Here are five NBA stars who were little overlooked draft picks but went on to prove everyone they should have been chosen earlier
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The 2018 NBA draft lived up to the expectations of many as DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, and Trey Young—whose names were under the radar long before they put on their NBA caps last Friday—became the top picks. In other words, they are the rookies to watch out for next season.
But based on previous years, players who seem like the best in their draft class might not even ring some bells a few seasons later. For instance, Markelle Fultz who was the top overall pick last year by the Philadelphia 76ers failed to make a dent due to injuries. Fultz’s rookie year just goes to show it doesn’t matter if you’re the first or last pick.
Then there are NBA players who were overlooked but later on wreaked havoc in the league—just like 2017 13th pick and now Rookie of the Year contender Donovan Mitchell. The Spida is just one of the many players who revealed themselves to be a draft steal the moment they stepped on the floor. Here are five more you should remember:
Draymond Green, 35th pick
The power forward often regarded as an undersized center was drafted as the 35th pick in 2012 by the Golden State Warriors. Throughout his first six years in the NBA, Green blossomed into one of the top defensive players in the league after being named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, all while leading the league in steals.
Throughout the Warriors’ three NBA championships, Green’s acumen on the floor became instrumental in becoming the super team they are today as the 6’7” player proved to be a versatile front court asset who can set the tone with his explosiveness and intensity. With Green playing alongside deadly shooters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, the Warriors ramped up their setup and transition game with his great court vision, highly valued playmaking skills, and defensive hustling.
Jimmy Butler, 30th pick
Before we all witnessed the clutch “Jimmy Buckets,” Jimmy Butler was once just a young and hungry baller who wanted to take on the challenge when he was chosen by the Chicago Bulls in 2011. Although he was overshadowed by Derrick Rose early on in his career, Butler still found a way to make a name for himself despite coming off the bench in his rookie year when he averaged just 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 42 games.
Come the succeeding seasons, an injury-plagued Bulls became an opportunity for Butler to step up as he earned significant minutes and started taking over games. In 2015, Butler was the most improved player of the year after his magnificent breakout season and was seen as the Bull’s next franchise player when an injury-prone Rose failed them.
But at the end of the 2016-17 season, the 6’8” shooting guard was surprisingly shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the younger legs of Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkannen (draft pick). During his first year with the Wolves, Butler immediately made his presence felt in helping the franchise get back into the playoffs after 14 years.
Manu Ginobili, 57th pick
When it comes to stealing potential draft picks, no one does it better than the San Antonio Spurs. Before the big steal in Kawhi Leonard in 2011, there was Manu Ginobili who was snatched by legendary coach Gregg Popovich in 1999 that forever changed the Spurs culture.
Back in his draft year, Ginobili was not known by many including his teammate Tim Duncan. Little did everyone know, the Europe-based baller would complement the Spurs’ big three and transform from a late second-round pick into a Spurs legend. Over the course of 19 years, Ginobili won four championships along with Duncan and Tony Parker—another draft steal for the franchise.
When Ginobili arrived in San Antonio, he did not look like a 57th pick after influencing the whole league with his tenacity, toughness, and unique style of play—his perception and knowledge of the game helped him dish incontestable assists to his teammates. Even after he became an All-Star, Ginobili still embraced the role of coming off the bench to help balance the rotation of Popovich’s boys. Last season, the Warriors eliminated the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, launching speculations on whether a 39-year old Ginobili will be back for another season. But regardless of Ginobili’s decision, the Spurs legend will leave a legacy no one could ever replace.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, 15th pick
The “Greek Freak” isn’t a freak for nothing. Drafted in 2013, Giannis Antetokounmpo emerged as one of the future stars in the league when he had his breakout season in the 2015-16 season. The Greek Freak’s progression on both ends were evident in the last few years after winning the Most Improved Player award in 2017.
From averaging 6.8 points a game in his rookie year, Antetokounmpo started recording double-double outputs two years later. Last season, the Greek star became the Bucks’ facilitator and team leader after averaging 26.9 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. In the same season, Antetokounmpo became a starter in the annual NBA All-Star Weekend along with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, and DeMar DeRozan. With his abilities and long strides, Antetokounmpo became a turning point for the Bucks as they looked to build around the Greek Freak in the coming years.
Isaiah Thomas, 60th pick
It’s hard not to notice Isaiah Thomas once he steps on the court because of his modest size. Although a defensive liability, Thomas proved to everyone that he’s worth the gamble when he was picked last by the Sacramento Kings in 2011. The 5’9” guard displayed great work ethic and exceptional offensive talent during his tenure with the Boston Celtics from 2015 to 2017.
Thomas became the lowest draft pick ever to be part of the NBA All-Star in 2016 and 2017. During his stint with the Celtics, the guard started to put up solid numbers, including his third career-high 44 points, scoring 36 of it in the second half. In the same season, Thomas set new career highs, dropping 52 big points against Miami Heat and scoring 29 in the last quarter alone.
In their playoff match against the Washington Wizards, Mr. 4th Quarter, as they call him, erupted for a 53-point output as he led the Celtics to a 2-0 lead to eventually advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thomas then became part of a blockbuster one-on-one trade with the Cavs’ Irving. The guard struggled as a Cavalier due to his hip injury before he was sent to the young core of the Los Angeles Lakers where he is slowly but surely getting back on track.