The biggest steal in each draft this century

The biggest steal in each draft this century


The biggest steal in each draft this century

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Every NBA draft class has a player, and usually more than one, who fell far too low and wound up being a major steal for the franchise lucky, and smart, enough to take them.

That includes the 2020-21 league MVP, a second-round draft pick from 2014.

So with the 2021 draft coming up, we decided to take a look at the biggest steal from each draft this century, starting in 2001.

For this exercise, we take into account overall player careers and not just how well they played for the team that drafted them.

Let’s jump right in.

2001: Tony Parker (No. 28 pick)

Career earnings: $168,282,460
Career stats: 15.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.6 apg and 32.4 3P% in 18 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Raul Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Samuel Dalembert and Jamaal Tinsley

Tony Parker was drafted late in the first round of 2001 and wound up winning four championships with the team who took him, the Spurs, took home a Finals MVP and made six All-Star and four All-NBA teams.

Parker almost started the trend of late-draft steals for San Antonio during their run of excellence of the 2000s and 2010s. The French ball-handler started at point guard for the Spurs by the fifth game of his rookie year as a 19-year-old, which was almost unheard of in the early 2000s and is even pretty rare to this day, especially for lead guards.

The 2001 draft had other steals besides Parker, including Gilbert Arenas (No. 31 overall pick) and Mehmet Okur (No. 38).

2002: Carlos Boozer (No. 35 pick)

Career earnings: $143,475,590
Career stats: 16.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.2 apg and 52.1 FG% in 13 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Roger Mason, Robert Archibald, Vincent Yarbrough and Dan Gadzuric

Carlos Boozer may not have had the championship accolades of Parker, but he did enjoy an impressive 13-year career that saw him make two All-Star teams and a 3rd Team All-NBA while averaging nearly a triple-double during his playing days. Boozer also won gold as a member of the 2008 USA Olympic ‘Redeem Team’.

In his heyday, Boozer was a stud offensively at power forward, with one of the nicest face-up games for any big men of his era and a reliable mid-range jumper. Boozer wound up by far the best Duke player drafted in 2002, which is impressive considering the prestigious university had two players taken in the Top 3 picks that year in Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy.

It’s an interesting thought exercise to consider what might have happened with Boozer’s career in an alternate universe where he doesn’t back out of a deal with the Cavaliers early in his career and remains LeBron James’ sidekick throughout the mid-2000s. That could have been a lethal 1-2 duo.

Other players who could be considered steals from this draft class are Amare Stoudemire, who ended up being the best player in the draft class but fell to the No. 9 pick, as well as Luis Scola (No. 56 pick) and Tayshaun Prince (No. 23).

2003: Kyle Korver (No. 51 pick)

Career earnings: $83,721,338
Career stats: 9.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.7 apg and 42.9 3PT% in 17 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Mo Williams, James Lang, James Jones and Paccelis Morlende

His career stats may not stand out as much as other players on this list, but Kyle Korver will go down as one of the greatest outside shooters in league history, and did so despite nearly going undrafted. Korver currently ranks fourth all-time in three-pointers made with 2,450, despite playing in an era nowhere near as three-point friendly as today’s NBA. What’s more, Korver even has one All-Star nod under his belt even without ever having averaged more than 14.4 points in a season.

Korver wound up being a massive steal in the 2003 draft class, which is considered by many to be one of the two or three greatest of all time. He may not have had an amazing peak but he was a quality shooter for contenders for a very long time.

Compared to other picks before and after him, you see how much value Korver produced out of that spot. Just for comparison, the 2002 No. 51 pick, Federico Kammerichs, never played a second in the NBA. And the 51st pick of the 2004 draft, Christian Drejer, likewise never saw a minute of NBA action.

Korver wasn’t the only steal in 2003, however, as we would be remiss not to mention Mo Williams (No. 47 pick) as a steal from that year.

2004: Al Jefferson (No. 15 pick)

Career earnings: $133,787,578
Career stats: 15.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 apg and 49.9 FG% in 14 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Andris Biedrins, Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair and Kris Humphries

A throwback big man during his peak, Al Jefferson was drafted 15th overall in 2004 straight out of high school by the Celtics, where he spent three seasons, including a 2006-07 campaign where he averaged 16.0 points and 11.0 rebounds nightly.

Jefferson never made an All-Star team surprisingly, but he did receive 3rd Team All-NBA honors 2013-14, when he put up 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over 73 games with the Hornets and led them to the playoffs.

