Going back in history, it is amazing to see how many great players didn't get drafted 1st overall, or even in the top 5. You would think that almost all of the best players of all time would be drafted at the top of their respective drafts, but surprisingly, that isn't the case. Even the single greatest player didn't get drafted with the first pick in his draft. Maybe what makes these players who didn't get selected first so good, is their motivation to prove the teams wrong that skipped on them. The player getting drafted first overall doesn't get that added motivation to prove people wrong because everyone believes in him. This doesn't negate the fact that many great players have been drafted higher, but I just think someone drafted later has a chip on his shoulder.
The team owners and GM's that passed on the players on this list must feel stupid. While they couldn't have possibly known at the time, looking back, it must make them sick. For the Portland Trail Blazers to have two of the biggest mistakes on this list they must be sitting at home thinking of what could have been. In any event, mistakes are going to be made every draft. Here are 15 players that should have been drafted a lot higher.
15 Nate Thurmond
Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond got drafted in the 1963 NBA draft 2nd overall after Art Heyman. Heymen was a fantastic college player for Duke. In fact, he was one of their best players ever, but he still couldn't find the same success in the NBA. Nate Thurmond on the other hand, had a long, successful NBA career, one that resulted in him getting inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. The Knicks were the team to pass on Thurmond and the Warriors were the lucky team to capitalize on their mistake.
"Nate the Great" Thurmond had gaudy numbers. In the 1967-68 season, he scored 20 points per game and averaged 22 boards. That's impressive no matter what year he was playing in.
While it's only a difference of one pick, the gap between Thurmond and Heymen is enough to warrant this inclusion.
14 Robert Parish
Robert Parish was a very steady and consistent player. He played in the league for 21 years and in every season but his last he played at least 70 games. He played the best portion of his career for the Boston Celtics. He shot a very high field goal percentage and grabbed an average of 10 rebounds most seasons. He has also won four NBA finals. He is the all time leader in games played in the NBA. That is a testament to his longevity, health, and how good of a player he is.
Parish was drafted in 1976 behind six players who never even made the All-Star game. The first overall pick John Lucas only played 6 seasons in the NBA before hanging it up. That's pretty far from Parish's 21.
13 Bernard King
Bernard King is 16th on the overall NBA scoring list. King was one of the game's best scorers, and at the time, he was leading the league or near the top. He made it to the All-Star game four times and was named to the All-NBA team twice. He got drafted 7th overall by the Nets, and in his rookie season, he already broke their franchise single-season scoring record. Impressive. He would later break his own record.
Drafted first overall in 1977 was Kent Benson, by the Milwaukee Bucks. Other notable players drafted above King were Otis Birdsong, Marques Johnson, Walter Davis. None of them Hall of Famers like King. King would be the clear cut 1st overall pick if NBA teams could do a re-draft.
12 Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway revolutionized the NBA. He is credited with inventing the crossover, which is one of the most utilized moves in the NBA today. If it weren't for the crossover that people know and love, the NBA and basketball wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is today. He was a great player for both Golden State Warriors and the Miami Heat. He was drafted by the Warriors with the 14th pick in 1989. Other great players in the draft class are Shawn Kemp and Glen Rice. Kemp was very close to making this list but I think the way Hardaway changed the game was so important.
Hardaway has been in the news after his playing career for two reasons. One because he made outrageous remarks about his hatred for gay people, and second, his son, Tim Hardaway Jr. was drafted in 2013.
11 Gary Payton
Gary "The Glove" Payton is one of the NBA's all-time best defenders. He played with Shawn Kemp and the two of them made a dynamic duo with the Seattle SuperSonics. Payton is probably the greatest player in Sonics history which is always something that is incredibly awesome to be able to say. Payton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Payton is considered to be the most well-rounded point guard to ever play the game.
The SuperSonics had the 2nd pick in the draft and wisely drafted "The Glove". While the player drafted above him, Derrick Coleman was by no means a bad player - in fact he was a very good player - he wasn't Gary Payton. Gary Payton was, with no doubt the best player from the 1990 draft class and the New Jersey Nets regret not selecting him.
10 LaMarcus Aldridge
The 2006 NBA draft was a pretty good draft when you look back at it. The finest product of the draft? "Big L.A." was drafted by the Bulls but immediately traded to the Trail Blazers where he spent the first part of his career. Aldridge has already been an All-Star five times so far in his career and I would expect more to come. After the 2014-15 season, he was a free agent and after a lot of speculation, he chose the San Antonio Spurs, sending the Trail Blazers into a rebuild.
Other good players drafted in 2006 were Kyle Lowry, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy, and Paul Millsap. Lowry and Aldridge are definitely the two best players from the draft, and Aldridge has been playing at this high level for much longer than Lowry so he is the clear choice.
9 Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was coming straight out of high-school so he wasn't as high on teams draft boards as he would be had he gone to at least one year of college. That didn't deter him, though. Allen Iverson was the #1 overall pick, and while he was a great selection, Kobe was just a little bit better. Even if you somehow make the argument that Iverson should remain first overall, one thing's for sure; Kobe Bryant should not have slipped all the way down to 13.
Had Iverson played on the teams that Kobe had with players like Shaq, this would be a whole different conversation, but he never had great players around him so he never won a championship, which Kobe did five times. If the 76ers could do it over again I'm not sure that they would choose Kobe Bryant, but he is the best player to come out of the 1996 draft class, whether you like him or not.
