LOOKBACK: Best NBA second-round draft steals of the modern era
MANILA, Philippines – The NBA Draft has long given the world its first real glimpse of the best baller prospects around as they take their first steps into stardom.
Millions of viewers tune in every year to watch where the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James ends up as the assumed cream of the crop get selected with highly prized top picks.
However, history has shown that these future stars still appear deep into the draft’s 60-man modern iteration, long after most viewers have tuned out.
Although many of them take longer to realize their potential than their first-round counterparts, these diamonds in the rough have made many teams extremely happy with their low-risk, high-reward finds.
Marc Gasol (48th overall pick, 2007)
Career averages: 15.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.9 steals
Back in 2009, All-Star Pau Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for future first-round picks, a trio of role players and the rights to Pau’s little-known brother Marc.
As Pau’s career started to slow down following two championship wins in LA, Marc then stepped out of his brother’s shadow as the Grizzlies solidified their “Grit and Grind” defensive identity.
In 2011, Marc got his first All-Star nod then his first Defensive Player of the Year award and All-NBA Second Team selection the year after. He then got another All-Star berth and was elevated to the All-NBA First Team in 2013.
Marc continued his high level of play well into the 2018-2019 season, where he was traded to the Toronto Raptors as the final piece to their improbable run to their first franchise championship.
As Marc and Pau became the first set of brothers to win an NBA championship, no one was happier than Pau to finally see his little brother’s efforts pay off.
“Marc and I have had a lot of luck in our lives, achieving things that neither of us could have dreamt of as children,” Pau said in an interview with Spanish sports site Marca.
Gilbert Arenas (31st overall pick, 2001)
Career averages: 20.7 points, 5.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals
Before Damian Lillard and Trae Young dazzled fans around the world with their supreme confidence from any point on the court, there was Gilbert Arenas.
In the early 2000s, “Agent Zero” terrorized opposing defenses as he played his best years with the Washington Wizards. His relentless offensive mentality coupled with his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame was just too much to bear.
In the 2005-2006 season, Arenas peaked with absurd averages of 29.3 points, 6.1 assists and 2 steals, one year after leading the Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 1997.
However, injuries as well as on-court issues soon caught up with Arenas, spelling doom for his extremely promising career.
On January 27, 2010, Arenas and his teammate Javaris Crittenton were suspended without pay for the rest of the season after a locker room altercation escalated to the point where both men held the other at gunpoint.
The following year, Crittenton was handed a life sentence after shooting and killing a man in Atlanta while Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic.
However, the Magic soon realized that they were going nowhere with their new, high-priced acquisition and so they waived Arenas after the player lockout in 2011.
After playing two short stints with the Grizzlies and the Shanghai Sharks over in China, Arenas retired in 2013 at just 31 years old.
In 11 years in the NBA, Arenas was named to the All-Star team 3 times, the All-NBA Second Team once in 2007 and the All-NBA Third Team twice in the two years prior.
Draymond Green (35th overall pick, 2012)
Career averages: 9.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks
Regardless of what the public may currently think of Draymond Green following a disastrous 2019-2020 campaign, one fact remains: he is one of the most well-rounded players in the league for the past decade.
In just 7 years so far in the NBA, Green is already a three-time champion, three-time All-Star, five-time All-Defensive Team selection, two-time All-NBA Team selection and a Defensive Player of the Year back in 2017.
That’s a lot of value for a second-round pick who was only a three-star recruit after playing all 4 years in college.
Aside from his quantifiable accolades, Green has also been the vocal leader in a loaded budding dynasty featuring transcendent talents like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and formerly Kevin Durant.
The world may have forgotten about him now, but they’ll soon remember the name Draymond Green once the Golden State Warriors are back at full strength sooner rather than later.
Isaiah Thomas (60th overall pick, 2011)
Career Averages: 18.1 points, 5.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds
Under normal circumstances, Isaiah Thomas shouldn’t have survived in the NBA.
Standing at just 5-foot-9, Thomas was picked dead last in the 2011 draft that featured surefire stars like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler.
However, Thomas didn’t give up and instead made up for his lack of genetic gifts with a massive love for the game and an innate offensive genius.
In fact, his growth – basketball growth, that is – was so fast that he upstaged fellow 2011 draftee Jimmer Fredette for the starting point guard spot with the Sacramento Kings.
By 2016, Fredette was alternating stints between China and the NBA G League. Meanwhile, Thomas was peaking with MVP-caliber averages of 28.9 points and 5.9 assists on an efficient 46% clip with the Boston Celtics.
Unfortunately, Thomas’ fall came even quicker than his rise to the top. Following his best season, the Celtics capitalized and pulled the trigger on a highly publicized swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.
For the first time in NBA history, the first and the last picks of the same draft were traded for each other, which ultimately didn’t end up well for both sides.
Irving jumped ship to the Brooklyn Nets after just two years in Boston while Thomas has struggled to recover from his major back injury and has been a journeyman since he was traded.
After short stints in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, Thomas is now out of the league for the moment after being waived by the LA Clippers.
Manu Ginobili (57th overall pick, 1999)
Career averages: 13.3 points, 3.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals
Lastly, this man needs no introduction other than being arguably the greatest draft steal in modern NBA history.
Over the course of a legendary 16-year career with the San Antonio Spurs, Manu Ginobili legitimized the need for a reliable sixth man in a championship-caliber team.
And with 4 rings added to his collection, it’s safe to say the master of the Eurostep drove the point home.
Outside the NBA, the Argentine superstar was a EuroLeague champion, EuroLeague Finals MVP, Italian League champion, Italian League MVP and most importantly, an Olympic gold medalist in 2004.
For his achievements in and out the NBA, Ginobili has established himself as an international icon and a surefire Hall of Famer down the road.
Not bad for a 57th pick. Not bad at all. – Rappler.com