Ranking the NBA's Best Former 2nd-Round Picks This Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 26, 2015

Ranking the NBA's Best Former 2nd-Round Picks This Season

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    Philadelphia 76ers fans, you definitely want to read this.

    While the second-round scratch tickets that Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie has stockpiled are all gambles, each has the potential to reveal a jackpot prize.

    Former second-rounders can be seen all over this season's statistical leaderboards. Three of them suited up for this year's All-Star Game, and a handful of others had compelling arguments to join them.

    Now, the odds aren't great of leaving the NBA's annual talent grab with one of these overlooked, underrated gems. But their existence is undeniable.

    And we have compiled a list of this season's top former second-round picks to show how much value exists after the first 30 names are called on draft night.

    The stat sheet helped us rank the field, but numbers alone didn't dictate the order. Two-way players received more credit, as did those who have played a major part in team success. Efficiency entered into the equation, and so did the always reliable eye test.

    With those parameters in place, let's look at the best second-round steals this season has seen.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Manu Ginobili, SG, San Antonio Spurs

    Drafted 57th in 1999

    Father Time is gaining ground on the 37-year-old Manu Ginobili, but the slippery scoring guard has taken full advantage of the Alamo City's fountain of youth. His counting categories have dipped across the board, and his shooting percentages have fallen with them. But he's still a steady offensive source who has masterfully balanced his scoring and distributing roles.

    Chandler Parsons, SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Drafted 38th in 2011

    With so many mouths to feed in Dallas' offense, Chandler Parsons hasn't found as many opportunities as he had with the Houston Rockets last season. His scoring average is roughly the same (15.6, down from 16.6), but his assists have been sliced by 40 percent (2.4, from 4.0). Still, he can contribute in a number of different ways, and the 26-year-old's ceiling should have some room to rise.

    Louis Williams, SG, Toronto Raptors

    Drafted 45th in 2005

    A former preps-to-pros leaper, Louis Williams has emerged as one of this season's top-scoring reserves (15.1 points per game). Questionable shot selection has cost him both consistency and efficiency, but his good nights are wildly productive (25 games with 18-plus points). Still only 28 years old, he should continue destroying defenders off the dribble and dropping three-point bombs for the foreseeable future.

10. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Drafted: 60th in 2011

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 16.1 points, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 19.9 PER

    Want to figure out how Isaiah Thomas became "Mr. Irrelevant" of the 2011 draft class? Just grab the nearest tape measure, and you'll find your answer.

    Thomas stands just 5'9". No matter how much offensive success he enjoyed during his three seasons with the Washington Huskies (16.4 points, 4.0 assists), his size alone brought defensive questions to the table.

    Three-plus years into his NBA career, those concerns remain. But he's successful enough at the opposite end that those deficiencies can't keep him off the floor.

    He's a lethal long-range shooter—1.9 threes per game on 37.5 percent shooting—and a pesky dribble penetrator. He fearlessly attacks the tall trees in the paint and has success doing it. He's shooting a better percentage on drives (44.5) than Russell Westbrook (44.1), Victor Oladipo (43.0) and Jimmy Butler (41.0).

    Thomas' defensive limitations may prevent him from growing out of the spark-plug role he's held for the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics this season. They're also the reason he couldn't rank any higher here.

    But his offensive work speaks for itself.

9. Kyle Korver, SG, Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Drafted: 51st in 2003

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 14.8 PER

    Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver is the first All-Star to appear in this top 10. His 12th NBA season might secure him a spot in the game's history books.

    If he catches fire down the stretch, he could become the league's first 50/50/90 shooter (field-goal/three-point/free-throw percentages). He currently sits just shy of that mark, boasting a still-insane .494/.499/.902 shooting slash. A quantity-plus-quality marksman, he has highlighted the major impact a specialist can have when he has mastered his craft.

    But analysts have a hard time figuring out exactly how much he's worth. ESPN.com's real plus-minus rates Korver as the 11th-most effective player this season. However, Basketball-Reference.com gives him an average 14.8 player efficiency rating, which ranks tied for 155th overall (minimum 25 games played).

    Korver doesn't have the numbers traditionally associated with a star. But he elevates the guys around him, which is a trait of elite NBA players.

    "Kyle is always going to make everyone around him a lot better," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, per ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle. "Whenever you have a shooter like that, it forces the defense to shift, and it creates space."

    Korver's three-point cannon put him in this discussion. The impact it has on his teammates—and his ability to help out in other ways—demanded his placement inside the top 10.

