The Best Pick at Every NBA Draft Position over the Last Decade
During draft season, every single NBA team has hope.
For the teams making their picks in the lottery, all it takes is striking gold, and the course of the franchise could be reversed for the foreseeable future. For those drafting outside the top 14 selections, a steal could be the difference between a first-round exit and getting to hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy in years to come.
Over the past decade, teams have managed to land impact players with nearly every one of the 60 slots in the NBA draft. There are certainly exceptions—most notably one second-round slot that hasn't produced a single positive contributor.
But for the most part, each pick—even those buried deep in the second round—offers hope.
That hope won't go away until the player drafted definitively proves he doesn't belong in the NBA. From now until the start of the 2015-16 campaign, optimism simply reigns supreme.
Perhaps the positive vibes will be flowing even more once you see the success that has followed every draft slot. These standouts, the ones who have submitted the most noteworthy careers since being drafted in 2005 or later, represent the best-case scenarios for everyone, ranging from the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 60 to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 1.
They're the ones whose accolades, numbers and memories surpass their peers from the same draft slot over the last 10 years. And they're the ones you want to keep in mind when your team is on the clock during the June 25 festivities.
Note: All honorable mentions and dishonorable mentions are made solely for basketball reasons.
Picks 60-56: Thomas, N/A, Hummel, Gortat, Johnson
60. Isaiah Thomas in 2011 by the Sacramento Kings
It's not easy to go from being Mr. Irrelevant to making a positive name for yourself in the NBA, but Isaiah Thomas is one of the few to have done so in recent years. The diminutive scorer from Washington thrived as a rookie for the Sacramento Kings, whether he was starting or coming off the bench, and he's only improved since then.
Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists during the 2013-14 season, but he moved away from Sacramento during the following offseason. Playing for the Phoenix Suns didn't hold him back—and neither did serving as a scoring spark plug for the Boston Celtics after a midseason deal.
Honorable Mention: Robert Sacre in 2012 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
There's literally no good choice here.
Of the 10 players selected at No. 59 in the last decade, only two have suited up in even a single NBA game. Both of those prospects—Damir Markota and D.J. Strawberry—earned minus-0.2 win shares in their professional careers, and we're not about to reward someone who was unable to serve as a positive contributor.
Cenk Akyol, Marcus Denmon, Bojan Dubljevic, Chinemelu Elonu, Adam Hanga, Stanley Robinson, Xavier Thames and Deron Washington are the other eight, but none have a single appearance on their resumes.
58. Robbie Hummel in 2012 by the Minnesota Timberwolves
Had he avoided all of the ACL tears that plagued him at Purdue, Robbie Hummel might have been a special player at the NBA level. But the injuries drove down his draft stock, especially because he stuck around the college game so long that he played out his age-24 season as a rookie (granted, there was one year between that and the draft).
Against the odds, Hummel has stuck in the Minnesota Timberwolves' rotation for two campaigns. In his 45 appearances as a sophomore, he averaged 16.5 minutes per game and earned a 9.7 player efficiency rating. Considering he's competing against Derrick Caracter, Lester Hudson and Uros Slokar for this spot, that's more than enough.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Caracter in 2010 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
57. Marcin Gortat in 2005 by the Phoenix Suns (traded to the Orlando Magic)
Two players have suited up in an NBA game after being selected at No. 57 in the last decade.
The first is Ryan Reid, who played in a grand total of five games for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2011-12 campaign, producing a total of eight points and two rebounds. The other is Marcin Gortat.
To put in perspective how much better The Polish Hammer has been than any other player from this slot, he's recorded at least eight points and two boards in 320 different contests. And in turn, that makes this not much of a contest.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Reid in 2010 by the Indiana Pacers (traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder).
56. Amir Johnson in 2005 by the Detroit Pistons
Though he was one of the more nondescript prep-to-pro candidates before the NBA's new age restrictions outlawed that route, this one-time Louisville commit has carved out quite the solid career for himself. Amir Johnson has certainly never been a star, putting together his best season in 2012-13 at 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game for the Toronto Raptors, but he's stuck around in a large role for a long time.
The No. 56 pick of the 2005 NBA draft played only 11 games in his first two season for the Detroit Pistons. But he steadily improved, two teams traded him twice during the 2009 offseason—from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks, then from the Bucks to the Raptors—and he just kept getting better north of the border.
Honorable Mention: Ramon Sessions in 2007 by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Picks 55-51: Mills, Adams, Aldemir, Price, Whaley
55. Patty Mills in 2009 by the Portland Trail Blazers
Who could have expected a 6'0" Australian shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body to go from playing at Saint Mary's to making a significant impact at the NBA level? Even during his final season with the Gaels, Patty Mills averaged only 18.4 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Mills never had a huge impact with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he's done nothing but shine since signing with the San Antonio Spurs during the summer of 2012. Not only has he become a valuable bench contributor, but Mills played a significant part in the title-winning 2014 run, even posting 10.2 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting from the field and a 56.5 percent clip from downtown against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Honorable Mention: Jeremy Evans in 2010 by the Utah Jazz.
54. Hassan Adams in 2006 by the New Jersey Nets
There are no good choices here.
We could go with Tornike Shengelia, who had trouble with turnovers during his only two NBA seasons and earned a total of minus-0.2 win shares. Nemanja Dangubic, Arsalan Kazemi, Maarty Leunen, Milan Macvan, Brad Newley and Robert Vaden haven't even played in the NBA, though there's time for a few of them to change that.
The only options are Willie Warren, Dijon Thompson and Hassan Adams, and the last of the three had the best career. Of course, that's not saying much, seeing as he scored only 185 points during his two years in the Association, which were separated by a season abroad in Italy.
Honorable Mention: Dijon Thompson in 2005 by the New York Knicks (traded to the Phoenix Suns).
53. Furkan Aldemir in 2012 by the Los Angeles Clippers (traded to the Houston Rockets)
There haven't been any true steals at No. 53 in the last decade, either. But thanks to DeAndre Liggins, Nando De Colo and Furkan Aldemir, there's at least a trio of players who have made positive impacts during their NBA careers.
Aldemir doesn't stand out by much, but the rookie season he just completed with the Philadelphia 76ers already pushes him to the front of the group. He averaged 6.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes while knocking down 51.3 percent of his looks from the field, and that keeps hope alive that he could be a long-term rotation member in the City of Brotherly Love.
Honorable Mention: Nando De Colo in 2009 by the San Antonio Spurs.
52. A.J. Price in 2009 by the Indiana Pacers
There's something to be said for sticking in the NBA for so long after being drafted at No. 52. The Indiana Pacers took A.J. Price off the board all the way back in 2009, and he's still contributing to NBA squads after playing for the Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns during the 2014-15 campaign.
Though he did start 22 games out of necessity for the Washington Wizards back in 2012-13, Price has never been anything more than a first or second guard off the bench. But there's still value in that role, especially when a player can capably fill it for over half a decade.
Honorable Mention: Ognjen Kuzmic in 2012 by the Golden State Warriors.
51. Robert Whaley in 2005 by the Utah Jazz
Apparently, you don't want to be drafting in the early 50s if you're looking for major steals. The tradition of featuring players who never did much in their careers continues at No. 51, with Robert Whaley coming to the forefront.
Who's Whaley? The Walsh University standout played just 212 minutes for the Utah Jazz during his first and only season in the Association, and he earned exactly zero win shares. The only reason he's earning this spot is that JamesOn Curry serves as the only other non-negative contributor to go at No. 51, and that non-relative of the league's reigning MVP played less than a minute during his lone game on an NBA court.
Honorable mention: JamesOn Curry in 2007 by the Chicago Bulls.
Picks 50-46: Gomes, Blatche, Gasol, Millsap, Green
50. Ryan Gomes in 2005 by the Boston Celtics
Ryan Gomes doesn't just take the cake here because he spent nearly 500 games in the league and was a consistent contributor for several teams. He was also quite good during his four-year peak, which began in 2006-07 with the Boston Celtics and ended after his 2009-10 campaign for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
During those years, Gomes averaged 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 36.2 percent on his looks from beyond the arc. Those are solid numbers for anyone, much less a player who was taken after 49 others during the 2005 NBA draft.
