The 10 Best NBA Draft Steals in the Past 25 Years

Andy Wittry@@AndyWittryCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2013

The 10 Best NBA Draft Steals in the Past 25 Years

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    There are three ways to acquire elite talent in the NBA. Teams can either acquire a star player from another team via trade, sign a talented player as a free agent or they can position themselves to be in the NBA draft lottery. However, occasionally there are exceptions to this rule when teams find hidden gems late in the draft. 

    Marc Gasol, last year's Defensive Player of the Year, was selected 48th overall in 2007.

    The San Antonio Spurs built a dynasty by drafting Tim Duncan with the first pick in the 1997 draft, then selecting Manu Ginobili (57th in the 1999 draft) and Tony Parker (28th in the 2001 draft). 

    When considering the past 25 years of the NBA, there has been at least one major steal in almost every draft. 

    A player doesn't have to have been drafted late in the second round to be considered a steal. A very productive player like Parker, who was the last selection in the first round in 2001, was a steal. Where a player was chosen in the draft, longevity in the NBA, production and postseason success are all factors in determining how much of a steal a player is.

Too Soon to Tell

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    There have been several players drafted in recent years who have exceeded expectations. However, it is too soon to tell where they will finish their careers ranked among the top NBA draft steals. 

    Paul Millsap was drafted 47th overall in 2006 but he has played more games than any other player from his draft class. In terms of career win shares, he ranks second behind only LaMarcus Aldridge.

    He has averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game in his career. Millsap has shot nearly 52 percent for his career, and he has played in every regular season game three times in his career.  

    Marc Gasol has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game in five seasons in the NBA. He is a career 52 percent shooter and was an All-Star in 2012. Gasol has the third-most win shares among players drafted in 2007, behind the second (Kevin Durant) and third (Al Horford) picks. 

    Isaiah Thomas was the final pick in the 2011 draft. The four players selected immediately before him never played a game in the NBA, which gives a sense of how far down he was in the draft.

    Thomas has become a starter for the Sacramento Kings at point guard. He has averaged 12.8 points and 4.0 assists per game in his two seasons in the NBA. He was a member of the All-Rookie Second Team for 2011-12 and he has the fifth-most win shares of any player drafted in 2011. 

Honorable Mention

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    There have been many steals in the last 25 years who deserve consideration for the list. An argument can be made for each one of them to be on the list, but they came up just short. 

    Nick Van Exel was the 37th pick in the 1993 draft. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.6 assists per game over the course of his 13-year career. Van Exel was a one-time All-Star and is 18th all-time in career three-point field goals made. 

    Toni Kukoc was the 29th selection in the 1990 draft. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in his 13-year career. Kukoc was the 1995-96 Sixth Man of the Year and a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls. 

    Antonio Davis was selected 45th in the 1990 NBA draft. Davis averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his 13-year career. He was an All-Star in 2001, and he is in the top 100 players of all time in terms of career blocks and rebounds. 

    Trevor Ariza, P.J. Brown, Mehmet Okur, Bimbo Coles, Vlade Divac, Byron Russell and Cuttino Mobley were other considerations. 

10. Rashard Lewis

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    Rashard Lewis won his first NBA title last season with the Miami Heat, but the best days of his career were in the mid-2000s. 

    Lewis was the 32nd pick in the 1998 draft, and it took two seasons before he became a major contributor in the NBA. 

    He averaged at least 20 points per game from the 2004-05 season through the 2006-07 season. For his career, Lewis has averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He is a 45 percent shooter for his career and has made nearly 39 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Lewis was a starter and averaged 19 points per game in 2009 when the Orlando Magic made the NBA finals. He is a two-time All-Star and is eighth all-time in three-point shots made in a career.  

9. Luis Scola

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    The San Antonio Spurs have a knack for finding the diamond in the rough in NBA drafts. The Spurs drafted Luis Scola 55th in the 2002 draft, then dealt him to the Houston Rockets years later. 

    At his peak, in the 2010-11 season, Scola averaged 18.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. For his career, the Argentinian forward has averaged better than 14 points and seven rebounds per game, as well as a career shooting percentage above 50 percent. 

    Scola's durability is almost as impressive as his statistics. He has played 468 regular season games out of a possible 476 in his career. 

    Now that he is on the Indiana Pacers, he has helped transform the Pacers into a legitimate title contender now that they have a bench. 

