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10 biggest draft steals in NBA history

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It’s impossible not to reminisce and talk about the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time. Those guys that have outplayed their draft stocks and wound up proving most NBA scouts wrong for passing on them.

Biggest NBA Draft steals

Of course, drafting isn’t an exact science, and you never know how a player’s career will turn out. Intangibles will always be a part of the equation, and not everything can be measured. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10 best NBA Draft steals ever.

10. Kawhi Leonard

Gregg Popovich has always had a great eye for talent, and he hasn’t hesitated to take risks every now and then. He did that when he traded George Hill and multiple pieces to land Kawhi Leonard with the 15th overall pick, a transaction the Indiana Pacers might come to regret until the end of time.

The San Antonio Spurs brought in Leonard slowly but steadily. He developed into a defensive specialist and kept improving his offensive game every year, up to the point where he became the undisputed best two-way player on Earth. He’s now a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, and one of the greatest defenders ever.

9. Tony Parker

It’s crazy to think that some of the most influential players ever weren’t even a part of the NBA draft lottery. That was the case with Tony Parker, who the San Antonio Spurs took with the 28th overall pick out of Europe. Not many people were familiar with his game, but that didn’t last long.


Parker was one of the staples of the Spurs’ dynasty, winning four rings with the organization. Multiple non-athletic PGs molded their game to Parker’s, incorporating his signature floater into their offensive repertoire. He’s a one-time Finals MVP.

8. Steve Nash

Steve Nash was a part of the greatest NBA Draft classes of all time, going 15th overall in that legendary class of 1996. And even though he never won an NBA championship, he’s still one of the undisputed greatest point guards in the history of this game.

Nash orchestrated one of the most explosive and entertaining offenses this game has ever seen. He’s one of the few members of the exclusive 50/40/90 club, and was a two-time MVP. He also led the NBA in assists five times, including three years in a row.

7. Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili has a case for being the most decorated among the most successful second-round picks of all time. He was barely chosen, going 58th overall, and becoming a pretty much unknown player in the NBA despite being a superstar in Europe.

The transition to NBA basketball wasn’t exactly smooth, but Manu played his way into the Hall of Fame by becoming arguably the greatest Sixth Man ever. He’s a four-time NBA champion and one of the pillars of the Spurs dynasty alongside Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.


6. John Stockton

All things considered, it’s hard not to put John Stockton on the list of the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time. Widely considered the greatest pure point guard in league history, he fell all the way to the 18th overall pick, and wasn’t even a starter right away.

Stockton played his way up the rotation and became one of the most durable and consistent players ever. He wasn’t spectacular or flashy, but he still led the league in assists nine times and twice in steals, and he’s still first in both of that stats in league history.

5. Karl Malone

Likewise, fellow Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone was also one of the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time, so props to the Utah Jazz’s scouting department from the mid-80s. He was the No. 13 pick after a brilliant stint at Louisiana Tech.

Malone’s off-court behavior has made him an infamous figure around NBA circles, and rightfully so. But he was still one of the most unstoppable scorers ever, a two-time MVP, and 14-time All-Star. Michael Jordan stopped him from winning at least one ring.

4. Dennis Rodman

One of the most controversial and iconic characters of all time, Dennis Rodman also happens to be one of the best NBA Draft steals ever. He didn’t get into competitive basketball until a late age, and he didn’t even attend a highly-ranked college.

The Detroit Pistons took him in the second round and he wound up becoming the greatest rebounder and one of the best lockdown defenders this game has ever seen. He won five NBA championships, led the league in rebounding seven years in a row, and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Some players need more time to develop, and some aren’t that impressive until way into their rookie contracts. That was the case with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who wasn’t known when the Milwaukee Bucks took him with the 15th overall pick, and who didn’t look good earlier in his career.

Giannis’ unmatched athleticism and work ethic made him improve every single season. He’s now a top-three player and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer after leading the team to its first championship in five decades. Giannis is already a two-time MVP, a Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Most Improved Player, and he has everything in his favor to be the greatest Milwaukee Buck of all time, even ahead of Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson.

2. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant made it to the NBA straight out of high school and among plenty of doubts and scepticism. He wound up being one of the NBA players with the most rings in the 21st century, and arguably the greatest player to ever wear the Los Angeles Lakers jersey. Not too shabby for a 13th-overall pick traded during draft night.

The Charlotte Hornets will definitely regret trading Bryant for as long as the franchise exists. Bryant was one of the most influential players of all time and the closest thing to Michael Jordan we have seen. He was a relentless defender and one of the most unstoppable scorers in the league, and a guy who instilled fear, terror, and respect in the heart of his rivals any given night.  There will never be a player with the same mindset, approach, and killer instinct in the history of this league.

1. Nikola Jokic

And last but not least, we have to give Nikola Jokic the nod as the biggest among the biggest NBA Draft steals of all time. It’s not that we think he’s a better player than Kobe Bryant, it is just that he’s the ultimate and pure definition of a draft steal. I mean, he was taken No. 41 during a Taco Bell commercial and became one of the best big men ever.

Already the greatest passing center of all time and the greatest Denver Nugget ever, Jokic has played himself into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame despite not having reached his prime. He’s a two-time MVP — who was robbed of a third straight award — and he led the Nuggets to the Finals for the first time. Jokic is the first true point-center, a revolutionary point guard trapped in a big man’s body. He’ll pile up many more accolades before his time is up.

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