After looking through 63 NBA Drafts, I have developed a list of the 10 greatest sleeper picks in NBA Draft history.
After looking at all of these drafts, I have noticed the overwhelming talent that is the first round, but also noticed the underrated talent of the second round, and in drafts of many years ago, the third round, fourth round, etc.
Though these players are not necessarily thought of as the best of the bunch, they can often come out and shock the world, turning from nobody's into superstars.
For example, Gilbert Arenas, now known as the superstar guard for the Washington Wizards, was given the number 0 while playing for the University of Arizona. He was given the number to symbolize precisely how many minutes he was going to play.
Of course, Gil (who still wears the number 0 and has even started a shoe line based on the name) defied the odds and is enjoying much success with the Wizards.
Sleeper picks, in my opinion, cannot be from the first round, and should be at least twenty picks into the draft (remember, back in the old days, the first round could have as few as eight picks) Everyone on the list is a relatively well known player, some current, some retired.
Unfortunately, the records of the later rounds of the earlier drafts (1947, which was the year of the inaugural draft through the mid to late 1950's) was not available at my disposal, and though this probably doesn't have a major effect on the list, might have effected the list in a small way.
Though this list is about sleeper picks, it also includes players who went undrafted, which adds to the fun. Lets take a look at who cracked the top 10 (and just to add some more drama I set it backwards, from 10 to 1).
Lewis today is recognized as one of the better players in the game, well at least by the standards of the Orlando Magic.
After the 2006-2007 season and an extremely productive 9 year run with the Sonics, Lewis went on to sign a gigantic 6 year, $118 Million contract.
Lewis came into the NBA straight out of high school, and was passed up by his hometown Houston Rockets 3 times in the first round. Considering who the Rockets took with those 3 picks, (Michael Dickerson, Mirsad Turkcan and Bryce Drew) the Rockets would have been much better off sticking with the hometown kid.
Though Lewis was taken incredibly early in the second round, almost to the point where he can be considered a late first round pick, he has done enough in his career up to this point where he can be considered a great sleeper pick.
The Sonics did their homework on this guy. Through 11 years, Lewis has averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
This decision could be called questionable on my part, because Ellis has been in the league only 4 years.
It is hard to be recognized as a sleeper pick if you have only been in the league for 4 years, because the whole point of a sleeper pick is you have started out from a nobody late second round pick or undrafted player and developed into one of the game's elite.
The thing with Ellis is that he has done that in just four years. Ellis has already established himself as one of the best guards in the league. As of now, the only thing stopping him is his decision making (he missed over 50 games last year due to an injury resulting from a moped accident).
After a highly successful 2007-2008 season, the Warriors rewarded Ellis by giving him a 6 year, $67 million contract.
Throughout his career, Ellis has averaged 16 points a game, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game, with his best year coming in 2007-2008, in which he 20.2 points, 5 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
At first, Bruce Bowen was a journeyman. Before he took one step on an NBA court, he played for the Rockford Lightning in the Continental League and for 3 teams in France.
He was 25, 3 years removed from college when he took his first step on an NBA hardwood with the Miami Heat. Bowen went from the Heat to the Boston Celtics where he was for 2 years.
He then signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, but halfway into his first season with the Sixers he was traded back to the Heat. After one more season with the Heat, he caught his big break with the San Antonio Spurs.
In his 8 years as a Spur, he has won 3 NBA Championships, has been a NBA All-Defensive player for 5 years straight, and had a 500 consecutive game streak that lasted throughout most of his time with the Spurs.
Bowen has one of the most remarkable comeback stories, and is a perfect example of what someone can do with their career even if they aren't the 1st pick of the draft.
From the beginning to the end, Robinson was a valuable member of which ever team he was on. Whether it was coming off the bench for Portland early in his career, or being a valuable member of the Nets at the very end, Robinson was a well respected player at all ends of the spectrum.
At the height of his career, he was as good as anyone. He averaged 20 points per game in 3 straight seasons. Robinson averaged at least 18 points per game in 5 different seasons.
Though he may not be remembered for being an all time great, Robinson is yet another example of a player making a remarkable career when nobody expects him to.
What makes Laimbeer special on this list, besides the fact that he is the Detroit Pistons all time leading rebounder, is the fact that he is the only 3rd round pick on this list.
Laimbeer played at a time where the draft consisted of more than two rounds, and in my opinion, that makes it even more special and even more of an accomplishment.
The fact that instead of being the 40th or 50th guy taken and have a solid career for himself, which would be an accomplishment, he was the 65th pick, which makes it even more remarkable.
Laimbeer isn't No. 1 on this list for a reason. Though he averaged a double-double for 5 straight years, he isn't the most dynamic player on this list.
Even so, Laimbeer has come to do some pretty amazing things in his career. He finished his 14 year career with 12.9 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game and 2 assists per game, though at one point he had 13 rebounds per game.
He was as productive as he was crazy, and that says a lot for the funky haired party goer that is Dennis Rodman.
Though his social life often had him out partying late into the morning, he never forgot to show up to the games, and was always one of the most influential players on the court.
With the great Chuck Daly led Pistons teams of the late 80's and the Phil Jackson led Chicago Bulls of the mid to late 90's, Rodman racked up 4 NBA Championships.
He averaged over 14 rebounds per game in 7 straight seasons, and over 10 rebounds per game in 10 straight seasons.
Though he had all of this success, Rodman was not always a superstar. He played his college ball at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and was not expected to be a big time player coming out of college.
