It’s impossible not to remember and talk about the greatest NBA draft steals of all time. These guys who topped their draft values and ended up proving most NBA scouts wrong by passing them on.
The Biggest NBA Draft Steals
Of course, drafting isn’t an exact science, and you never know how a player’s career will turn out. Intangible assets will always be part of the equation, and not everything can be measured. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top ten NBA draft steals of all time.
Gregg Popovich has always had a keen eye for talent and wasn’t afraid to take risks from time to time. He did so when he traded George Hill and several players to place Kawhi Leonard 15th overall, a transaction the Indiana Pacers would regret until the end of time.
The San Antonio Spurs slowly but steadily acquired Leonard. He developed into a defensive specialist and improved his offensive game year after year until he became the undisputed best two-way player in the world. He’s now a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, and one of the greatest defensemen of all time.
9. Tony Parker
It’s crazy to think that some of the most influential players of all time never even entered the NBA draft lottery. That was the case with Tony Parker, who the San Antonio Spurs brought in 28th from Europe. Not many people knew his game, but that didn’t last long.
Parker was one of the regulars of the Spurs dynasty and won four rings with the organization. Several non-sporting PGs have adapted their game to Parker’s, incorporating his signature floater into their offensive repertoire. He is a one-time Finals MVP.
Steve Nash was among the greatest NBA draft classes of all time, finishing 15th overall in that legendary 1996 class. And while he never won an NBA championship, he’s still one of the undisputed best point guards in the history of the game.
Nash orchestrated one of the most explosive and entertaining offenses this game has ever seen. He is one of the few members of the exclusive 50/40/90 club and has been a two-time MVP. He also led the NBA in assists five times, three years in a row.
7. Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili has every right to be the most successful second-round pick of all time. Barely picked, he finished 58th overall and became a fairly unknown player in the NBA despite being a superstar in Europe.
The transition to NBA basketball wasn’t exactly smooth, but Manu fought his way into the Hall of Fame by becoming arguably the greatest sixth man of all time. He is a four-time NBA champion and one of the pillars of the Spurs dynasty alongside Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
All in all, it’s hard not to add John Stockton to the list of greatest NBA draft steals of all time. Widely regarded as the best pure point guard in league history, he finished as low as 18th overall and wasn’t even an early starter.
Stockton worked his way up the rotation and became one of the most consistent and enduring players of all time. He wasn’t spectacular or flashy, but he still led the league in nine assists and twice in steals, and he still ranks first in league history on both stats.
5. Karl Malone
Likewise, a Utah Jazz teammate, Karl Malone, was one of the greatest NBA draft steals of all time, a reference to the Utah Jazz’s scouting department of the mid-’80s. After a brilliant showing at Louisiana Tech, he was number 13.
Malone’s behavior off the field has made him a notorious figure in NBA circles, and rightly so. But he was still one of the most unstoppable scorers of all time, a two-time MVP and a 14-time All-Star. Michael Jordan prevented him from winning at least one ring.
4. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman is one of the most controversial and iconic characters of all time, while also being one of the greatest NBA draft steals of all time. He started playing competitive basketball at a young age, and he never even went to premier college.
The Detroit Pistons picked him up in the second round and he became the biggest rebounder and one of the best lockdown defenders this game has ever seen. He won five NBA championships, led the league in rebounding seven straight years, and was named Defensive Player of the Year twice.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Some players need more time to develop and some are so impressive well into their rookie contracts. Such was the case with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was unknown when the Milwaukee Bucks picked him with the 15th overall pick and who didn’t look well early in his career.
Giannis’ unmatched athleticism and work ethic saw him get better every single season. He’s now a top-three player and a first-round prospective Hall of Famer after leading the team to its first championship in five decades. Already a two-time MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player, Giannis has what it takes to become the greatest Milwaukee Buck of all time, ahead of even Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson.
Kobe Bryant made it into the NBA straight out of high school and full of doubt and skepticism. He was one of the most rings in the NBA of the 21st century and arguably the best player to ever wear the Los Angeles Lakers jersey. Not too bad for a 13th pick overall, traded during draft night.
The Charlotte Hornets will definitely regret trading Bryant for as long as the franchise lasts. Bryant was one of the most influential players of all time and was the closest thing to Michael Jordan we’ve ever seen. A relentless defender and one of the most unstoppable goalscorers in the league, he was a guy who instilled fear, terror and respect in the hearts of his rivals night after night. In the history of this league there will never be a player with the same attitude, approach and killer instinct.
1. Nikola Jokic
And finally, we have to give Nikola Jokic credit for being the biggest of the biggest NBA draft steals of all time. We don’t think he’s a better player than Kobe Bryant, he’s just the ultimate and purest definition of a draft steal. I mean, he was ranked #41 during a Taco Bell commercial and became one of the best tall men of all time.
Jokic is already the greatest pass center of all time and the greatest Denver nugget of all time. He has played his way into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, although he has not yet reached his prime. He’s a two-time MVP – stripped of his third consecutive honor – and led the Nuggets to their first Finals. Jokic is the first true point center, a revolutionary point guard trapped in a big man’s body. He will collect many more awards before his time is up.