For those that tune in to the NBA draft every year there are certain images that stick with you. LeBron’s white suit… David Stern being SOOOO much shorter than everyone… every Knicks pick being following by a wave of boos… the list goes on. So in the wake of the 2018 NBA Draft I felt it fitting to go back and see who were the best picks in recent history.
Now I’m not considering Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson for this list as they were going to be superstars anyway. This is for players who were severely under-drafted and have gone on to make significant contributions, whether that be as an NBA award winner, a key component for a championship team or the numbers they have produced.
Nikola Jokic – Denver (2014, 41st pick)
Not all picks from Europe end up panning out, for every Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili there are even more that turn out like Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili. In case you’re asking, Nikola Jokic is not like those guys that are a bust.
At 19 he was drafted by Denver but spent the following season in Europe playing for Belgrade’s Mega Bemax. And how did he go? Only averaged 15.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg (led the league) and 3.5 apg on his way to league MVP despite his team finished 10th in the league standings. At that point he packed his bags for the Mile High City and his first NBA season.
Jokic has done nothing but improve in his first 3 seasons with the Nuggets, averaging 18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 6.1 apg for the 2017-18 season. How good was that season? In the history of the NBA only 6 players have every averaged those numbers for a season (Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Kevin Garnett, Jokic, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook). Add to that he’s just signed a 5 year, $148 million contract… look out NBA, Nikola Jokic is the cornerstone for a young and talented Denver team looking to make a name for themselves.
Isaiah Thomas – Sacramento (2011, 60th pick)
Number for Isaiah Thomas since entering the league – 473 games, 29.8 mpg, 18.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 5.1 apg
Numbers for EVERY other final draft pick since the NBA went to a 2 round draft in 1989 (29 players, 9 played in the NBA) – 1,360 games, 13.6 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.6 apg… safe to say not quite the same!
The NFL have given the name of ‘Mr Irrelevant’ to the player taken with the final pick of the draft. Not quite the same as the NBA as there are only 60 draft picks compared to what feels like about a million given it takes 3 days to complete the draft. Anyway, Isaiah Thomas was going to make damn sure he wasn’t going to be irrelevant in the NBA. Even when that final pick was traded not once but twice before landing in Sacramento his determination was not going to be extinguished.
His career highlight was the 2016-17 season with the Boston Celtics, leading them to the conference finals while finishing 3rd in the NBA in scoring (28.9 ppg) and finishing 5th in MVP voting. Last season saw his value suffer a hit with injuries and poor team chemistry landing him on the bench for the LA Lakers. Here’s hoping he come back healthy and finds a situation where we can see past the Isaiah from a couple of years ago.
Jimmy Butler – Chicago (2011, 30th pick)
Chicago may have had to cut elsewhere in the budget to pay for all the gift baskets sent to teams who passed on Jimmy Butler, ’cause he’s turned out to be a star!
Jimmer Fredette, Chris Singleton, JaJuan Johnson… these guys were all taken before the 30th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, and weren’t Chicago happy with that. After Butler grew and learnt from the bench early on his time came in the 2013-14 season. He started all 67 games he played and ended up with 13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.6 apg and 1.9 spg on a playoff team that won 48 games. But Butler was just warming up…
His next 4 seasons have seen him make the All Star game every season, while being named to the all NBA 3rd team twice and the all NBA Defensive 2nd team three times. He is one of 5 players to average 21 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg and 1.5 spg over that 4 season period (along with James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and DeMarcus Cousins) which show how consistent he has been, even while being traded to Minnesota prior to the 2017-18 season. And at the cost of the last pick of the first round… not too bad.
Marc Gasol – LA Lakers (2007, 48th pick)
How well did the Lakers do in 2008? They made a trade that saw them bring over Pau Gasol to help them with 2 NBA titles. And if they don’t make the trade they end up with Marc who’s every bit the player his older brother is.
By virtue of that trade Marc Gasol found himself in Memphis where he has spent his entire 10 year NBA career. And he has developed himself into one of the most rounded and skilled big men the NBA has ever seen. He shone as a rookie, being named to the all NBA Rookie 2nd team and averaging 11.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg. Gasol has only grown from there as he has been named to 3 All Star games and won the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year award (and only made the All Defensive 2nd team… come on voters!).
Unfortunately playoff success has been hard to come by with only one trip to the Conference Finals but this would be a side effect of lack of help around him rather than the contribution Gasol has made to his team’s success. Hopefully as he approaches the twilight of his career he can get some more support and made another run at a title which may have already been his had he not been traded all those years ago.
Tony Parker – San Antonio (2001, 28th pick)
Most picks made that involve European players end up with them staying overseas for another year or two until they are NBA ready, mostly because they’re drafted at 18 or 19 years of age. Sometimes it’s worth the wait, sometimes it’s not. But San Antonio had no intention on waiting for 19 year old Tony Parker from France to get ready… he was going to be ready or fail trying.
San Antonio have made a habit of either drafting players from overseas that have become stars or scouting better than everyone else (eg Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick in 2011). They found themselves a gem in Parker right off the bat as he started 72 games in his rookie season and was named to the all Rookie 1st team.
From there? Oh, just 4 NBA titles (2007 NBA Finals MVP against Cleveland), 6 NBA All Star games and 4 times in the top 10 in NBA MVP voting (5th in 2011-12 whilst averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.7 apg). He will end his Spurs career amongst the top 5 in, games played, minutes, FG made & attempted, FT made & attempted, assists (1st and 19th all time) and points. It will be odd to see him running around in a Charlotte uniform next season but he’s been a joy to watch in San Antonio.
Manu Ginobili – San Antonio (1999, 57th pick)
I made mention of Isaiah Thomas as the last pick of the 2001 draft, well Manu Ginobili was taken with the second last pick of the 1999 draft and proved to be a vital member of 4 NBA championship teams.
Like Jokic, Ginobili was drafted but chose to stay in Italy while he developed. Before joining the Spurs in 2003 he won numerous league titles for Kinder Bologna and secure 2 Italian League MVP awards. Once in San Antonio he endeared himself to the fans with his mercurial ability to score and his tenacity on defence. Injury held him from showcasing his total package as a rookie but you could tell he was a special talent.
Fast forward to 2018, he has spent his entire 16 year career with the Spurs in which he has won 4 NBA titles, made the All Star game in 2005 and 2011 and ended in the top 10 of MVP voting 3 times. The fact he only averaged 30 minutes a game just twice in his career is testament to his efficiency and natural ability. We have come to the end of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty but Ginobili will forever be remembered as one of its most important members.
Paul Millsap – Utah (2006, 47th pick) – 4 time All Star
Monta Ellis – Golden State (2005, 40th pick) – 5 times averaged 20 ppg, led the NBA in minutes per game twice.
Carlos Boozer – Cleveland (2002, 35th pick) – 2 time All Star, averaged 19.3 ppg and 10.5 rpg in 6 seasons with Utah (2005-2010).
Gilbert Arenas – Golden State (2001 – 31st pick) – 3 time All Star, career average 20.7 ppg.
Michael Redd – Milwaukee (2000 – 43rd pick) – 1 time All Star, career average 19 ppg.
Michael Finley – Phoenix (1995, 21st pick) – 2 time All Star, led the NBA in minutes per game 3 times, averaged 19.8 ppg in 9 seasons with Dallas (1997-2005).
Latrell Sprewell – Golden State (1992, 24th pick) – 4 time All Star, All NBA 1st team & All Defensive 2nd team in 1994, 10th all time in minutes per game (38.6).