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 Rashard Lewis
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.
Not only was he a great shooter, but Lewis also made two appearances in the NBA All-Star game in the 2004-2005 season and 2008-2009 season. Rashard Lewis averaged 14.9 points per game in his career and shot 38.6% from behind the arc. Not too bad for a second round pick.
19 Rajon Rondo
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.
After being drafted, Rondo was traded to Boston for a future draft pick and the Celtics got the second piece of their future "Big Four" (Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett). Rondo would go on to four All-Star games and lead the league in assists twice. Rajon Rondo is only 28 years-old and though he's struggled with the Mavs so far, he's likely just getting adjusted and will be a prime player for them down the stretch.
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.
Laimbeer was traded to the Pistons and helped Detroit become the "Bad Boys" with his toughness in the paint. Laimbeer was selected as an All-Star four times in his career and eclipsed 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds during his 14 years in the league. He helped Detroit win back-to-back titles and the city could do nothing but appreciate his presence.
17 Paul Pierce
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.
Pierce would also go on to lead Boston to a title in 2008 and his clutch shots late in the game earned him the nickname "The Truth." That is exactly what he is. Paul Pierce was selected 10th overall and also selected to 10 All-Star teams. Now it makes sense.
16 Michael Redd
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.
That year was not even his all-star year, which came in the 2003-2004 season when he averaged 21.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. It's shocking how many times Michael Redd was passed up, but the Milwaukee Bucks benefited from that draft pick.
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.
The Detroit Pistons took the chance, picking the 6'3 shooting guard out of McNeese State University. It paid off as they chose one of the best two-way players of all-time and Jordan credited him as one of the toughest defenders he ever faced. When Jordan says that about someone, while they're putting 16.1 points per game their career, that is the definition of a steal.
14 Gilbert Arenas
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 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.
Kemp was an athletic beast on both ends of the floor as he averaged at least 15 points and 8 rebounds per game for 10 straight seasons in the NBA. He also averaged a little more than one block per game in his career. Seattle really knew how to pick 'em (they also selected Kevin Durant before they moved).
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.
Greer was selected in the 2nd round if the 1958 draft and was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in 1982. Greer averaged 19.2 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists throughout his career and paired with Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia to win the 1967 NBA championship. Greer was a late pick in that era and turned into to be a top 50 player in the history of the NBA. Not too shabby.
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.
We know this a bit of a cop out, but any time the G.O.A.T. is passed up, the team who selected him got a steal.
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.
Larry Bird was an All-Star in 12 out of his 13 years played. Bird led the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles and was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in 1998. Surely you get it by now, he simply is an all-time great. Yet, five teams passed him up. None of the five players selected before him were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
9 Manu Ginobili
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.
And to think...Ginobili almost was not selected.
8 Tony Parker
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 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.
Dennis Rodman built himself a great career and earned his Hall-of-Fame induction back in 2011.
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.
Gervin was selected 40th overall in the 1974 draft and there is a reason he had the nickname "Iceman." He was just so cool. The 6'7 shooting guard was smooth and could score in a multitude of ways. During his 14 year career, Gervin shot over 50% from the field while scoring over 25 points per game. The Phoenix Suns drafted him, but it was San Antonio that got the pleasure of having him on their team. George Gervin also made the list of NBA's 50 Greatest Players.
5 Alex English
Alex English is considered one of the most underrated players in the history of the league and is also considered a huge draft steal. English was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 23rd overall pick in the 1976 draft. He averaged around 24 points per game for nine straight seasons and scored 2,000 points in eight straight seasons. The 6'7 small forward out of the University of South Carolina put together an impressive career and was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
4 Karl Malone
Karl Malone is arguably the best power forward to play in the NBA. The Utah Jazz must have been extremely happy when they saw what they got with the 13th overall pick in the 1985 draft. "The Mailman" was a 14-time All Star who averaged 25 points and 10.1 rebounds per game throughout his impressive NBA career. The combination of Stockton and Malone on the pick-and-roll was truly perfection because Malone could do it all. He never won a NBA titles during his career, but was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
3 Steve Nash
One of the greatest floor generals of all time was selected with 15th overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 NBA draft. No one knew Nash would become a two-time NBA MVP and an eight time All Star in the league. No one. He also led the league in assists for five seasons. Not only was he a great passer, Steve Nash was a "lights out" shooter. Nash had multiple seasons where he shot over 50% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc, and 90% from the free throw line. Nash, like Karl Malone, never won a NBA title but will go down as one of the best to play his position.
2 John Stockton
The man that competes with Steve Nash as one of the best leaders at the point guard position is John Stockton. Stockton was selected 16th overall by the Utah Jazz in the 1984 NBA draft. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 and is the all time leader in assists. That is right, no one has dished more dimes than John Stockton. No one is even close to reaching his mark. The next player on the list is Jason Kidd and he is over 3,000 assists behind him. On top of that, he has the most steals in the history of the league. This just displays the great two-way point guard that John Stockton was and how much of a steal he was for the Utah Jazz.
1 Kobe Bryant
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.