We have decided to undertake a huge task, and that’s to select the best players at every draft position in NBA history.
Some of them were somewhat clear-cut, but for the most part, just about every year had multiple players who could be called the greatest ever at his spot.
Even so, we made the tough calls and put together the following list, from No. 1 to No. 60.
Without much further ado, let’s jump right in, as we have a lot to get to.
LeBron James (2003)
This one came down to LeBron James, the player that whoever isn’t on Jordan’s side believes to be the greatest player of all time, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an underrated player in the GOAT debate.
Ultimately, however, we went with James, as his greatness and longevity are too much to deny in this debate. James was set with unreal, borderline unrealistic expectations prior to reaching the NBA, being featured on ESPN multiple times as a high schooler, being named the first Gatorade Player of the Year winner to take home the award as a junior in high school (before winning it again as a senior) and being a USA Today 1st Team All-American three times in high school, which was, and remains, unheard of.
And yet, James has been able to blow those expectations out of the water, still producing like one of the best players in the league to this day as a 37-year-old and posting a career that has seen him win four league MVP awards, four championships, four Finals MVP and making 18 All-Star appearances to go with 13 1st Team All-NBAs.
The Cavaliers tanked hard in 2002-03 for a chance to draft James and it ultimately paid off, as landing one of the game’s GOATs was well worth the losing the team had to endure to land him in 2003.
Runner-ups: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan
Bill Russell (1956)
The great Bill Russell was actually a late-bloomer as far as basketball is concerned, as he wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school due to poor fundamentals as a scorer, which is why he ended up at the University of San Francisco.
The rebounding and shot-blocking that would make Russell a legend in the NBA were evident quickly in college, as he led San Francisco to NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956 and an unreal 55 wins in a row.
Red Auerbach became transfixed with the idea of landing Russell, whose skill set – he felt – fit what the Celtics were lacking. He was so into the idea that he traded Ed Macauley, a six-time All-Star, to the St. Louis Hawks for the No. 2 pick, Russell, as well as future star Cliff Hagan.
Although Hagan and Macauley got the 1958 championship with the Hawks, it’s clear who won that trade, and it was the team that ended up with Russell, the eventual 11-time NBA champion.
Runner-ups: Jerry West, Kevin Durant
Michael Jordan (1984)
Pretty unfathomable to consider that perhaps the greatest player of all time went merely third in his draft class, behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. The Olajuwon selection can be forgiven, as The Dream finished his career as one of the best centers ever. The Bowie one, though? Damn!
However, the Blazers made the pick because they had drafted Clyde Drexler the year before and believed – correctly – that they had their 2-guard spot locked up for years to come. Still, they could have figured things out with Jordan in the fold, but were so set on roster construction that they didn’t take the best player available at No. 2.
Bob Knight raved about Jordan prior to the draft after coaching him on Team USA, telling the media:
“The kid is just an absolutely, great kid. If we’re going to pick the three or four best athletes I’ve ever seen play basketball, he’d be one of them. I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen play basketball, bar none. If I were going to pick people with the best ability I’ve ever seen play the game, he’d be one of them. If I were going to pick the best competitors that I’ve ever seen play, he’d be one of them. So in the categories of competitiveness, ability, skill and then athletic ability, he’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players. That to me makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.”
When Stu Inman, the Blazers general manager at the time, told Knight that he had a shooting guard and that his team needed a center, Knight famously replied by telling him to just play Jordan at center.
Inman should have listened, especially considering Jordan’s list of accolades over three years at North Carolina, including a national championship (one in which he hit the game-winning shot), two consensus All-American awards, a Naismith Award for best player and a Wooden Award.
Jordan would go on to post the most legendary career ever, including winning six championships, winning Finals MVP in all of them, to go with five league MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances and 10 1st Team All-NBAs as well as nine 1st Team All-Defenses.
His level of competitiveness and will to win is unmatched historically, and he had the goods – elite athleticism, outstanding footwork, fantastic ball-handling, unbelievably quick hands, vision and shooting prowess from the midrange – to back it up.
Runner-ups: Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden
Chris Paul (2005)
Two Hall-of-Fame-level point guards battled it out for this spot, with Chris Paul coming out on top over Russell Westbrook. Bob Cousy is another player who can make a claim for this spot, but Paul feels like the right choice for his longevity and the case he makes to be considered the best floor general ever.
The former Wake Forest standout is a 12-time All-Star, a four-time 1st Team All-NBAer has led the league in assists five times (we’re counting 2021-22 in that) and in steals six times.
Paul gets it done on both ends of the floor, too, as evidenced by his seven 1st Team All-Defenses, which is crazy to fathom considering how good Paul is on offense, too, a maestro with the ball in his hands capable of making the most average of teammates look adept on any given night who can also score at a high level when called upon.
Runner-ups: Russell Westbrook, Bob Cousy, Chris Bosh
Kevin Garnett (1995)
One of the toughest decisions we had to make in this article, it was down to Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley for the best No. 5 pick of all time. Ultimately, we went with The Big Ticket, however, due to the fact he was able to secure a championship in his career, something Barkley famously never accomplished, as well as thanks to his two-way skills. Still, this was a razor-close call, as both power forwards won a league MVP in their heyday while Barkley had one more 1st Team All-NBA (five to Garnett’s four), to which Garnett can retort that he had more All-Star nominations (15 vs. 11.)
Either way, we went with Garnett, which you guys can argue with all you want. Garnett was one of the first prep-to-pros superstars and it didn’t take long for him to make his mark in the league, as by his second season he was already an All-Star and by his fifth, he was already a 1st Team All-NBAer.
Garnett was so good so quickly that just prior to the 1997-98 season, his agent negotiated a truly enormous contract for him, one worth roughly $126 million over six years, a number that might not shock today’s NBA fans but one that was unheard of at the time. Garnett got that contract prior to his age-21 season, by the way.
The size of that contract would actually become a major point of contention between players and the league itself and partly to blame for the lockout that would ensue in 1998-99.
That’s not Garnett’s fault, however, and he more than lived up to the contract on his way to becoming the best No. 5 pick of all time. At least according to us.
Runner-ups: Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen, Ray Allen
Larry Bird (1978)
One of the best small forwards basketball has ever seen, Larry Bird’s pre-draft story is one that is well-documented, as he was an Indiana Hoosier for less than a month (where he was supposed to play for one of the best coaches ever in Bobby Knight) before getting homesick and returning to French Lick. Bird would eventually go to Indiana State and become a star there, averaging 30.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists over three years and leading the small program to the 1979 NCAA title Game, where they fell to Michigan State, led by one Magic Johnson.