Honorable Mention: Lavoy Allen in 2011 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
49. Andray Blatche in 2005 by the Washington Wizards
Last summer, Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb extolled the merits of selecting Andray Blatche, calling him one of the Washington Wizards' best draft picks since 2000:
Given how few second-rounders even make it in this league, Blatche's career has been nothing if not a success story.
It took several seasons for Blatche to get his feet wet, but he started producing some pretty impressive numbers when the time arrived. He was subsequently rewarded with a lucrative contract extension in 2010 that paid him about $35 million over the course of five years. At times, Blatche struggled to measure up to that contract, and his popularity suffered as a result.
Blatche's time in the nation's capital came to a bitter end and involved the amnesty clause, but he'd already carved out a more distinguished career than anyone else selected with the No. 49 pick in the last decade.
Honorable Mention: Leon Powe in 2006 by the Denver Nuggets (traded to the Boston Celtics).
48. Marc Gasol in 2007 by the Los Angeles Lakers
This would be one of the easiest selections, as Marc Gasol laps the field with room to spare.
Even though he never played a single game for the Los Angeles Lakers, he netted them his older brother, Pau Gasol, who was a central figure for two title-winning squads and another iteration of the Lake Show that lost in the NBA Finals. Many viewed it as a lopsided trade at the time, but Marc's emergence has evened things out rather significantly.
Marc has gone on to carve out a potential Hall of Fame career with the Memphis Grizzlies, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and consistently serving as one of the league's best centers. His two-way ability is simply astounding, driven by an innate understanding of positioning on the defensive end and both fundamental excellence and finesse on the other side.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Kelly in 2013 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
47. Paul Millsap in 2006 by the Utah Jazz
The top three choices: Henry Walker (nee Bill Walker), Dominic McGuire and Paul Millsap.
That makes for a pretty simple narrowing-down process, especially now that the undersized big man from Louisiana Tech has continued to blossom while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. He was an overlooked contributor during the Utah Jazz portion of his career, constantly threatening for double-doubles and improving his scoring game all the while.
But now that he has two All-Star nods during his time in Atlanta, he's cemented himself as not only the best No. 47 pick of the last decade, but also one of the biggest steals in recent memory, regardless of where he was selected.
Honorable Mention: Henry Walker in 2008 by the Washington Wizards (traded to the Boston Celtics).
46. Danny Green in 2009 by the Cleveland Cavaliers
Could Jordan Clarkson take over this spot one day? Absolutely, thanks to the impressive finish to his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014-15.
Nonetheless, he still has a long way to go before he can catch Danny Green, who broke out in a big way for the San Antonio Spurs after the Cleveland Cavaliers waived him. The Spurs then cut him, which forced Green to ply his trade overseas during the 2011 NBA lockout. Green has since blossomed into one of the better three-and-D wing players in the league, and he's now primed to cash in during 2015's free-agency period.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Clarkson in 2014 by the Washington Wizards (traded to the Los Angeles Lakers).
Picks 45-41: Dragic, Budinger, Thornton, Gibson, Meeks
45. Goran Dragic in 2008 by the San Antonio Spurs (traded to the Phoenix Suns)
Between Goran Dragic and Lou Williams, there are two strong candidates for this spot. But Dragic has done more in less time, thanks to the merits of his 2013-14 campaign with the Phoenix Suns.
During that go-round, Dragic was an unstoppable offensive player, relentlessly creating his own shot in both the half court set and while running in transition. His slithery body control and deft shooting touch allowed him to score 20.3 points per game while posting a 60.4 true shooting percentage. Believe it or not, only 45 qualified players in NBA history have topped 20 and 60 during a single season, which puts this Slovenian combo guard in some rather impressive territory.
Honorable Mention: Lou Williams in 2005 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
44. Chase Budinger in 2009 by the Detroit Pistons (traded to the Houston Rockets)
For some inexplicable reason, the No. 44 pick hasn't produced much during the last 10 years. Lior Eliyahu, Reyshawn Terry and Ante Tomic haven't appeared in a single NBA game, while Martynas Andriuskevicius, Kim English, Charles Jenkins, Markel Brown and Jerome Jordan have put together rather undistinguished careers at the sport's highest level. To be fair, Brown still has a chance to change that.
But that doesn't leave us with much, and it allows Chase Budinger to rise into a featured spot, despite the seemingly never-ending injury setbacks that have plagued his career with the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves. The athletic Arizona product has looked impressive in short bursts, but every step forward seems to produce yet another limp.
Honorable Mention: Mike Muscala in 2013 by the Dallas Mavericks.
43. Marcus Thornton in 2009 by the Miami Heat (traded to the New Orleans Hornets)
Though Marcus Thornton has bounced from team to team and struggled to make a positive impact during the last few years, his career got off to a fantastic start after the New Orleans Hornets deemed him worthy of a second-round selection in 2009.
As a rookie out of LSU, Thornton averaged 14.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game by the bayou, and that was enough for him to make the All-Rookie Second Team.
But after forcing him to the bench, New Orleans traded him midway through his sophomore campaign, netting Carl Landry from the Sacramento Kings and then watching as the guard it gave up averaged 21.3 points per game for the rest of that 2010-11 season.
Honorable Mention: Mike Scott in 2012 by the Atlanta Hawks.
42. Daniel Gibson in 2006 by the Cleveland Cavaliers
If Patrick Beverley is able to rebound from his injury woes, sign a quality contract in free agency and continue to make an impact as a lockdown defensive stopper and an improving spot-up threat, he'll eventually take over here. But for now, it's still Daniel Gibson's name that has to appear as the representative for No. 42.
Gibson was never anything close to a star, though.
Sure, he was one of the better players on the Cleveland Cavaliers squads that consistently advanced deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs—and out of them in 2007—before LeBron James left town. But that's not exactly an impressive accomplishment, given the weakness of the supporting cast in Northeast Ohio.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Beverley in 2009 by the Los Angeles Lakers (traded to the Miami Heat).
41. Jodie Meeks in 2009 by the Milwaukee Bucks
Excluding Nikola Jokic, who could join the Denver Nuggets next season and make an immediate impact for the Mile High City residents, every single No. 41 pick in the last decade has suited up in at least one NBA game. Unfortunately, the vast majority haven't been very good.
In fact, eight of them—James Augustine, Jamaal Franklin, Nathan Jawai, Darius Morris, Chris Richard, Tyshawn Taylor, Roko Ukic and Jarvis Varnado—have combined to earn a grand total of 0.5 win shares during the entirety of their careers in the Association.
Jodie Meeks, though he hasn't developed into much more than a sharp-shooting floor-spacer who thrives as a complementary piece, has earned 20.7 win shares during his professional career, and he's never been worse than 0.9 in his rookie campaign.
Honorable Mention: Jarvis Varnado in 2010 by the Miami Heat.
Picks 40-36: Ellis, Middleton, Parsons, Mbah a Moute, Ilyasova
40. Monta Ellis in 2005 by the Golden State Warriors
It didn't take long for Monta Ellis to assert himself as a massive second-round steal. During his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, he struggled to find much of a rhythm while coming off the bench, but he emerged as a strong scorer the very next year and never looked back.
Ellis may not have any All-Star nods on his resume, but he's at least gotten close to earning the midseason honor on a number of occasions. Before the Warriors traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks, he seemed to serve as a mainstay on snub lists, and that's something no one else drafted at No. 40 in the last decade can claim.
Honorable Mention: Lance Stephenson in 2010 by the Indiana Pacers.
39. Khris Middleton in 2012 by the Detroit Pistons
"You have to play your game in this league. If you miss 10 in a row, you have to believe the next 10 are going to fall for you. Confidence is a huge thing in this league," Khris Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner midway through his breakout campaign in 2014-15.
