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Top 15 Best Draft Steals In The Last 20 Years

Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

The NBA draft is an art form and lottery all rolled into one. It takes great management from the franchise as well as the massive stroke of luck. The odds of securing a star come down to chance, and for the most part rely on how a player develops in each organization.

Would Kawhi Leonard be the superstar he is today if he wasn’t traded to San Antonio by Indiana for George Hill? It’s tough to say, but the expertise of Pop and Co. cannot be underestimated.

Via Reddit, steve_john_nashanalysed the top 3 picks from 1980 to 2011 and worked out the how often each pick turns out to be an All-Star. The number 1 pick turned out to be an All-Star 81% of the time, the number 2 pick, 35% and the number 3 pick, 52%. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the number 3 pick is more valuable and likely to be a success it just proves that the NBA draft really has no fool proof system to picking potential superstars. Some of those stars even come from way outside the first round. Here are some of those gems in the last twenty years.

15. Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento Kings

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Hassan Whiteside was drafted 33rd overall to the Sacremento Kings in the 2010 draft. After bouncing around D-league teams and international teams for years the Miami Heat finally took a shot on him, and what a good idea that was. Whiteside is now one of the most dominant rim protectors in the NBA and is making max money.

It’s simply unheard of to see a guy go from the D-league/overseas league to a max contract player. Last year Whiteside made the All-Defensive second team and also lead the league in blocks. Last year he had 14.2 ppg, 11.8 rebounds per game, and 3.7 blocks per game. Going from the 33rd pick in the draft, playing 1 game in his rookie year, playing 18 games the next, being in the D-league and overseas for 2 years, and now a premier defender in the NBA, Hassan Whitesides story, and the journey is incredible.

14. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) looks on during the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan was taken with the 35th overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. He is a three-time All-NBA and two-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. He has also led the league in rebounding twice, has won a gold medal for the 2016 USA team and earned his first All-Star appearance this year.

The Clippers center is one of the best finishers above the rim and has developed an enviable partnership with point guard Chris Paul. The only thing stopping him from being higher in this last is his free-throw percentage.

13. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Everyone knows where IT4 was taken. Constantly overlooked, Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 draft. Like Jordan, he became an All-Star for the first time this year and has become one of the premier fourth quarter scorers in the league. His offensive consistency has catapulted him to superstar status. He further elevated himself after some ridiculous performances in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

12. Gilbert Arenas, Golden State Warriors

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Arenas had over a decade long career with numerous NBA teams before taking his talents to China. He was taken in the 2nd round in 2001 (pick 31) by the Golden State Warriors and while off-court issues have overshadowed his on-court exploits, Arenas possessed some of the best clutch talents the sport has seen over the past two decades.

11. Rajon Rondo, Phoenix Suns


Not many NBA fans will know that current Bulls PG was originally selected by the Phoenix Suns with pick 21. He’s made the All-Star team on four occasions and won an NBA championship with the famed 2008 Celtics. His form may have dipped as of late, though Rondo has certainly enjoyed an extensive career considering where he was taken in the 2006 draft.

10. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors


Draymond Green has developed into one of the league’s premier defenders. His defensive skill set is unmatched while his passing and shot making is more than above average.

Green was taken with the 35th pick of the 2012 draft by the Golden State Warriors and has helped contribute to the burgeoning dynasty currently happening in the Bay.

9. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs


Tony Parker, AKA ‘Tony P’ is one of the best basketball/rappers the world has ever seen (seriously Youtube some of his exploits). Apart from rapping on an occasional basis, Parker has had a long storied career with the Spurs. He’s been running the point since he was taken with the 28th pick in 2001.

He’s been an All-Star and NBA champion on numerous occasions and was even good enough to earn himself the finals MVP in 2007.

8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

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Jimmy ‘G Buckets’ (the G stands for gets) was taken with the 30th pick in a stacked 2011 draft. In his six years in the league, Butler has transformed himself into a franchise player at one of the destination teams in the NBA.

His shooting and offensive output has gone through the roof in recent years and his popularity with multiple fan bases has grown year upon year.

7. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

Jan 25, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Atlanta won 112-87.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Millsap is one of the more understated performers on this list. His resume though, speaks for itself, earning himself four All-Star appearances in his eleven-year career where he was taken with the lowly 47th pick by the Utah Jazz. He epitomizes a pick getting the absolute most of his talents.

6. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies


Alongside Mike Conley, Marc Gasol has become one of Memphis’ longest serving, favorite sons. He’s an All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year and has made a number of All-NBA teams. He’s recently added the 3-point shot to his game which has expanded his game even further, and his longevity and consistency show he’s one of the best finds of the NBA Draft era after being taken with pick 48 in 2007.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks


What is there to say about the Greek Freak? His ridiculous body proportions have struck fear around the association. His popularity rivals some of the league’s stalwarts and is no doubt a future MVP in the making. Plus he was taken with the 15th pick in 2013, a risk but one that is seriously paying off. If the Bucks can hold onto him then teams will certainly be fearing the deer for years to come.

4. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics


Pierce was drafted 10th overall by the Celtics and has had some career. He is considered one of the greatest small forwards of all time and has the resumé to back it up. He is a 10-time All-Star, 1-time All-NBA second team, and a 3-time All-NBA third team.

And his biggest accolade of all was bringing a championship to Boston in 2008 in which he was named Finals MVP. The Celtics beat Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 6 games and Paul Pierce was a big reason why. Another reason he was a steal was because he gave the Celtics all he had for 15 years. It’s not too often you see a great player stick around a team for 15 years and even deliver them a championship.

3. Kawhi Leonard, Indiana Pacers


Drafted 15th to the Pacers, Leonard was traded to the Spurs on draft night for George Hill, a trade the Spurs are happy about, and the Pacers wish they never did. Kawhi Leonard is now a top 10 maybe even a top 5 player in the NBA.

He is arguably the best 2-way player in the NBA and has been a huge success for the next generation of the Spurs. Leonard helped the Spurs take down Lebron’s Heat by a record margin in 2014 in which Leonard won the finals MVP. Leonard is a quiet guy and isn’t known as a big NBA personality.

2. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs


The biggest steals of the NBA draft require being selected in the second round, and players have had success and longevity. Hence why Manu Ginobili, selected with the 57th pick in 1998, is the best steal of the draft in the past two decades. Heck, in his late 30s he still stole a game from the more youthful and favored Houston Rockets in this year’s NBA Playoffs. Alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili has made his patented Euro-step and unstoppable offensive move. Manu Ginboli, the best pick by one of the best teams of the past twenty years.

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1. Dirk Nowitzki, Milwaukee Bucks


Dirk Nowitzki was drafted 9th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately traded for Robert Traylor who was the 6th pick.

Did you know that Dirk Nowitzki scored more points per game in his first season than Robert Taylor had in his career (per game)?

Nowitzki is one of, if not the best international players of all time and his fadeaway jumper changed the sport itself. Earlier this year he became one of only six players to score over 30,000 points and has earned himself a ridiculous amount of accolades. The game wouldn’t be the same without Dirk Werner Nowitzki.