Diamonds In the Rough: Best Non-Lottery NBA Picks of the Last Decade
The Draft Lottery is a uniquely counterintuitive NBA institution.
Unlike the NFL or MLB—where the team with the worst record is awarded the first pick—the NBA team with the worst record only has about a 25-percent chance of receiving the No. 1 selection.
The NBA implemented the lottery after allegations that the Houston Rockets dogged their way to the worst record in the Western Conference during the 1983-84 season so they could have a shot at winning the coin toss for the first overall pick in the 1984 draft.
Luck was on the Rockets side—and they were indeed awarded the first overall pick, which allowed them to draft future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
When the NBA realized that teams were potentially willing to lose late season games in order to improve their draft stock, they came up with the lottery to dissuade this sort of behavior.
The NBA has also slimmed down the length of the draft from seven rounds (last used in 1987) to the current two round format.
The shortening of the draft reflects the existing reality in the NBA in which only a few players from a given draft will be able to make a major impact on the NBA landscape.
Also unlike drafting in the NFL or MLB, where there is a plethora of talent for a number of rounds, the NBA draft generally doesn’t feature much talent after the first 15-20 picks.
Even when a team does have a lottery pick, it is far from a sure thing. High picks have been as likely to succeed in the NBA as they have been to end up out of the league after a few unimpressive seasons.
This reality is even harsher for those players drafted outside of the lottery, who seem to have as much of a chance at NBA success as Jeff Van Gundy does with the ladies.
But even when things seem that bleak, there are undervalued players in every draft that are able to make a name for themselves.
So while the lottery teams now know where they will be picking and mock drafts will begin to project which college star goes to what organization, the teams further down in the draft shouldn’t get too down on their team’s draft outlook—as these players were able to make an impact in the league without being a lofty pick.
2000 NBA Draft
Hedo Turkoglu (16th pick), Desmond Mason (17th pick), Quentin Richardson (18th pick), Jamaal Magloire (19th pick), Morris Peterson (21st pick), and Michael Redd (43rd pick).
In what is widely considered one of the worst drafts in the history of the NBA, the first class of the new millennium had more than its share of busts.
Players like Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, and Marcus Fizer headline how disappointing this draft was, and all three were picked in the top five and never lived up to their potential.
But there were some bright spots in this draft, starting with the Sacramento Kings pick of Hedo Turkoglu out of Turkey with the 16th pick.
Hedo took a few years to adjust to the NBA game, but really hit his stride with the Orlando Magic where he became a starter and was one of the driving forces behind their trip to the NBA Finals last season.
The Milwaukee Bucks pick of Michael Redd at No. 43 overall has to be considered one of the best second round picks in the modern day NBA draft.
By his fourth year in the NBA, Redd entrenched himself as a starter for Milwaukee and would become one of the league’s most consistent shooting guards, averaging at least 20 points per game for six straight seasons.
Recent knee injuries have put his career in jeopardy but he may very well be the best player to come out of the 2000 NBA Draft class.
Throw in Quentin Richardson, Desmond Mason, Jamaal Magloire, and Morris Peterson and you have four solid NBA role players who had productive NBA careers.
The lottery was so weak in the 2000 NBA draft class you could make the case that the players mentioned above are better than those taken with the top 13 picks.
2001 NBA Draft
Zach Randolph (19th pick), Brendan Haywood (20th pick), Gerald Wallace (25th pick), Samuel Dalembert (26th pick) Tony Parker (28th pick), Gilbert Arenas (31st pick), Mehmet Okur (38th pick).
The 2001 NBA Draft is known for its influx of players jumping to the pros right from high school, as well as being a very successful draft for foreign born players.
Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry were all high school centers who decided to forego college to become professionals, and they were three of the first four picks in the 2001 draft.
Foreign players Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Samuel Dalembert, and Mehmet Okur have all enjoyed varying levels of success in the NBA since being drafted in 2001.
The 2001 draft also features a multitude of players who weren’t lottery picks but have gone on to become some of the best players in the NBA.
Since his third year in the NBA, Zach Randolph has been an extremely consistent post player, but has been labeled as a player with character issues. He has clashed with coaches and team mates at almost every stop in his career.
However, he seemed to put that behind him this past season after going to Memphis where he had one of the best years of his career, averaging 20.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG.
Gerald Wallace didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself with the Sacramento Kings, but has improved in leaps and bounds since becoming a member of the Charlotte Bobcats.
This past season he staked his claim as one of the best forwards in the league and has become an extremely versatile player on both sides of the court.
Gilbert Arenas’ injury and off the court problems have been well documented, but when he is healthy and on the court he has been a very productive player who has far exceeded expectations GM’s had for him coming out of Arizona.
Finally, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker is the definition of a draft day steal. Taken with the 28th pick in the 2001 draft from a Paris club team that doesn’t even exist anymore, Parker has been the floor general of three championship teams as well as winning the Finals MVP in 2006-07.
Parker has been the most successful French leader since Napoleon was terrorizing the continent of Europe a couple hundred years ago.