Bird was actually drafted in 1978 by the Celtics but chose to go back to college while Boston held on to his draft rights. That was quite the move by Red Auerbach, as had Bird not been drafted in ‘78, there’s a good chance his junior campaign would have gotten him drafted higher than sixth.
Nonetheless, Bird went down as one of the biggest stars basketball has ever seen, capable of scoring from anywhere and in a variety of ways, the likes of which we still don’t even see replicated today. He was clutch, too, and as cocky as they came, though he was always able to back it up. A three-time champion and three-time MVP, as well as a 12-time All-Star, Bird is one of the sport’s all-time greats, one that will never be forgotten.
Runner-ups: Damian Lillard, Adrian Dantley, Jerry Lucas, Lenny Wilkens
Stephen Curry (2009)
A game-changer of the highest magnitude, it was somewhat understandable that Stephen Curry was merely the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft. After all, he attended Davidson, not at traditional power, while lacking in top-end athleticism, at least vertically. Plus, a player of his skill set – one featuring an ability to shoot legitimately from anywhere on the floor, both off the dribble and with his feet set – hadn’t become a legitimate superstar in the NBA before.
Well, Curry was the first and has since changed the way the game is played, opening avenues for many of today’s young superstars to play with the audacity that they do.
What’s fascinating about Curry’s draft story is the madness that led to the eventual two-time league MVP and three-time champion falling to Golden State at No. 7. That madness came primarily out of Minnesota, as the Timberwolves’ shot-caller at the time, David Kahn, didn’t take just one but two point guards with the two picks right ahead of Curry.
Those point guards? Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn. No knock on either player, especially not Rubio, who has forged a very solid career in the NBA, but it goes without saying, neither is Curry. (For good measure, Khan took another point guard at No. 18, Ty Lawson, though at least he traded that one.)
Also interesting about the Curry draft story is that he, his father and agent all wanted him to end up on the Knicks, who were coached by the pace-and-space savant, Mike D’Antoni, at the time. Here’s more on that:
In a telephone interview, Curry’s father, Dell, who played 16 N.B.A. seasons as a sweet-shooting guard, said: “The Warriors had some questionable characters on their team, the Knicks really needed a point guard, and we felt that Stephen would fit perfectly with a coach like Mike D’Antoni, playing that fast, up-and-down style. He loved the idea of playing at Madison Square Garden.”
Donnie Walsh, who ran the Knicks at the time, admitted that New York wanted Curry badly, too:
From Indianapolis, Walsh can only wonder, wistfully, how Curry might have changed the course of recent Knicks history. “Every time I see him play, I think of it,” he said. “He was the guy I was really looking for, and his agent kept telling me he wanted to be in New York. So it just broke my heart when we didn’t get him because I knew we had missed out on something special.”
We’re sorry, Knicks fans.
Runner-ups: Bernard King, Chris Mullin, Kevin Johnson
Robert Parish (1976)
The shot-blocking double-double machine Robert Parish might have gotten drafted higher than eighth in the 1976 draft if not for an odd college career that saw the legendary big man play four years at Centenary College of Louisiana, which received the death penalty as a program during Parish’s time there due to quarrels with the NCAA about academic eligibility.
Regardless, Centenary College of Louisiana refused to sit Parish despite his testing grades, so the NCAA put the program on probation for six years and didn’t count their outcomes or statistics as valid while Parish was there. So Parish, who averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds over his four-year college career, did so without as many eyes being on him as there should have been.
The result was Parish merely going eighth in his draft class before being drafted by the Warriors, who struggled during his four seasons there and wound up trading him to the Celtics for draft capital. And, as we all know, it was in Boston where the 7-footer would go on to become one of the legends of the game and one of the integral pieces to the 1980s Celtics dynasty.
Runner-ups: Sam Jones, Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf
Dirk Nowitzki (1998)
Without Dirk Nowitzki, it’s hard to imagine there being an NBA today with as many big men bombing threes as there are, as Nowitzki made it acceptable for a 7-footer to be a floor-spacing star and not just a gimmick player. And if the big German was a draft prospect today, he’d probably go a lot higher than ninth in his draft class, as Nowitzki wasn’t some hidden overseas gem, but a player who showed out in front of many important NBA eyes.
Nowitzki caught attention prior to the draft by competing in the Nike Hoops Heroes Tour, where he played against Charles Barkley, dunked on him and made a believer out of the Round Mound of Rebound. Nowitzki also competed in the Nike Hoop Summit and absolutely showed out in the showcase contest, scoring 33 points on just 12 field-goal attempts and looked the part of a future NBA superstar while playing against the likes of Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington, just in a package that people weren’t used to seeing.
Nowitzki wasn’t just picked ninth, either… he didn’t even play for the team that drafted him. The Bucks took him and traded his rights to the Mavericks in a deal that included Robert Traylor, the No. 6 pick that year, being sent to Milwaukee.
Solid trade there, Bucks.
Runner-ups: John Havlicek, Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion
Paul Pierce (1998)
Paul Pierce was a bad man as a player, capable of scoring at a high level from deep, the midrange and near the rim, and was as smooth as they came with his pull-up game.
He was clutch, too, hitting various memorable shots throughout his career, including when he led the Celtics to the 2008 championship in which he earned Finals MVP honors.
Questions about his athleticism led to Pierce falling to 10th in the 1998 draft, but his college career was an impressive one, as his junior season at Kansas featured him being named a 1st Team All-American and a finalist for the John Wooden and Naismith awards.
Runner-ups: Paul George, Joe Johnson, Willis Reed, Horace Grant
Reggie Miller (1987)
One of the best shooters ever, Reggie Miller was a standout at UCLA prior to reaching the NBA, finishing second all-time in Bruins history in scoring – behind just some dude whose last name is Abdul-Jabbar, no big deal – and earning back-to-back 1st Team All-Pac 10 honors in his junior and senior campaigns.
So, obviously, when the Pacers drafted him 11th overall in 1987, Pacers fans were thrilled… right?
Not so much, as Indiana supporters wanted the team to take Steve Alford instead, a local legend out of New Castle, Indiana. So they booed the selection.
Looking back, that wound up being ridiculous, as Miller would go down as the best player in Pacers history, make five All-Star appearances, three 2nd Team All-NBAs and lead the team on various deep playoff runs, including to the 2000 Finals. Meanwhile, Alford lasted just four seasons in the NBA and averaged 4.4 points.
So good call on that pick, Pacers brass from 1987.
Runner-ups: Vern Mikkelsen, Derek Harper, Kiki Vandeweghe
Julius Erving (1972)
The legendary Julius Erving was drafted 12th overall in the 1972 NBA Draft by none other than the Bucks… a team that already boasted a lineup featuring Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, two of the greatest players of all time. Unfortunately for fans of superteams and Big 3s, however, a legal issue between the Bucks, Hawks and Virginia Squires of the ABA meant that Erving never suited up alongside those two all-timers, and instead remained in the ABA until 1977-78, when he would join the 76ers.
