Sunday, April 14

The 10 Biggest Draft Steals In NBA History

Highlights

  • The NBA Draft doesn’t always accurately predict the success of players, as some top players are chosen outside of the first 10 picks.
  • Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are examples of players who were selected later in the draft but went on to become superstars.
  • Dennis Rodman, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Nikola Jokic were all drafted outside of the top 10 picks but achieved incredible success in their NBA careers.



In theory, the best players are selected in the first picks of the NBA Draft, and usually the first picks live up to expectations. However, sometimes they turn out to be busts, while the real superstars are taken in later rounds.

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It feels weird to see some of the biggest players of all time chosen outside the first 10 picks in a draft, and even some of them out of the top 20. These NBA players fell off teams’ draft lists because scouts didn’t see much potential in them, but these guys ended up proving everyone wrong.

UPDATE: 2024/02/15 20:00 EST BY ROBERTH PEREZ

Every NBA team has a specialized department that spends weeks, even months, studying players to figure out who they are going to pick in the NBA Draft. Most of the time, they get it right and make a good pick, but sometimes, they completely ignore players who end up becoming superstars.

In theory, the best players were already taken, so these teams probably didn’t have high expectations for these lesser-known picks. But as time went on, those players who were discarded in the first picks, ended up becoming top of the class, and even all-time greats.


10 Kawhi Leonard Was Drafted By The Indiana Pacers In 2011

Kawhi Leonard Is A Two-Time NBA Finals MVP


Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

32

Indiana Pacers (15th)

San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors

11 years

2-time NBA Champion, 2-time NBA Finals MVP, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, Steal Champion.

Kawhi Leonard was the 15th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, by the Indiana Pacers, but was immediately sent to the San Antonio Spurs along with Dāvis Bertāns and Erazem Lorbek in exchange for George Hill.

Leonard had a slow start in the NBA, but progressively improved to become one of the best players of his generation. Kawhi has been a two-time NBA champion, being the Finals MVP both times, he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s been named All-NBA First Team three times.

9 Draymond Green Was Drafted By The Golden State Warriors In 2012

Draymond Green Is A Four-Time NBA Champion

Draymond Green 


Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

33

Golden State Warriors (35th)

Golden State Warriors

11 years

4-time NBA Champion, Defensive Player of the Year, Steal Champion.

Draymond Green is one of the best defenders in the NBA in the last 10 years, hands down. In fact, he’s been named to the All-Defensive team on eight occasions. He has been crucial to the Golden State Warriors’ four championships, averaging 11.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in the playoffs. Someone would say Draymond Green was among the top 10 picks in his class, but he was actually the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

8 Manu Ginóbili Was Drafted By The San Antonio Spurs In 1999

Ginóbili Is An NBA Hall Of Famer

Manu Ginobili
credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports


Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

46

San Antonio Spurs (57th)

San Antonio Spurs

16 years

4-time NBA Champion, Sixth Man, NBA Hall of Famer.

Manu Ginóbili was the 57th overall pick in the 1999 draft. That is, he was taken second to last. Amazing, isn’t it? Ginobili ended up with the highest VORP in that year’s class (47.1), scoring over 14,000 points, with over 4,000 assists and 3,500 rebounds and 1,300 steals. In addition, Gino finished his career with four championship rings and, most importantly, he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

7 Giannis Antetokounmpo Was Drafted By The Milwaukee Bucks In 2013

Giannis Antetokounmpo Is A Two-Time NBA MVP

Antetokounmpo draft
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

29

Milwaukee Bucks (15th)

Milwaukee Bucks

10 years

NBA Champion, 2-time MVP, NBA Finals MVP, Defensive Player Of The Year.


The Greek Freak is one of the most dominant players in the NBA in recent years, an unstoppable force in the paint, and a natural rebounder. Giannis Antetokounmpo was born to play basketball, but for some reason scouts didn’t take him seriously, and he was the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

It is inexplicable that 14 teams ignored Giannis, who has been the best player in that class by far. Anthony Bennet was the first pick that year, and that was one of the worst first picks of all time.

6 Rudy Gobert Was Drafted By The Denver Nuggets In 2013

Rudy Gobert Is A Three-Time Defensive Player Of The Year

Rudy Gobert
credit Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

31

Denver Nuggets (27th)

Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves.