2002 NBA Draft
Tayshaun Prince (23rd pick), Nenad Krstic (24th pick), John Salmons (26th pick), Roger Mason Jr. (31st pick), Carlos Boozer (35th pick), Matt Barnes (46th pick), Luis Scola (56th pick).
The 2001 draft foreshadowed the foreign invasion that was the 2002 NBA Draft, which would see 17 foreign born players drafted.
While some of these players panned out (Yao Ming, Nene, and Luis Scola), the majority of them were busts.
One player drafted from the 2002 class who certainly wasn’t a bust was Tayshaun Prince. Despite his lanky and somewhat awkward looking frame, the 6’9’’ southpaw has had a very productive NBA career.
Prince has become one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and was an integral part of the Pistons title run in the 2003-04 season.
You would think that Tayshaun’s slight frame would cause injury problems but prior to this season he hadn’t missed an NBA game in six straight years.
Carlos Boozer is currently one of the premier NBA post players, but he obviously wasn’t on top of anyone’s board going into the 2002 NBA Draft.
Boozer slipped all the way to the second round of the draft and has used this as motivation when bulling his way through the paint.
Despite being on the shorter side for an NBA power forward, Boozer is a double-double machine and relies on his brute strength to create space down low. He also has to be considered as one of the best second round picks of the modern draft.
Salmons, Mason Jr., Krstic, Barnes, and Scola have also matured into players who can make a difference on an NBA roster, and Scola and Salmons appear primed to have breakout seasons in the near future.
2003 NBA Draft
David West (18th pick), Boris Diaw (21st pick), Kendrick Perkins (27th pick), Leandro Barbosa (28th pick), Josh Howard (29th pick), Mo Williams (47th pick)
The 2000 NBA Draft was more of a disaster than Ben Roethlisberger standing by the jungle juice at a sorority party; but the 2003 draft made up for it. It was one of the three best drafts in the history of the league.
With stars like LeBron, Carmelo, Wade, and Bosh headlining the early picks, it might be easy to overlook some of the steals that were obtained later on in the draft.
Taken with the 18th pick out of Xavier, David West took a few years to get accustomed to the NBA. But starting with his third season, he began to cement himself as one of the better young forwards in the league, and is a regular 20 and eight contributor for New Orleans.
In a league that is starved for big men, Kendrick Perkins has solidified himself as one of the best (if not the best) post defenders in the NBA. The 6’10’’ Perkins uses his superior strength and toughness to keep opposing bigs out of the paint.
He has also been a vital role player for a Boston Celtics team that has been one of the league’s best the last three seasons.
His most recent playoff performance against the Celtics aside, Mo Williams is another second round pick that has exceeded expectations for his draft position.
Nobody thought much of the 6’1’’ point guard coming out of Alabama, but he flourished for the Milwaukee Bucks in his second season while filling in for an injured T.J. Ford.
Williams hasn’t looked back since and was even named to the All-Star team this past season.
Diaw, Barbosa, and Howard are also nice players who have been able to establish themselves as everyday contributors in the NBA, with Barbosa winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2007.
2004 NBA Draft
Al Jefferson (15th pick), Josh Smith (17th pick), J.R. Smith (18th pick), Jameer Nelson (20th pick), Delonte West (24th pick), Kevin Martin (26th pick), Anderson Varejao (30th pick), Trevor Ariza (43rd pick).
In 2004, high school and foreign players would continue their draft popularity as they combined for eight of the first 15 picks in the draft.
The last of these 15 picks was Al Jefferson, who only took two seasons to adjust from high school to the NBA.
By his third year, Jefferson had emerged as an inside force for the Boston Celtics and was deemed a good enough player to be the centerpiece of the compensation for Kevin Garnett.
Josh Smith is another player who didn’t take long to adjust to the pro game from high school, and has become one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA.
His superior athleticism has made him one of the best shot blockers in the league as well as one of the most ferocious dunkers we have in the game today. But Josh isn’t just a highlight player, he’s one of the main cogs in an up and coming Atlanta team and he had his best all around season to date; averaging 15.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 2.1 BPG.
Jameer Nelson and Kevin Martin were both collegiate standouts who NBA GM’s were unsure about during the draft, which allowed them to slip into the middle and end of the first round.
Since then, both players have found their stride in the league and are currently important back court pieces to their respective teams.
J.R. Smith, Anderson Varejao, Trevor Ariza, and Delonte West are four of the better role players in the NBA right now and have all played vital roles for successful teams in their five professional seasons.
2005 NBA Draft
Danny Granger (17th pick), Jarrett Jack (22nd pick), Jason Maxiell (26th pick), David Lee (30th pick), Monta Ellis (40th pick), Louis Williams (45th pick), Ryan Gomes (50th pick).
In the last draft which high school players were eligible, a pair of college point guards stole the show.
Deron Williams and Chris Paul were taken with the third and fourth picks in the 2005 NBA Draft and have become two of the best players in the league.
Another player who can claim that distinction is Indiana’s Danny Granger who was the 17th pick in the 2005 draft and has emerged out of an otherwise pedestrian Indiana roster to become a true superstar. Playing small forward for the Pacers the past two seasons Danny has averaged 24.9 PPG, and at 6’8’’ is about as versatile as they come.