Regardless, Erving carved out his own path in the NBA – a pretty fantastic one, we might add – and one that included 11 All-Star appearances, an NBA MVP award and a championship to go with five 1st Team All-NBA appearances.
Considered Jordan without the jumper, Erving was one of the first players whose game resembled the athletes we see today, able to soar, hang in the air, finish thunderously over the toughest of contests and dazzle on a nightly basis.
Erving was a game-changer.
Runner-ups: Cedric Maxwell, Paul Silas
Kobe Bryant (1996)
Kobe Bryant slipping slightly in the draft makes more sense than it does for some of the other superstars on this list, as he was a guard and coming straight out of high school, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. Bryant was dominant in high school but didn’t play against top-level competition, though he did dominate at national camps for top prep players, proving that he had what it took to be an impactful player at the top level.
Just how impactful remained to be seen, though, according to the legendary Jerry West, Bryant had a workout pre-draft against the likes of Larry Drew and Michael Cooper where he “marched over” his defenders.
As the story goes, John Calipari and the Nets were interested in taking Bryant at No. 8 overall but were talked out of it by Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, because Bryant wanted to end up in Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, Bryant went on to have a historic career, one that places him comfortably as the second-best shooting guard of all time, one with five championships, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and 18 All-Star appearances under his belt.
Runner-ups: Karl Malone, Donovan Mitchell
Clyde Drexler (1983)
An NBA Hall-of-Famer and one of the best shooting guards of all time, Clyde Drexler slipped a bit in the draft back in 1983, which is surprising looking back, considering his physical tools, athleticism and high-profile NCAA career. Drexler played for Houston in the Phi Slama Jama days along with Hakeem Olajuwon, where they made it to two straight Final Fours with Drexler putting up solid numbers to contribute to those deep runs.
Regardless, the slashing specialist Drexler was a smooth NBA player, one who could fill up the scoring column, create for others, do some rebounding and pick up steals. Drexler made 10 All-Star appearances in his career, had one 1st Team All-NBA and two 2nd Team All-NBAs and was part of both the NBA 50 and NBA 75 teams.
Drexler even reunited with Olajuwon in the NBA as members of the Rockets and won a championship in 1994-95.
Runner-ups: Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Tim Hardaway, Predrag Stojakovic
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013)
Very tough choice here for the No. 15 spot, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steve Nash were both taken with the 15th overall pick, but we had to go with the Greek Freak, who already has a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame resume at 27 years old with many prime years ahead. What Antetokounmpo lacks in his jumper, he makes up for with freakish dimensions, insane effort levels and Shaq-like domination in the low post.
It’s not like one can call Antetokounmpo unskilled, either, as although his jumper isn’t pretty, he can handle the ball extremely well for someone with his size and length and is also an adept playmaker. On top of that, Antetokounmpo just dominates smaller foes down low, can finish over anyone and is one of the most disruptive players we have on the defensive end in the league.
Antetokounmpo’s pre-draft story is one of the most fascinating ever, too, as he played for a lowly Greek team and was set to play in Spain for Zaragoza before being convinced to head to the NBA instead. The reigning Finals MVP didn’t put up huge numbers in the Greek second division prior to heading stateside, either, but NBA scouts were able to see past that, falling in love with his size, length and athleticism.
Might Antetokounmpo go down as one of the last hidden gems? Probably not, but it’s getting harder and harder in the age of the internet for surprises like Antetokounmpo to come out of nowhere and become NBA superstars.
Runner-ups: Steve Nash, Kawhi Leonard, Al Jefferson
John Stockton (1984)
Making the news these days for the wrong reason, John Stockton is one of the greatest point guards of all time – that much remains without question. Stockton ranks first all-time in assists (15,806) by a mile, as well as in steals (3,265) by another mile.
His insane longevity has a lot to do with that, as Stockton played for 19 seasons, nine of which he led the league in nightly assists, peaking in 1989-90 at 14.5 while leading the league in nightly takeaways twice. Stockton was also a winner, helping the Jazz reach back-to-back Finals, the outcomes to which we all remember.
So why did Stockton fall to 16th in the 1984 draft? It certainly wasn’t due to his output, as senior-year Stockton averaged 20.9 points at Gonzaga to go with 7.2 assists and 3.9 steals and shot 57.7 percent from the floor. But Gonzaga back then was nowhere near the powerhouse it is today, so Stockton remained very much unknown to casual fans prior to the draft. His lack of size and dynamic athleticism also probably didn’t help matters.
Nevertheless, Stockton wound up being one of the greatest floor generals ever, so the Jazz’s front office from 1984 look like geniuses for making that selection.
Runner-ups: Metta World Peace, Nikola Vucevic, Hidayet Turkoglu
Shawn Kemp (1989)
Best remembered for being one of the most disrespectful dunkers in NBA history, Shawn Kemp could do more than just throw it down violently, as he was a double-digit rebounder for much of his career, one who could put up right around 20 points on any given night. He never became the most skilled big man, but his explosiveness around the basket made that irrelevant, as Kemp made six All-Star appearances in his career and was a three-time 2nd Team All-NBAer thanks to his scoring down low and out of the pick-and-roll, as well as because of his rebounding.
Kemp likely would have gotten drafted higher if not for all of the drama in his NCAA career, which included him not qualifying academically to Kentucky and leaving the school after being accused of pawning gold chains that were stolen from a teammate. Kemp then went the JUCO route but never played a minute at the college level, yet was still drafted 17th overall in 1989, showing the type of potential teams saw in him.
Runner-ups: Bill Sharman, Jermaine O’Neal, Jrue Holiday
Joe Dumars (1985)
Joe Dumars may be best remembered as being arguably the best backcourt defender of his era, a fact backed up by four 1st Team All-Defenses and one 2nd Team All-Defense in his 14-year career, Dumars could also score when he had to, earning Finals MVP in 1989 after a championship series that saw him average 27.3 points and 6.0 assists per game.
Dumars was a winner more than anything, capable of playing either guard spot at a high level on both ends of the floor. His measurables may not have been elite, which is why he was drafted where he was in 1985 after an impressive four-year NCAA career at McNeese State, but he knew how to play the game the right way.
Runner-ups: Mark Jackson, David West, Calvin Murphy
Nate Archibald (1970)
A tenacious, all-energy point guard who played with all-out effort every minute he was out on the floor (which was a lot), Nate “Tiny” Archibald enjoyed a Hall-of-Fame career despite having his prime cut short just seven seasons in due to an Achilles injury, which used to be far more difficult for players to come back from.
