The second round of the NBA Draft rarely produces meaningful talent. For every Michael Redd or Manu Ginobili that has come out of the second round, there are hundreds of players who failed to play on an NBA team, let alone make an impact on the league.
But don't try telling that to Isaiah Thomas. He found himself called last in the 2011 draft, and now he's in competition for the Rookie of the Year award.
The class of 2011 seems to be bucking the trend. Last year's draft hasn't produced any players, aside from Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, who look to be stars in the near future—but it has produced a strong crop of surprising talent, a good number of which was selected in the second round.
How does Isaiah rank up there with this year's surprising rookies? Let's take a look.
With injuries to Stephen Curry and Nate Robinson, the Warriors had little choice but to turn to second round pick Charles Jenkins.
Jenkins is certainly no replacement for a healthy Curry, but he's had some excellent games in the past few weeks. In a 90-87 loss to Portland on March 25th, he had 27 points and six assists on 13-22 shooting. In a 102-100 loss to New Jersey on March 31st, he had 18 points and 12 assists.
The fact that Thompson is a good player isn't a surprise—with his shooting ability and basketball IQ, he was always expected to become a good player. But what is surprising is how fast he's become good.
He was forced into the spotlight thanks to the trade of Monta Ellis and the injuries to Stephan Curry, and he's quickly proving he's ready. In 15 games as a starter, he's averaging 16.5 points and 3.7 assists on 41.9 percent shooting. He had a career high 31 points against Sacramento on March 24th.
After a dynamite start to the season, Cole has come back down to Earth. Nonetheless, when he's hot, he's too good to ignore.
He averages just 7.0 points and 2.2 assists per contest, but there have been stretches where he looked like he should have been a top-10 pick in the draft. In his first seven games with the Heat, he hit double figures five times, including a 20 point/four assist/three steal night against Boston in late December. He's a very capable shooter and a good passer, but struggles at times to impact the game.
If he could just stay more consistent, he'd been way higher on this list. As it stands, his talent alone puts him up there amongst surprising rookies.
Many experts expected Kawhi Leonard to go early in the 2011 draft but he fell to San Antonio with the 15th pick. It's been an excellent match so far, as Leonard's strong defense and tough mindset fits in well with coach Greg Popovich.
While some expected him to be more of a project pick, Leonard has been pretty consistent for the Spurs, averaging 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals a contest while shooting 49.4 percent from the field. In March, he averaged 11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
Brooks hasn't been as dynamic since his mid-season foot injury, but he was one of the best rookies to begin the year. In December and January, he averaged 15.3 and 14.7 points a game respectively, before a broken toe put him on the bench for much of February.
In March, his scoring has taken a dip, and he's averaging just 10 points on 41.1 percent shooting. Nets fans don't have a ton to cheer about with Deron Williams almost assuredly leaving this summer, so hopefully Brooks can break past the rookie wall.
After negotiating a buyout with his Spanish League team, Ayon signed a contract in December with the Hornets. While he's begun to fall off a bit in the past month, he still easily ranks within the most surprising rookies.
In February, he averaged 7.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a contest while shooting 53.5 percent from the field. While it seems that most of the Hornets team is injury cursed this season—Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor have all missed significant time—Ayon's emergence as a top rookie big man has been a bright spot in an otherwise depressing year for New Orleans.
Shumpert, the 17th overall pick in the draft, would be the talk of New York if Jeremy Lin hadn't taken off. Shumpert is an all-around strong player who is just a bit of consistency away from being an excellent talent.
He averages 9.7 points and 2.7 assists a contest, but his real contribution is on the defensive end where he ranks at the top amongst rookies. He averages 1.8 steals a contest and can guard anywhere from a one to a three.
He's shooting just 39.8 percent from the field on the season, but in his past five games, he's averaging 15.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals a contest on 45.9 percent shooting. While the loss of Lin hurts the Knicks, Shumpert isn't exactly a bad fall-back option.
Another second round stud, Parsons has transitioned from sixth man to starter and is now one of the Rockets most consistent players.
He currently averages 9.2 points and 4.9 rebounds a contest while shooting 46 percent from the floor. Considering all the injuries the Rockets have had to deal with this season, Parsons' consistency helps Houston stay afloat while Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry sit on the bench.
After a dominating run to end his NCAA career at Morehead State last season, Faried was taken with the 22nd overall pick by the Nuggets. After starting the season as a deep-bench reserve, Faried started getting decent minutes in mid-January before landing a spot in the starting lineup.
He's averaging 9.5 points and 7.2 boards a contest, hitting 59.1 percent of his shots and helping the Nuggets transition into life without Nene in the middle.
Never has the last pick in the draft been this good.
While a good number of second rounders won't even make their NBA team, Thomas has exceeded every expectation. After establishing himself as a bench sparkplug, he became a starter in February and hasn't looked back.
In 25 games as a starter, he's averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals a contest while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from downtown.
Aside from his limited size (he's just 5'9''), there isn't any real weakness to Thomas' game. He's a solid scorer, a great shooter, a willing passer and a very capable defender. And if it wasn't for Kyrie Irving's performance in Cleveland, Thomas would be the favorite for ROY.