These are strange times that the NBA has never seen and may never see again (fingers crossed). The NBA actually played regular season games in July and August, playoff games in August and September and the NBA season was officially concluded in October. Now that the longest NBA season in history has ended, we can now move forward with the NBA offseason. The first domino to fall in the offseason is the NBA Draft which is slated to take place on November 18th. The NBA Draft is always unpredictable mainly because each year there is almost always one player that is overlooked in their respective draft class that goes on to become a star. These players are what we call draft steals.
A draft steal is someone who is drafted behind players that either did not pan out in the NBA or a player that goes on to have a better career than players drafted before him. Most draft steals are players drafted outside the top 10, players not drafted with lottery picks, or players drafted outside of the second round. Some of the NBA’s all-time greats are players that were draft steals. Here are just a few examples of some all-time great draft steals: Kobe Bryant (13th pick), Karl Malone (13th pick), Steve Nash (15th pick), John Stockton (16th pick), Dennis Rodman (27th pick), Tony Parker (28th pick), Lou Williams (45th pick) and Manu Ginobili (57th pick).
Now that we’ve named at some historical NBA draft steals, let’s take a look at some of the more recent draft steals. Here are the Biggest NBA Draft Steals Each Year Since 2010!
2010: Paul George, Drafted 10th overall by the Indiana Pacers
We kick off the list with someone who just toed the line of being a top 10 NBA Draft pick Paul George. Although Paul George may be the brunt of jokes right now because of his lackluster performance in this year’s playoffs, that does not change what he has accomplished in his NBA career. Paul George’s NBA journey began in the 2010 NBA Draft when he was taken 10th by the Indiana Pacers. He was the fifth small forward/forward combo player taken in that years draft behind Evan Turner (2nd), Wesley Johnson (4th), Al-Farouq Aminu (8th), and Gordon Hayward (9th). Of all the players drafted before him, Gordon Hayward is the only one to have been named an All-Star. George is one of only three player that was drafted in the first round of the 2010 Draft to be named an All-Star and selected to an All-NBA team (John Wall 1st pick, Demarcus Cousins 5th pick). Also, he is one of only two players selected in the first round of that year’s draft to start in a Conference Finals game for the team that drafted him (Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics 19th pick).
Honorable Mention: Avery Bradley, 19th overall pick
2011: Kawhi Leonard, Drafted 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers (traded to the San Antonio Spurs)
The 2011 NBA Draft is easily the most stacked draft in the 2010s. Seven players taken in the 2011 Draft went on to become NBA All-Stars more than any draft class in the past decade (2012 is a close second with six). There are several different players that would qualify for this entry including Kemba Walker taken 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets (then Bobcats) Klay Thompson taken 11th by the Golden State Warriors, Tobias Harris taken with the 19th pick by the Charlotte Hornets, Jimmy Butler taken 30th by the Chicago Bulls or Isaiah Thomas who was picked with the 60th and final pick in the draft by the Sacramento Kings. Ultimately, it was Kawhi Leonard who got the nod mainly because he is the only player taken in this draft to do any of the following: be selected to the All-NBA First Team, win Defensive Player of the Year, and/or win Finals MVP. Not to mention he was the first player in this draft to start on an NBA championship winning team.
Honorable Mentions: Klay Thompson, 11th overall pick; Jimmy Butler, 30th overall pick
2012: Draymond Green, Drafted 35th overall by the Golden State Warriors
From the 10th overall pick to the end of the 2012 NBA Draft, only two men selected went on to become NBA All-Stars: Draymond Green (34th) and Khris Middleton (39th). While an argument could possibly be made that Khris Middleton may be the better individual player, it’s Draymond who gets the nod because everything he has accomplished has been done with the team that drafted him the Golden State Warriors. Draymond was the first player in the 2012 draft class to win an NBA championship (along with Harrison Barnes) and is to date the only player to win multiple NBA championship with three to his resume. He has also been named an All-Star three times, he has been selected to the All-Defensive team five times and has won a Defensive Player of the Year award. He is one of only three players drafted in the 2010s to make an All-Star team while also winning two or more NBA championships (Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson).
Honorable Mention: Khris Middleton, 39th overall pick
2013: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Drafted 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks
Although the 2013 draft’s number one pick Anthony Bennett has been relegated to the G-League, it features the only player drafted in the 2010s to win a regular season MVP award…Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was selected 15th overall in the draft making him only the player in the Lottery era (since 1985) that was drafted outside the top 10 or the lottery (top 14) to win an MVP award. He is also one of only five players born outside the United States to win the MVP award (Dirk Nowitzki, Germany; Steve Nash, Canada; Tim Duncan, U.S. Virgin Islands; Hakeem Olajuwon, Nigeria). This season, Giannis became the first player to win the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 and only the third person to do it overall (Michael Jordan, 1988). He has helped lead the Milwaukee Bucks to back-to-back 55+ win seasons for the first time since the 1985 and 1986 seasons.
Honorable Mentions: CJ McCollum, 10th overall pick; Rudy Gobert, 27th overall pick
2014: Nikola Jokic, Drafted 41st overall by the Denver Nuggets
Only two players from the 2014 draft have gone on to become NBA All-Stars. One is Joel Embiid who was drafted number three overall by the Philadelphia 76ers and has become one of the best big men in the NBA today. The other All-Star from this draft is also one of the best big men in the NBA today and the biggest steal from this draft Nikola Jokic. Nikola Jokic was taken with the 41st selection in the draft by the Denver Nuggets. He was the eighth international player taken and the fifth true center taken. He is one of two players drafted with the 40th pick or later in the 2010s to make an All-Star team (Isaiah Thomas). Jokic has made a name as one of the best passing big men in the NBA today. He is one of only two players listed at seven feet tall to ever average at least seven assists in a season (Wilt Chamberlain). Last season, Nikola Jokic finished fourth in MVP voting making him the only player drafted in the second round since 1985 to finish in the top four in MVP voting.
