The NBA draft is all about finding steals, and the 2013 edition was no different.
Well, that's not entirely true.
It was different because the level of talent was so much lower than what we've typically come to expect, but that hasn't prevented a few big steals from emerging. First-round picks like Michael Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trey Burke have outperformed their draft slots, and they aren't the only ones.
Guys from later in the proceedings are making their teams look like gem-finding masters with their performance thus far and the flashes of potential they've shown throughout their rookie seasons.
It's all about value.
A lottery pick is expected to become a solid starter. A second-rounder is exceeding expectations if he becomes a low-level starter or even a quality rotation member.
So, who has shown that they'll exceed those expectations by the largest margin?
This isn't about what players have done, but rather turning what they've done into what they will do. That's what matters most.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Jan. 15.
Team: Idaho Stampede
Drafted At: No. 42
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 29.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Is it possible for a player to emerge as a steal if he hasn't played in a single NBA game during the first half of the season?
Turns out, it is.
There are a bunch of factors that go into such a result: a weak draft class, a lack of second-round standouts and a string of excellent showings in the D-League. All of those work in Pierre Jackson's favor, as he's absolutely dominated the D-League while playing with the Idaho Stampede.
He's been named the D-League Performer of the Week twice, made the All-Showcase First Team and has generally been an unstoppable scorer for the Stampede. That scoring average is ridiculous, especially since the diminutive point guard has shot 45.3 percent from the field and 37.3 percent beyond the arc, per RealGM.com.
The New Orleans Pelicans own Jackson's rights, but that's a team absolutely loaded with backcourt contributors. The Baylor product may never make an impact for NOLA, but he'll excel as soon as he works his way into the Association via a trade.
That much is already clear, even if he has yet to put on an NBA jersey.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Drafted At: No. 38
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Nate Wolters never should've been a second-round pick.
When Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour and what seemed like all the other point guards on the Milwaukee Bucks were injured early in the season, the South Dakota State product stepped into the starting lineup.
And he excelled.
Though Wolters couldn't often get his shot to fall, he was a turnover-fearing assist machine. In fact, he averaged 7.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game during seven outings as a starter, and he turned the ball over only once per contest.
Although he's since fallen out of the rotation, that's more a testament to the play of the other guards, all of whom have returned to health. When opportunity strikes, Wolters will once more prove more than capable of carrying the increased workload.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Drafted At: No. 21
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 1.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks
Gorgui Dieng hasn't gotten on the floor much for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he's looked like he has some solid potential whenever he does work his way onto the hardwood.
Misleading as per-36-minute numbers can be when players aren't racking up run, Dieng's are still pretty darn impressive for a raw defensive center: 9.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 4.2 blocks.
The steals and blocks are particularly impressive, as Dieng has used his long arms to wreak havoc whenever he enters the game. His steal and block percentages are 3.1 and 8.9, respectively, and those are numbers that not many players in the NBA can match.
Here's the full list, per Basketball-Reference:
- Gorgui Dieng
Catch my drift?
The only players this season to top two and seven, respectively, are Dieng and Anthony Davis.
This guy has the potential to be quite a special defender.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Drafted At: No. 26
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 1.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
Andre Roberson's rebounding skills have carried over to the NBA.
The former Colorado standout is averaging 9.3 boards per 36 minutes. Problem is, he's only been able to play 8.7 minutes per contest, as he's made a few spot starts for the Oklahoma City Thunder but generally failed to work his way into the rotation.
However, the real reason he's already emerging as a steal is his defensive presence.
A 22-year-old, Roberson has used his lanky wingspan and strange mix of athletic/physical tools to guard multiple positions. Scott Brooks has used him against point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, and he's been put onto the court in a few pressure situations.
According to 82games.com, he's done the majority of his work against shooting guards and small forwards, holding them to respective PERs of 7.9 and 15.8.
Team: Utah Jazz
Drafted At: No. 9
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
With Trey Burke in the lineup, the Utah Jazz have gone 12-15. And with the first-year point guard in the starting lineup, the team has been an even more impressive 12-13.
Now you might be wondering, "Wait, how is a losing record impressive?"
Well, it's impressive when you remember that Utah is 1-11 without its top draft pick from this past summer suiting up.
That's a gigantic impact, and it's reflected in what happens to the Jazz when he's on and off the court. According to NBA.com's statistical databases, Utah scores 104.7 points per 100 possessions when he's playing and allows 109.3.
Much like with the record, this difference doesn't seem positive until it's put into context.
The Jazz's defense gets slightly better without Burke on the floor, but the offensive output plummets. When everything is taken into account, the Western Conference bottom-feeders are outscored by an additional seven points per 100 possessions.
Burke may not be enough to keep the Jazz above .500, but he's already enough to keep them from being truly embarrassing.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
Drafted At: No. 22
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks
Not much has gone right for the Brooklyn Nets during the 2013-14 campaign, but at least they hit on their first-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
While his brother has been balling for the Phoenix Suns, Mason Plumlee has looked quite good in limited action.
