Best Values at Each Position from NBA Re-Draft Series
If the NBA re-draft series taught us anything, it's that while draft slot has a relationship to career value, it's far from a perfect one.
In several instances, the top real-life selection was nowhere near that position in his re-draft class.
The draft, then, is really about value. The teams that end up most successful tend to be the ones that nail their selections outside the top five.
Take the dynastic Golden State Warriors, who built themselves into a juggernaut with stars taken seventh (Stephen Curry), 11th (Klay Thompson) and 35th (Draymond Green). Zoom out and notice how Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, two of the game's top five players, weren't even selected in the lottery.
Our search for the most value has a couple of rules.
First, we're excluding top-five picks altogether. It's obviously impressive when a team gets more production from a player it took at No. 4 than that class' top overall selection. But that's not quite the same as squeezing maximum worth out of picks between six and 14.
We'll also split each position into two sections: lottery and non-lottery. We're only looking at draft classes since 2000, and factors determining value will include how productive the player was (or is) and how late he was taken.
With the re-draft series in the books, consider this a referendum on which teams got the most out of their picks.
Best Lottery Value: Stephen Curry, No. 7 in 2009
Three rings, two MVPs and six All-NBA nods later, sure, it defies reason that six players (and three point guards) came off the board ahead of Stephen Curry in 2009. At the time, though, it made sense to overlook the scrawny jump-shooter from a mid-major, partly because nobody foresaw the impending bull market for long-range marksmanship.
Of course, the three-point revolution was probably hard to see coming because Curry started it.
The engine of five straight Finals teams (yes, even the ones with Kevin Durant), the owner of the greatest offensive season in NBA history and the reason every kid on every playground now pulls up from 30 feet instead of 15, Curry is a generation-defining superstar.
There are loads of great players and great values here, but none fundamentally altered the sport like Curry did.
Honorable Mention: Damian Lillard, No. 6 in 2012
Anthony Davis may be the most productive player selected in 2012 (it's debatable), but he went first overall. Lillard, taken sixth, is the better value. He was the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and is now a five-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA honoree who led his team to the conference finals in 2018-19 and was having a career year in 2019-20 before the season stopped.
There are two players in NBA history with career averages of at least 24.0 points, 6.0 assists and 37.0 percent shooting from deep: Lillard and Larry Bird.
Best Non-Lottery Value: Tony Parker, No. 28 in 2001
Tony Parker finished in the top 15 of MVP voting seven different times, peaking at fifth in 2011-12. He also made four All-NBA teams, collected four rings and won Finals MVP in 2007. Among players picked in his 2001 class, only Pau Gasol has totaled more career win shares.
Not bad for the last pick of the first round.
Honorable Mention: Gilbert Arenas, No. 31 in 2001
Isaiah Thomas, picked 60th in 2011, deserves a quick shout before we get to Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas' prime was brief, but from 2004-05 through 2006-07, he was one of the NBA's top 10 players. His threes-and-layups game was a precursor for James Harden's, and no primary ball-handler was hoisting triples as often as Arenas in the mid-aughts. He was tops at his position during that three-year run with 7.2 long-range tries per game.
Best Lottery Value: Klay Thompson, 11th, 2011
Klay Thompson joining Curry to form the ultimate high-value lottery backcourt since 2000 might feel like Warriors propaganda. Consider the alternative: Golden State's dynasty was the direct result of getting far more production out of its draft picks than anyone had reason to expect.
Thompson is one of four shooting guards with at least five All-Star trips since 2000-01, and he was selected later than all of them. It helps his case that our top-five exclusion cuts Dwyane Wade and James Harden out of consideration, but rules are rules.
Arguably the best outside shooter to ever play his position, Thompson's 41.9 percent hit rate from deep is the third-highest ever among players who've attempted at least 4,000 career treys. He's a stout multi-position defender who takes the concept of "doesn't need the ball to dominate" to an extreme. Remember the time he scored 43 points on four dribbles? What about 60 points on 11 dribbles...in three quarters?
Oh, and he ran up 37 points in a quarter. Can't forget that one.
There's no such thing as a team Thompson wouldn't fit into perfectly, and we've seen repeated confirmation that he's built to compete in the highest-stakes scenarios imaginable.
Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson, 10th, 2001
A seven-time All-Star who averaged at least 20.0 points per game every year from 2005-06 to 2009-10, Johnson was an absolute bucket.
He shot 47.8 percent on threes with the 2004-05 Suns, functioning mainly as a spot-up threat. But as he aged and moved up a position (and then another), he morphed into a reliable isolation scorer.
Among guards who debuted in 2000 or later, Wade and Harden are the only ones with more total points than Johnson's 20,405.
Best Non-Lottery Value: Michael Redd, 43rd, 2000
Much like Arenas, Redd, our top non-lottery shooting guard, lands here on the strength of peak years in a short career. He averaged over 21.0 points per game for six straight seasons, the last of which was limited to 33 games. Injuries effectively ended his days as a star in 2008.
One of only 10 players to average at least 23.0 points per game from 2003-04 to 2008-09, Redd ranked fourth in that group in total threes made, despite missing significant time.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Korver, 51st, 2003...and Lou Williams, 45th, 2005
Let's double up to honor a pair of valuable but very different shooting guards.
Korver is one of the great three-point shooters in league history; his five seasons shooting over 45.0 percent from deep are the second most all time. He's also fourth in made threes and remains a helpful player at age 39, logging 16.7 minutes (and shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc) for the title-hunting 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks.
Williams is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, one of the rare smallish guards who actually improved in his 30s. He can prop up a second-unit offense like few others, leaning on elite foul-drawing craft and an array of scoring tricks.
