Every NBA team's biggest draft steal, from Steve Nash to Draymond Green
Sometimes it's the lower picks who are the most vital to a franchise
The worst part about the NBA Draft is that, for the most part, we won't be able to truly evaluate it for several years. Young players develop, bright stars burn out and players find new opportunities -- so the players who seem like the best in the draft when they're selected might not even end up on the radar by their fifth season.
With the power of hindsight, we can look back at some of the biggest steals of the NBA Draft. These are guys who were overlooked in the draft and proved they should have been taken higher.
Some ground rules:
- The player must have been drafted at No. 9 or lower to be considered a steal.
- If a team traded for a player before he played a game in the NBA (draft day trades), it counts as their draft pick.
- The list is made up only of players drafted in 1985 or later -- that was the first year of the NBA Draft Lottery.
Let's get to the list:
Biggest steal: Jason Terry -- No. 10 overall in 1999
Terry had success in college at Arizona, but as an undersized scoring guard, people weren't sure how he would transition to the NBA. The Hawks took a gamble and it paid off immediately. Terry contributed as a rookie and exploded for 19.7 points per game in his second year. He became one of the most consistent guards in the league, and just finished his 18th season.
Runner-up: Jeff Teague -- No. 19 in 2009
Biggest steal: Paul Pierce -- No. 10 in 1998
Pierce famously sat in the green room during the 1998 draft as teams passed on the former Kansas standout. The Celtics saw their opportunity to scoop him up, and the rest is history. Pierce is the second all-time leading scorer in Celtics history and was named Finals MVP after leading Boston to the 2008 NBA title.
Runner-up: Rajon Rondo -- No. 21 in 2006
Biggest steal: Richard Jefferson -- No. 13 in 2001
Known as a great athlete who couldn't shoot coming out of Arizona, Jefferson went to the Nets and quickly became a staple in the starting lineup. He was part of teams that went to back-to-back NBA Finals, and he averaged more than 20 points twice in his seven seasons with the Nets.
Runner-up: Brook Lopez -- No. 10 in 2008
Biggest steal: Kemba Walker -- No. 9 in 2011
Kemba Walker was a college hero, leading UConn on an unprecedented NCAA title run, but there were questions about how he would fit in the NBA. The Hornets took Walker, and he quickly became the team's leading scorer. He has improved his scoring average every season, and made his first All-Star Game in 2017 while averaging 23.2 points and 5.5 assists.
Runner-up: Gerald Henderson -- No. 12 in 2009
Biggest steal: Jimmy Butler -- No. 30 in 2011
Scottie Pippen was in consideration, but as a No. 5 overall pick he was not exactly a sleeper. The Bulls have seen a lot of good players over the years, but to snag a potential franchise player at No. 30 is an achievement. Butler made a huge leap in his fourth NBA season, when his average jumped to 20 points and he made his first All-Star team. In 2016-17, he averaged career highs in points (23.3), rebounds (six) and assists (5.3) while earning third-team All-NBA honors.
Runner-up: Toni Kukoc -- No. 29 in 1990
Biggest steal: Mark Price -- No. 25 in 1986
The Cavs have been blessed with a lot of top picks recently, but a shrewd draft-day trade in 1986 set up their franchise for the next decade. The first pick of the second round, Price was the leader for the late 1980s and early '90s Cavs, averaging 16.3 points and 7.5 assists while making four All-Star teams in nine seasons in Cleveland.
Runner-up: Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- No. 20 in 1996
Biggest steal: Dirk Nowitzki -- No. 9 in 1999
Pretty much a no-brainer. The Mavericks got ahead of the curve in evaluating foreign talent and traded for Nowitzki on draft day. It took only a year for Nowitzki to get his NBA bearings, and from then on he revolutionized the game as the best 7-foot shooter the game has ever seen. He's a 13-time All-Star, has made 12 All-NBA teams, won the 2007 MVP award and the 2011 Finals MVP while leading Dallas to its only NBA title.
Runner-up: Josh Howard -- No. 29 in 2003
Biggest steal: Nikola Jokic -- No. 41 in 2014
OK, it's still VERY early in the young man's career, but from what we've seen the past two seasons -- and the fact he was the 41st pick in the draft -- Jokic has to be the Nuggets' biggest steal. The Serbian was a revelation after rejoining the starting lineup in December 2016, and finished the season as one of the league's best centers. He put up five triple-doubles and averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Jokic is the face of the franchise moving forward -- pretty good for a second-round pick.