Despite the risk of going straight from preps to the pros, Jefferson’s career turned out to be very successful, as his elite post-up game proved to be a fantastic counter for an NBA that was starting to go smaller and smaller late in his prime.

Another steal from the 2004 draft was Trevor Ariza, who’s still active and effective as a 3-and-D swingman, and looks to have another couple of years left in his NBA career despite being drafted so long ago. The 43rd pick in 2004, one could argue Ariza, an NBA champion in 2009 with the Lakers, was a bigger steal than Jefferson, but he didn’t come close to hitting a peak like Jefferson’s so we went with the ground-bound big man instead.

2005: Lou Williams (No. 45 pick)

Career earnings: $80,698,368
Career stats: 14.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.5 apg and 42.0 FG% in 16 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Roko Ucic, Chris Taft, Mile Icic and Martynas Andriuskevicius

In an exercise full of draft-night steals, Lou Williams has a decent case to be considered one of the biggest steals ever, at least among players taken in the second round. Williams will go down as one of the greatest sixth men of all time, winning the award three times and even getting a shoutout from Drake in a song about his prowess coming off the bench.

Williams is still chugging along as a member of the Hawks 16 years after being drafted, providing the team with top-notch one-on-one scoring and helping guide them to a near-Finals berth.

In Williams and Monta Ellis, you have two guys who left high school with a masters degree in bucketology and were drafted in the 40s in 2005, who wound up enjoying long, successful NBA careers doing what they do/did best: putting the ball through the hoop.

2006: Kyle Lowry (No. 24 pick)

Career earnings: $190,048,698
Career stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.2 apg and 42.4 FG% in 15 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Renaldo Balkman, Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone

If Kyle Lowry’s 20s had gone like his 30s, he might be a Hall-of-Fame lock, and that’s no exaggeration, as Lowry has six All-Star appearances, one All-NBA 3rd Team and an NBA championship under his belt, all of which have taken place since 2014-15 when the bulldog of a point guard was already 28.

Lowry hasn’t come close to reaching the heights of Steve Nash, but he did have a similar late-bloomer career, one that isn’t even appearing to slow down quite yet.

This one was a close call with No. 47 pick Paul Millsap, who has four All-Star bids in his own right, but Lowry’s All-NBA appearance and championship run put him over the top.

Rajon Rondo, the 21st overall pick that year, was another good candidate to be considered the top steal of the 2006 draft, but Lowry’s longevity was enough to put him ahead of Rondo for that distinction in our eyes. Rondo fell off pretty abruptly by the time he was 30 while Lowry’s peak was only just beginning at the same age.

2007: Marc Gasol (No. 48 pick)

Career earnings: $178,972,465
Career stats: 14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.4 apg and 48.1 FG% in 13 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Reyshawn Terry, Jared Jordan, Stephane Lasme and Dominic McGuire

The Grizzlies took massive heat in 2008 when they traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for a package that included his younger brother, Marc Gasol. Little did anyone know that the trade would end up working out extremely well for both parties, with Marc becoming a three-time All-Star and 1st Team All-NBA center with Memphis.

M. Gasol would go on to win a championship too, like his older brother, but he did so as a member of the Raptors and not with the Grizzlies. Add that to his 2nd Team All-NBA berth, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and his four gold and three silver medals with the Spanish National Team and you could make the case that the younger Gasol is headed to the same place his older brother is when they retire: the Naismith Hall-of-Fame.

Not bad for the 48th overall pick in 2007.

Other players who could be considered steals from this class include Joakim Noah (ninth pick), Thaddeus Young (12th) and Jared Dudley (22nd), but this was one of the easier picks of this exercise: Marc Gasol was the steal of the 2007 draft.

2008: DeAndre Jordan (No. 35 pick)

Career earnings: $149,247,051
Career stats: 9.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg and 67.4 FG% in 13 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Nikola Pekovic, Walter Sharpe, Joey Dorsey and Mario Chalmers

Despite being taken in the second round, DeAndre Jordan has posted a very impressive career (one that has earned him a whole lot of money), including a 1st Team All-NBA, a 3rd Team All-NBA and one All-Star appearance while leading the league in rebounding twice.

Any time you get that many accolades out of a player taken in the mid-30s, it’s quite the steal.

The 2008 draft actually had a lot of players who could be considered steals, with guys like Serge IbakaNicolas Batum and Mario Chalmers all taken at No. 24 or later, as well as the player who came closest to unseating Jordan for the biggest steal of 2008, Goran Dragic, who was drafted 45th overall that year.

