Top 20 NBA Draft Steals of All Time

The NBA draft can either help or hurt any team looking to improve from the previous year. Of course all 30 NBA teams look to get better through the draft, but they do not know exactly what kind of player they will get.

There are plenty of stories out there about players being "busts" and not living up to expectations. The NBA might be hard to adjust to at first because professional basketball is a different animal than high school or college basketball. One notable player that did not live up to the hype is Kwame Brown. He struggled mightily and only averaged 6.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. Just know Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker were drafted in the same year. It's not easy to get it right in the NBA draft.

However, this article is not about the top picks who failed, it is about the over-looked players that turned out to be the stars. We will look at the players like Gasol, Randolph, and Parker that were picked later on in their respective draft and became major contributors to an NBA team. Players that were late draft picks or fell down the board on draft night, but who had great careers are called "steals" and this list will be all about the underdogs.

20 20. Rashard Lewis

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Who knew a second round pick and 32nd overall pick would go on to become one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time?

Well, apparently the Seattle SuperSonics did.

19 19. Rajon Rondo

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rajon Rondo was drafted 21st overall in the 2006 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns. Yes, you read that right. Rondo was originally drafted by the Suns and around that time, Steve Nash was running the show. Now close your eyes and imagine a backcourt of Rondo and Steve Nash.

Pretty scary.

18 18. Bill Laimbeer


Bill Laimbeer is one of the toughest players to ever play in the NBA, but took a while to get scooped up on draft day. Laimbeer was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with 65th overall pick in the 1979 draft. He would play two seasons with the Cavaliers until making his name known with the Detroit Pistons.

17 17. Paul Pierce

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Pierce was selected 10th overall by the Boston Celtics. Seems kind of high, right?

Well, when Pierce passed Larry Bird on the Boston Celtics all time scoring list, those nine other team wished they drafted Paul Pierce in 1999. That is right, Paul Pierce passed "Larry Legend" in scoring with 24,021 points compared to Bird's 21,791.

16 16. Michael Redd

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

How can teams have miss a dynamic scorer like Michael Redd in the 2000 NBA draft? Or at least pass him up 42 times? Michael Redd was selected in the second round with the 43rd overall pick. Redd averaged 19 points per game throughout his 12 year NBA career and averaged over 26.7 points per game in the 2006-2007 season.

15 15. Joe Dumars


If a team had the chance to draft a six-time NBA All-Star with the 18th overall pick, all 30 teams would take that opportunity. Oh, did we mention he is also in the Hall-of-Fame? Almost forgot about that.

14 14. Gilbert Arenas

via Sports Crave.

Gilbert Arenas made Golden State and Washington fans very happy. He also made the Golden State organization look like geniuses when they selected the 6'3 point guard out of the University of Arizona with the 30th overall pick.  But it was the Washington Wizards that landed Arenas in his prime after two seasons with the Warriors. Arenas was a three-time All Star with Washington and averaged 25.5 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game in his seven full seasons with the Wizards.

Throughout his career, he averaged over 20 points and 5 assists per game. Gilbert Arenas was absolutely lethal on the offensive end and opposing guards must have been scared to face this late draft pick.

13 13. Shawn Kemp


Another  six time all-star featured on this list is Shawn Kemp. Kemp was selected with the 17th overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics. Shawn Kemp joined Gary Payton to form the original "Lob City" in Seattle before it was done with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles.

12 12. Hal Greer


A 10-time All Star who was voted one of the "NBA's 50 Greatest Players," Hal Greer was an amazing all-around player.

11 11. Michael Jordan


Michael Jordan was a top three pick in his draft, but note that TWO  teams passed up on the greatest player to ever play in the NBA. Portland and Houston both passed up on Michael Jordan and with that, the Chicago Bulls received an absolute steal. Even though Michael Jordan wasn't picked late in the second round like others on this list, Portland still has to be kicking themselves for taking Sam Bowie and not MJ.

We do not need to tell you the stats of Michael Jordan, as his greatness speaks for itself. It is just absurd to us how any team could see the talents of Michael Jordan and not select him.

10 10. Larry Bird


Bird's situation is just like Michael Jordan's, in the way that "Larry Legend" was not a low selection. It's just insane that five teams passed on Larry Bird. Granted, teams do not know what they will get from a player when they draft him, but let's get to why Larry Bird was a absolute steal.

9 9. Manu Ginobili

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Manu Ginobili was almost not drafted. Think about that for a second.

He was selected with the 57th overall pick out of a possible 58 selections in the 1999 draft.

This 6'6 shooting guard out of Argentina is one crafty player and will go down in basketball's Hall-of-Fame without any argument. Again, the San Antonio Spurs got it right and Ginobili became the Spurs super sixth man off the bench. Manu is a two-time All Star and for his career he's averaged 14.6 points, 4 assists, and 3.8 rebounds. He's a great all-around talent that can lead a starting or second unit.

8 8. Tony Parker

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are the kings of drafting the best available player and finding gems in the draft. Here is one example with Tony Parker. The Spurs drafted Parker with the 28th overall pick and he became a major contributor to four NBA championships for the team.

Tony Parker has made the All-Star team six times and earned Finals MVP in 2007, which made him the first European-born player to win that award. Parker has put together an incredible career and he can thank the San Antonio organization for his development.

7 7. Dennis Rodman


One of the most tenacious and weird players to ever play in the league is none other than Dennis Rodman. Rodman was selected 27th overall by the Detroit Pistons and they could not have predicted that he would become one of the best rebounders and defenders to ever play the power forward position. He could guard positions 1-5 with ease, as he was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He won two titles with the Pistons and three titles with the Chicago Bulls.

6 6. George Gervin


"The Logo," Jerry West said, "He's the one player I would pay to see." Who was he talking about?

George Gervin, of course.

5 5. Alex English

via Doctor NBA

4 4. Karl Malone 


3 3. Steve Nash

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

2 2. John Stockton


1 1. Kobe Bryant

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte traded Kobe Bryant to the Lakers on draft night after selecting him 13th overall in the 1996 draft. So first the "Black Mamba" was passed up by 12 teams, but then traded for Vlade Divac. Yes, it is official, the third-highest scorer of all-time is the biggest steal in NBA history. Kobe led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles while passing Michael Jordan on the all time scoring list. Bryant is a 16-time All Star and is headed to the Hall of Fame without any doubts. His heart and passion for the game made him improve every game and every season. There should be no question as to why he is the biggest steal in league history because his career speaks for itself.

Give TheSportster a Thumbs up!

Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?

Get Your Free Access Now!

More in NBA

Top 20 NBA Draft Steals of All Time