The former Texas A&M standout started to prove himself one year earlier, but he truly embodied that mentality throughout this past season, which is now setting the stage for him to receive a contract that could fall in the $15 million-per-year range. For a player who finished off the 30s in the 2012 NBA draft, that's not too shabby.
Honorable Mention: Jonas Jerebko in 2009 by the Detroit Pistons.
38. Chandler Parsons in 2011 by the Houston Rockets
Here's another player whose career win shares (23.5) exceed the total of the other nine players drafted at this slot in the last 10 years. Travis Diener, Jon Brockman, Nate Wolters, Kyle Weaver, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyrylo Fesenko, Kosta Perovic, Quincy Miller and Andy Rautins have combined to earn just 19.5.
When Chandler Parsons left Florida, he was a well-rounded prospect who was good at everything and bad at nothing. No matter what role he needed to fill, it seemed impossible that he would be completely terrible in it.
And four years later, Parsons has developed into a similarly well-rounded player who's now great in a few areas and solid in the rest. That's a noticeable change, and he should continue proving it for the Dallas Mavericks once he gets back to 100 percent health.
Honorable Mention: Travis Diener in 2005 by the Orlando Magic.
37. Luc Mbah a Moute in 2008 by the Milwaukee Bucks
Even though Luc Mbah a Moute has never developed into a strong offensive contributor, he's consistently been a solid presence on the less glamorous end of the floor. The Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed five strong seasons of his point-preventing ability before trading him to the Sacramento Kings for a pair of second-round picks, and that's more than they possibly could've expected from a No. 37 selection.
During his time in Milwaukee, Mbah a Moute earned 11.4 defensive win shares, and that stacks up favorably against most players who were in the league from 2008-09 through 2012-13. In fact, only 64 players accumulated more during that stretch, and that puts this forward in the 92nd percentile.
Honorable Mention: Josh McRoberts in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers.
36. Ersan Ilyasova in 2005 by the Milwaukee Bucks
This Turkish forward has already enjoyed quite the strange career in the NBA, one filled with ups and downs that have left absolutely no one entirely sure how much he can bring to the table.
Is he capable of functioning as a dominant rebounder, like he has proved to be in brief stretches when handed a lot of playing time? Is he a floor-spacing stretch 4 who can knock down threes in bunches, as he did during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns? Is he just a decent starter who can provide a boost in a few different areas?
The Milwaukee Bucks never figured out Ersan Ilyasova, and now Stan Van Gundy will get a chance to do so after he and the Detroit Pistons traded for the forward during the early days of the 2015 offseason. But no matter what type of production he gleans from the 28-year-old, he's already emerged as a draft-day gem.
Honorable Mention: Omer Asik in 2008 by the Portland Trail Blazers (traded to the Chicago Bulls).
Picks 35-31: Jordan, Chalmers, Bass, Novak, Landry
35. DeAndre Jordan in 2008 by the Los Angeles Clippers
Believe it or not, the Clippers selected the league's best rebounding force five picks into the second round. Back when he was entering the NBA, DeAndre Jordan wasn't nearly the same player he is today, functioning much more as an athlete who played basketball than a basketball player with athleticism.
That's not just a difference of semantics, it's a monumental shift when a player falls into the latter category after years of fitting into the former.
Jordan has arrived there now, even if his defensive rotations could still use some work, and he'll likely never display much range on his jumper. He's a shot-blocking presence who deters attacks on the basket, he's the NBA's best rebounder and his height and the springs in his legs help him thrive when rolling to the hoop for another thunderous alley-oop finish.
Honorable Mention: Draymond Green in 2012 by the Golden State Warriors.
34. Mario Chalmers in 2008 by the Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to the Miami Heat)
Though No. 35 has two high-quality players drafted in the last decade, the pick one slot earlier can claim no such thing. Mario Chalmers is the best we have, even though he's never been more than a mediocre point guard who benefited from playing next to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh for a handful of seasons.
Of course, it's worth noting that the beneficiary was his reputation, not his individual statistical production.
Though the Miami Heat weren't nearly as successful during his rookie season, that's arguably when Chalmers peaked, averaging 10.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 42 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Honorable Mention: C.J. Miles in 2005 by the Utah Jazz.
33. Brandon Bass in 2005 by the New Orleans Hornets
Could Hassan Whiteside ultimately end up emerging as the top steal among No. 33 picks? Absolutely, though he'll have to stay healthy and mentally engaged after his out-of-nowhere breakout campaign for the Miami Heat in 2014-15. Of course, the Sacramento Kings aren't going to benefit from that, even though they're the organization that took him out of Marshall five years ago.
The man he'll be chasing is Brandon Bass, who has now served as a strong role player for the better part of a decade. All-Star bids and other accolades are never going to accompany this power forward, but he does have a unique skill set that allows him to remain valuable to the team rostering him.
Though mid-range jumpers aren't exactly en vogue these days, it's still valuable to have a frontcourt player capable of knocking them down. And that's not all Bass does, because he's also comfortable hitting them after putting the ball on the floor.
Honorable Mention: Hassan Whiteside in 2010 by the Sacramento Kings.
32. Steve Novak in 2006 by the Houston Rockets
Inexplicably, the No. 32 spot hasn't produced much talent in the last decade. Justin Harper and Walter Sharpe were negative contributors, while neither Tomas Satoransky nor Alex Abrines has suited up in a single NBA contest. On top of that, Gabe Pruitt, Daniel Ewing and Dexter Pittman have failed to make names for themselves.
K.J. McDaniels could develop into a steal if he lands on a team willing to give him a chance (aka not the Houston Rockets), but Steve Novak stands above the rest after excelling as a sharpshooting threat for nearly the full 10 years.
Though Novak is far from stardom, his ability to knock down threes and prevent double-teams from encircling, more talented offensive players made him a valuable commodity.
Honorable Mention: K.J. McDaniels in 2014 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
31. Carl Landry in 2007 by the Seattle SuperSonics (traded to the Houston Rockets)
It's a shame Carl Landry has labored away in obscurity for so long, because he's really been rather impressive for a number of years, showcasing his strength and touch around the basket even while the world looks right past him.
Landry was a valuable role player for the Houston Rockets during his first 2.5 professional seasons, but the franchise took advantage of his rising stock after he averaged 16.1 points and 5.5 rebounds through the first 52 games of the 2009-10 campaign. It sent away him and a few other pieces (including Tracy McGrady), and the return on investment in the multi-team deal included Kevin Martin, a 2012 first-round pick and plenty more.
How many people knew that Landry suited up in 70 games for the Sacramento Kings this year and averaged 15.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 51.5 percent from the field?
Honorable Mention: Nikola Pekovic in 2008 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
30. Jimmy Butler, 2011, Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler may not have spent nearly as long in the NBA as David Lee has, and the power forward is the only other reasonable choice for this spot. If those two didn't exist, we'd be debating between Festus Ezeli and Joel Freeland.
But even though Lee has a pair of All-Star appearances under his belt, he never became a true superstar. Butler, on the other hand, is already bursting into that category after thriving for the Chicago Bulls during the 2014-15 campaign.
No longer is he a star defender with a limited offensive arsenal.
Throughout his breakout season, Butler excelled on offense, creating more of his own looks and finding his stroke from the outside. He averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game—numbers made even more impressive because he hit 46.2 percent of his shots from the field and connected on his threes at a 37.8 percent clip.
In order to help his career further surpass Lee's, Butler will have to maintain this type of production for a while longer, but there's no reason to doubt his ability to do exactly that. The swingman is only 25 years old, and he's a bit of a late bloomer.
If anything, the best is yet to come for one of the biggest draft-day gems of the last decade.
Honorable Mention: David Lee in 2005 by the New York Knicks.