Runner-up: Ty Lawson -- No. 18 in 2009
Biggest steal: Joe Dumars -- No. 18 in 1985
The Pistons needed a running mate for Isiah Thomas, and they found a diamond in the rough in Dumars, a prolific scorer out of McNeese State -- not exactly a basketball powerhouse. A six-time All-Star and four-time first-team All-Defense selection, Dumars was a key player for the back-to-back title teams in 1989 and '90. Dumars, who was named the 1989 Finals MVP, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Runner-up: Dennis Rodman -- No. 27 in 1986
Golden State Warriors
Biggest steal: Draymond Green -- No. 35 in 2012
The Warriors have done well with their later picks, so this was a tough one. Tim Hardaway, Gilbert Arenas, Monta Ellis, Latrell Sprewell and Klay Thompson were in consideration -- but the fact Green has been so instrumental in the team's two most recent titles compounded by the fact that they got him in the second round nets him this spot.
Runner-up: Tim Hardaway -- No. 14 in 1989
Biggest steal: Sam Cassell -- No. 24 in 1993
Cassell gets the nod, pretty much because as a rookie and in his second year he was a major contributor to the Rockets' back-to-back championship teams in 1994 and '95. He played only three seasons in Houston, but that's because the team traded him to Phoenix as a major component in the Charles Barkley deal before the 1996 season (he was also traded for Jason Kidd later that season). Cassell made one All-Star team and helped lead the resurgence of the Timberwolves and Clippers later in his career.
Runner-up: Robert Horry -- No. 11 in 1992
Biggest steal: Reggie Miller -- No. 11 in 1987
Reggie Miller is basically Mr. Indiana Pacers. The team snagged Miller without knowing he would play 18 seasons, all with the Pacers. A five-time All-Star, Miller is second in the NBA in career 3-pointers and holds several Pacers career records, including points, 3-pointers and minutes played.
Runner-up: Paul George -- No. 10 in 2010
Los Angeles Clippers
Biggest steal: DeAndre Jordan -- No. 35 in 2008
A near 7-footer with freakish athleticism, Jordan was a second-round project after he played only 20 minutes per game in one season at Texas A&M. Getting a boost from the additions of Chris Paul and coach Doc Rivers, Jordan quickly developed into one of the league's best centers, earning All-NBA honors three times and twice being named first-team All-Defense.
Runner-up: Eric Bledsoe -- No. 18 in 2010
Los Angeles Lakers
Biggest steal: Kobe Bryant -- No. 13 in 1996
Kobe is arguably the greatest of all the Lakers' stars, so trading for him after the Charlotte Hornets took him at No. 13 is one of the best moves in NBA history. Coming into the league straight out of high school, few knew what to make of Bryant. Jerry West orchestrated the deal and Bryant led the Lakers to five titles in 20 seasons before retiring in 2016.
Runner-up: Nick Van Exel -- No. 37 in 1993
Biggest steal: Marc Gasol -- No. 48 in 2007
Gasol was traded to the Grizzlies six months after he was drafted by the Lakers, but since he played his first game with the Grizzlies, we'll count it. Considered a throw-in in a trade for his brother, Pau, Marc Gasol has become one of the league's best centers during his nine seasons in Memphis. He has made three All-Star teams, two All-NBA teams and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Runner-up: Kyle Lowry -- No. 24 in 2006
Biggest steal: Mario Chalmers -- No. 34 in 2008
The Heat don't have a lot of great late picks, so Chalmers gets the nod. He was the point guard on the LeBron James-led Heat teams that went to four consecutive NBA Finals and won two championships from 2011-14. Will he make the Hall of Fame? No. Will he be fondly remembered in Miami? Absolutely.
Runner-up: Caron Butler -- No. 10 in 2002
Biggest steal: Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 15 in 2013
"The Greak Freak" is being tabbed as a potential future league MVP, so snagging him at No. 15 has changed the franchise. Antetokounmpo has shown exponential growth in his first four seasons, making his first All-Star Game and being named to the All-NBA second team in 2016-17.
Runner-up: Scott Skiles -- No. 22 in 1986
Biggest steal: Zach LaVine -- No. 13 in 2014
LaVine is still young and needs to prove himself but, given the lack of sleepers from this club, he's the pick. LaVine was a surprise early-entry candidate out of UCLA, and the Wolves gambled on his elite athleticism. So far, it has paid off; LaVine was averaging 18.9 points before a torn ACL prematurely ended his 2016-17 season.
Runner-up: Pooh Richardson -- No. 10 in 1989
New Orleans Pelicans
Biggest steal: David West -- No. 18 in 2003
An undersized power forward out of Xavier, West proved to be a cornerstone for the then-New Orleans Hornets. West was named to two All-Star teams in his eight seasons in New Orleans, and is the franchise leader in points and rebounds.
Runner-up: J.R. Smith -- No. 18 in 2004
New York Knicks
Biggest steal: Mark Jackson -- No. 18 in 1987
A point guard out of St. John's, he had an immediate impact, averaging a double-double (13.6 points, 10.6 assists) and earning Rookie of the Year honors. He would play five seasons with New York and make an All-Star team. He's fourth on the league's all-time assists list.
