Throughout history, there have been many players to whom the Draft has not done justice. They are the so-called ‘draft steals.’ Names that appeared further back on the boards than they should have, mainly due to what they have contributed to the NBA in general and their teams in particular throughout their careers.
Players who are not chosen in the Draft’s highest positions, but who later end up triumphing in the NBA, are considered a ‘steal’ of the Draft. They are those players who, for whatever reason, end up exploding unexpectedly, becoming real stars of the NBA, thus exceeding any expectations placed on them.
Here are the Top 5 ‘draft steals’ throughout NBA history.
5 – Dirk Nowitzki (# 9 of 1998 – Milwaukee, traded to Dallas Mavericks)
The first European MVP in NBA history is Dirk Nowitzki (Giannis Antetokounmpo was the second and last to date). A future Hall of Fame member like Dirk Nowitzki was not elected until No. 9 in the 1998 Vince Carter Draft case. Ahead of him and behind Carter were players like Robert Taylor, Jason Williams, or Larry Hughes. We are talking about an NBA champion and Finals MVP in 2011 and 14 times all-star.
4 – Steve Nash (#15th pick of 1996 – Phoenix Suns)
Granted, he is missing the ring, but looking at Steve Nash’s résumé is glory in the eyes of any basketball lover: twice in a row NBA MVP, five times leading assists of the season, eight times all-star. The Canadian point guard did not appear until 15th place in a 1996 Draft. Lorenzen Wright, Kerry Kittles, Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller, or Vitaly Potapenko shook David Stern’s hand before him.
3 – Larry Bird (#6th pick of 1978 – Boston Celtics)
One of the best players in the history of the NBA and his name did not appear until number 6 in the 1978 Draft. Ahead of him were chosen Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, Rick Robey, Micheal Ray Richardson, and Purvis Short. Larry Bird came from starring in one of the most remembered NCAA finals of all-time against his eternal friend/foe Magic Johnson and still went to sixth place in the draft. Three consecutive MVP of the season, three championship titles with the Boston Celtics and two Finals MVPs, 12 times all-star and once All-Star MVP, Rookie of the Year, member of the Dream Team… Not much more to say.
2 – Kobe Bryant (#13th pick of 1996 – Charlotte Hornets)
Eternally compared to Michael Jordan and considered one of the greatest players of all time (Top3? Top5? Top10?), Kobe Bryant jumped straight from high school to the NBA, and perhaps that caused him to be chosen further back in one of the best drafts in history like 1996. The top five players in that promotion were Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, and Ray Allen. Three exteriors marked one era or another in the League, but none with a career like that of ‘La Mamba.’ Five rings, 18 All-Star Game appearances, a season MVP… and going on is almost ridiculous.
1 – Manu Ginobili (#57th pick of 1999 – San Antonio Spurs)
Without question, Manu Ginobili is the biggest heist in Draft history. The Argentine has four NBA titles, a Best Sixth Man award, and two All-Star Game appearances, and did not appear in the 1999 Draft until the penultimate position when the San Antonio Spurs chose him in the number position 57.
Honorable Mention: Michael Jordan of 1984 NBA Draft – When Portland Trailblazers have a chance to take MJ but they decided to pick center Sam Bowie as #2 overall pick instead.