Dishonorable Mention: Christian Eyenga in 2009 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
29. Cory Joseph, 2011, San Antonio Spurs
- Toney Douglas, 9.2
- Cory Joseph, 8.3
- D.J. White, 3.8
- Daniel Orton, 1.0
- Wayne Simien, 0.9
- Archie Goodwin, 0.4
- Alando Tucker, 0.4
- Josh Huestis, 0.0 (no NBA appearances)
- Marquis Teague, minus-0.8
- Mardy Collins, minus-1.6
No first-round draft slot has produced less impressive players than No. 29 during the last 10 years. To drive that point home, here's the entire list of players selected with the penultimate pick of the opening round along with how many win shares they've earned during their careers:
That's awfully uninspiring, especially because No. 29 has produced two of the least effective NBA players in recent memory who actually received some playing time. There just isn't a single standout here, and that forces us to choose between Douglas and Joseph.
The latter is the pick here, as he's contributed about as much as Douglas despite entering the league two years later. Thanks to his defensive ability, he's been a rotation member for the San Antonio Spurs until the number of players Gregg Popovich uses shrinks a bit during the playoffs.
But let's not pretend that this featured player is on the same level as the vast majority of the other draft picks you'll see pictured throughout the rest of this article.
Honorable Mention: Toney Douglas in 2009 by the Los Angeles Lakers (traded to the New York Knicks).
Dishonorable Mention: Mardy Collins in 2006 by the New York Knicks.
28. Tiago Splitter, 2007, San Antonio Spurs
Don't be fooled by Tiago Splitter's inability to stay healthy and on the floor for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014-15 campaign. When he's not plagued by nagging injuries that affect his stamina and ability to move around on the defensive end, he's much more of an impact player.
The Spurs drafted Splitter in 2007, and though he didn't make his NBA debut until a Nov. 1, 2010, game against the Los Angeles Clippers, they retained his rights and exhibited nothing but patience. After all, this Brazilian big man was honing his skills overseas, playing for Saski Baskonia in the Spanish ACB.
When he arrived, Splitter served as an immediate double-double threat for San Antonio, just in limited minutes. He'd continue to improve and gain comfort in Gregg Popovich's rotation, eventually beginning to serve as Tim Duncan's frontcourt counterpart during the 2012-13 season, which just so happened to coincide with the first run to the NBA Finals of his career.
Has Splitter ever been a superstar? Not even close, and he's failed to achieve more minor celestial status despite the Spurs going 33-1 in 2013-14 when he managed to score at least seven points. His career highs still stand at 26 points (one of just seven times he's broken the 20-point barrier) and 14 rebounds, though it's worth noting those high-water marks didn't take place on the same night.
But who else is going to take this spot from him? Few No. 28 picks have done much with their NBA careers, and the successful selections are basically limited to Splitter, Greivis Vasquez, Ian Mahinmi, Wayne Ellington and Norris Cole. Even that may be a bit generous.
Honorable Mention: Greivis Vasquez in 2010 by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Dishonorable Mention: Maurice Ager in 2006 by the Dallas Mavericks.
27. Arron Afflalo, 2007, Detroit Pistons
If the second half of his last season is any indication, this is eventually going to be Rudy Gobert's spot to lose. The French center has a ginormous pterodactyl wingspan that allowed him to anchor the Utah Jazz defense in 2014-15, but his career is still far too young for him to supplant Arron Afflalo as the placeholder.
One of the league's ultimate professionals and a total gym rat, Afflalo has worked on his craft quite a bit since leaving behind the sunny UCLA campus. His career has been filled with movement from one team to another—the Detroit Pistons, Denver Nuggets (twice), Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers have all rostered him during his eight-year career—but it's not because no one wants him.
Quite the contrary, as Afflalo's defensive ability and willingness to serve as a perimeter sniper both make him a valuable wing commodity. In particular, his game seemed to flourish during his final season with the Orlando Magic, since he was in contention for an All-Star bid while scoring 18.2 points per game.
Granted, the circumstances would have greatly aided such an honor. Not only was he tasked with serving as the No. 1 option on a team with a talent deficit and myriad young players, but he was competing against other guards from the Eastern Conference.
In many ways, it parallels this competition for the No. 27 spot. There's really just not another reasonable candidate here, and Gobert, DeMarre Carroll, Darrell Arthur and Linas Kleiza are the only other notable names to come from this particular spot in the first round.
Honorable Mention: Rudy Gobert in 2013 by the Denver Nuggets (traded to the Utah Jazz).
Dishonorable Mention: JaJuan Johnson in 2011 by the New Jersey Nets (traded to the Boston Celtics).
26. George Hill, 2008, San Antonio Spurs
Leave it to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to sing the praises of one of his favorite former players, per Paul Garcia of Project Spurs back in 2012:
I said it publicly a lot, he was my favorite player for a whole lot of reasons. He came along way. When he got here, he couldn't run the pick-and-roll.
When we first saw him in the summer, we thought, 'Oh, my God, what are we going to do with this guy?'
He worked so hard before practice, after practice, everyday, and became a team favorite. (He) wouldn’t say a word in the beginning, (but) by the time he was traded, he was holding court on the bus and telling jokes, and talking and really blossoming as an individual. It was fun to see that growth in him.
The player he's referencing is George Hill, who spent the first three seasons of his career with the San Antonio Spurs before they dealt him to the Indiana Pacers for a future Finals MVP named Kawhi Leonard. Since then, the point guard has only continued to improve, and he's now coming off a season that leaves him as arguably one of the most underrated floor generals in basketball.
Hill is more than a giant pair of deltoids. He's not just a defensive stopper anymore either. He's become a two-way standout, one who helped the Pacers score an additional 8.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor during the 2014-15 campaign.
The 29-year-old has truly come a long way since playing out his final collegiate season at IUPUI and entering the league as a raw commodity who received just 16.5 minutes per game of playing time during his rookie go-round with the Spurs.
Honorable Mention: Taj Gibson in 2009 by the Chicago Bulls.
Dishonorable Mention: Jordan Hamilton in 2011 by the Dallas Mavericks (traded to the Denver Nuggets).
25. Nicolas Batum, 2008, Houston Rockets (traded to Portland Trail Blazers)
The No. 25 draft slot has been fraught with peril during the last decade.
Clint Capela could work to change that if he keeps improving for the Houston Rockets, but the D-League call-up hasn't done much during the regular-season portion of his career, even if he was a surprising positive during the Houston Rockets' postseason run.
Beyond the big man, there are plenty of players who have failed to make memorable impacts—Morris Almond, Rodrigue Beaubois (injuries to blame here), MarShon Brooks, Reggie Bullock, Dominique Jones, Johan Petro and Tony Wroten (still time for the Philadelphia 76ers guard). When Shannon Brown stands out as one of the gems in a group, that's a problem.
But there is one legitimate player worth featuring, and that's the versatile French forward named Nicolas Batum.
Ever since the Houston Rockets traded his draft rights to the Portland Trail Blazers, Batum has worked his tail off to make a positive impact on both ends of the court. He's served as a floor-spacing option in Rip City while consistently taking on the other team's best wing player, and his ball-handling skills add to what the Blazers can do on any given night.
As a result, he's the owner of some of the more unique lines in the last decade. He's recorded four triple-doubles during his NBA career and remains the last player to throw up the ultra-unique five-by-five, which he earned by recording 11 points, five rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and five blocks against the New Orleans Hornets in a one-point win during the 2012-13 season.
Suffice it to say, no other player drafted at No. 25 has so much as sniffed a line like that.
Honorable Mention: Shannon Brown in 2006 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Dishonorable Mention: Morris Almond in 2007 by the Utah Jazz.
24. Serge Ibaka, 2008, Seattle SuperSonics
Now we have to make one of the tougher decisions.
In one corner is Serge Ibaka, the shot-blocking Congolese big man with three-point range on his ever-improving jumper. He was drafted back in 2008 and joined the Oklahoma City Thunder after spending one year with Ricoh Manresa in the Spanish ACB.
An immediate-impact player on the defensive end, Ibaka has consistently improved on offense, though OKC has never been able to turn him into a star capable of stepping in for Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant.
In the other corner is Kyle Lowry, the bulldog of a point guard who's never afraid to sacrifice his body by stepping in to take a charge. Though he had some attitude issues earlier in his career and didn't always enjoy the reputation he does now, he's put together a successful career as a two-way floor general, and he's only gotten better since joining the Toronto Raptors.