Runner-up: David Lee -- No. 30 in 2005
Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle SuperSonics
Biggest steal: Shawn Kemp -- No. 17 in 1989
"The Reign Man" joined Gary Payton to make the 1990s SuperSonics one of the most formidable teams in the NBA. Many teams might have passed on Kemp because he never played in college, but the Sonics had the foresight to make the crafty selection. Kemp made six All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams in eight seasons with Seattle.
Runner-up: Rashard Lewis -- No. 32 in 1998
Biggest steal: Nick Anderson -- No. 11 in 1989
The Magic took Anderson out of Illinois with the franchise's first-ever pick, and it paid off. Anderson proved he could score in the NBA right away, and became an essential part of the 1995 Finals team. Anderson played 10 seasons in Orlando, and is the Magic's all-time leader in games played, field goals and steals.
Runner-up: Jameer Nelson -- No. 20 in 2004
Biggest steal: Andre Iguodala -- No. 9 in 2004
Iguodala was Philly's franchise player after Allen Iverson left, and was an even bigger steal when you consider Josh Childress and Rafael Araujo were drafted ahead of him. Iggy has made one All-Star team and was named to the All-Defensive team twice -- he has won two titles in the latter part of his career as a key reserve for the Warriors, and was the 2015 Finals MVP.
Runner-up: Jrue Holiday -- No. 17 in 2009
Biggest steal: Steve Nash -- No. 15 in 1996
The Suns got the biggest steal of the '96 draft, taking Nash after seeing names like Lorenzen Wright, Todd Fuller, Kerry Kittles and Samaki Walker fly off the board. Coming out of Santa Clara after his senior year, nobody knew Nash would become a two-time NBA MVP, seven-time All-NBA player, eight-time All-Star and lead the Suns to the cusp of the NBA Finals.
Runner-up: Amar'e Stoudemire -- No. 9 in 2002
Portland Trail Blazers
Biggest steal: Terry Porter -- No. 24 in 1985
There's a chance CJ McCollum could sneak in here one day, but he's not there yet. Out of little-known Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Porter became an impact player immediately. He was Clyde Drexler's back-court mate on the early '90s Blazers teams, making two All-Star teams and eventually becoming the franchise's all-time leader in assists after 10 seasons.
Runner-up: Cliff Robinson -- No. 26 in 1989
Biggest steal: Isaiah Thomas -- No. 60 in 2011
Any time you can get an All-Star with the final pick, you got yourself a steal, my friends. Thomas played only three seasons in Sacramento, but he averaged 20.3 points in his final season before a brief stop in Phoenix. He was traded to Boston, where he has become one of the best scorers in the NBA, making two All-Star teams and being named to the All-NBA second team in 2017.
Runner-up: Peja Stojakovic -- No. 14 in 1996
San Antonio Spurs
Biggest steal: Kawhi Leonard -- No. 15 in 2011
The Spurs have drafted so well there are almost too many to count -- with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Leonard (acquired in a draft-night trade with the Pacers) leading the way -- but Leonard gets the edge for a couple of reasons. One, he is capable of being the best player on a championship team. As great as Parker and Ginobili were, they never could make that claim. Two, Leonard wasn't international. Other teams saw just as much of him at San Diego State as the Spurs did, and 14 teams decided to pass on him. Now he's a Finals MVP, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and has twice made the All-NBA first team.
Runners-up (can't separate these two): Manu Ginobili -- No. 57 in 1999; Tony Parker -- No. 28 in 2001
Biggest steal: Tracy McGrady -- No. 9 in 1997
In 1997, most NBA teams still hadn't warmed up to the idea of taking high school players early in the draft, so the Raptors took full advantage by snagging McGrady at No. 9. Some of those taken before McGrady include Keith Van Horn, Antonio Daniels, Ron Mercer, Tim Thomas and Adonal Foyle. Though McGrady's prime was cut short by injuries, in his peak years he was among the league's best players. He made seven All-Star teams, was a seven-time All-NBA performer and twice led the league in scoring.
Runner-up: DeMar DeRozan -- No. 9 in 2009
Biggest steal: Karl Malone -- No. 13 in 1985
A no-doubter (John Stockton was selected in 1984 -- the year before the lottery started -- so he doesn't qualify), Malone averaged 25 points and 10.1 rebounds for his career, playing all but one of his 19 seasons with the Jazz. Before they selected The Mailman, Utah watched players like Jon Koncak, Joe Kleine, Keith Lee and Kenny Green go off the board. Malone was a 14-time All-Star and a 14-time All-NBA player, and he ended his career as the second-leading scorer in league history.
Runner-up: Paul Millsap -- No. 47 in 2006
Biggest steal: Gheorghe Muresan -- No. 30 in 1993
Before you laugh, look through the Wizards/Bullets history and try to find a better steal. Muggsy Bogues was a candidate, but he played only one season with Washington. Muresan had a short career, but his time in Washington was actually quite productive. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his four seasons with the Bullets. He was the NBA's Most Improved Player for the 1995-96 season, and he twice led the league in field goal percentage.
Runner-up: Muggsy Bogues - No. 12 in 1987
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