Archibald was a magician with the ball in his hands, be it as a dribbler or playmaker, putting up an unforgettable campaign in 1972-73 with the Kansas City Royals, one in which he led the league in scoring at 34.0 points, as well as in assists at 11.4 nightly. Archibald’s quickness made him impossible to stay in front of for defenders, and he even had a smooth lefty jumper out of the midrange.
In all, were it not for his diminutive size and stature, Archibald likely would have gotten drafted far higher in his class, but either way, things worked out just fine for him.
Runner-ups:Rod Strickland, Zach Randolph
Larry Nance (1981)
One of the 20 best shot-blockers in NBA history, statistically, Larry Nance was a smooth big man who liked to score and used his explosiveness to attack the basket at a ferocious level. His timing as a rim-protector was impeccable, too, and he also possessed solid rebounding toughness down low.
Nance made three All-Star appearances in his career to go with one 1st Team All-Defense and two 2nd Team All-Defenses. He also had one of the most memorable Dunk Contest showings ever, which took place 1984:
Nance enjoyed a solid, albeit unspectacular, career at Clemson in college, which is why he fell to 20th in the draft. Either way, he surely exceeded his expectations as a member of the Suns and Cavaliers.
Runner-ups: Harry Gallatin, Gus Williams
Cliff Hagan (1953)
One of the NBA’s great players of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cliff Hagan was first a superstar at Kentucky under the legendary head coach, Adolph Rupp. Hagan was a two-time All-American as a Wildcat who averaged 24.0 points and 13.5 rebounds as a junior before he was drafted. Hagan even served in the military after being drafted by the Celtics in 1953.
Hagan would go on to enjoy a strong NBA career, winning a championship in 1958, making five All-Star Teams and two 2nd Team All-NBAs for his contributions with the St. Louis Hawks as a small forward. Another fun tidbit: Hagan was part of the trade that sent Bill Russell to the Celtics.
You could say that trade worked out for both parties, but we all know who got the better end of that deal.
Runner-ups: Michael Finley, Rajon Rondo
George McGinnis (1973)
The 22nd pick in the 1973 draft, George McGinnis was a fantastic player in the NBA but an even more impressive one in the ABA, where he won two championships while being named a Playoffs MVP and a regular-season MVP as well as a two-time 1st Team All-ABAer.
McGinnis still did plenty of damage in the NBA, the league he was drafted to after two impressive seasons in the ABA, making three All-Star appearances to go with one 1st Team All-NBA and one 2nd Team All-NBA honor.
McGinnis was a dynamic scorer who did the bulk of his point production down low while posting huge rebounding numbers and solid playmaking totals.
Runner-ups: Norm Nixon, Truck Robinson
Alex English (1976)
One of the most disrespected legends of the NBA’s yester-year, Alex English went from being the No. 23 pick in the 1976 draft to posting a Hall-of-Fame career, one that included eight All-Star appearances, three 2nd Team All-NBAs and even a scoring championship when he posted 28.4 points in 1982-83 to go with 7.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks.
We call the great English disrespected because he was snubbed from the NBA 75 list the league put out this year, a topic that the former Nuggets star discussed with us recently. English could do it all on the floor, including score at a very high level, rebound, create for others and cause havoc defensively.
Disrespect is nothing new for English, however, as he started every game in his college career at South Carolina and was a two-time All-American at the school, putting up 22.6 points and 10.3 rebounds as a senior, yet still fell to the 23rd pick in his draft class.
Runner-ups: AC Green, World B. Free
Latrell Sprewell (1992)
Although many today remember him most for the one ugly incident in his career involving his head coach, PJ Carlesimo, Latrell Sprewell was a great player in his heyday, being named an All-Star four times while making one 1st Team All-NBA and one 2nd Team All-Defense.
Sprewell could do a bit of everything from the 2-guard spot, including score, rebound and assist, as evidenced by his lone All-NBA season in 1993-94 when he averaged 21.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 36.1 percent from three. That came in just the second year of his career, which led many to think Spreewell was set to have a special NBA career.
He may not have reached those heights but he did enjoy an impressive time in the NBA, which is not something all that typical of 24th overall picks. Sprewell first attended Three Rivers Community College before spending two seasons at Alabama, where he didn’t get to shine as much as he could have, having to share the ball with the likes of Robert Horry and Jason Coffey.
Runner-ups: Kyle Lowry, Terry Porter
Mark Price (1986)
An underrated point guard historically and a player who was right on the cusp of Hall-of-Fame consideration thanks to four All-Star appearances, one 1st Team All-NBA showing and three 3rd Team All-NBAs, Mark Price is the best point guard in Cavaliers history along with Kyrie Irving.
Price wasn’t the most athletic player nor did he have the best size, leading to him falling to the 25th overall pick in 1986 despite a stellar college career. However, he more than made up for that with a high basketball IQ and a beautiful shooting stroke.
The Georgia Tech legend shot 40.2 percent from three for his career and 90.4 percent from the foul stripe, the third-best mark ever. Price was also an excellent playmaker, boasting four seasons with at least 8.0 assists per game, peaking in 1990-91 at 10.4.
Runner-ups: John Drew, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace
Vlade Divac (1989)
One of the first star big men to come out of Europe, Vlade Divac was mobile, a good shooter and a great passer, making him quite unique for his era. In today’s NBA? Divac would likely be an even bigger stud.
Regardless, Divac was a great player in Yugoslavia before getting to the NBA, leading to him being drafted 26th overall in 1989 by the Lakers, where he teamed up with Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and developed under a stable, winning franchise.
Divac wouldn’t reach his peak until years later, however, as a member of those memorable Kings teams with Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, where he made an All-Star team and helped make Sacramento one of the best teams in the league with his scoring, passing and rebounding.
Runner-ups: George Hill, Kevin Martin
Dennis Rodman (1986)
Some players’ pre-draft stories are almost hard to believe and, of course, Dennis Rodman’s falls under just that category. He was 5-foot-6 and never made a high-school basketball team. He became an overnight janitor after high school. He had a growth spurt to 6-foot-7. He played a semester at North Central Texas College. He flunked out. He then went to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, became a three-time NAIA All-American and earned an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational, winning MVP of the tournament.
And then the Pistons took him with the 27th pick of the 1986 draft.
As we all know, Rodman would go on to become arguably the greatest rebounder of all time, one of the most intense and impactful defenders ever and a key player on two dynasties: the Bad Boys Pistons and Jordan’s Bulls.
How has the Rodman story not been made into a movie yet?
Runner-ups: Rudy Gobert, Elden Campbell
Tony Parker (2001)
In the early 2000s, it was not easy for European guards to come to the NBA and find a role, let alone become a star. Even today, that is somewhat the case still. Tony Parker bucked that trend, however, becoming one of the best point guards of his era, with elite quickness, a beautiful tear-drop floater and the capability to hit huge shots in all-important moments.