10 years

3-time Defensive Player Of The Year, Block Champion, Rebounding Champion.


The Denver Nuggets selected Rudy Gobert with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, which is unbelievable. This French Center never played for the Nuggets, but he has had a brilliant NBA career, recording 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in nine years with the Utah Jazz. And he is currently playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Gobert is a three-time Defensive Player Of The Year, and he’s a mainstay on the All-NBA Defensive team, with six appearances. Rudy Gobert is one of the best players in the NBA so far, and perhaps one of the best foreign players of all time.

5 Dennis Rodman Was Drafted By The Detroit Pistons In 1986

Dennis Rodman Won Seven Rebounding Titles In A Row


Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

62

Detroit Pistons (27th)

Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks

14 years

5-time NBA Champion, 2-time Defensive Player Of The Year, 7-time Rebounding Champion, NBA Hall of Famer.

The NBA Hall of Famer was a rebounding champion for seven consecutive seasons, averaging 16.7 rebounds per game in that span. But in addition to his unique ability to grab rebounds, Dennis Rodman was a major contributor defensively, being one of the best defenders of his generation. In fact, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice. To top it off, The Worm won five championships, two with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls. Believe or not, Rodman was the 27th overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft.

4 John Stockton Was Drafted By The Utah Jazz In 1984

John Stockton Is The All-Time NBA Assists Leader

John Stockton


Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

61

Utah Jazz (16th)

Utah Jazz

19 years

9-time Assists Champion, 2-time Steal Champion, NBA Hall of Famer.

John Stockton was the 16th overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, and it’s safe to say that no one thought this guy would end his career as the all-time leader in assists, with 15,806, a record that will probably never be broken. Stockton won the assists title in nine straight seasons, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Stock won two steal titles as well, and he made the All-NBA team 11 times.

3 Karl Malone Was Drafted By The Utah Jazz In 1985

Karl Malone Was Named NBA MVP Twice

Karl-Malone-1
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

60

Utah Jazz (13th)

Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers.

19 years

2-time MVP, NBA Hall of Famer.


The following draft, the Utah Jazz selected Karl Malone with the 13th pick. That’s right, the Jazz stole the draft in two consecutive years. Malone had a legendary career, winning two MVP awards, and appearing 14 times in the All-Star game.

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The Mailman averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, and, according to Stathead, he had 706 20-Pt/10-Reb games, the most in NBA history. Malone was the best player in the 1985 class, even better than the first pick, Patrick Ewing.

2 Kobe Bryant Was Drafted By The Los Angeles Lakers In 1996

Kobe Bryant Ended Up Becoming One Of The Greatest Players In NBA History

Aged

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

41

Los Angeles Lakers (13th)

Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers.

20 years

5-time NBA Champion, 2-time NBA Finals MVP, MVP, 2-time Scoring Champion, NBA Hall of Famer.


Another inexplicable 13th pick was none other than Kobe Bryant. How on earth did 12 teams pass up on Kobe Bryant? And to make matters worse, the Charlotte Hornets selected him, but traded him before his debut to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.

Kobe ended up being an NBA Hall of Famer, with five Championship rings, he was a two-time Finals MVP, 2007-08 MVP, two-time scoring champion and made the All-NBA team 15 times. Kobe averaged 25 points per game, racking up 33,643 points.

1 Nikola Jokić Was Drafted By The Denver Nuggets In 2014

Nikola Jokić Is Arguably The Best NBA Player Right Now

nikola jokic
credit Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Age

Drafted By (Overall Pick)

Teams He Played For

NBA Career Length

Major Accolades

28

Denver Nuggets (41st)

Denver Nuggets

8 years

NBA Champion, NBA Finals MVP, 2-time MVP.


Nikola Jokić was the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and with the simple fact that he HAS won two MVP awards, he has a Championship ring, and that it seems he hasn’t reached his peak yet, it can be said that he is the biggest draft steal in NBA history.

The Serbian has been improving his numbers year after year, and in the 2023-24 season he is putting up video game stats: 26.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Nikola Jokić is perhaps the best player in the NBA right now.

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