It’s never easy to wonder how will prospects fare through their NBA careers, although we can always make projections based on footage, their growth and how they’d fit on the teams we root for, trying to determine which move would be better for our franchise.
NBA scouts and General Managers don’t have it much easier, as landing a franchise player via draft is as tricky and risky as it is difficult, and we’ve seen them strikeout on incredible talents over and over through time.
With little exceptions, the top 5 players in the NBA draft haven’t had the best careers of their draft class, with the guys that trusted rougher prospects with lower picks being considered basketball geniuses after some years.
It’s still quite early to make predictions based on some summer league and preseason games, but, for instance, Kyle Kuzma’s already looking like a major steal by the Los Angeles Lakers, that grabbed him with the 27th overall pick via Brooklyn and that seems to be outplaying standout rookie Lonzo Ball.
Today, we’re going to let you know about 12 of the biggest draft steals of the last decade, obviously excluding Kyle and this year’s class as they’re yet to make their pro debut.
12. Dario Saric - 12th pick, 2014 NBA Draft
Dario Saric finally arrived to the U.S.A this prior campaign after continuing his development overseas, and it didn’t take long before he proved everybody why the Sixers were so high on him back then in 2014 instead of taking him in the second round.
Saric showed a very developed game on both ends of the floor, even on defense where European studs often struggle to adapt. Playing from the shooting guard spot to either forward role with great ease, Saric scores, rebounds, assists and even blocks the occasional shot.
11. Hassan Whiteside - 33rd pick, 2010 NBA Draft
The only reason why Hassan Whiteside isn’t higher on our draft steal list is simply because the Sacramento Kings didn’t make the most out of him, and he even had to play overseas in order to finally get a second chance to prove his worth on the NBA.
Under Erik Spoelstra’s tutelage, Whiteside has blossomed as an elite rim protector and a top-notch rebounder, leading the league in that regard this prior campaign with just over 14 boards per contest, and he’s already a frontrunner to lead the league in blocks this upcoming campaign.
10. Isaiah Thomas - 60th pick, 2011 NBA Draft
Just like Whiteside, Thomas isn’t higher because the team that drafted him couldn’t actually get advantage out of him, and once again the Sacramento Kings found a way to shoot themselves in the foot after landing a gem with the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Undersized and with few people trusting him, Thomas balled his way into the heart of NBA fans across the globe and even though he’s one of the worst defenders in the league, he can shoot lights out and proven to be a clutch scorer that’s likely to make his first Championship run now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
9. Avery Bradley - 19th pick, 2010 NBA Draft
The other major steal of that 2010 class has to be Avery Bradley, who blossomed as a lockdown defender a couple of seasons ago with the Boston Celtics, being one of the major assets the team had before dealing him to the Detroit Pistons.
Bradley can run the point, play off the ball and even at the 3, and he can guard all three positions as well with great ease. Besides, he’s a very good rebounder for his size and a very willing and underrated passer, and he’s maybe the biggest snub from the NBA’S All-Defense squad of this season.
8. Serge Ibaka - 24th pick, 2008 NBA Draft
The Seattle Supersonics franchise made a terrific job through a couple of years, building the team’s project via NBA draft with the selections of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and of course: Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka was the team’s defensive anchor down low and for the desire to retain him they even parted ways with James Harden, but they didn’t seem to regret it much when Ibaka won the Defensive Player of the Year accolade. Nowadays, he’s lost a bit of punch, but he’s still a hell of a baller and he’ll be a major factor in the Raptors’ postseason success.
7. DeAndre Jordan - 35th pick, 2008 NBA Draft
On that very same night, another big man was a huge steal, although he didn’t seem like it at the time. DeAndre Jordan was pretty much a late bloomer, but he’s now established as one of the league’s top-tier rim protectors and rebounders.
Besides, he’s proven to be extremely loyal, even backing down from a move that would’ve sent him to the Dallas Mavericks to stay put at the Staples Center and continue as a Clipper, and he’s now the second best player on the team with Chris Paul heading towards Houston.
6. Jimmy Butler - 30th pick, 2011 NBA Draft
Jimmy Butler overcame all kind of adversity on his journey to stardom, even becoming the last 1st round pick of the crowded 2011 NBA Draft, eventually becoming Tom Thibodeau’s favorite player and a restless guard-forward that took the reins of a lost Chicago Bulls squad that lacked leadership with Noah aging and Rose constantly sidelined.
Butler stepped up when it mattered the most and now he’ll get a real shot at contention, playing once again under Thib’s and alongside some of the best prospects in the league at Minny, and he’ll be a major factor on a team that lacked wing defense throughout the entire prior campaign.
5. Draymond Green - 35th pick, 2012 NBA Draft
Draymond Green was a complete beast during his Michigan State stint, so it was kind of a bummer to see him fall all the way to the second round back then in 2012, something the Golden State Warriors have to be delighted with.
Green hold onto the starting power forward spot when Steve Kerr took command of the team and ever since, he proved to be a lot more than was expected out of him, becoming one of the early frontrunners to win the Defensive Player of the Year and even being one of the team’s primary ball handlers. Green is smart, versatile and a nightly triple-double threat, and he was even a couple of points short of recording a historic quadruple double.
4. Rudy Gobert - 27th pick, 2013 NBA Draft
Nobody had much clue who the hell Rudy Gobert was, and it wasn’t until a couple of seasons ago when the Stifle Tower out of France actually took a stand and completely dominated opposing centers on the defensive end of the court.
Now, Rudy’s bound to be the Jazz’ go-to guy in both ends of the floor with Gordon Hayward out of the picture, and he’s shown a lot of improvement on offense, especially when it comes to his free throw shooting. The Frenchman has the tools to become one of the league’s best big man and he’s poised to make his first All-Star appearance this season.
3. Marc Gasol - 48th pick, 2007 NBA Draft
European players get so little respect by scouts at times that it just seems crazy to think that Marc Gasol fell all the way down to the 48h pick back then in 2007, considering he’s one of the most complete and talented centers the league has seen over the last decade.
Becoming the ultimate leader of the grit and grind Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol has blossomed into an outstanding baller, an unselfish player, a Defensive Player of the Year and even a guy that could net the occasional three every now and then, and boy, was he a steal.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 15th pick, 2013 NBA Draft
It’s crazy to think that Giannis took the league for assault after not even the media knew how to spell his name, especially considering everybody thought of him as a D-League player that would be a couple of years away from actually being able to get starter minutes with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Gladly, we couldn’t all be more wrong, as Antetokounmpo has grown to be one of the league’s top-tier ballers despite his tender age, and the sky seems to be the limit for a young guy so eager to win and get better, that’s just scary for the rest of the league. We’re talking about multiple MVP’s here for sure.
1. Kawhi Leonard - 15th pick, 2011 NBA Draft
Gregg Popovich had to take the crown for being the major thief in the NBA Draft, after he managed to snub Kawhi Leonard from the Indiana Pacers in 2011, a really risky move that has already paid off and will definitely give them a lot of joy in the future as well.
Leonard is a yearly frontrunner to win the Defensive Player of the Year, the MVP, the Scoring Champion and you name it, improving his overall game on a yearly basis and being the best defender in the league despite not being there for so long. Move on, LeBron, this is Kawhi’s league right now.