Playing with undeniable energy, enthusiasm and athleticism, the 23-year-old big man has been a solid spark on both ends of the court whenever Jason Kidd decides to let him get some run. He's even started a game, responding with six points, five rebounds, two steals and four blocks before fouling out against the Toronto Raptors.
Plumlee has one double-double under his belt, and he went for 19 points in a mid-November contest. He's never going to be much of a star, but it's abundantly clear that the big man has the tools necessary to thrive as a mid-level starter or excellent backup for a long time.
He moves extremely well, and as RealGM.com's Haven Kaplan-Miner writes, "Mason Plumlee may turn out to be better than his brother Miles, who is playing well in Phoenix."
That's quite the compliment, as Miles has been having a spectacular season, emerging as one of the truly legitimate starting centers in the NBA. At times, he's even looked like one of the 15 best, and Mason has shown flashes of similar potential.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Drafted At: No. 12
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Steven Adams was supposed to take years to develop.
Welp. So much for that.
The 7-footer from New Zealand has looked quite competent during his rookie season, and he's making terrific contributions—albeit in limited doses—on the glass and while playing defense. According to 82games.com, Adams has held opposing centers to a 17.5 PER during his first professional go-round. While that's an above-average number, it's especially good considering how tough it usual is for young bigs to adjust to the more physical, quicker NBA game.
Anthony Davis, just for example, allowed opposing 5s to post a 21.1 PER against him, and now he's taking the league by storm on both ends of the court.
Adams still hasn't made much noise on offense, but he doesn't need to. That will come with time, and it's already telling that he's cracked the Oklahoma City Thunder's rotation.
After all, that wasn't supposed to happen nearly this soon.
Team: New York Knicks
Drafted At: No. 24
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been excellent when shooting the ball from the perimeter.
While taking 3.3 attempts per game from beyond the arc, the first-year shooting guard is knocking down 40.5 percent of those shots. But let's put that in perspective, as only five rookies are currently topping 40 percent from the downtown area:
- Tim Hardaway: 40.5 percent shooting on 3.3 attempts per game
- C.J. McCollum: 40 percent shooting on 2.5 attempts per game
- Matthew Dellavedova: 43.6 percent shooting on 1.8 attempts per game
- Allen Crabbe: 62.5 percent shooting on 1.0 attempts per game
- Tony Mitchell: 100 percent shooting on 0.1 attempts per game
We're going to go ahead and disqualify McCollum, Crabbe and Mitchell, as they've combined for 14 attempts. That leaves just Hardaway and Dellavedova, but the former's line is much more impressive.
He's taken 66 more attempts than his Australian counterpart, and he's still on the right side of 40 percent. There just isn't much doubt that—at least until McCollum settles in—Hardaway has been the best rookie sniper this year.
There's a reason he's already starting to take over J.R. Smith's job with the New York Knicks. Well, there are a lot of reasons, but let's not get into that now.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Drafted At: No. 11
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.7 steals, 0.7 blocks
Michael Carter-Williams has easily been the best rookie in the NBA this season, to the point that he should be considered the overwhelming favorite for Rookie of the Year at this stage of the 2013-14 campaign.
That's why he's No. 2 in the rankings of biggest steals, despite the fact that only 10 names were called out by David Stern before he got to stride across the stage in New York.
Not only is MCW outscoring all other rookies by four points per game, but he's also No. 1 in assists and rebounds per contest. All the while, he's posted an 18.4 PER and led the entire NBA in steals per outing.
He's even been named the Player of the Week once this season, something that no other rookie can boast.
The Philadelphia 76ers landed a franchise centerpiece at No. 11, and MCW's presence in the lineup lends itself to a much quicker rebuild. Next year, with the team building around him, Nerlens Noel, another top draft pick and the leftovers from this current roster, the Sixers could very well be looking at a playoff berth.
MCW recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Sielski, "It seems like he (Brett Brown) is always on me about something."
We want to see how impressive this lanky point guard can become.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Drafted At: No. 15
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
Has Giannis Antetokounmpo been better than Michael Carter-Williams?
But that's not exactly relevant, as draft-steal status is tied to future performance. It's great to have played admirably during a first season in the NBA, but it's far better to look like a future star. MCW does, but Antetokounmpo looks like even more of a future superstar.
The Greek Freak has actually been a solid player in 2013-14, and that's a hugely positive development. This was a 19-year-old who was supposed to take years to morph into a true NBA player, but it's taken him only weeks thanks to his defensive abilities and ridiculous athletic tools.
The small forward has already grown a couple of inches, and he's broken into the Milwaukee Bucks' starting lineup by showing off a wide variety of tools. In a Jan. 11 outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example, Antetokounmpo recorded 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
That's just a sign of what's to come, as is his defensive presence.
According to 82games.com, he's spent significant time guarding shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, holding them to respective PERs of 12.0, 16.0 and 13.8.
This 19-year-old shouldn't already be making a positive impact and displaying superstar potential. That wasn't supposed to happen for at least another season or two.
There's no way 14 teams would pass him up again if they had a second chance. You can bet that Milwaukee is thanking its lucky stars they don't.