Parker won four championships in San Antonio, one in which he even earned Finals MVP honors, and made six All-Star teams as well as three 2nd Team All-NBAs.
It’s not like Parker was some well-kept secret before reaching the NBA, either, as he dominated in the 2000 Nike Hoop Summit, scoring 20 points and dishing out seven assists which led to him getting major D1 offers from the likes of UCLA and other programs of that caliber, though the French guard chose to stay in his home country and play pro before making the move to the NBA.
Parker had a tryout with the Spurs before they drafted him and if the stories are to be believed, he struggled mightily, prompting Gregg Popovich to send him home before eventually inviting him back for another workout. Parker would impress in that workout, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Runner-ups: Dan Roundfield, Leandro Barbosa
Dennis Johnson (1976)
After a hectic upbringing that included being one of 16 children and getting kicked off of his junior college three times in two years, Dennis Johnson went to Pepperdine for one year, played well and was eventually drafted 29th overall in 1976 by the Sonics. If not for his attitude issues, Johnson likely would have gotten drafted higher than that but Seattle took advantage, and Johnson would go on to help the team win the 1979 championship when he was named Finals MVP.
Johnson was a smooth ball-handler and scorer with a very tidy midrange game while being one of the most effective backcourt defenders in the league, earning 1st Team All-Defense honors six times. He would win two more championships with the Celtics dynasty of the 1980s and went on to become a Hall-of-Famer.
Runner-ups: Eddie Johnson, Toni Kukoc, PJ Brown, Dejounte Murray
Jimmy Butler (2011)
A close call here between Jimmy Butler and Spencer Haywood, though we went with Butler, which goes to show what we think of the Miami Heat swingman considering Haywood was five-time All-Star, an NBA champion and a Hall-of-Famer.
But Butler is no slouch in his own right, with six All-Star appearances of his own, four 3rd Team All-NBAs and five 2nd Team All-Defensive Team selections, with the 32-year-old still in his prime, meaning there’s time left for the two-way monster to add to his list of accolades.
Butler, the final pick in the 2011 draft, had interest from various teams before landing with the Bulls, where he’d go on to become a star for the franchise prior to trades to the Timberwolves, 76ers and Heat (from a 2011 pre-draft report from ESPN):
After the story of Jimmy Butler’s amazing journey to the NBA went viral this weekend, I’ve been flooded with questions about where he’s going in the NBA draft. Butler has worked out well wherever he’s gone. He’s had a huge number of workouts and the consensus among NBA teams is that he’s a late first to early second-round pick. A few teams in the first like the Rockets, Thunder, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls are all giving him looks in the first. In the second round, the Cavs, Pistons, Kings and Wizards all have interest as well. If he doesn’t go in the first, I think his wait will be pretty short in the second.
For those wondering what Butler’s pre-draft story was, his father abandoned his family when he was a baby and then his mom kicked him out of the house by the time he was 13 before he ultimately went the JUCO route prior to getting to Marquette.
Runner-ups: Spencer Haywood, David Lee
Gilbert Arenas (2001)
Oh, boy. Where to start here.
Gilbert Arenas recently made waves after getting eviscerated by former college teammate Richard Jefferson over comments Arenas made questioning why he fell further in the draft than Jefferson. You can watch the destruction for yourself here:
Richard Jefferson went IN on Gilbert Arenas.
Mic DROP. My goodness. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/mYHBTHRIfZ
— Jacob Ortiz (@jacobryanortiz) February 23, 2022
Either way, Arenas did have a point in that he probably should have been drafted higher, as prior to declaring for the draft, the scoring-minded guard led Arizona to the national championship game and put up a strong sophomore season with a 16.2-point-per-game average.
In the pros, Arenas had a ridiculous peak, putting up back-to-back seasons in which he averaged 28.9 points, 6.0 assists and 1.9 steals while hitting 35.9 percent of his 7.3 three-point attempts. Arenas likes to say these days that he was one of the prototypes for today’s NBA guard, who love to bomb away from three without second thought.
He may not be totally wrong there.
Rashard Lewis (1998)
Rashard Lewis was a big man ahead of his time thanks to his outside shooting touch and audacity, as the two-time All-Star loved to post up at the three-point line and bomb away from three. Although he had various high-level D1 offers, Lewis went straight from high school to the NBA, which explains why it took him until his third season to begin to break out.
Lewis was the last player remaining in the green room that year and ended up crying as he waited for his name to be called.
Nevertheless, Lewis made up for it in his NBA career. Along with Ray Allen, he made the Seattle SuperSonics one of the top teams in the West for many years in the early 2000s before joining the Magic, where he was a vital piece in the 2009 team that made it to the NBA Finals.
Lewis averaged over 20 points three times in his career, and though he wasn’t much of a rebounder or passer, his scoring and shooting made him an impactful player in his heyday.
Bob Love (1965)
An underrated big man historically, Bob Love had an abrupt peak and even more abrupt drop-off, though that career zenith was impressive. Love had a seven-year stretch where he averaged 22.6 points and 7.1 rebounds, making three All-Star Teams in that time span two 2nd Team All-NBAs.
Love was actually drafted twice, first in 1965 coming out of Southern University, when he failed to make the Cincinnati Royals’ roster initially, and then again in 1965 in the expansion draft, when the Bucks wound up trading him to the Bulls, the team where Love would go on to hit that noteworthy career peak.
Norm Van Lier (1969)
A three-time All-Star and one of the top defenders of his era despite being listed at just 6-foot-1, Norm Van Lier was not a highly touted prospect coming out of high school due to his lack of size, so he ended up attending Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania, where he eventually had his number retired.
That was enough to earn him the No. 34 overall selection in the 1969 draft, and the rest is history. Van Lier would go on to become a high-level passer as well as an elite backcourt defender, as evidenced by his leading the league in assists in his sophomore season at 10.1 helpers nightly and his three 1st Team All-Defense selections.
Draymond Green (20120
Draymond Green’s draft story is an interesting one, as all 30 teams in the league – yes, including Golden State – passed on him at least once before he landed with the Warriors at No. 35 overall. Green was a monster in college, winning, among other things, Big Ten Player of the Year, NABC Player of the Year in 2012 and 1st Team All-American honors, and ranking as one of just three players in Michigan State history with 1,000-plus points and -rebounds in a career.
