The Top 10 NBA Draft Sleeper Picks of the Last 15 Years
It’s NBA Draft Day, and understandably, all of the pre-draft hype has surrounded the lottery teams and where the popular names like Hasheem Thabeet, Ricky Rubio, and Stephen Curry will land.
But the draft doesn’t end after the first 10 or so picks. There are still diamonds to be found in the rough. Sure, there aren’t many, but they’re out there if you look hard enough.
This list looks at some of the better picks that have been made late in the first round and into the second round in the last 15 years.
These “sleeper” picks have produced stat-stuffers, All-Stars, and NBA champions.
10. David Lee: First round, 30th pick in 2005 by New York Knicks
David Lee actually led the NBA in double-doubles last season. He had 65—more than Dwight Howard, more than Tim Duncan, more than Chris Bosh.
At 26, the hardworking Lee has given Knicks fans something to cheer about as they patiently wait through the ongoing New York rebuilding process.
The Knicks made Lee the 30th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the last pick in the first round.
In four seasons, Lee has averaged 11 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes per game.
9. Monta Ellis: Second round, 40th pick in 2005 by Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors were able to snatch Monta Ellis up in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft in part because Ellis entered the draft right from high school.
Ellis had a great 2007-08 season, averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
A moped accident slowed Ellis in 2008-09, as he missed 57 games, but the Warriors are clearly building around the 23-year-old combo guard.
Ellis was the fifth high school player selected in the 2005 NBA Draft, behind players like Martell Webster (No. 6 to the Portland Trail Blazers) and C.J. Miles (No. 34 to the Utah Jazz).
8. Josh Howard: First round, 29th pick in 2003 by Dallas Mavericks
Howard entered the 2003 NBA Draft after a tremendous senior season at Wake Forest University, in which the 6’7” forward averaged 20 points and eight rebounds and was named ACC Player of the Year and an All-America First-Team Member.
NBA scouts, for some reason, thought Howard didn’t have much room to improve and let him slip to the end of the first round, where the Dallas Mavericks grabbed him with the 29th and final pick.
In six seasons with the Mavericks, Howard has averaged 16 points and six rebounds, making the All-Star Team in 2007.
Granted, that draft included the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade, but still, Michael Sweetney (No. 9 to the New York Knicks), Marcus Banks (No. 13 to the Memphis Grizzlies), and Brian Cook (No. 24 to the Los Angeles Lakers) were all taken ahead of Howard.
7. Trevor Ariza: Second round, 43rd pick in 2004 by New York Knicks
Watching Trevor Ariza make plays on both ends of the floor throughout the 2009 NBA Playoffs for the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, we might have only seen the beginning of the type of player he can become.
Ariza was the 43rd pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, selected by the New York Knicks. Ariza, a 6’8” swingman who can defend and knock down the three (he shot 48 percent from downtown in the playoffs), spent time with the Knicks and Orlando Magic before landing in Los Angeles in 2007.
Now, after a spectacular playoff performance, the soon to be 24-year-old free agent will look to cash in on a huge payday. The question is: Will Ariza continue his NBA journey or stay with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?
Notable small forwards selected ahead of Ariza included Luke Jackson (No. 10 to the Cleveland Cavaliers), Dorell Wright (No. 19 to the Miami Heat), and Donta Smith (No. 34 to the Atlanta Hawks).
6. Rajon Rondo: First round, 21st pick in 2006 by Phoenix Suns
For all he’s been, and all he looks like he’ll be, Rajon Rondo was a tremendous pick for the Boston Celtics at No. 21 in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Rondo entered the draft after two seasons at the University of Kentucky and was selected by the Phoenix Suns and then traded to the Celtics.
In his first season as the Celtics’ starting point guard in 2007-08, Rondo averaged 11 points, five assists, and four rebounds and was a major playoff contributor during Boston’s championship run.
With Kevin Garnett sidelined during the 2009 Playoffs, Rondo, at just 23, nearly averaged a triple-double in 14 games (16.9 points, 9.8 assists, 9.7 rebounds).
He was the first point guard selected in the 2006 NBA Draft, but notables Adam Morrison (No. 3 to the Charlotte Bobcats) and Renaldo Balkman (No. 20 to the New York Knicks) were selected ahead of him.
5. Rashard Lewis: Second round, 32nd pick in 1998 by Seattle SuperSonics
Rashard Lewis has always been a unique talent, standing 6’10” while shooting 39 percent from three for his career.
