Biggest NBA Draft Steals of All Time: Jokic and company

Nikola Jokic
Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA – Photo by Icon sport

The NBA Draft is the main source of basketball players that are recruited in the NBA. The teams spend a lot of resources having scouts all around the world and invest time in the analysis before the NBA Draft. All that effort aims in the direction of making the right decision when times come and hoping that the selected player can change the fortune of a franchise.

Having a lottery pick or even a first-round pick is not always necessary to hit the jackpot and bring in a player that will have a huge impact on the franchise.

In the following lines, we will look back at players who were not selected highly in their draft class but still made amazing careers and can be called top NBA Draft steals.

10. Marc Gasol

The younger of the Gasol brothers, Marc, was not considered a huge basketball talent, but he followed in Pau’s footsteps. Marc was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers as the 48th pick in 2007 and was a part of the package the Lakers traded to Memphis in exchange for Paul.

Marc needed a couple of seasons to adapt to the NBA style, but once he did so, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013. Gasol made three All-Star appearances and was part of the 2019 Toronto Raptors championship team.

9. Kawhi Leonard

Leonard was selected with the 15th overall pick at the 2011 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers and was traded on draft night to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for George Hill. As many times before, Gregg Popovich had the sense to recognize a draft steal, and only three years later, Leonard won the NBA Finals MVP award.

When Leonard forced a trade out of San Antonio, he ended up in Toronto in 2019 and immediately helped the Raptors win their first NBA championship.

8. Tony Parker

Parker was drafted 28th pick overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. Soon after, Gregg Popovich inserted the young Frenchman in the Spurs starting lineup, and Parker was running the point in San Antonio for 17 years.

Parker was part of four Spurs championship teams and won the NBA Finals MVP award in 2007. He made six All-Star appearances and was named to the All-NBA Second teams on three occasions. He retired as the ninth leading scorer and fifth leading passer in NBA playoffs history.

7. Steve Nash

Nash was the 15th overall pick at the 1996 NBA Draft selected by the Phoenix Suns. Given the fact that only four years before that moment, he had only one scholarship offer to continue playing basketball at the college level, the selection itself was a big deal.

Soon after being drafted, Nash became an All-Star while with the Dallas Mavericks, and when he returned to the Suns, he won back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006. Nash was the best point guard in the league in his prime and was a fierce competitor. He finished his career standing fifth all-time with 10,335 assists.

6. John Stockton

Stockton was drafted 16th overall in the 1984 NBA Draft class. He had a solid four-year career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and almost made the 1984 USA Olympic team. Despite that, Stockton was a relatively unknown player, and his selection was met with a stunned silence.

Stockton spent his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz leading the team as a point guard to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. He is the all-time leader in both assists (15,806) and steals (3,265) and it will take a while before anybody gets even close to these numbers.

5. Karl Malone

One year after the Jazz drafted Stockton, they landed Karl Malone with the 13th overall pick at the 1985 NBA Draft. “The Mailman” quickly became the best player on the team and one of the best scorers in the league.

He won the MVP award in 1997 and 1999, made 11 All-NBA first-team selections, 14 All-Star appearances, and retired as the second leading scorer in the history of the league. Today, his 36,928 points puts him third on the all-time list, right after LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

4. Manu Ginobili

Ginobili is a real basketball icon in the NBA, worldwide, and especially in his native Argentina. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs back in 1999 with the 57th pick. Most of the players drafted that low do not even make it to the league, but Ginobili not just did that, but he left his mark in the league history.

Ginobili played in the Italian league and joined the Spurs three years after being drafted. He was a definition of a team player, he invented the “euro-step” and was a key player for the Spurs for 16 seasons, winning four NBA championships.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Whoever found Antetokounmpo in EFAO Zografou B.C. in the Greek lower leagues has probably done the best scouting job in league history. Antetokounmpo was just a skinny 18-year-old humble kid from Greece who was drafted 15th overall at the 2013 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks were aware that they have found a real basketball diamond, and Antetokounmpo got playing time right away. He improved with lightning speed and became the Greek Freak, winning two consecutive MVP awards, the Defensive Player of the Year award, and led the Bucks to the NBA championship in 2021, their first title in 50 years.

2. Kobe Bryant

Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, which ended up being one of the best draft classes ever. Coming out of high school, it is pretty understandable that many teams passed on him and decided to go with proven college talents such as Ray Allen or Antoine Walker. But when you look at the 1996 Draft board, you would see players like Todd Fuller and Vitaly Potapenko being drafted before Bryant, which looks totally unbelievable.

The Hornets actually drafted Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers, who sent Vlade Divac in return. Bryant went on to play 20 years for the Lakers, winning five NBA championships and retiring as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

1. Nikola Jokic

Even the biggest doubters should finally admit that Nikola Jokic has taken over the league. The Serbian center won back-to-back MVP awards and has just led the Denver Nuggets to their first NBA championship in franchise history.

The team from Colorado selected Jokic with the 41st pick at the 2014 NBA Draft, which puts him on top of the biggest NBA Draft steals. They were closely following the development of the young prospect from Serbian team Mega and got him in the middle of the second round. The Nuggets gave Jokic a chance to play and quickly realized that he can be the cornerstone of the franchise.

The rest is history.

Honorable mentions: George Gervin, Dennis Rodman, Rudy Gobert, Isaiah Thomas, Draymond Green, Kyle Korver, Lou Williams.

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