However, while Dragic has the Eurobasket gold medal and MVP award, and 3rd Team All-NBA under his belt, Jordan had more impressive accolades in his NBA career, giving him the nod here.

2009: Stephen Curry (No. 7 pick)

Career earnings: $208,955,382
Career stats: 24.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.5 apg and 43.3 3PT% in 12 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn

It’s rare where you can call a player taken in the Top 7 a draft-night steal, but whenever you land an all-time great, a league-altering superstar, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and a two-time league MVP outside of the Top 6, you can safely call that selection a steal… especially when two of the players drafted ahead of him hardly had a drink of water in the Association before their NBA careers ended.

That’s what the Golden State Warriors were able to get in 2009 when they drafted Stephen Curry No. 7 overall, and the franchise, three championships later, has to be thanking their lucky stars to this day that that draft unfolded the way it did.

After all, for the Timberwolves, who badly needed a star ball-handler at the time, to draft not one, but two point guards with the two selections before Curry in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, is borderline unfathomably lucky for Golden State.

Jrue Holiday was another steal from the 2009 class, going 17th overall, but there’s no doubt Curry was the top steal from that year.

2010: Paul George (No. 10 pick)

Career earnings: $177,854,610
Career stats: 20.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.5 apg and 38.4 3PT% in 11 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Ekpe Udoh, Greg Monroe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Gordon Hayward

The 2010 draft was a somewhat strong one, lacking in MVP-level players but making up for it with multiple All-Star, borderline All-NBA guys, all of whom were taken among the Top 10 picks, including John WallDeMarcus Cousins and Gordon Hayward.

However, the best of the bunch wound up being Paul George, the No. 10 overall pick that year, making him our steal of the 2010 class.

The decision was made easier by the fact that multiple NBA flameouts were taken ahead of George, as well as by the fact that the late-first, early-second round guys didn’t give us many good options to be considered steals.

A couple of guys who might have a case are Hassan Whiteside (33rd overall pick) and Eric Bledsoe (18th), but neither are close to the level of George, nor have they outproduced other players taken in similar draft positions other years to make up the difference.

2011: Kawhi Leonard (No. 15 pick)

Career earnings: $149,088,735
Career stats: 19.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.9 apg and 38.4 3PT% in 10 seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris

Just look at the names listed above of players drafted ahead of Kawhi Leonard in 2011.

Jimmer Fredette, the Morris twins, Brandon KnightBismack Biyombo and Jan Vesely, and that’s without even mentioning Enes Kanter and Derrick Williams, both of whom went in the Top 3 that year.

Think some of those GMs might want a mulligan on that draft to take Leonard, a two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, five-time All-Star and three-time 1st Team All-NBAer, instead?

Making that draft look even worse is that even besides Leonard, there were two other fantastic options we had to consider here as the top steal of 2011, first, in Jimmy Butler, who went 30th overall, and then in Isaiah Thomas, who almost went undrafted before being picked at No. 60.

Butler went 15 spots behind Leonard yet has five All-Star appearances and four 3rd Team All-NBAs at the moment, and even led a team to the Finals in 2020, while Thomas saw a fantastic early career derailed by injuries, yet still has a 2nd Team All-NBA bid and two All-Star berths.

Tobias Harris was also a member of this draft class (he went 19th), as was Nikola Vucevic (16th overall) and Bojan Bogdanovic, who fell to 31st.

Just absolutely embarrassing drafting by various GMs in the 2011 class, making it no surprise that certain teams stay bad despite how many years they tank for top picks.

2012: Draymond Green (No. 35 pick)

Career earnings: $105,729,003
Career stats: 8.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.3 apg and 43.6 FG% in nine seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Jeff Taylor, Tomas Satoransky, Bernard James and Jae Crowder

Every single team passed up at least one opportunity to draft Draymond Green in 2012, including the Warriors, who took Festus Ezeli with the No. 30 pick over Green before landing the defensive star at No. 35.

And that wound up being quite the oversight for every franchise in the league, as Green has gone on to become one of the best defenders in NBA history, with a Defensive Player of the Year and four 1st Team All-Defenses on his mantle.

Green was also a vital member of three championship Warriors teams, and though people may be quick to point out how loaded those Golden State squads were, including Curry, who we already discussed in this article, Green’s intense leadership and defensive versatility made those teams much tougher than they would have been without him.

Other draft-night steals from 2012 include Khris Middleton, who actually went after Green at 39th overall, and Jae Crowder, who was taken one spot ahead of Green.