David Lee had to wait until the last pick of the first round to hear his name called, but it would seem that it was worth the wait.
He quickly caught on with the New York Knicks and has become one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise hapless New York basketball scene. This past season Lee put together a fantastic season which would see him selected to his first All-Star team and average 20.2 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 3.6 APG.
Although he has had problems staying healthy, Monta Ellis was certainly a steal in the second round. The lightning quick guard out of Mississippi has become one of the leagues best scorers who can also distribute the ball to teammates.
While they're undersized, Ellis and Steph Curry combine to make one of the best young backcourts in all of the NBA and should have opposing guards trying to catch their breaths for the foreseeable future.
2006 NBA Draft
Rajon Rondo (21st pick), Kyle Lowry (24th pick), Paul Millsap (47th pick).
It would appear that the overall talent in the 2006 NBA Draft took a hit thanks to the age requirement that prevented high school players from being eligible.
In a draft that seems to have produced mostly role players, two non lottery picks standout from amongst the crowd. Rajon Rondo and Paul Millsap have become two of the better young players in the NBA and should continue to get improve as their careers progress.
Rondo has already accomplished a lot in his young career, as he was the starting point guard on the 2007-08 Celtics championship team in only his second year in the league. He was also selected to the 2010 All-Star game and has been carrying the Celtics in the playoffs thus far.
Paul Millsap is a hardnosed forward who isn’t afraid of doing the dirty work under the basket. He was given a chance to start 38 games for the Jazz in the 2008-09 season when Carlos Boozer went down with an injury and performed very well totaling 13.5 PPG and 8.6 RPG.
With Boozer healthy this season, Millsap was once again relegated to a backup role but was still an important part of a good Utah Jazz team.
Boozer is eligible for free agency this season and it appears that the Jazz are willing to let him go because of Millsap’s emergence.
2007 NBA Draft
Rodney Stuckey (15th pick), Jared Dudley (22nd pick), Wilson Chandler (23rd pick), Aaron Brooks (26th pick), Carl Landry (31st pick), Glen Davis (35th pick), Marc Gasol (48th pick).
The 2007 NBA Draft would see the Portland Trailblazers put size before talent when they opted for Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.
It also marked the first time in the draft’s history that three players from the same college team were taken in the top 10; when Florida alums Al Horford (3rd pick), Corey Brewer (7th pick), and Joakim Noah (9th pick) were selected.
As for those selected outside of the lottery, Aaron Brooks had a breakout season for the Houston Rockets and rewarded the team for making him their starting point guard by putting up 19.6 PPG and 5.3 APG.
Memphis Center Marc Gasol made himself known for something other than being Pau’s brother by establishing his presence as one of the best up-and-coming bigs in the league.
Rodney Stuckey and Wilson Chandler made the best of bad seasons in New York and Detroit, as both players started over 60 games and look to be a step in the right direction for their once proud franchises that seem to have lost their way.
2008 NBA Draft
Roy Hibbert (17th pick), J.J. Hickson (19th pick), Courtney Lee (22nd pick), Serge Ibaka (24th pick), Nicholas Batum (25th pick), George Hill (26th pick), Mario Chalmers (34th pick), Luc Mbah a Moute (37th pick), Chris Douglas-Roberts (40th pick).
In what was one of the most improbable draft lotteries, the Chicago Bulls won the first pick of the 2008 NBA Draft despite only having a 1.7-percent chance.
When it comes to the later choices, it may be too early to clearly identify the best non-lottery picks of the 2008 draft, but the players mentioned above have gotten themselves off to good starts in the NBA.
Roy Hibbert, Courtney Lee, and Luc Mbah a Moute all started over 60 games this season and although they’ve had their struggles, the trio seems to be adapting to the NBA rather quickly.
Meanwhile, George Hill and Serge Ibaka both stepped up their game in the playoffs this season and appear ready to play a larger role in their team’s success in seasons to come.
2009 NBA Draft
Jrue Holiday (17th pick), Ty Lawson (18th pick), Darren Collison (21st pick), Omri Casspi (23rd pick), Rodrigue Beaubois (25th pick), Taj Gibson (26th pick), DeJuan Blair (37th pick), Jonas Jerebko (39th pick), Marcus Thornton (43rd pick), Chase Budinger (44th pick)
If it’s too early to judge the 2008 draft, its certainly too early to definitively say the best non-lottery picks of the 2009 season, but again, the players mentioned above have already impressed in their first NBA season.
Darren Collison almost made fans in New Orleans forget about Chris Paul when the superstar went down with a knee injury.
His teammate, Marcus Thornton also made the most of his chance to shine thanks to injuries on New Orleans and turned heads with a 37 point performance against the Cavaliers in February.
Taj Gibson and Jonas Jerebko both started over 70 games for their respective teams and continued to improve as the season progressed.
Former Pittsburgh standout DeJuan Blair proved that ACL’s are overrated, as he averaged an impressive 7.8 PPG and 6.4 RPG in only 18 minutes per game off the bench for the Spurs in his rookie season.