8. Monta Ellis

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    Monta Ellis was drafted 40th by the Golden State Warriors in the 2005 NBA draft

    While his shooting percentages have declined in recent years, he has still proven to be a prolific scorer. He has averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game for his career. He has the 67th highest scoring average per game all-time in the NBA. 

    To go from a middle of the second round draft pick to a player who can average more than 25 points per game for an entire season (2009-10) is remarkable. 

    Ellis has only made the playoffs twice in his career and can get a little trigger happy, both of which may indicate he is just a player who can put up big numbers on bad teams. However, he still has enough time left in his career to improve his shot selection and become the second or third scoring option on a good team. 

7. Gilbert Arenas

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    Agent Zero was the second pick in the second round of the 2001 NBA draft. Arenas was a starter and averaged double figures in scoring his rookie season. 

    He averaged 29.3 points per game in the 2005-06 season for Washington and averaged more than 20 per game for his career. 

    Arenas was a three-time All-Star, the 2002-03 Most Improved Player and a three-time All-NBA selection. 

6. Clifford Robinson

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    Clifford Robinson was drafted 36th in the 1989 NBA draft but had the second-most win shares out of the players in his draft class. Robinson had an 18-year career in which he was an All-Star in 1994, the Sixth Man of the Year for the 1992-93 season, a two-time member of the NBA All-Defensive second team and played in the NBA finals twice. 

    He played the ninth-most games in NBA history. Robinson ranks 49th in all-time field goals, 34th in three-point field goals, 100th in made free throws, 48th in steals, 44th in blocks and 46th in points for his career. 

    He averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in his career. He also shot better than 35 percent from behind the three-point line. 

5. Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker wasn't drafted as low in the draft as his teammate Manu Ginobili, but he was still taken 28th. He has had the second-most win shares among players in the '01 draft behind only Pau Gasol.

    Parker has started for San Antonio since his rookie season. For his career, he has averaged 17.1 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Parker is a five-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion, an NBA Finals MVP (2006-07) and has averaged at least 20 points per game in the playoffs five times. 

    Despite being 31 years old, Parker's career is by no means over. In fact, his points per game has increased in each of the last three seasons. He is nearly a lock for the Hall of Fame and, considering that he was the last player drafted in the first round in 2001, his career is even more special. 

4. Cedric Ceballos

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    Cedric Ceballos was drafted 48th (out of 54 picks) in the 1990 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns. He was a starter by his third year in the league and played 11 seasons in the NBA. 

    In the 1994-95 season, Ceballos averaged 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game for the Los Angeles Lakers. He consistently shot a high percentage, especially early in his career. He had the second-highest shooting percentage in the NBA in 1992-93 when he made more than 57 percent of his shots. 

    Ceballos was a member of the Suns team that made the NBA finals in 1993, and he was an All-Star in 1995. 

3. Stephen Jackson

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    Stephen Jackson was drafted 42nd in the 1997 NBA draft but has the sixth-highest amount of win shares from his draft class. 

    He was a starter for the San Antonio Spurs when they won the 2003 NBA title, and he played 14 games in last postseason for San Antonio. 

    For his career, Jackson has averaged 15.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He averaged at least 20 points per game for three consecutive seasons in the late 2000s. Jackson is also 35th all-time in career three-point field goals made. 

2. Michael Redd

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    Michael Redd has the third-most win shares of any player drafted in 2000, and he was the 43rd selection in the first draft of the new millennium. Redd averaged more than 20 points per game for six consecutive seasons, including 26.7 points per game in the 2006-07 season. 

    He shot nearly 45 percent for his career and was a 38 percent three-point shooter. Redd was an All-Star in 2004, has the second-lowest career turnover percentage in NBA history and helped lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the playoffs five times.

    Redd was one of the few bright spots in what turned out to be a disappointing draft. 

1. Manu Ginobili

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    Manu Ginobili has done it all. He is a three-time NBA champion, a two-time All-Star and was the 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year. Not bad for the 57th and second-to-last pick in the 1999 draft. 

    The Argentinian wing has taken on a number of different roles for the Spurs, and he has been instrumental to San Antonio's success in all of them. He has been both a starter and an important player of the bench; he has been a scorer and a facilitator. He led the team in scoring during the 2007-08 season. For his entire career, Ginobili has averaged 14.9 points, 4.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. 

    The 57th pick in the three previous drafts were Torraye BraggsRoberto Duenas and Drew Barry. Most basketball fans haven't heard of any of those three players. Instead of fading into anonymity, Ginobili became a champion and a potential future Hall of Famer.