After leaving Villanova and immediately joining the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006, Lowry does have a few extra years on Ibaka. But that's not enough to counteract the slow start to his career, as it took him until 2010-11 to average either 10 points or five assists per game.
Lowry didn't last long with the Grizz, spending just 2.5 playoff-less seasons on Beale Street before he was included in a three-team deal that sent him to the Houston Rockets. Memphis gave up nothing more than him and received Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and the 2009 first-round pick that turned into DeMarre Carroll.
Even just three years into his career, it would've been hard to deal Ibaka for such a mediocre return. After all, his third go-round saw him average 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and a league-best 3.7 rejections while filling a key hole for an Oklahoma City squad that eventually lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Lowry in 2006 by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Dishonorable Mention: Damion James in 2010 by the Atlanta Hawks (traded to the New Jersey Nets).
23. Wilson Chandler, 2007, New York Knicks
In order to make the most of his many talents, Wilson Chandler has to be in the right situation.
Though he has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter with some semblance of consistency, he has to be suiting up for an organization that's capable of working to get him space. Forcing up contested triples and attempting to create his own looks aren't going to do wonders for his offensive numbers. Similarly, he needs help behind him on defense so that he can make the occasional gamble.
Chandler only has one year with an above-average player efficiency rating, surprising as that may seem to some. During the 2012-13 season with the Denver Nuggets, he earned a 16.6 PER while averaging 13 points and 5.1 rebounds.
But even during the years in which his PER failed to hit the league-average mark of 15, he was able to make a positive impact if for no other reasons than the threat of his jumper spacing out defenses, his willingness to contribute in ways that don't show up in the box score and his effort level on the less glamorous end.
Plus, who else is going to take the honors at No. 23?
Unless we give extra credit to Trevor Booker for his volleyball skills when the shot clock is about to hit zero, the big man hasn't done enough during his brief NBA career. Kosta Koufos hasn't been much more than a minutes-eating big since he entered the league, and the careers of players such as Nikola Mirotic and Rodney Hood are far too young to garner serious consideration.
Almost by default, it has to be Chandler.
Honorable Mention: Trevor Booker in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to the Washington Wizards).
Dishonorable Mention: John Jenkins in 2012 by the Atlanta Hawks.
22. Kenneth Faried, 2011, Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried's career has already been a strange one.
The best collegiate rebounder in modern history exited Morehead State after four years of production, but he stayed on the draft board until No. 22, held back by his lack of blue-blood pedigree and his undersized nature. But the Denver Nuggets snatched him up and allowed him to make an immediate impact with his tenacity on the glass and undying passion on the floor.
A fan favorite in Denver, the Manimal kept improving during the first three seasons of his career then broke out while playing for Team USA at the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Spain. After his stellar set of performances, he inked a major contract extension and subsequently regressed, failing to showcase any improvement and never really fitting in with former head coach Brian Shaw's offensive or defensive systems.
Was it solely Faried's fault? It's hard to say, but the stretch run looked rather promising. After all, he averaged 16.3 points and 10.0 rebounds while shooting 53.8 percent from the field after interim head coach Melvin Hunt took over for the final 23 games of the season.
The dreadlocked power forward is obviously a flawed player. He struggles on defense (especially against stretch 4s) and doesn't have convincing range on the offensive end. But when he's allowed to run in transition and attack the glass with ferocity, he's a valuable asset on any team.
Honorable Mention: Jarrett Jack in 2005 by the Denver Nuggets (traded to the Portland Trail Blazers).
Dishonorable Mention: Fab Melo in 2012 by the Boston Celtics.
21. Rajon Rondo, 2006, Phoenix Suns (Traded to the Boston Celtics)
Who else could it be?
Only one player drafted at No. 21 in the last decade is a potential Hall of Famer, and it's certainly not Ryan Anderson, Nate Robinson, Darren Collison, Gorgui Dieng or Jared Sullinger, even if those players have all become valuable commodities for their NBA teams. Rajon Rondo simply has to be the choice here, even if his lackluster performance for the Boston Celtics and disastrous showings with the Dallas Mavericks this past season tarnished his reputation.
Frankly, Rondo could've retired after tearing his ACL against the Atlanta Hawks in 2013, and he still would've been the easy choice.
Though he hasn't been the same after that devastating injury, this point guard was quite special before it. He helped Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen win a championship in 2008, though he was admittedly playing a much smaller role. He helped lead the Beantown offense in the years that followed.
Rondo can't shoot, and he's never been able to. But when healthy, he's arguably the league's best distributor, and his work both on defense and in the rebounding game help out his teams immensely. With a knack for stepping up in spotlight games, Rondo has been a triple-double threat for years and one of the best at specific aspects of his craft.
"I mean, that 2010 series [between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals] is my favorite series of all time, just because it was the most competitive one," Kobe Bryant told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald in January 2014. "It was the most difficult one. I mean, we're going against four future Hall of Famers. That doesn't happen too often."
Though he didn't mention Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo by name, it's a pretty safe assumption that he wasn't referring to Glen Davis or Kendrick Perkins. Or anyone else drafted at No. 21 in the last decade, for that matter.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Anderson in 2008 by the New Jersey Nets.
Dishonorable Mention: Nolan Smith in 2011 by the Portland Trail Blazers.
20. Donatas Motiejunas, 2011, Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to Houston Rockets)
The list of notable No. 20 picks since 2005 isn't exactly brimming over with talent.
First, we have a collection of players who have already flamed out or aren't ready to make positive contributions at the sport's highest level quite yet. Julius Hodge, Eric Maynor and James Anderson fit into the first group, while Bruno Caboclo is the lone occupant of the second—for the time being at least.
But beyond that quartet, all that's left is a group of players who haven't come within shouting distance of even a single All-Star bid. Renaldo Balkman, Alexis Ajinca, Jason Smith, Evan Fournier and Tony Snell are all candidates for the honor, but Donatas Motiejunas has already taken over.
That's how weak this slot has been. The Lithuanian big man was drafted in 2011, spent another year abroad before joining the Association and wasn't a consistent starter until this past season. He's still earning the honor.
Of course, Motiejunas was actually quite good for the Houston Rockets in 2014-15. He averaged 12 points and 5.9 rebounds while the team was riddled with injuries, and he did so while knocking down 50.4 percent of his shots from the field and 36.8 percent of his looks from downtown.
Though Snell should make a charge under new Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, this 24-year-old power forward already has a bit of a head start.
Honorable Mention: Tony Snell in 2013 by the Chicago Bulls.
Dishonorable Mention: Julius Hodge in 2005 by the Denver Nuggets.
19. Jeff Teague, 2009, Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague has now proved that he can run the offense for a 60-win team.
And while the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks were a strong defensive squad, it's not like Teague was holding down the fort for a middling scoring unit. Quite the contrary, as he played the Tony Parker role for a Mike Budenholzer offense that scored 108.9 points per 100 possessions, trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks throughout the entire NBA.
This Wake Forest product has become a water bug of a point guard, one who can use his quickness and ball control to dart between defenders and work his way into the teeth of the defense. He's always been able to pass in traffic, but an improved floater has expanded his offensive arsenal rather significantly, even if he remains an inconsistent jump-shooter from the perimeter.
Eventually, Tobias Harris could make a significant push for this spot, especially if the restricted free agent signs with a new team this offseason and earns more of a featured role than he'd receive by returning to an Orlando Magic squad brimming over with young talent.
But he's still got a long way to go, as Teague has been working at a high level for four years now and, thanks to his work in 2014-15, has an All-Star selection under his belt.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris in 2011 by the Charlotte Bobcats (traded to the Milwaukee Bucks).
Dishonorable Mention: Javaris Crittenton in 2007 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
18. Ty Lawson, 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to the Denver Nuggets)
Now we're getting up into the area where most spots have multiple legitimate candidates for the honor.
The 18th pick has produced quite a few solid players during the last 10 years—Gerald Green, JaVale McGee, Marco Belinelli, Terrence Jones and Eric Bledsoe have all been quality contributors at some point—but one still stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Well, not literally.