Lewis slipped in the 1998 NBA Draft because he opted to skip college and go straight to the NBA from high school. The Seattle SuperSonics made him the third pick of the second round (No. 32 overall).
In 11 NBA seasons (nine with Seattle, two with the Orlando Magic), Lewis has averaged 17 points and six rebounds and made two All-Star teams.
Among the players selected ahead of Lewis are Keon Clark (No. 13 to the Orlando Magic), Bryce Drew (No. 16 to the Houston Rockets), and Felipe Lopez (No. 24 to the San Antonio Spurs).
4. Michael Redd: Second round, 43rd pick in 2000 by Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Redd has had a very nice career individually with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he’s failed to gain widespread acclaim because he’s yet to lead a team past the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Still, in nine seasons with the Bucks, Redd has averaged 21 points and shot 45 percent from the floor, 39 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free throw line.
He has tasted some team success, winning a Gold Medal with Team USA last summer in the Beijing Olympic Games.
Not bad for a mid-second round pick.
Redd has the option to become a free agent after next season. If he opts to stay with the Bucks in 2010-11, he’ll earn $18.3 million.
Redd was the 11th shooting guard selected in the 2001 NBA Draft and is one of only three players from that class to make an All-Star team. The others are Kenyon Martin (No. 1 to the New Jersey Nets) and Jamaal Magloire (No. 19 to the Charlotte Hornets).
3. Gilbert Arenas: Second round, 31st pick in 2001 by Golden State Warriors
Arenas entered the 2001 NBA Draft with little hype, with most league scouts saying he lacked the size of a shooting guard (6’4”, 215 pounds) or the dribbling and passing skills of a point guard.
He was used to hearing critics say he wouldn’t succeed, so from a young age, Arenas wore No. 0 on his jersey in high school and at the University of Arizona. “Agent Zero” was born.
The Golden State Warriors made Arenas the second pick of the second round (31st overall), and in two years with the Warriors and six with the Washington Wizards, Arenas’ mission of proving the doubters wrong is almost accomplished.
He’s struggled with injuries the last two seasons, but in the 2005-06 and 2006-2007 seasons, Arenas averaged 29 and 28 points per game, respectively. He’s a three-time All Star and was an All-NBA Second-Team Member in 2007.
Arenas was the seventh shooting guard selected in the 2001 NBA Draft, behind the likes of Jeryl Sasser (No. 22 to the Orlando Magic), Brandon Armstrong (No. 23 to the Houston Rockets), and Trenton Hassell (No. 30 to the Chicago Bulls).
2. Manu Ginobili: Second round, 57th pick in 1999 by San Antonio Spurs
Charles Barkley loves him, but almost every NBA team hardly gave Manu Ginobili a second look in the 1999 NBA Draft.
Ginobili, who had been playing professionally in Europe when he entered the 1999 NBA Draft, lasted until the second-to-last pick in the draft, going 57th to the San Antonio Spurs. Ginobili, 21 at the time, opted to play a few more years overseas and didn’t join the Spurs until 2002.
The wait was worth it for both sides.
Ginobili has been a crucial piece of three Spurs championship teams in seven seasons. He was named the Sixth Man of the Year in 2008, when he averaged 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 31 minutes a game.
Four international players were selected before Ginobili in the 1999 NBA Draft, including Frederic Weis (No. 15 to the New York Knicks), Wang Zhizhi (No. 36 to the Dallas Mavericks), and Gordan Giricek (No. 40 to Dallas).
As Barkley would say, “Ginobili!”
1. Tony Parker: First round, 28th pick in 2001 by San Antonio Spurs
In six years, Tony Parker went from the last pick of the first round in the 2001 NBA Draft to NBA Finals MVP and husband of Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria.
Yes, even Parker couldn’t have seen this coming.
Parker, who was relatively unknown before the 2001 draft as a 19-year-old who had played a few years of professional ball in France, impressed San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich enough in pre-draft workouts to become the 28th and final pick of the first round.
Parker was the third point guard selected in the draft, behind Raul Lopez (No. 24 to the Utah Jazz) and Jamaal Tinsley (No. 27 to the Vancouver Grizzlies).
All Parker has done in eight seasons in San Antonio is help the Spurs win three NBA Championships, earning the NBA Finals MVP Award in 2007. For his career, he’s averaged 17 points and six assists, making three All-Star appearances.
Other notables selected ahead of Parker included Kwame Brown (No. 1 to the Washington Wizards), Eddy Curry (No. 4 to the Chicago Bulls), and Joseph Forte (No. 21 to the Boston Celtics).