakers, playing alongside Magic Johnson in the backcourt and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which no doubt helped his stats. Due to how stacked the Showtime Lakers were, Nixon was never considered a factor in their winning ways, even though he was playing considerable minutes in their starting lineup, and was an All-Star at one point.
After 2 championships with Magic and the Lakers, Nixon was shipped off to the San Diego Clippers, where he proved he wasn’t riding on the coattails of Magic and Kareem. Nixon averaged 17 and 11 his first season in San Diego, and was awarded another All-Star birth the following year. Unfortunately for Nixon, the injury bug hit, and would miss the 1986 and 1987 NBA seasons with knee injuries, which he would never recover from, and was forced to retire.
21ST Pick: Rajon Rondo
Stats and Awards: 10.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 8.6 APG, 2008 NBA Champion, 4x All-Star, 2011-12 All-NBA Team, 4x All-Defensive Team, 2006-07 All-Rookie Team
Honorable Mentions: Michael Finley (15.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.9 APG), Nate Robinson (11.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.0 APG)
As far as Rondo’s production has fallen off the past couple of years after leaving Boston, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the best 21st pick ever. When at Boston, under Coach Rivers, and surrounded by players that he liked, such as Paul Pierce, and players that could control him, such as Kevin Garnett, he was the best pass-first guard in the NBA. During Boston’s Finals runs in 2008 and 2010, Rondo was a monster. Hustling for loose balls, and almost averaging a double-double through the Playoffs in 2010, at the age of 23.
Unfortunately for Rondo, once Boston’s core had been traded away, and Rivers had moved onto LA, things weren’t the same. Traded to Dallas in 2014, Rondo almost refused to play for Rick Carlisle, and gave up during Dallas’ first-round matchup against Houston. Since then, he has led the league in assists for the 3rd time in his career while playing for the Kings, and has been repeatedly benched for the Bulls under Fred Hoiberg in the 2016-17 season.
Be sure to tune in soon for players 20-11!