The NBA draft is different than many of the other sports’ drafting system. Unlike baseball, where a player usually takes a couple of years to produce for the big club, or football, where many times, the franchise player is given a year or two to learn the system, basketball players are expected to come in, produce right away, and take their new team to the playoffs. It is a lot of pressure for these kids, who may be as young as 18 years old. Everybody remembers the string of terrible draft picks by the New York Knicks in the early 2000s, or how much Lebron James has meant to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that had slipped into irrelevancy before he arrived, but what about those players that were not expected to be all-stars? The following list will make up the top five NBA draft steals ever.
Top NBA Draft Steal #5: Carlos Boozer: Carlos Boozer came out of Duke as the projected third best player…on his own team! Jay Williams was the clear top Dukie, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. was not far behind. Carlos Boozer, who had just finished his third season at Duke, decided it was time to enter the draft. Yao Ming was selected first, and then came Williams and Dunleavy. It wasn’t until the 35th pick at the beginning of the second round, and after players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Vincent Yarbrough, and Dan Gadzuric, that Carlos Boozer finally heard his name called. Eight years later, while only one of the players named above are even making an impact in the NBA, Carlos Boozer has put up a career line of 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, while being named to two all-star teams (which is two more than Williams, Dunleavy, Tskitishvili, Yarbrough, and Gadzuric combined).
Top NBA Draft Steal #4: Tony Parker: He was 19 years old when he was drafted 29th in the 2001 NBA draft, by the San Antonio Spurs. He was a small, skinny point guard from France, who nobody had really ever heard of. The Spurs, however, known for their international scouting, liked what they saw, so they took him with the final pick of the first round. There were three point guards taken ahead of him Jamaal Tinsley, Raul Lopez, and Jeryl Sasser, and Tinsley is the only one who is still a member of “The League”. It turns out that the Spurs were right; as Parker has gone on to lead the Spurs to three NBA championships, while garnering three all-star selections and one NBA Finals MVP. Neither Raul Lopez nor Jeryl Sasser made it more than two seasons in the NBA. To top it all off, Tony Parker has averaged close to 17 points and 6 assists per game, but has been even better in the playoffs where he averages almost 19 points per game.
Top NBA Draft Steal #3: Manu Ginobli: The first international splash the Spurs made was in 1999 when they chose Manu Ginobli with the 57th pick. His stock had fallen because he had made it clear that he was not going to come straight to the NBA, as he wanted to play for a few more years in Europe. The Spurs took a chance, anyway, and boy are they glad they did. While he has battled through injuries during his NBA career, and he didn’t begin his American basketball days until he was 25 years old, Manu Ginobli has been one of the most exciting players in the league since his arrival. He, along with Tony Parker, was the perfect complement to an aging Tim Duncan, and he was an integral part to the Spurs’ three NBA championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007. He has also been selected to one all-star game and was named 6th Man of the Year in the 2007-2008 season. Ginobli’s career numbers are not sensational, but extremely consistent, as he has averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game over his eight year career. Like Parker, Ginobli’s numbers rise in the postseason, as he has averaged 16.5 points and 5 rebounds per game in his playoff career. Another telling sign is that in Ginobli’s eight seasons in the NBA, his team has made the playoffs in seven of them. The only time they didn’t make the playoffs? The 2008-2009 season, in which Ginobli missed almost forty games due to injury.
Top NBA Draft Steal #2: Michael Jordan: The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan with the 3rd pick in the 1984 draft. Normally, a top 5 pick could not be considered a steal, but in this situation, anything other than number one would have to be considered the steal of a lifetime. The Chicago Bulls, who had never been relevant, were able to pull off a heist that even Bonnie and Clyde would be proud of. Sam Bowie, known by many as the number one draft bust of all time (but I will leave that for a different article), was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the number two pick and right after NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon was taken number one. That left the North Carolina star to the Chicago Bulls, who happily swept him up. That one day instantly turned the Bulls from a laughing stock to six time NBA champions. Michael Jordan’s role in those championships? Well, he collected 5 NBA MVPs, 14 all-star selections, 6 NBA Finals MVPs, 10 scoring titles, and a Hall of Fame selection. Michael Jordan single-handedly made the Chicago Bulls a championship team, and because of that, he has to be considered of the biggest steals of all time.
Top NBA Draft Steal #1: Kobe Bryant: Kobe Bryant, who as each NBA season goes by gets more and more Michael Jordan comparisons, is a no-brainer when thinking about the biggest steal in NBA draft history. In 1996, Kobe Bryant, who had entered the draft after his senior year at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania, was considered one of the top athletes to enter the draft. However, his lack of college experience, and the “wait time” for him to reach his potential was a road block to him being a top ten draft pick. To go along with those issues, the draft class, in general, was considered to be a very strong one, which caused Bryant to slip out of the top ten. Even with the strong draft class, which included players like Allen Iverson, Steve Nash (the only one of these players drafted after Bryant), Ray Allen, Marcus Camby, and Stephon Marbury, would anybody sit back today and say that they would rather have any of those players instead of Kobe Bryant? Even better than those names, how about teams like the Clippers who drafter Lorenzen Wright, or the Nets who drafted Kerry Kittles, or even the Mavericks who chose Samaki Walker? In Kobe’s second year, he was already averaging over 15 points per game. None of the three busts mentioned above even had one season in which he averaged 15 points. Allen Iverson and Ray Allen have gone on to have spectacular careers in their own right, but nothing compares to the 5 NBA championships, 12 all-star games, 1 MVP, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, a career average of 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, to go along with his almost identical playoff career averages. Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan, and I don’t think he ever will be, but the fact that twelve players were picked ahead of him, and that there can even be a debate about whether or not he is as good as “His Airness”, proves that he is by far the biggest steal in NBA draft history.