He wound up falling this far in the draft, however, due to poor measurables for a big man and an unreliable jumper. However, his head coach in college, Tom Izzo, knew he had what it took to become a legit NBA player:
In NBA circles, Michigan State senior Draymond Green is currently being discussed as a late first- to mid-second-round draft pick this June. That’s according to one NBA scout who places the 6-foot-7, 230-pound power forward in the 25-45 range of the draft. Spartans coach Tom Izzo said Monday he thinks about Green’s possible future in the NBA as well. “I think Draymond has a good chance because there’s a need for people with high basketball IQ,” Izzo said. “His shooting will get nothing but better. His ball skills will get nothing but better. He’ll have to prove his defense consistently. “I’m trying to think of one area where he hasn’t made great improvement, which leads me to believe that if he gets a break and gets a chance, he’s going to improve more and more.”
Green himself expected to be taken between the 20th and 30th picks, so falling to No. 35 had to feel like a slap in the face.
Regardless, we all know what Green would end up becoming in the NBA, a unique two-way forward who could defend just about every position and create for others at a high level. Green is a rare case, though, so not every undersized winner in college should be expected to become the next Draymond.
Maurice Cheeks (1978)
Had Maurice Cheeks attended a bigger university than West Texas State, there’s a strong possibility that he wouldn’t have fallen to the 36th pick of the 1978 draft. Nevertheless, Cheeks went on to put up a strong career, especially for a second-rounder, playing for 15 seasons, making four All-Star teams as well as four 1st Team All-Defenses.
Cheeks wasn’t much of a shooter, but he was quite adept at getting to the cup and finishing in traffic while also being a strong playmaker and defender. Cheeks peaked in 1985-86, averaging 15.4 points, 9.2 assists and 2.5 steals. He also played a vital role in the 76ers’ 1983 championship team, putting up 16.3 points, 7.0 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting over 50.0 percent from the floor over 13 games in those playoffs.
Cheeks was a downright steal at the No. 36 pick.
Nick Van Exel (1993)
Nick Van Exel is an interesting study in that some believe he could have amounted to more in the NBA while others appreciate him for what he was: a flashy, fun, score-minded guard who could make bold passes that many others wouldn’t attempt, and a player who was never afraid of taking the big shot. It was that overwhelming sense of self-confidence that hurt Van Exel at times in the NBA, as he often butted heads with coaches over his role, one that he thought should have been larger.
Nevertheless, Van Exel enjoyed a beautiful 13-year career, one headlined by a lone All-Star appearance in 1997-98 as a member of the Lakers. That’s got to be considered a successful career for a player who had to attend junior college before starring at Cincinnati, where Van Exel set the record for most three-pointers made as a Bearcat and helped the program reach the Final Four in 1991-92. Lack of size and athleticism hurt his draft stock, however, which explains why Van Exel fell to 37th.
Mehmet Okur (2001)
A big man just ahead of his time in the NBA, Mehmet Okur could score both inside and out, hitting a healthy 37.5 percent of his three-pointers during his time in the Association. Okur could pick-and-pop with the best of them in his prime, and would undoubtedly have had a bigger role as a scorer had his heyday occurred in the modern era of basketball. Okur was also a solid rebounder and passer, even turning in an All-Star season in 2006-07 by averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Okur experienced some success as a pro in Turkey before reaching the NBA, helping guide Anadolu Efes to a championship in 2001-02, just before his inaugural campaign in the States. If sharpshooting big men with passing skills were more popular at the time, Okur might have gotten selected higher than 38th overall.
Khris Middleton (2012)
Khris Middleton’s draft story isn’t one full of drama, as the All-Star swingman wasn’t some stud, can’t-miss prospect coming out of Texas A&M. He simply fell to 39th because he was a fairly average three-year player in college who had great measurables and a projectable jumper. Middleton missing 12 games in his junior season due to injury before declaring, a campaign in which he put up just 13.2 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 26.0 percent from three, certainly didn’t help matters either.
Regardless, Middleton worked hard on his game, becoming an impressive shooter from three and the midrange, as well as a do-everything swingman who can score, rebound and create. Middleton is now a legitimate, proven second-fiddle on a championship team in Milwaukee and has made three All-Star appearances, and counting, so far.
George Gervin (1974)
An all-time great in basketball, George Gervin was named to the NBA 75 list this year by the league after a career that saw him average 25.1 points, lead the league in scoring four times, make 12 All-Star appearances (including the ABA ones) and be named 1st Team All-NBA five times. Gervin’s 26.2 points per game in the NBA is the ninth-highest mark in NBA history.
Gervin was a monster in college, too, but saw his draft stock plummet after transferring from Cal State to Eastern Michigan University, where he punched an opposing player in a tournament game and was suspended for a full season before being dismissed from the team fully. That happened after a campaign in which he averaged 29.5 points.
With scoring and slashing skills as effective and beautiful as Gervin’s, there’s no question he would have gotten drafted far higher had he enjoyed a more normal collegiate career. Either way, the Iceman is an all-timer, one of the smoothest scorers the league has ever seen with a patented scoop layup that no one has ever managed to imitate.
Not well, at least.
Nikola Jokic (2014)
Undoubtedly the greatest second-round pick of all time, Nikola Jokic has blossomed into an MVP-winning big man, one who is headed straight to the Hall of Fame once he retires barring disaster. Even if his career were to fall off next season, Jokic might have done enough by now to receive that honor, with an MVP on his mantle to go with four All-Star appearances and two 1st Team and one 2nd Team All-NBA honors to his name.
As early as April of 2014, Jokic was starting to see his name thrown out by American media, namely Marc J. Spears, after he made waves in two Nike Hoop Summit practices, but it still took until the 2015-16 season for him to join the Nuggets after he was drafted 41st overall in 2014. The Jokic selection was famously not televised, either, as ESPN was showing a Taco Bell commercial while the announcement was made by Mark Tatum.
We’re guessing here, but Jokic has to be the first eventual MVP winner whose draft announcement wasn’t shown in favor of an American fast food chain commercial. Either way, Jokic’s journey to superstardom was another unlikely one, one that’ll be fun to continue watching unfold, as the Serbian big man is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Just to make it clear how absurd it was for a two-time NBA MVP to be the 41st pick in the draft, the second-best No. 41 pick ever is probably Cuttino Mobley, who made the playoffs just four times and whose only career accolade was a 2nd Team All-Rookie appearance.
Stephen Jackson (1997)
Stephen Jackson had one of the most interesting paths to the NBA of any player we’ll discuss in this article, as his journey was a long and winding one, and one that took him all over the world.
Jackson was a state champion in high school but had to transfer afterwards due to the risk of being declared academically ineligible. From there, he went to renowned basketball prep school Oak Hill Academy where he became an All-American and was named to the McDonald’s All-American Team. Jackson even led the team in scoring at the 1996 All-American Game despite playing on a team with the likes of Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal.