8 Stephen Curry
Some of the NBA's current premier players were drafted in 2009. Blake Griffin, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, and Jeff Teague all came out of this stacked draft class. Curry, however, is the only one of these players to win MVP, unanimous at that, and to win a championship. The other guys haven't done either of those things. Curry is breaking records every game and the Warriors continue to build their dynasty just when you think they can't get any better.
Curry was drafted 7th by the Warriors behind Harden at 3 and Blake Griffin at #1. Curry and Griffin each had rough starts to their NBA careers. Curry had ankle issues and Griffin missed his entire rookie season due to kneecap surgery. Both of them have become great players despite their early issues. One thing's for sure though; Curry definitely shouldn't have slipped to 7th.
7 Bill Russell
What else is there to say about Bill Russell? He is the greatest winner in NBA history. Although he wasn't the only important player on all of those championship teams, he played a large role in everyone. Despite his 11 rings, I don't consider him to be the best player of all time. His scoring numbers aren't impressive even by today's standards, and for back then, he was hardly an offensive threat. He was a great defender and rebounder, don't get me wrong, but on offense, he was limited. Also, the 11 rings were much easier to attain during Russell's playing days, although it was still hard, there were only about 1o teams in the league. Much better odds to win it all.
Russell didn't have much competition in his 1956 draft class. Two other players drafted in the early rounds from the Celtics were K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn. They never reached the status of Bill Russell.
6 Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is the old man of the NBA these days. It used to be Tim Duncan but since he has retired, Garnett now takes that title. He was a great player for the Timberwolves his first time around, but this time he is more of a mentor to the young and talented Karl Anthony-Towns. He was also great with the Celtics where he won a ring. After a short stint with the Nets that failed, he went back to the Timberwolves.
Garnett was drafted 5th in 1995 by the Timberwolves and the three prior picks also turned out to be good players in their own right, but not quite on the level of Garnett. Those three picks proceeding him were Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace. All three of them were All-Stars, but none of them are still playing today, unlike Garnett. Garnett never had a hard time eclipsing the first overall pick Joe Smith.
5 Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki has been shooting his fadeaway jump shot for a long time now. His shot has to be one of the most dominant and unstoppable moves in the NBA only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook. Someone who has never watched him play would probably sound something like, "What is he shooting...? Oh, it went in..." He is great at making hard shots, and there isn't a shot on the floor he can't make.
In the 1998 draft, he was drafted 9th overall which is an abomination when looking back on it. Drafted immediately after Nowitzki was another great player, Paul Pierce. Pierce, who was a great player, probably won't ever be categorized in the same class as Dirk. Dirk is one of the all-time greats and while Pierce has also been a great player, he is just a bit below the status of Dirk Nowitzki.
4 Julius Erving
"Doctor J" is one of the all-time greats. What he did for the game is unrivaled. He invented the high-flying style of play we see today and without him, our game would look a lot different. Erving's draft story is much more complicated than most players because he spent a lot of his time in the ABA. Between the ABA and NBA combined he has scored over 30,000 points over the span of his career. That's impressive.
He was drafted 12th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972, but never actually played for them. He signed with the Atlanta Hawks but that didn't last either, so he ended up staying in the ABA for a while. He was putting up great numbers in the ABA and that's when he decided to take his talents to the NBA. Many teams wanted him but few teams wanted to pay. He ended up signing with the 76ers for $6 million.
3 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, selected behind none other than Greg Oden. Boy, the Blazers must be kicking themselves for that. The contrast between the two is enough to put Durant here. The funniest part is the fans will say that the Blazers screwed up, but the Sonics (now the Thunder) wanted Oden too. Most people around the NBA felt that Durant was too skinny to be able to play in the rough and tough NBA, but he put that to rest awfully quick. Maybe it was because he couldn't do one rep of the 185-pound bench press, or just because people wanted a reason to dislike Durant, one way or the other, people had a misconception that he wouldn't be able to hang in the NBA.
Oden on the other hand was indeed an extremely talented player. Injuries plagued his entire career and he ended up having to give it up before it really even started. Rough to hear for Trail Blazers fans.
2 Larry Bird
Larry Bird is the only Hall of Famer from his 1978 draft class. That alone should be reason enough to prove to you that he was easily the best player in the draft and should have been taken 1st overall. Bird is one of the league's all-time best scorers and one of the game's best competitors. He always had great battles with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving. He is truly a legend that's how he earned his nickname, "Larry Legend".
Getting to draft Bird with the 6th pick turned out to be a steal. Mychal Thompson was the first overall pick and he wasn't the player Trail Blazers thought he would be. The Trail Blazers have made an incredible amount of draft day blunders. They have been the victim of the draft bust a few too many times.
1 Michael Jordan
Even the GOAT himself didn't get the feeling of getting drafted 1st overall. Jordan is the best player of all time and some NBA teams didn't think he was worthy of the 1st pick in the draft. This is huge motivation for player who got drafted lower than they think they should have gone. Teams thought even MJ had things he had to improve before he could be their franchise player.
The first overall pick in the 1984 draft, Hakeem Olajuwon, was a bonafide star in this league.
In almost any other draft he would be the unanimous first overall pick, but when you get drafted in front of Jordan, it's impossible to exceed him. The Rockets might not even want Jordan instead of Hakeem, but the overall consensus would be to draft Jordan.
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