A draft pick is an asset. Teams can utilize their picks to trade and move up the draft board or get a veteran who can give impact right off the bat. One thing is for sure, trading draft picks are one of the pivotal moves that can turn around a struggling franchise into a championship contender. This is well documented in some of the biggest NBA draft trades of all time.
Biggest NBA draft trades
Since the early days of the NBA, the draft night is definitely one of the most exciting events. Teams trade for the players they want while adhering to the NBA draft pick trade rules.
The biggest NBA draft day trades feature some of the players who turned into superstars and helped their team win multiple championships. One right trade can be a difference-maker.
Now, let’s look at the eight biggest NBA draft trades of all time…
8. Allen and Davis for Green, West, and others
Allen is one of the greatest shooters of all time. His best career was in the Sonics wherein he averaged 24.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. The Celtics traded for him to become the second star next to Paul Pierce.
Acquiring Allen made an unhappy Garnett accept a trade to the Celtics to form the Big 4. And we all know what happened next. The Celtics won their first championship since the Bird-led Celtics in the 80s.
Meanwhile, the Sonics got their lottery pick in Green but never lived up to his 5th overall selection. He’s still a good role player who helped numerous teams with his size and versatility up to this date.
7. Doncic for Young and a future-first rounder
In this trade, the Mavericks wanted Luka as their franchise player and the Hawks wanted Trae as their franchise point guard. That simple.
Doncic has been a top 10 player already in his third year in the NBA. He’s currently averaging a ridiculous 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. Meanwhile, Young has evolved into a Curry-like talent—averaging 25.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 9.4 assists per game. He also helped the Hawks reach the playoffs in 2021—their first since 2017.
With the way these two are playing right now, this is definitely one of the most win-win trades in NBA history. Both of their teams are reaping the rewards in trading for the player they always wanted.
6. Parish and McHale for Carroll and Brown
Acquiring Parish and McHale from the Warriors propelled the Celtics into starting their own dynasty in the 80s. The addition of these two made the Celtics frontcourt unstoppable and helped Boston win three championships in the 80s.
Meanwhile, Carroll had a great career in the Warriors wherein he averaged 20.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. However, the Warriors didn’t win any championships in his entire stint there.
5. Leonard and Bertans for Hill
The Spurs are known for scouting and finding great players outside the lottery. They can form a championship team even without a lottery pick.
In 2011, San Antonio traded for Leonard and the Pacers accepted since they already have wings in Danny Granger and Paul George. They saw Kawhi’s potential because of his physical profile—long, athletic, and versatile for a 6’7″ wing.
While the defense is there, they developed his offensive game to become one of the best two-way players in the league. As a result, Kawhi helped the Spurs win another championship in 2014. He also won the Finals MVP. This propelled Leonard into superstardom.
Also, Bertans became one of the league’s best shooters at 6’10. He may not see the court early in his career but San Antonio stuck with his development.
Meanwhile, Hill was still solid for the Pacers as their starting point guard as he led them to two conference finals.
4. Nowitzki for Traylor
The Bucks may be shortsighted in this trade. They wanted an NBA-ready big man. Traylor may have a big frame but in terms of talent, Nowitzki is far better.
Nowitzki struggled mightily in his rookie season as he felt the difference between playing overseas and in the States. He needed time to adjust to NBA speed. After averaging 8.2 points per game as a freshman, he broke out and averaged 17.5 points in his sophomore year. Eventually, Dirk became the face of the Mavericks for the next decade.
Dirk is arguably the best European player in NBA history. He won MVP in 2007 and led the Mavericks in their first championship in 2011. Meanwhile, Traylor only lasted 7 seasons in the league and averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. This is clearly one of the biggest NBA draft trades of all time.
3. Bryant for Divac
The Hornets had no intention of keeping Bryant as he was not part of their plans moving forward. They needed a solid center who was consistent and reliable. They targeted Divac in the Lakers who averaged a near double-double with 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in exchange for an unproven HS player out of Lower Merion.
Who could’ve thought that a player drafted out of high school can become one of the greatest players of all time? Kobe’s work ethic proved everyone wrong especially the Hornets. Bryant became one of the league’s best shooting guards and helped the Lakers win 5 championships. On the other hand, Divac only lasted two seasons in the Hornets.
2. Pippen and a future first-rounder for Polynice and future picks
Acquiring Pippen was pivotal for the Bulls back then. He was the perfect piece alongside Michael Jordan in their six championship runs in the 90s. The 6’8 forward is one of the best two-way players of all time who could do everything.
Polynice still had a good career in his 15 years in the NBA. But you couldn’t compare it to the six titles that Scottie won with the Bulls.
1. Russell for McCauley and Hagan
This draft day trade was groundbreaking for the Celtics. Russell was a freakish specimen at 6’10. He was simply unstoppable in the paint offensively and defensively. But it’s not his individual performance that makes him great, it was the 11 championships that he won with the Celtics in 13 years.
Meanwhile, acquiring Hagan was huge for the Hawks too. He led the Hawks to win the 1958 NBA Championship. Hagan was a 6x All-Star and a hall of famer at the end of his career.
The Celtics acquiring Bill Russell is one of the biggest NBA draft night trades of all time.