Every year when the NBA Draft rolls around, the big sexy picks get all the attention. Who are the future superstars? Who’s going to be number one? Will that player pan out, or will he be a bust?
However, picking the player everyone says is the best is easy. If you really want to judge the quality of a franchise, see which teams regularly pull off the biggest NBA Draft steals, finding diamonds in the rough. The Spurs haven’t had a lottery pick since 1997, when they selected Tim Duncan first overall. However, they built a dynasty around Duncan by taking gifted players that other teams overlooked later in the draft.
Today we’re going to take a look at the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time. However, before we get started, we need to lay out the ground rules.
First, in order to be considered a steal, a player needs to have been selected no earlier than the 15th pick. Yes, I know two teams passed on Jordan, the greatest player of all time, before the Bulls took him with the no. 3 pick in the 1984 draft. That doesn’t make Jordan a “steal.” That makes the first two teams stupid. (Although the Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwan first overall, which wasn’t exactly a bad move.) Of course, there is one exception to this rule, which I think you’ll agree is warranted.
Second, in order to be considered one of the biggest steals of all time, a player has to have been in the league for at least seven seasons. Any less than that is insufficient to judge their place in NBA history. That means we have to exclude current players like Draymond Green (two years) and Serge Ibaka (six years), who certainly were steals at no. 35 and no. 24 respectively.
Third, statistically speaking, we’re generally looking for players who averaged an 18+ player efficiency rating (PER) for their careers, or .150 win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), or made All-NBA first team multiple times, or won MVP awards, or made the Hall of Fame, or some combination of the above.
After weeding out candidates based on those criteria, that left us with about 17 players who could rightfully be considered the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time.
Ready to see who they are?