With a college season canceled on the cusp of March Madness amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to know what to make of this year’s batch of youngsters who have not played competitive basketball in over 8 months..
Across the years, teams have unearthed some superstars with lower picks that seemingly took everyone by surprise. This year, more than ever, the real gems of this draft class may be hiding in plain sight.
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Our Top 10 Draft Day steals of the past decade:
10. Draymond Green (2012, pick 35)
It’s hard to know if Draymond would be a star player on a bad team, but we don’t have to worry about that and neither does Draymond after he landed in Oakland at juuuuust the right time. Green has played a pivotal role in a Warriors dynasty that won three titles in four seasons. He may not always be pretty, but he’s effective. Let’s not forget, he also recruited Kevin Durant. He did drive him away as well, but that’s a story for another day.
9. Tyler Herro (2019, pick 13)
Herro, a product of the esteemed Kentucky basketball program, went into the 2019 draft pegged as a mid-first round pick, but his rookie season suggests he should have gone much higher than pick 13. The Miami guard exploded in the NBA bubble in Orlando, becoming one of the talking points of the league as the Heat advanced to an unlikely NBA Finals berth in his rookie year. His postseason averages of 16-5-3 has many fans excited for what this kid can do in the future.
8. Donovan Mitchell (2017, pick 13)
Another famous pick 13 who should have also gone higher, Donovan Mitchell has established himself as one of the league’s most gifted scorers in just three seasons as a pro. What makes this draft day steal even more scandalous is that Denver were the ones who drafted him and immediately brokered a trade with the Jazz for Tyler Lyndon and Trey Lyles (yeah, we’ve never heard of them either).
7. Rudy Gobert (2013, pick 27)
So this begins our ‘European players criminally overlooked by US scouts because they don’t play in America’ segment of the list. Frenchman Rudy Gobert was selected by Denver with the 27th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but traded to the Utah Jazz (Yo Denver, why do you keep trading stars to Utah?!). Since then, the man with a wingspan of 7 feet 8 ½ inches has gone on to become a defensive powerhouse for the Jazz, winning the league Defensive Player of the Year trophy twice.
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6. Pascal Siakam (2016, pick 27)
Sometimes a speculative late-round draft pick can take a little bit of time to pay dividends, and for the Toronto Raptors, they had to wait a few years for their 27th pick in the 2016 draft to deliver, but Siakam has repaid the faith and more. The Cameroon native spent time in the G League before partnering with new recruit Kawhi Leonard in the 2018/19 season to bring a Championship to Toronto for the first time. He also capped off the season by collecting the Most Improved Award to cement his superstar status.
5. Nikola Jokic (2014, pick 41)
Nikola Jokic slipping to 41 in the 2014 draft continues to defy logic. Somehow the man from Serbia got past almost everyone until the Nuggets finally took him in the second round. The Joker has gone on to be the most versatile big man in the league, regularly notching up triple-doubles on his way to two All-Star appearances and a spot in the NBA First-Team in 2019.
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4. Jimmy Butler (2011, pick 30)
The mere fact that Jimmy Butler made it to the NBA Draft is a story in itself. Enduring a tough childhood in which he was homeless from the age of 13, Jimmy Buckets has been on a mission ever since. Taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, the five-time All-Star has gone on to prove any doubters he had heading into the draft wrong, leading the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals in 2020.
3. Luka Doncic (2018, pick 3)
You may be asking yourself: Why the hell is Luka Doncic in this list? He was taken at pick 3! Well, must we remind you that Luka Doncic, who won the Euroleague MVP playing against men at the age of 19, was absolutely the best player heading into the 2018 draft? The only knock anyone had to say about him was “Oh, he is from Europe”. The Rookie of the Year has ensured that in just two seasons of being in the league that Phoenix and Sacramento who overlooked him, plus Atlanta who drafted him just to trade him, will regret their decisions for the next 20 years.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013, pick 15)
Not even the Bucks knew what the Greak Freak would turn into when they selected him in 2013. The Milwaukee forward/guard/center, you name it, took a little bit of time to come on, but is now in the conversation as one of the best players in the league. Two league MVPs confirms his individual brilliance, but so far the ultimate team success eludes him.
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1. Kawhi Leonard (2011, pick 15)
The title for the greatest draft day steal of the past decade goes to the man from Compton, Kawhi Leonard. A moderately rated recruit out of college, the Klaw thrived under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich at the Spurs, winning a Finals MVP in just his third season at the age of 23. Since then, he delivered Toronto its first-ever title during his lone year there, picking up another Finals MVP in the process. He is now the face of the LA Clippers.