2013: Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15 pick)

Career earnings: $106,999,970
Career stats: 20.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 4.5 apg and 53.2 FG% in eight seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk and Shabazz Muhammad

The 2013 draft features two of the biggest steals ever, both of whom coincidentally enough came from the international ranks that year.

The biggest steal, however, was obviously Giannis Antetokounmpo, who fell just out of the lottery before being picked at No. 15 by the Bucks.

Two MVPs, three 1st Team All-NBAs, five All-Star appearances and one Defensive Player of the Year award later, and it’s safe to say Milwaukee has one of the biggest steals in league history on their hands with the Greek Freak.

The other enormous steal from 2013 was Rudy Gobert, who fell all the way to 27th before Utah scooped him up. Gobert has also had an illustrious career, including a record-tying three Defensive Player of the Year awards and a 2nd Team All-NBA, just not to the level of Antetokounmpo’s.

2014: Nikola Jokic (No. 41 pick)

Career earnings: $85,855,769
Career stats: 18.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.0 apg and 53.3 FG% in six seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: DeAndre Daniels, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jerami Grant and Glenn Robinson III

2014 was too soon for NBA GMs to have learned from the mistakes made in 2013.

As such, for the second-straight draft class, way too many decision-makers let a future MVP out of Europe fall to an embarrassingly low position before drafting him. In 2014, of course, that was the case with Nikola Jokic, who saw every single team pass on him at least once before the Nuggets took him with their second pick at No. 41 overall.

For the record, with their first pick that draft night, 11th overall, Denver took Doug McDermott, a fine player but not one anywhere near Jokic in terms of greatness.

Jokic is now the reigning league MVP, a triple-double machine out of the post and one of the most versatile offensive big men the NBA has ever seen.

2014 had a lot of good candidates to be considered steals besides Jokic, as Clint Capela went 25th, Spencer Dinwiddie fell to 38th, three spots ahead of the Nuggets star and Jordan Clarkson, the league’s latest Sixth Man of the Year, went 46th.

Obviously, though, none of those guys come close to Jokic in terms of the biggest steals ever, as the Serbian big man probably can be called the biggest steal in NBA draft history as the first player taken in the second round to win MVP since 1966.

2015: Devin Booker (No. 13 pick)

Career earnings: $65,032,653
Career stats: 23.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg and 45.5 FG% in six seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Frank Kaminsky, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner and Trey Lyles

For way too long, many wondered if Devin Booker, who fell to 13th in the 2015 draft due to being a reserve for Kentucky in college, was destined to be a player who would always put up huge numbers on losing teams.

That is, until this year when Booker has helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals in just his first taste of NBA postseason action.

Booker has two All-Star appearances so far in his career but is bound to get more now that he has earned the respect of league purveyors outside of Phoenix through this regular-season and playoff run, and could even be looking at an All-NBA or two in the future if he maintains this level of form, which shouldn’t be a problem for such a talented scorer.

Montrezl Harrell is another player who could be considered a steal from 2015, as he fell to 32nd but has now become one of the better reserve big men in the league, with a Sixth Man of the Year to show for it, as is Richaun Holmes, a serviceable starter who wasn’t drafted until the 37th pick that year.

2016: Pascal Siakam (No. 27 pick)

Career earnings: $36,817,651
Career stats: 14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.7 apg and 48.8 FG% in five seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Ante Zizic, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Brice Johnson and Furkan Korkmaz

A champion in 2019 with the Raptors, Pascal Siakam developed quickly in Toronto from a project with potential to a dynamic swingman who can shift between the 3 and the 4 on offensive and likewise defend multiple positions on the other end.

Siakam was an All-Star and 2nd Team All-NBAer in 2020, and even in a “down” 2020-21 campaign for him this season, Siakam still put up a 21.4/7.2/4.5 stat line with similar shooting percentages as his lone All-Star campaign.

Siakam might not have the capacity to make a team elite as its No. 1 option, but as a second or third fiddle, he has already proven to be of an elite caliber, playing off of Leonard and Lowry, two other huge draft-night steals their respective years, to huge success in 2018-19 for Toronto.

Another huge steal from the 2016 draft we must also mention is Malcolm Brogdon, who went 36th that night and has since far exceeded his draft positioning.

2017: Donovan Mitchell (No. 13 pick)

Career earnings: $14,336,786
Career stats: 23.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.3 apg and 43.9 FG% in four seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Dennis Smith Jr., Zach Collins, Malik Monk and Luke Kennard

Although we’re approaching Too Early to Call territory here with the 2017 draft, that was still long enough ago that we can safely say Donovan Mitchell was the biggest steal that night when he fell to 13th overall, behind guys who have proven next to nothing so far in Dennis Smith Jr.Zach CollinsMalik Monk and Frank Ntilikina.