Ty Lawson is only 5'11", short enough that he's earned the diminutive label for much of his career. But thanks to his speed and ability to run an offense, he's been a point-producing giant for the Denver Nuggets, recently emerging as one of the premier assist men in the sport and still finding time to seek out his own shots.
Over the last four years, only three players have managed to record over 2,000 total assists. Chris Paul and John Wall are two, and they've both been floated in the conversation centered around the league's best 1-guard. But Lawson is the third, even if he so often flies under the radar—again, not just because of his vertical limitations.
That's an impressive group to be a part of, especially when serving as a dime-dropper isn't your only role on the court. During that stretch, the speedy Lawson has also averaged 16.4 points per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field.
Bledsoe may have reached a level in the last two years that Lawson has never gotten to, but the younger player took a while to earn a featured role in the Association, coming off the bench during the beginning of his career with the Los Angeles Clippers. He has more work to do before he can supplant Lawson and his massive offensive contributions.
Honorable Mention: Eric Bledsoe in 2010 by the Oklahoma City Thunder (traded to the Los Angeles Clippers).
Dishonorable Mention: Oleksiy Pecherov in 2006 by the Washington Wizards.
17. Danny Granger, 2005, Indiana Pacers
Now that he's spent the last few seasons dealing with injuries and a declining role that eventually led to quite a bit of bouncing around, Danny Granger has made it tough to remember just how good he was in his prime, however short that may have been.
After all, how could a star player drafted in the last 10 years be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, find himself immediately waived, fail to earn playing time on a shallow Los Angeles Clippers squad, make virtually no impact on the Miami Heat and then record a grand total of zero minutes after a midseason trade sent him to the Phoenix Suns?
The decline has been fast and furious, though there's still hope the magical training staff in the Arizona desert can turn around the career of this player from the Southwest. And even if the Suns don't receive a substantial return on their small investment, Granger has already done more than anyone else taken at No. 17 in the last decade.
Lest we forget, this small forward averaged 25.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists during his All-Star campaign in 2008-09, and that was only one of three consecutive seasons in which he broke past the 20-point barrier.
Perhaps even more impressively, Granger put up 21.6 points during his typical outing between late 2007 and early 2012, and that puts him in a rather elite group. Throughout that stretch, only eight players contributed more total points.
Honorable Mention: Roy Hibbert in 2009 by the Toronto Raptors (traded to the Indiana Pacers).
Dishonorable Mention: Sean Williams in 2007 by the New Jersey Nets.
16. Nikola Vucevic, 2011, Philadelphia 76ers
As Grantland.com's Zach Lowe wrote this season, Nikola Vucevic had a legitimate argument for an All-Star berth in the Eastern Conference:
Both [Greg] Monroe and Nikola Vucevic have cases for a spot over [Pau] Gasol, [Chris] Bosh, and perhaps one or two other guys. The Vucevic-Bosh battle is nearly a wash. Vucevic has been more prolific on offense, and Bosh's defense has slipped a bit from his days as a manic pick-and-roll destroyer. Miami is only marginally better with Bosh on the court, but opponents are shredding the Magic at the rim when Vucevic is anchoring the defense. Bosh's ability to space the floor makes him an easier, more versatile offensive threat, so he gets the nod here.
Just stop and think about that.
Granted, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol are in their 30s, so this isn't a fair straight-up comparison. But the very fact that the 24-year-old Orlando Magic center was mentioned in the same conversation as the man with the fifth-highest salary in the whole league is a massive compliment, as well as a deserved one, after his improvement as a go-to option.
Can the same be said about any of the other nine picks at No. 16? Considering Marreese Speights, Jusuf Nurkic, Nick Young and James Johnson have the four most impressive careers of the bunch, not exactly.
Honorable Mention: Marreese Speights in 2008 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Dishonorable Mention: Royce White in 2012 by the Houston Rockets.
15. Kawhi Leonard, 2011, Indiana Pacers (traded to the San Antonio Spurs)
This is an obvious one.
Kawhi Leonard's resume is absolutely ridiculous at this stage of his career. Still only 23 years old and just four seasons removed from playing for San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference, he's accomplished more than most can claim throughout their entire careers.
One year ago, Leonard successfully corralled LeBron James during the 2014 NBA Finals while thriving on the offensive end, and he was rewarded with the Finals MVP for his efforts. This past season, he improved on both ends of the court and won Defensive Player of the Year.
Somehow, that may not even be his most impressive accomplishment.
The San Antonio Spurs have played system basketball for a long time, and head coach Gregg Popovich always makes sure that every player on his roster fits in with his team-oriented offensive schemes. But even at his tender young age, Leonard forced the Hall of Fame coach to adjust and let him play outside the normal boundaries.
It worked. Throughout the stretch run and during the playoffs, Leonard looked the part of a top-10 player in the league, and he's still getting better.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013 by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Dishonorable Mention: Cedric Simmons in 2006 by the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.
14. Ronnie Brewer, 2006, Utah Jazz
No lottery slot has produced less talent than No. 14, which I suppose is fitting since it's also the final position in the lottery. Ronnie Brewer is the representative here, and he's enjoyed a career that stands a notch below that of nearly every other featured player from the first round.
Barring an unexpected comeback after a one-year hiatus, Brewer's NBA career is already over, but he still had some time to make a name for himself.
He entered the league in 2006-07 with the Utah Jazz and didn't take much time to assert himself as an asset on the defensive end. Even as a sophomore, he provided positive contributions on the point-preventing side, and that remained true until he no longer had a home in the Association.
This swingman played DPOY-caliber defense in Salt Lake City, and he remained beneficial with the Chicago Bulls. But he never got many chances with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and that was the beginning of the end for a player who hasn't received another opportunity since he was waived in July of 2014.
Is that enough to beat out Patrick Patterson for this spot? Yes, but only barely, and that could change if the ex-Kentucky player continues to make an impact for years to come.
But it's still a two-man competition for now. Shabazz Muhammad, John Henson and T.J. Warren could change that, too, but there's just not much established talent here.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Patterson in 2010 by the Houston Rockets.
Dishonorable Mention: Earl Clark in 2009 by the Phoenix Suns.
13. Thabo Sefolosha, 2006, Philadelphia 76ers (traded to the Chicago Bulls)
Has Thabo Sefolosha ever been a consistent contributor on the offensive end of the floor?
Not exactly, as the Swiss wing player has never averaged more than the 7.6 points per game he produced with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012-13.
According to offensive box plus-minus (OBPM), which estimates the point difference per 100 possessions between the player in question and a league-average contributor on an average team, he's been a negative on offense during every other season of his career.
And still, Sefolosha has been a net positive ever since finishing up his sophomore campaign with the Chicago Bulls. His defense is just that good, and it's allowed him to consistently earn a role on competitive squads during his prime and post-prime years.
Just take a gander at his OBPM, defensive box plus-minus (DBPM) and box plus-minus (BPM, which merges the first two stats together) during every season of his career:
That right there is how you make the most of a strength, and it's more than any other No. 13 pick can claim.
Honorable Mention: Markieff Morris in 2011 by the Phoenix Suns.
Dishonorable Mention: Kendall Marshall in 2012 by the Phoenix Suns.
12. Thaddeus Young, 2007, Philadelphia 76ers
In 2007, Thaddeus Young was coming off his freshman season at Georgia Tech and trying to decide whether he should go pro. The tools and upside were clearly there, but after averaging only 14.4 points and 4.9 rebounds, he might have been rushing through his development.
That's the opinion DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony took at the end of his scouting report:
It's fairly clear Young has a high basketball IQ, and that if he commits himself to playing up to his strengths and not being something he isn’t, he will reach his potential down the road. In our view, given that what Young lacks, basketball fundamentals rather than physical gifts, DraftExpress feels that Young would best be served with another year or two at Georgia Tech, where he can focus on improving his shooting, ball handling and weak hand before entering the NBA.