Jackson then committed to Arizona but didn’t have the grades to qualify, so he went to community college where he didn’t play a single game. To get ready for the 1997 draft, he played pickup games with the Suns, which got him drafted by the team with the 42nd overall selection. He never played for the Suns, however, then having to go to the CBA before heading to Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic before landing with the then-New Jersey Nets in 2000-01 where his NBA journey began.
It would then take a couple of seasons for Jackson to find his footing in the NBA, though once he did, he became a two-way, tough-nosed, do-a-bit-of-everything swingman who won a championship with the Spurs in 2002-03 and took part in the biggest brawl in NBA history, the Malice at the Palace, as a member of the Pacers later.
Jackson has to be one of the most interesting NBA players ever, from pre-draft through his actual career.
Michael Redd (2000)
Looking back, it’s hard to figure out why Michael Redd fell so far in the draft. He had prototypical size for a shooting guard, he had a productive NCAA career at a major university at Ohio State and although the numbers didn’t reflect that, he had that pretty lefty stroke as an outside shooter.
Nevertheless, the Bucks were likely thrilled to see Redd fall to the 43rd spot in the 2000 draft, as the sharpshooter became one of the better players in the franchise’s history. Redd’s career peak came quickly and ended just as quickly, but even so, it was impressive: a six-year stretch from 2003-04 through 2008-09 with averages of 23.5 points and 4.2 rebounds with 36.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Redd was such a trusted shooter and scorer that he was even selected to be a member of the historic 2008 “Redeem” USA Basketball Team that brought the Americans back to their gold-winning glory at Beijing, though he was only able to lead the Bucks to the playoffs three times in his career and never out of the first round.
Malik Rose (1996)
A career role player, Malik Rose averaged double-digit points just once in his NBA career, though he still lasted 13 seasons in the NBA thanks to his tenacity defensively, his solid rebounding and his willingness to do the dirty work for his teams throughout his time in the NBA.
Rose played a part in two championship teams with the San Antonio Spurs in 1998-99 and in 2002-03, too, proving that he could make an impact at the highest level, despite his lack of size for a power forward, being generously listed at 6-foot-7.
That lack of size along with his just average athleticism is what led to Rose falling this far in the draft despite being an All-American, one who averaged 16-plus points and 12-plus rebounds over four years at Drexel. Rose led Drexel to its lone NCAA Tournament victory ever.
Bob Dandridge (1969)
Bob Dandridge is not as well-remembered by current NBA fans as he should be, considering he’s a Hall-of-Famer, a four-time All-Star, a two-time NBA champion and a former 2nd Team All-NBAer. The supremely athletic Dandridge was a vital part of those two championship runs his teams went on, too, first in 1970-71 as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and then in 1977-78 as a member of the Washington Bullets.
Playing off of the likes of Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson in Milwaukee and off of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in Washington, Dandridge was a smooth swingman who could score and rebound at a high level as well as do some creating for teammates.
For his career, Dandridge averaged 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and had he played somewhere bigger in college than D-II (at the time) Norfolk State, he would have gotten drafted higher than 45th overall in 1969.
Jeff Hornacek (1986)
Best-known for his time with the Utah Jazz late in his career and highlights of Jordan attacking him one-on-one, Jeff Hornacek was a far better player than people may remember, making the 1991-92 All-Star Team as a member of the Phoenix Suns in a year where he put up 20.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.0 steals.
Hornacek had a feathery shooting touch, hitting 40.3 percent of his career three-point attempts, though on just 1.9 attempts, forcing us to wonder what type of player he might have been in today’s game, where everyone has a green light to bomb away from beyond the arc.
Hornacek’s number was retired by Iowa State after an NCAA career that saw him named to the 1st Team All-Big Eight Team, and yet, he still fell this low in the draft, likely due to concerns about how his game would translate at the NBA level considering his relative lack of athleticism. Turns out, his game translated just fine, as Hornacek lasted 14 seasons in the NBA and was part of 11 teams that made it to the playoffs, and two that made it to the Finals.
Hornacek wasn’t a star, but he was a star in his role as a pesky defender, great shooter and underrated playmaker.
Paul Millsap (2006)
Unique in his skill set, Paul Millsap had a beastly NCAA career despite being just a three-star coming out of high school, leading the NCAA in rebounding three years in a row while averaging 18.6 points and 2.0 blocks during his time with Louisiana Tech. And yet, Millsap still wound up falling to the No. 47 pick in 2006, likely due to his lack of size (he’s generously listed at 6-foot-7) and unorthodox style of play.
The Utah Jazz were probably thrilled with that development, as Millsap wound up becoming a very solid player for them, peaking in 2010-11 with 17.3-point, 7.6-rebound, 2.5-assist and 1.4-steal averages. Millsap would have even more success as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, where he was named an All-Star four times while receiving 2nd Team All-Defense honors.
Millsap’s funky stylings on the court, featuring face-ups, jab-steps and quick moves to the basket mixed with solid shooting touch and decent playmaking, earned him a long, successful NBA career not common for a player drafted at this position.
Marc Gasol (2007)
Marc Gasol will first be remembered by older NBA fans as a borderline throw-in to the Pau Gasol-to-L.A. swap that the Memphis Grizzlies were widely panned for at the time. Little did anyone know the type of player the younger Gasol brother would go on to become. In fairness, knowing what we know now about the high level of play in Spain’s Liga ACB, perhaps the reaction wouldn’t have been as strong, as Gasol was named Liga ACB MVP with Girona in 2008, right before his jump to the NBA, which should have told us the type of potential he had as an NBA player.
Regardless, Gasol hit the ground running in Memphis, immediately showing off his scoring, rebounding and playmaking abilities as a rookie on his way to a 2nd Team All Rookie selection. Gasol would go on to become a three-time All-Star with the Grizzlies while winning Defensive Player of the Year for 2012-13 and becoming a 1st Team and 2nd Team All-NBA center.
To this day, Gasol is considered one of the best players in Grizzlies franchise history, leading Memphis all-time in rebounding and blocked shots while ranking second in points scored. Not bad for a throw-in to a trade involving his older brother.
Eddie Johnson (1977)
Despite being a star at Auburn University, leading the SEC in scoring as a freshman and making 1st Team All-SEC three times during his college career, Eddie Johnson fell to the 49th pick of the 1977 draft, likely due to reports of him having a bad attitude and having issues with his head coach at school, Bob Davis.
That led to Johnson falling to the 49th pick in the draft, where the Atlanta Hawks were more than happy to take him. Johnson would go on to make two All-Star teams with Atlanta over a two-year stretch where he averaged 18.8 points, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals, as well as two 2nd Team All-Defenses. At the 2-guard spot, Johnson could score, create and was a very solid defender, which is almost impossible to find out of guys who fall that low in the draft.
Sometimes, drafting players with reported attitude issues is worth the risk, especially when they’re as talented as Johnson was.