8. Monta Ellis, SG, Dallas Mavericks

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    Drafted: 40th in 2005

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 19.3 points, 4.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 17.2 PER

    Being overlooked is nothing new for Monta Ellis. He might be the best player the All-Star Game has never seen.

    His 19.4 career scoring average ranks 12th among active players and 62nd all-time. His reputation as a ball-dominant, high-volume, low-efficiency gunner glosses over the fact he has a better career field-goal percentage (45.4) than Kevin Love (44.8) and James Harden (44.4) and a higher career assist average (4.8) than Andre Iguodala (4.7) and Manu Ginobili (4.0).

    Labels can be hard to shake, and Ellis knows that a little too well. He'll never have the highest marks defensively—he's undersized at the 2 and gambles more than he should—but he's supremely skilled at the opposite end.

    For the "Ellis isn't a winner crowd," just consider this: He's the top scorer and second-best distributor on a team with a .625 winning percentage. He has the highest usage percentage (28.2) on a club that's going to grab a playoff spot in the overloaded Western Conference.

    Ellis has done everything the Dallas Mavericks have asked of him. But the remaining players on this list have done just a tad more.

7. Khris Middleton, SG, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Drafted: 39th in 2012

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 15.7 PER

    Don't be deceived by those numbersMilwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton is a star.

    Defensively, he's been as effective as any perimeter player in the league. His 3.93 defensive real plus-minus ranks eighth overall and first among shooting guards. Opponents are shooting 5.3 percentage points below their average when he defends them.

    With good size (6'7") and great length (6'10 ¾" wingspan, per DraftExpress), he can cycle through different defensive assignments without losing his advantage. He's quick enough to stay in front of guards and strong enough to bang with forwards on the post.

    But that's not the reason he ranks this high on the list. Not the only one, at least.

    He's spent the second half of this season obliterating his offensive ceiling. Since the All-Star break, he's been putting up 17.8 points on a sizzling .451/.434/.860 shooting slash line. His overall scoring average hasn't reflected that surge, but that's because he didn't start getting 30 minutes per game until January.

    Two-way play has always been key to NBA success, and versatility has become more valuable in today's pace-and-space game. Middleton checks off both boxes with ease.

6. Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Drafted: 33rd in 2010

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 26.4 PER

    Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been more than one of this season's best stories. Since grabbing a starting spot in January, he's been one of the league's most productive players.

    Only Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and James Harden have a higher PER. Whiteside, who's only played in 41 of Miami's 71 contests, has had the league's third-most games with 20-plus rebounds (four) and is tied for third with seven outings with at least five blocks.

    "I have never said this in the 40 years since I retired, but he is the first big guy, not [Patrick] Ewing, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Shaq [O'Neal], who reminds me defensively and on the boards of [Bill] Russell," Hall of Famer Bob Cousy said of Whiteside, per Bill Doyle of the Telegram & Gazette. "He runs the floor well, he has excellent timing, he blocks shots and keeps them in play the way Russell did."

    It's hard to imagine higher defensive praise than that.

    A freakish physical specimen (7'0" tall with a 7'7" wingspan), Whiteside is learning how to maximize his natural gifts. His offense is still a work in progress—although he has shown flashes of a soft shooting touch and fluidity in the low post—but his defense and work on the glass have given him a strong foundation to build around.

    The only thing holding him back on this list is the long route he took to Miami's rotation.

5. Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Drafted: 45th in 2008

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 16.4 points, 4.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 17.7 PER

    Miami Heat fans have never been slow to praise president of basketball operations Pat Riley, but they may need to throw a few more kind words his way. His trade-deadline heist of prolific point guard Goran Dragic may have altered the future of this franchise.

    The Heat will need to pay the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be at season's end to make that happen, but his production reveals proof of his value. Few players across the league have a stat sheet like his. Three players have averaged at least 16 points and four assists and shot above 50 percent from the field this season: Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant...and Dragic.

    And this is the Dragon's second consecutive year with those numbers. Durant, the reigning MVP, can make that claim. Griffin, a five-time All-Star, cannot.

    Dragic puts constant pressure on an opposing defense. He's equal parts scorer, shooter, slasher and table-setter. Of the 56 players who average at least six drives per game, no one converts a higher percentage of those looks than Dragic's 56.3. Take away his driving lanes, and he can light the lamp from distance (career 36.2 three-point percentage) or spot an open teammate.

    He isn't the best defender by any stretch, but he's a willing one. As any coach can attest, that's half the battle—if not more—of playing good defense.

    The fact that he's only fifth on this list highlights how much talent is available in the second round.

4. DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Drafted: 35th in 2008

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 20.7 PER

    Last season, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan paced the NBA in field-goal percentage (67.6) and rebounds per game (13.6). Believe it or not, he's set to pull off the feat again—with even better numbers than before (71.3 and 14.8, respectively).

    Capturing the crown in both areas would put Jordan into uber-exclusive historical company.

    "If he finishes this season leading the league in both categories, Jordan would become the first player to accomplish that feat in consecutive seasons since [Wilt] Chamberlain in 1971-72 and 1972-73," noted Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

    Jordan isn't a perfect player by any stretch. He's atrocious at the free-throw line (39.9 percent) and grades out as more of a good rim protector than a great one. He shares the offensive end with two terrific scorers in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and Jordan rarely puts up points on anything other than dunks and layups (88.1 percent of his total field goals).

    But there's nothing wrong with taking advantage of a good situation. And there's plenty to be said for a player who understands and respects his limits.

    Jordan embraces his role and excels at it. But it isn't quite big enough to grab a top-three spot here.

3. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Drafted: 35th in 2012

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 11.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 16.5 PER

    Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green is proof that numbers can lie. His stats don't initially look all that impressive. But history says they are downright absurd.

    Only two players have ever finished a season with at least 550 rebounds, 250 assists, 100 steals, 100 threes and 90 blocks: Kevin Durant in 2012-13 and LeBron James in 2008-09. Green has hit all those of marks already, and the Dubs still have 11 games left on their schedule.

    But here's the wild thing about Green: His best work often doesn't show up in the box score.

    You have to dig deeper to find that he ranks fourth overall with a 4.64 defensive real plus-minus or that the Warriors' league-leading defense allows 7.3 points per 100 possessions less when Green is on the floor than when he isn't.

    You have to watch the film to notice that his ability to guard all five positions is the secret to Golden State's defensive success.

    "Draymond [Green], to me, is the key to our defense," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told NBA.com's John Schuhmann. "He's the key figure, because as the power forward, he's frequently involved in screen-and-rolls. And because he's quick enough and active enough to switch out onto a point guard, we're able to stifle a lot of the first options out of the opponent's attacks."

    Green isn't a system player. He's the reason this system has been so successful.

2. Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Drafted: 47th in 2006

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 17.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 20.2 PER

    The Hawks have risen in the East on the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But don't use that as an excuse to overlook the individual brilliance this roster possesses.

    Do-it-all forward Paul Millsap gets too easily lost in the shuffle. His teammates all have obvious strengths: Korver's lights-out shooting, Jeff Teague's dribble penetrations, Al Horford's steady play in the post and DeMarre Carroll's lockdown defense. Millsap's dominance can be harder to detect.

    Frankly, he's too good across the board for any specific area to stand out above the rest.

    "Few players exhibit his versatile balance on offense and defense, and an even smaller number are able to maintain such all-around consistency," Bleacher Report's Michael Pina wrote for Rolling Stone. "Millsap does it all."

    Offensively, Millsap is a matchup nightmare. He can lock and load from distance, beat defenders off the bounce or bully his way to interior buckets. Defensively, he has the speed to stay in front of his man and the strength to withstand punishment on the low post.

    Five players are averaging at least 17 points, seven boards and three assists this season. Five players have real plus-minus ratings of at least 2.2 on both ends of the floor. Millsap is the only player to appear on both lists.

    His height (6'8") made him a second-round pick. His versatility made him an All-Star.

    But the top player on this list brings a little bit more on both sides of the ball.

1. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Drafted: 48th in 2007

    2014-15 Notable Numbers: 17.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 21.8 PER

    Stardom was never promised for Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.

    Sure, he had a massive frame and an NBA All-Star for a brother (Pau). But good luck convincing anyone who saw Marc in his younger days that he'd hit the genetics lottery.

    "If you happened to see Marc Gasol...in 2001, you would not have recognized a future NBA star," wrote Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. "Yes, he towered over classmates at 6'10", but he was beefy, with a roundish middle and baby fat in his cheeks. As skilled as he was on the court, with a deft passing touch and a smooth jump shot, Gasol bore no resemblance to an elite athlete."

    Gasol is a self-made superstar.

    He has a genius-level basketball IQ. He sees plays several steps before they happen, understands how to read angles and respects the difference between good shots and great ones. Combine those traits with a skill set that includes razor-sharp defense at the rim, a point guard's eye for passing, soft shooting from mid-range and forcefulness at the basket, and you've created one heck of an NBA player—and the best former second-round pick this season has to offer, in fact.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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