If just making the NBA is Young's goal, then he probably would be drafted this year and, more than likely (but not certainly), in the first round. If it's a long-term NBA career he's after, though, staying in school at least another year, developing his skill-set and learning the nuances of the game would, in our estimation, be the safer route to take.
Ultimately, Young didn't opt for "the safer route."
He declared for the draft, signed an agent and was taken in the lottery, where he began his impressive NBA career.
It really only took him two years to gain his footing. He quickly realized that he could maximize his output by serving as a homing missile with sights set on the rim, both in transition opportunities and while working in the half-court set.
Of course, Young is still fighting to develop the finesse aspects of his game. He's not much of a scorer with his back to the basket, and his jump shooting is very much a work in progress.
But since making that tough decision to leave the Yellow Jackets behind, Young has done nothing but validate his choice, simply by refusing to avoid playing to just his impressive physical strengths.
Honorable Mention: Jason Thompson in 2008 by the Sacramento Kings.
Dishonorable Mention: Yaroslav Korolev in 2005 by the Los Angeles Clippers.
11. Klay Thompson, 2011, Golden State Warriors
Care to guess how many players have shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc while taking at least six attempts per game?
In the history of this sport, only 18 players have managed to meet both of those numbers, and Klay Thompson is one of them. On top of that, the Golden State Warriors' non-MVP-winning Splash Brother is one of only five to do so multiple times, joining Rashard Lewis, Stephen Curry, Ray Allen and Peja Stojakovic.
Even better still, Thompson, Curry, Allen and Stojakovic are the only four to have three qualified entries.
But let's make the requirements more stringent. How many players have lofted up at least seven three-point attempts per game and hit at a 41 percent clip?
This time, the number stands at just four: Thompson, Dennis Scott, Allen (twice) and Curry (three times). That's an ultra-exclusive class of high-volume sharpshooters, and two aspects of Thompson's presence are quite notable.
First, he's not just a spot-up shooter. This season, he began creating his own attempts and looking to find open teammates when he was driving to the hoop. He's also always been one of the league's better perimeter defenders, even switching over to cover tough assignments for Curry in years past.
Second, J.J. Redick isn't present, and he's the primary competition for this featured spot. Considering Redick doesn't have the same well-rounded impact that Thompson does, you can see why the younger player is the selection here, even if he's spent far less time plying his trade in the Association.
Honorable Mention: J.J. Redick in 2006 by the Orlando Magic.
Dishonorable Mention: Fran Vasquez in 2005 by the Orlando Magic.
10. Paul George, 2010, Indiana Pacers
Before Paul George went down with his devastating leg injury while training for Team USA this past summer, he was on an unmitigated rise toward the top of the individual rankings. Reaching pole position was probably out of the question, but his two-way ability left him with a serious chance to assert himself as a top-five player—or at least to cement himself in the top 10.
Unfortunately, he didn't even have a chance to try in 2014-15—a late comeback with limited minutes notwithstanding.
But let's not allow that to distract us from what's already been an impressive young career for the Indiana Pacers star, especially since he averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals during his last healthy season, shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc.
His first four go-rounds showcased nothing but improvement after he left Fresno State behind, and he should continue back on that track in 2015-16.
To be clear, this is not an easy group to lead. The No. 10 pick has produced a number of high-quality players throughout the years, and that bodes well for whomever the Miami Heat take in that slot this offseason.
Brook Lopez is a key offensive contributor for the Brooklyn Nets, even if recurring foot injuries have held him back. Andrew Bynum was the next stud at center before injuries and immaturity quickly derailed his career. And beyond those two bigs, Brandon Jennings has been impressive while healthy, and Elfrid Payton put together a strong rookie season to build upon.
Obviously, there have been busts, with Mouhamed Sene and Austin Rivers standing out as the most notable examples. But by and large, this is quite the stellar group, especially considering No. 10 is a double-digit selection.
Honorable Mention: Brook Lopez in 2008 by the New Jersey Nets.
Dishonorable Mention: Mouhamed Sene in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics.
9. Joakim Noah, 2007, Chicago Bulls
At No. 9, we have quite a few young talents striving to assert themselves. Andre Drummond is already moving down that path rather nicely, and the same is true of Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan.
But Joakim Noah is already there at the end of the path.
While playing for the Chicago Bulls, the bun-bearing big man hasn't been able to replicate the championships he helped win for the Florida Gators, but he's certainly stood out on an individual level. For years, he's been a terrifying defensive presence, an asset on the boards and a unique offensive contributor who makes up for his lackluster scoring chops with his court vision and beautiful passing touch.
A two-time All-Star and three-time All-Defensive center, Noah's best season undoubtedly came in 2013-14. Not only did he average 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists, but he won Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career.
Noah has been around for longer than any of his primary competitors, and he's also reached the highest level of any of them. In this battle, that's an unbeatable one-two punch.
Honorable Mention: Andre Drummond in 2012 by the Detroit Pistons.
Dishonorable Mention: Patrick O'Bryant in 2006 by the Golden State Warriors.
8. Rudy Gay, 2006, Houston Rockets (traded to the Memphis Grizzlies)
First of all, it helps that Rudy Gay is the only player drafted at No. 8 in the last decade who could be called a star.
Channing Frye, Brandan Wright, Brandon Knight, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jordan Hill have all been quality rotation members at various points throughout their professional careers, but they've never reached that type of lofty status. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Terrence Ross and Nik Stauskas could one day, though that point certainly hasn't come quite yet.
Meanwhile, Joe Alexander is just a massive bust. There's no point in sugarcoating that statement after he spent just 67 games in the Association once his West Virginia career was over.
Beyond Gay, there are just no reasonable choices. But that doesn't mean he couldn't have earned the spot based solely on his own merits.
Though Gay's reputation took a bit of a tumble after the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors both improved following his departure, it's unfair to look at him in that light alone. He's been a tremendous scorer ever since entering the league, found success early in his career with the Grizz and is rejuvenating himself with the Sacramento Kings, especially since they're now willing to play him at the 4.
Dating back to the 2007-08 season, only eight players—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, LaMarcus Aldridge and Monta Ellis—have produced more points than him. And though not all have come efficiently, that's still quite impressive.
For the record, the next No. 8 pick from the last decade to show up on that leaderboard is Frye, and he's all the way down at No. 144 despite being drafted one year earlier than Gay.
Honorable Mention: Channing Frye in 2005 by the New York Knicks.
Dishonorable Mention: Joe Alexander in 2008 by the Milwaukee Bucks.
7. Stephen Curry, 2009, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry is so much more than the best No. 7 pick of the last 10 years.
He's the reigning NBA MVP, earning the most prestigious individual award after showing off plenty of skills other than his perimeter marksmanship. The 2014-15 season featured him continuing to excel as a distributor, scoring around the basket with aplomb and playing vastly improved defense that—much to the surprise of some and the chagrin of others—leaves him as one of the better point-preventing 1-guards in the Association.
Now, Curry is also a champion after successfully taking down each of the other four All-NBA First Team members in consecutive rounds. He made more triples than anyone else in postseason and regular-season history by a rather wide margin, and he was the driving force behind the end of the Bay Area's NBA title drought.
Already arguably the greatest shooter the league has ever seen, Curry is a lock for this spot. And he's only going to keep cementing his legacy in years to come, putting more separation between himself and the rest of the No. 7 picks.
Honorable Mention: Greg Monroe in 2010 by the Detroit Pistons.
Dishonorable Mention: Bismack Biyombo in 2011 by the Sacramento Kings (traded to the Charlotte Bobcats).
6. Damian Lillard, 2012, Portland Trail Blazers
This was going to be Brandon Roy's spot before his knees betrayed him. The Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard was trending toward superstardom, asserting himself as one of the league's best offensive players and the future at his position before the injuries piled up and ultimately forced him out of the league.
Still, he did enough before his premature retirement to earn the honorable mention for all No. 6 draft picks. And the good news for Rip City fans bemoaning the loss of Roy is that it's another Blazer taking the featured spot.