Larry Kenon (1973)
Unfairly forgotten about historically, Larry Kenon was a five-time All-Star, three times in the ABA and twice in the NBA. He also won an ABA championship in 1973-74 as a member of the New York Nets.
Kenon averaged over 20.0 points nightly four times in the NBA while posting impressive rebounding numbers and decent assist stats. The swingman had an all-around game out of the frontcourt, including defensively. Kenon once set the record for most steals in a game with 11, an outing in which he also scored 29 points and secured 15 rebounds.
Had Kenon’s career not abruptly taken a downturn in his late 20s, he’d probably be remembered more these days, as Kenon was out of professional basketball entirely by age 30.
Kyle Korver (2003)
One of the best shooters in NBA history, Kyle Korver ranks fifth all-time with 2,450 career makes from beyond the arc. Korver had a lightning-quick release on his shot, a beautiful follow-through and had high elevation on his jumper, making him very difficult to defend once he had even just a breath of space.
Despite not being the most physically gifted player, Korver still lasted 17 years in the NBA, leading the league in three-point percentage four times. For his career, Korver shot 42.9 percent from three, the ninth-most accurate mark ever.
What’s most impressive is Korver did all of that shooting despite entering the NBA in 2003-04. Just imagine what his career three-point numbers would look like if he had come around just a decade later, when essentially every player has a total green light from three? Korver would be even higher the all-time lists in total makes.
Fred Hoiberg (1996)
Maybe one of the worst draft spots historically to be in, Fred Hoiberg earns the distinction of being the best 52nd pick of all time after an 11-year NBA career that saw him average 5.4 points. He did lead the league in three-point shooting in his final season, 2004-05, when he hit 48.3 percent of his outside attempts.
Anthony Mason (1988)
In his heyday, Anthony Mason was known as a bruising, undersized big man who made up for his lack of height by playing with a ton of intensity during his time on the floor.
Just how tough was Mason? He played for not only the New York Knicks of the 1990s but also the Miami Heat early the next decade, two of the nastiest, most defensive-minded teams in basketball.
Mason wasn’t all toughness, though, as he was also a solid scorer and even better rebounder, earning All-Star honors in 2000-01 with Miami and 3rd Team All-NBA in 1996-97 with the Charlotte Hornets.
A player who opponents would hate going against, who would always put his body on the line to make winning players, but who could also score and rebound? Mason was truly one of a kind.
Sam Mitchell (1985)
Spending most of his career as a scoring-minded big man who would come off the bench looking to get buckets, Sam Mitchell was smooth down low.
He averaged double-digit points five times in his career and could always be counted on to pick up some tough rebounds and defend, as well. Mitchell spent 10 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves over two stints, becoming a well-liked member of the team by fans.
Mitchell is best-known for his time as a head coach, however, when he won Coach of the Year while leading the Toronto Raptors in 2007.
Patrick Mills (2010)
He was never a star or some huge scorer, but Patrick Mills has carved out a very respectable career thanks to his shooting ability, which, at times, was at an elite level.
For his entire time in the NBA, Mills is a 39.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc, peaking in 2021-22 at 41.9 percent. We say he peaked then as a shooter despite him having three other seasons where he shot a higher percentage from three because that year, he attempted 7.7 shots from three, the highest mark of his career and still remained that accurate.
Mills could also get red hot at a moment’s notice, with the prime example of that taking place in the 2013-14 NBA Finals when he was a member of the San Antonio Spurs’ title-winning team. In that five-game championship series, Mills was unconscious, hitting 56.5 percent of his threes while playing a decent-sized part in the Spurs winning a championship that year.
Luis Scola (2002)
His NBA career pales in comparison with his international career, but Luis Scola was still a terrific player during his time in the Association, lasting 10 years in the league despite joining it when he was already in his age-27 campaign.
Scola’s three-year peak from 2009-10 and 2011-12 saw him average 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor, often baffling opponents with a nasty face-up, post-up game from the midrange to the areas nearer to the basket.
FIBA Scola was a different animal, but NBA Scola was still a good contributor for many years thanks to his crafty scoring and decent rebounding.
Manu Ginobili (1999)
One of the best second-round picks of all-time, one of the best international players ever and a winner in every league he ever played in, Manu Ginobili checks in as the top 57th pick ever.
Ginobili was flashy, explosive, could shoot and played with all-out intensity during his time on the floor, making him beloved by San Antonio Spurs fans and disliked by fans of their opponents, at least while their teams faced San Antonio. The Argentinian southpaw is even credited with popularizing the Eurostep move in the NBA, a shifty body movement that is used by players today.
Ginobili made an enormous impact as a member of the Spurs, turning himself into one of the best Sixth Men in league history while playing a vital role in four championship runs for the franchise.
When Ginobili retired, we wrote about some of his most impressive accomplishments and stats, but one that still stands out is the following:
That Olympic title, in addition to the various NBA championships and the lone Euroleague trophy, gave Ginobili one of the most unique resumes in basketball history: only he and Hall-of-Famer/New York Knicks legend Bill Bradley can claim to have earned titles in those three very distinct theaters.
Ginobili was an unforgettable talent and there’s little doubt he’s headed for the Naismith Hall of Fame one day. That’s great value for the Spurs from the 57th-pick spot.
Kurt Rambis (1980)
A high-energy player, Kurt Rambis did all of the dirty work on his teams, drawing charges, diving for loose balls and doing the little things that help teams win.
And his teams won a lot, as Rambis was part of four championships during his time in the NBA.
Still, Rambis averaged double-digit points just once in his career.
Pat Cummings (1978)
For those unfamiliar, Pat Cummings was a power forward/center who enjoyed a solid 12-year career that saw him suit up for five franchises. He had a nice low-post game and played with a lot of toughness, which made him well-liked by fans of the teams he played for.
He was never a star, far from it, but Cummings was a starter for some time in his prime, one that averaged over 15.0 points per game twice in his career, and one who was also a decent rebounder and defender.
Considering he was the 59th pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, he put up a career that likely exceeded expectations.
Isaiah Thomas (2011)
Isaiah Thomas’ peak may not have lasted very long, but when he was at the top of his game, he was a no-doubt star, even earning 2nd Team All-NBA honors once in his career in the same year he averaged 28.9 points per game.
Thomas was an explosive scorer who, even despite his diminutive stature, could get to the cup and finish tidily around the basket over the 7-foot monsters that man the paint in the NBA. He was especially adept, however, at shooting, particularly off the dribble and from beyond the arc. Sure, he got exposed defensively often due to his size, but he was nearly unguardable for a time there in his heyday.
Not bad for the last player picked in his draft class.
We went with Thomas over Drazen Petrovic, who was well on his way to having a huge NBA career and being our pick here, but his body of work was tragically cut short.