Mitchell isn’t just a great three-level scorer, his scoring manages to get even deadlier in the playoffs, where the former Louisville standout is averaging over 28 points after 33 career postseason games. If he were to put up those numbers in the regular season, he’d have even more accolades than the mere two All-Star appearances he has under his belt.

Nevertheless, Mitchell is still young, promising and proven enough for it to be a safe assumption that he’ll be winning a lot more hardware in his career.

The only other player we could consider nearly as big of a steal in the 2017 draft is Bam Adebayo, who went one pick after Mitchell at No. 14 and has developed into one of the most exciting young centers in basketball just four years into his career.

2018: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11 pick)

Career earnings: $11,222,543
Career stats: 16.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.8 apg and 48.2 FG% in three seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton, Kevin Knox and Mikal Bridges

We could have gone in a few different directions with the biggest steal of the 2018 draft.

At the end of the day, that guy might end up being Michael Porter Jr., considering his enormous upside as a supersized wing scorer with rare ability for a man of his size. Or if Luka Doncic eventually enters the GOAT conversation a decade down the road, he could also be called the steal of the draft considering not one, but two teams passed up the opportunity to draft him.

For now, however, we feel good going with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in this spot, as the exciting ball-handler is on a huge upward trajectory right now over the past couple of seasons and has a massive ceiling thanks to his crafty scoring and playmaking ability.

Gilgeous-Alexander fell all the way to 11th in the 2018 draft, five spots behind Mo Bamba, who has shown almost nothing so far in his NBA career, and two spots behind Kevin Knox, who racked up a whole lot DNP-CDs in his third campaign as a pro.

Two other steals from that evening are a teammate of Knox’s, Mitchell Robinson, who fell all the way to 36th due to an unusual post-high school year prior to entering the draft, and Robert Williams, another shot-blocking menace like Robinson who didn’t get picked until No. 27.

2019: Daniel Gafford (No. 38 pick)

Career earnings: $2,360,147
Career stats: 6.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg and 69.1 FG% in two seasons
Players drafted right ahead of him: Bruno Fernando, Didi Louzada, Cody Martin and Deividas Sirvydis

With a draft as recently as 2019’s, it’s impossible to choose who’s been the biggest steal so far, as outside of the very top players from that class, no one has definitively proven much of anything just yet.

So for this exercise, we’re going to go with Daniel Gafford because of his draft positioning (he fell all the way to 38th that night) and the upside he showed last season. As a member of the Wizards for 23 games in 2020-21, Gafford averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

As of now, Gafford ranks fifth among all 2019 draftees in Win Shares, seventh in Value Over Replacement Player and fourth in Box Plus/Minus. The analytics rate him highly already, but next season will be about Gafford consistently putting up the production he showed for his brief sting with Washington.

Other steal candidates from the 2019 class are Brandon Clarke (No. 21 overall pick) and Matisse Thybulle (No. 20).

2020: Saddiq Bey (No. 19 pick)

Career earnings: 2,689,920
Career stats: 12.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.4 apg and 38.0 3PT% in one season
Players drafted right ahead of him: Cole Anthony, Isaiah Stewart, Aleksej Pokusevski and Josh Green

To be totally blunt, 2020 is way too recent of a draft for us to definitively say who the biggest steal from that night is going to be. Even players drafted in the second round that night still have the opportunity to blow up over the coming years and make their case for that distinction.

For now, though, it looks like a lot of GMs are going to be kicking themselves for letting Saddiq Bey fall to N. 19, particularly Dallas’, who need shooting to surround Doncic with and took Josh Green, who averaged 2.6 points as a rookie, instead, just one pick before Bey went off the board.

Even so, even a player like Green who showed so little in his inaugural campaign can take a huge leap over upcoming seasons and prove he was the right pick at his spot.

But that doesn’t change how impressive Bey was as a rookie for the Pistons.

Other potential steals from the 2020 draft are Immanuel Quickley (No. 25 pick that night), who was the player closest to earning this distinction over Bey, Desmond Bane (No. 30) and Xavier Tillman (No. 35), the two bruising players drafted for by the Grizzlies on draft night who helped the team make the playoffs in their rookie years.

Frontpage image: USA TODAY Sports Media Group illustration / Coley Cleary

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