Transitioning from a small school (Weber State) to the ranks of the Association is a difficult process, but Damian Lillard didn't seem to have much trouble with it. Not only did he possess the skill necessary to thrive as a first-year player, even winning Rookie of the Year after his incredible work during the 2012-13 season, but he ran a pick-and-roll offense in college, which made things even easier.
Since then, Lillard has shown he's no flash in the pan.
His defensive game still needs a significant amount of work, but his outside shooting and all-around offensive play are quite impressive. Were it not for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, he'd be the talk of the league as the floor general capable of revolutionizing how teams use the arc to generate offense.
Nobody in NBA history has made more triples during his first three seasons in the league. Thompson and Kyle Korver are the next two on the list, and they trail Lillard by 54 and 108, respectively.
Obviously, that's not too shabby for a player shooting 36.8 percent from downtown throughout his still-young career.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Roy in 2006 by the Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to the Portland Trail Blazers).
Dishonorable Mention: Jonny Flynn in 2009 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
5. Kevin Love, 2008, Memphis Grizzlies (traded to Minnesota Timberwolves)
DeMarcus Cousins was better than Kevin Love during the 2014-15 season. There's really no arguing that after a year in which Love spent much of his time adjusting to his new locale and learning how to work next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
But one year is not all that matters here, and Love had quite the resume with the Minnesota Timberwolves before they traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A three-time All-Star, he was one of the league's most dominant forces on the glass and a constant threat to drop 30 points on any given night.
When Love averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds during the 2011-12 campaign, it was the first time since Moses Malone in 1982-83 that anybody had posted numbers that impressive in those two columns in one season.
How'd he follow that up? By throwing up 26 and 13.3 the very next season, and those are numbers no one had produced since Shaquille O'Neal during his historically dominant 1999-00 campaign...and Malone before him.
Injuries were really the only thing that held Love back, though his team never did much winning. Without a rim-protecting presence next to him and devoid of floor-spacers who could help draw away defensive attention, Love was never able to spark a single postseason run while playing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Of course, it's not like Cousins has done any better for the Sacramento Kings.
Right now, the battle between elite stat-producers without much winning basketball goes to Love. But in a few years, the league's best center could very well supplant Love, unless the Cleveland power forward suddenly figures it all out in Northeast Ohio.
Honorable Mention: DeMarcus Cousins in 2010 by the Sacramento Kings.
Dishonorable Mention: Shelden Williams in 2006 by the Atlanta Hawks.
4. Chris Paul, 2005, New Orleans Hornets
Maybe you think Chris Paul didn't have as strong a season as Russell Westbrook in 2014-15. If you do, that's patently false and serves as a narrative driven by per-game numbers and feats of uniqueness (triple-doubles).
But that's a conversation for another time and place.
What's more indisputable is that Paul has been the gold standard at point guard for years, staving off any and all challenges until Stephen Curry came around during his MVP season.
Whether with the New Orleans Hornets or the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul has been the league's premier 1-guard, submitting the kind of numbers and producing the type of impact that haven't been seen since Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and John Stockton hung up their sneakers.
Win shares are by no means the ultimate stat in this debate, but isn't it telling that the disparity is so large here?
Westbrook, even after his impressive 2014-15 season for the injury-plagued Oklahoma City Thunder, has earned an even 53 in his career. Looking solely at his four seasons with LAC, Paul has accumulated 54.9, and he produced another 76.4 during his time by the bayou.
We'll give credit to Westbrook for an impressive career that's still very much in progress, and lesser contenders such as Mike Conley and Tyreke Evans deserve some recognition as well.
But this isn't even close. It's Paul in a landslide.
Honorable Mention: Russell Westbrook in 2008 by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Dishonorable Mention: Wesley Johnson in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
3. James Harden, 2009, Oklahoma City Thunder
Here's another of those tough decisions.
While Al Horford and Deron Williams have more years in the league, neither of them has figured so prominently into an MVP conversation, and it's not like James Harden is a mere flash in the pan. When he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was one of the league's premier sixth men, still functioning as a star.
With the Houston Rockets, he's elevated up into the realm of superstars.
Despite his all-around excellence for the Atlanta Hawks, Horford has never received so much as a single MVP vote. He may have this year after helping lead his team to 60 wins, the best season in franchise history and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the ballot was too packed already—thanks in part to Harden.
As for Williams, he's appeared on ballots twice—in 2008, when he finished 12th, and in 2010, when he finished ninth. But a quick decline from his days as a star point guard for the Utah Jazz has hindered the progress of his career, and he can blame nagging injuries for that.
Harden is still moving into his prime, and he's already shown up on MVP ballots in each of the last three years. He finished eighth for his work during the 2012-13 season, played fifth in 2013-14 and was the runner-up to Stephen Curry for this past season.
Already, the bearded 2-guard is 11th on the leaderboard showing MVP award shares for active players, while Williams is down at No. 32, and Horford doesn't appear on the chart (though his career has still moved past the aging point guard's body of work).
Honorable Mention: Al Horford in 2007 by the Atlanta Hawks.
Dishonorable Mention: Adam Morrison in 2006 by the Charlotte Bobcats.
2. Kevin Durant, 2007, Seattle SuperSonics
Historically, picking at No. 2 hasn't been a bad thing. However, the last 10 years haven't exactly produced many elite talents for the team up second in the draft-day proceedings.
Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley, Evan Turner and Derrick Williams all have to qualify as busts. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams haven't lived up to the hype normally associated with No. 2 selections, though each has carved out a career for himself at the sport's highest level—Kidd-Gilchrist with defense and Williams with longevity.
We still have to see what Jabari Parker and Victor Oladipo do, but it's too early to put them in either group.
That's already eight of the 10 players, and LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant are the only ones left. Apparently, No. 2 picks from Texas pan out pretty nicely.
No offense meant to Aldridge, who has established himself as one of the best power forwards in basketball for a number of years now, but this isn't much of a competition. Durant is a perennial MVP candidate, the owner of far more scoring titles than any 26-year-old should reasonably claim and one of the few players who can legitimately challenge for the "best basketball player in the world" title.
Honorable Mention: LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006 by the Chicago Bulls.
Dishonorable Mention: Hasheem Thabeet in 2009 by the Memphis Grizzlies.
1. Anthony Davis, 2012, New Orleans Hornets
Even with Andrea Bargnani (offense-only bust), Anthony Bennett (one of the worst starts to a career by a No. 1 pick), Andrew Bogut (strong career, never a superstar), Greg Oden (knees) and Andrew Wiggins (too soon to tell) immediately eliminated from the running, there are five legitimate candidates to represent the top overall spot in the draft.
We'll run through them in reverse order.
The Cleveland Cavaliers landed a franchise point guard when they drafted Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA draft. Defense is still problematic for the former Duke standout, but his wizard-like handles and incredible offensive acumen have started to push him up into the discussion about the league's best 1-guard. He's not there quite yet, and his first few seasons in the league don't measure up with these other players either.
John Wall has blossomed into one of the best two-way point guards in the league, but the enduring lack of a jumper has held him back from realizing his full potential. Still, there's no doubt the Washington Wizards found themselves a franchise 1-guard when they took him out of Kentucky.
Continuing the run of point guards, we have Derrick Rose. At one time, it seemed as if he were destined for a first-ballot selection into the Hall of Fame. But his knees betrayed him, and he hasn't been the same since his first ACL tear. What was once a sure thing is now a massive question mark, even if there were flashes of his old brilliance during the 2015 playoffs.
Blake Griffin is next, earning the honorable mention spot. And that leaves Anthony Davis as the featured player, which shouldn't be at all surprising, even given the current brevity of his career.
Impressive as Griffin has been for the Los Angeles Clippers, he's not the complete two-way force that Davis has become for the New Orleans Pelicans. He's not the unquestioned franchise centerpiece whom every team would trade for in a heartbeat. He's not a reigning MVP candidate who submitted one of the stronger playoff debuts in a long while.
Quite frankly, he's not the best player in the league at the tender young age of 22.
Honorable Mention: Blake Griffin in 2009 by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Dishonorable Mention: Anthony Bennett in 2013 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.