You can argue that Rodman should possibly be a little bit higher on this list, but I am going to leave him at 5.
It took me a long time to decide the top 5. The reason I put Arenas ahead of Rodman is because Rodman, though also a second round pick, was selected 27th, which is the modern day equivalent to a late first round pick.
Not to say that if he was in reality a late first round pick he wouldn't be on this list, but for our sake, Arenas will go ahead of Rodman. I love Gil's story. He started off at University of Arizona, where Lute Olsen gave him the number 0 for how many minutes he would be playing, and basically saying to him "you're gonna have to work really hard if you want any chance to play for this team."
Arenas took the challenge, and worked hard enough so he would make himself a second round pick, the 31st overall to the Golden State Warriors. After two rather productive seasons with the Warriors, he signed with the Washington Wizards, where he has been one of the best players in the NBA.
When healthy, he has been a top 5 scorer in the league. Gil Zero has played in all of 15 games over the last 2 years due to injuries. Between 2004-2007, Arenas has averaged at least 25 points each of those seasons.
Injuries have slowed him down, but regardless, Gil Arenas is a perfect example of what can happen if you use a slow start to your career as a motivational tool.
Michael Redd is the perfect example of a sleeper pick. Not much was expected of Redd, maybe a decent sixth man at best.
In fact, during his rookie season, he only played in 6 games. But over time, Redd developed, and earned himself more and more playing time.
During his second season, he played in 67 games with 20 minutes a game, averaging 11.4 points. In 2002-2003, his third season, his numbers got even better, upping his minutes from 21 to 28, and averaging 15.1 points.
His breakthrough season, though, was 2003-2004, when he got his first chance at being a full time starter. In 82 games, and 82 starts, Redd averaged 21.7 points, and a career high 5 rebounds. Now, Redd is a household name in the NBA. When healthy, he is almost always named to the all star team, and he has continued to improve his game.
But then there's that issue. Injuries.
Redd missed 29 games in 2006-2007 and 49 games in 2008-2009, and the Bucks suffered big time during his absence.
Redd, like Arenas, was a low-caliber player, and in the matter of a few years, turned himself into a high caliber player.
Ginobili is now a household name in the NBA, but the Argentinian was not always a superstar. Before he was a star for the Spurs, he played in some semi-pro leagues in Argentina.
Though he was a late draft pick, (57th overall) he was expected to be relatively productive for the Spurs. But this outcome was not expected.
Over a seven-year career with San Antonio, Manu has a career average of nearly 15 points per game, despite averaging just 27 minutes a game.
His best season came in 2007-2008, a season in which he averaged 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 31.1 minutes per game, all career highs for the former 6th man of the year. You might argue that Ginobili ins't as productive a player as, lets say, Michael Redd, considering that Redd has averaged 20 points 6 of the 9 years of his career.
I put Ginobili over Redd simply because Ginobili has been more clutch and has had more of an impact on his team winning an NBA Championship. This goes without saying that Michael Redd has been THE most productive player on the Bucks in the last 5 years.
But Ginobili goes a little higher because he has been the 6th man for the team that has won 3 NBA Championships during his time on the Spurs.
Wallace might not be the best player on this list. In fact, I don't think he is (Dennis Rodman, and maybe Bill Laimbeer would go ahead of him).
Though he might not be the best player on this list, this list is not about the best player to be a sleeper, it's about getting the most value for a player who was not expected to be of much value in the league.
Wallace is exactly what this list is about. He who came out of Virginia Union, a Division II school, signed with the Bullets, and not much was expected out of the young center.
Wallace is 1 of 2 undrafted players on this list, the other would be Bruce Bowen. You could argue that Wallace has had more or less success that Bowen, but the reason that Wallace goes significantly higher than Bowen is due to the fact that Bowen played professionally in France for 3 years.
Though Wallace did play semi-professional basketball for Italy for 1/2 a year to a year, this does not compare to Bowen's 3 years of experience.
Wallace, undoubtedly came out of the blue to become one of the most dominant centers in an era that is not known for its Centers (other than Shaq, there weren't many other dominant centers).
Wallace was the center for the Detroit Pistons team that won the NBA Championship in 2002-2003, and the Pistons team that made it to the NBA Finals in 2003-2004. Wallace has averaged as many as 15 rebounds per game, (2002-2003) and has averaged at least 10 rebounds per game in 7 straight seasons, and at least 12 in 5 straight seasons.
Obviously one of the most talented players we have seen in the last 10 years, Wallace has shown us that you really don't need to be a high draft pick (or for that matter, a draft pick at all) to be a successful player in the NBA.
Andres Nocioni (Undrafted) 2001
Brad Miller (Undrafted) 1998
Carlos Boozer (2nd round, 34th overall) 2002
Mehmet Okur (2nd round, 38th overall) 2001
Mo Williams (2nd round, 47th overall) 2003
Nate Archibald (2nd round, 19th overall) 1970
Ramon Sessions (2nd round, 56th overall) 2007 (ok, he's only been in the league for 2 seasons, but he has showed signs of maturity on the court, which only leads to good things.
He might not be a great player, but the Bucks have gotten productive point guard services from him the last two seasons, so i'll put him on the Honorable Mentions)
I hope that I have sent the message that you don't have to be a high draft pick to be a good player. As we have seen, some of the best players of today, (Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen, Gil Arenas, Manu Ginobili, Michael Redd, Monta Ellis, Rashard Lewis) and yesterday (Cliff Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer) have gone down as some of the better players in NBA history.