Honorable Mentions: Zach Lavine, 13th overall pick; Spencer Dinwiddie, 38th overall pick
2015: Devin Booker, Drafted 13th overall by the Phoenix Suns
SPOILER ALERT! Devin Booker will not be the last 13th overall draft pick featured on this list. Although Devin Booker was selected 13th overall in the 2015 draft, he was actually the first true shooting guard taken in his draft class despite not being a top 10 pick. He was the third player out of the University of Kentucky taken in the draft with teammates Willie Cauley-Stein (5th) and Trey Lyles (12th) taken ahead of him. Booker has gone on to stake his claim as one of the best two guards in the league averaging 22.5 points and 4.7 assists in his young career. In just his second season, Booker scored 70 points in a game against the Boston Celtics the most points the Celtics have ever allowed an individual player to score. This also makes him just the sixth player to ever score 70 points in a game. Not to mention, his performance in the NBA’s restart showed he’s ready to lead the Phoenix Suns back to the postseason as he helped his team finish with an 8-0 record in the seeding games averaging 30.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
Honorable Mention: Montrezl Harrell, 32nd overall pick
2016: Pascal Siakam, Drafted 27th overall by the Toronto Raptors
Of all the players on this list, Pascal Siakam is the only one who didn’t come into the NBA making an immediate impact. In his first two seasons, Siakam averaged just 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds playing 18.7 minutes per game. He has picked things up in his past two seasons averaging 19.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 33.3 minutes. Between his second and third seasons in the NBA, he increased his scoring average by over nine points winning the Most Improved Player award. Siakam was the second leading scorer for the Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals averaging 19.8 points along with 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists as the team won their first NBA championship in franchise history. This past season, Siakam appeared in his first All-Star game continuing to increase his season averages as his minutes increase. Of the four players that went on to become an NBA All-Star in the 2016 NBA Draft, Siakam is the only one who wasn’t drafted in the lottery.
Honorable Mentions: Domantas Sabonis, 11th overall pick; Malcolm Brogdon, 36th overall pick
2017: Donovan Mitchell, Drafted 13th overall by the Denver Nuggets (traded to the Utah Jazz)
This draft has two guys that could easily be seen as the biggest steal: Bam Adebayo and Donovan Mitchell. The reason Donovan Mitchell gets the nod over Adebayo is because he has put together more seasons of excellence. Donovan Mitchell has averaged 20 points per game in each of his first three seasons in the NBA. He is the only rookie in Utah Jazz history to average at least 20 points per game in his rookie season. He is the first rookie not drafted in the top 10 to average at least 20 per game in his rookie season since Kelly Tripucka (12th) and Jay Vincent (24th) in 1981. If not for Ben Simmons missing what was supposed to be his rookie season with a broken foot, Donovan Mitchell would have easily won the Rookie of the Year award. Mitchell has made the playoffs in each of his first three seasons with the Jazz averaging 20 points in each playoff run. This past season, he averaged 36.3 points in the playoffs the highest scoring average of any player in the playoffs including two 50-point performances.
Honorable Mentions: Bam Adebayo, 14th overall pick; Kyle Kuzma, 27th overall pick
2018: Michael Porter Jr., Drafted 14th overall by the Denver Nuggets
While it is true that Michael Porter Jr. was looked at as a high risk draft selection due to injuries he suffered in college, in hindsight its looking like he would have been worth the risk drafting him with a higher pick. There was an adjustment period for MPJ once he was finally healthy and playing as he only averaged 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in the regular season before the restart. If the season ended there, certainly he would not have been the choice for this list. Luckily for him, the restart did happen and he was able to show his true potential in the Nuggets’ seeding games. In seven seeding games, Porter averaged 22.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in seven seeding games including a four-game stretch in which he averaged 29.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. His scoring average tied with LeBron James for the 15th highest of all players in seeding games and ahead of the following players: Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell, and CJ McCollum. He would go on to play a huge role in the Denver Nuggets’ playoff run in which they advanced to the Western Conference Finals by becoming the first team in history to come back from 3-1 deficits in back-to-back playoff series’.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Huerter, 19th overall pick; Devonte’ Graham, 34th overall pick
2019: Tyler Herro, Drafted 13th overall by the Miami Heat
Completing the hat trick of 13th overall draft picks is Tyler Herro the dynamic young guard for the Miami Heat. Now I could talk about the very good regular season Tyler Herro had pre and mid bubble, but his true impact as a draft steal is based on what he did in the playoffs. He scored in double digits in all but one playoff game including four games scoring 20+ points. His breakout performance in the postseason came in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals in which he scored 37 points against the Boston Celtics helping the Heat take a 3-1 lead in the series. This gave the Heat momentum in the series on their way to winning in six games clinching a berth in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014. At just 20-years-old, Herro became the youngest player to start an NBA Finals game since Magic Johnson in 1980. In the NBA Finals, he was the Heat’s second leading scorer averaging 14.7 points in the series. Time will tell if Tyler Herro will cement his legacy as the 2019 NBA Draft’s biggest draft steal but his performance in the 2020 NBA Playoffs was enough to warrant a spot on this list.
Honorable Mention: Eric Paschall, 41st overall pick