Best Lottery Value: Paul George, No. 10 in 2010
Though it remains unclear whether he can be the best player on a championship team (we won't get an answer on that as long as he's playing with Kawhi Leonard), Paul George's resume is otherwise complete. He's been on the short list of the league's best two-way wings for at least a half-decade and spent most of the 2018-19 season as a top-three MVP candidate.
George is a suffocating defensive force. Long and blessed with supernatural anticipation off the ball, the 6'8" forward has made four All-Defensive teams, including a pair of first-team nods, most recently in 2018-19. He's at 38.0 percent from deep for his career, can run a pick-and-roll and routinely ranks among the top 10 percent in assist rate for his position.
George, a six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, should have been the first pick in the 2010 class. That makes him an absolute steal at No.10.
Honorable Mention: Richard Jefferson, No. 13 in 2001
Richard Jefferson found himself thrust into a major role on a Finals team almost immediately, playing 24.3 minutes per game for the New Jersey Nets as a rookie in 2001-02. The following season, when New Jersey returned to the Finals, he was a full-time starter.
Though his career averages of 12.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists don't jump off the page, remember that they're getting dragged down by his second act as a three-and-D reserve.
He handled that gig with aplomb for the title-winning Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron James' second tenure with the team. That Jefferson could contribute meaningfully to title-chasing organizations first as a high-usage, nearly star-level starter and then as a strategically deployed veteran backup speaks to his adaptable talent and smarts.
Though he was never an All-Star, Jefferson averaged at least 18.0 points per game in five different seasons and was both a transition nightmare and a defense-stretching three-point shooter at different points of his career. With more win shares than any wing in the 2001 class and a long, successful career that peaked with a ring in 2016, Jefferson isn't the type of player you're supposed to be able to get at No. 13 in a thin draft.
Best Non-Lottery Value: Kawhi Leonard, No. 15 in 2011
What even needs to be said here?
Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, arguably the greatest wing defender of this or any other era and an offensive weapon seemingly designed to dominate playoff basketball. It's not unreasonable, especially in light of what we all watched in the 2019 postseason, to make him the top pick in a "you're drafting a team to win a ring" hypothetical.
His combination of shutdown defense, unstoppable on-ball offense and deadly off-ball shooting simply doesn't exist in any other player today.
So yeah, he's a nice get at No. 15.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Butler, No. 30 in 2011
There's a case for switching Butler into Leonard's spot, based solely on the fact that 15 more picks elapsed in the same draft before anyone saw fit to snag a guy who might be 90 percent the player Leonard is.
A handful of distinctions make him the right choice as an honorable mention.
Butler has yet to prove himself as a team-leading, late-round playoff superstar, he's never really been a serious MVP candidate, and he falls well short of Leonard as an outside shooter. Still, he has actually made more All-Star games (five to four) and has two All-NBA nods to Leonard's three. He's no slouch.
Best Lottery Value: Amar'e Stoudemire, No. 9 in 2002
Five big men came off the board ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire in 2002, and he surpassed them all in career points, rebounds, win shares and value over replacement player. The margin between Stoudemire and the rest of his class would be even wider if injuries hadn't robbed him of nearly his entire age-23 season and severely compromised his athleticism by the time he was 29.
Maybe Stoudemire benefited from playing his best and healthiest years with Steve Nash, Mike D'Antoni and the trendsetting, uptempo Phoenix Suns. But there's no chance the frontcourt players picked ahead of him—Yao Ming, Drew Gooden, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Nene and Chris Wilcox—would have been as productive in Stoudemire's place.
And there's no way any of them could have inspired the unforgettable Stephon Marbury face.
His combination of speed in the open floor and lift around the rim were perfect in Phoenix, but they would have made Stoudemire a star anywhere.
Honorable Mention: Danilo Gallinari, No. 6 in 2008
Danilo Gallinari turned out to have a more productive career than O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, both of whom were selected ahead of him in 2008. But that's not saying much. His inclusion here illustrates that there really haven't been that many great lottery values at the 4 during the timeframe we're studying.
In fact, we even had to stretch the positional definition just to include Gallo. He's played the majority of his minutes at power forward in just four of his 11 seasons.
That said, Gallinari is one of only six players since 2000 to play at least 600 games with a 59.0 true shooting percentage and a usage rate above 21.0 percent. Coincidentally, Stoudemire is one of the others. The rest—Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard—all either have MVP trophies or probably should have gotten one (Dwight in 2010-11).
Best Non-Lottery Value: Giannis Antetokounmpo, No. 15 in 2013
Assuming there's an MVP awarded for the 2019-20 season, Giannis Antetokounmpo will become the 12th player in NBA history to win the league's highest individual honor in back-to-back campaigns.
He's been the best player on the NBA's best regular-season team two years running, he posted stats not seen since Wilt Chamberlain this year, and there's a great chance he becomes the third player to win MVP and DPOY in the same year, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Leonard, our top non-lottery value at small forward, was also a No. 15 pick. Forget tanking; smart teams should be trying to massage their records into the middle of the pack. There's apparently something special about this draft slot.
Honorable Mention: Draymond Green, No. 35 in 2012
The Warriors don't force the entire league to engineer switchable defenses, triggering a still-ongoing shift toward small lineups and versatility across all five positions, without Draymond Green sliding to center and birthing the Death Lineup.
They probably also don't win three rings without Green shuffling all over the floor, plugging holes, pissing people off and generally controlling the game with his mind—all while playing with an emotional intensity that, ironically, was hardly ever under control.
Green is a three-time All-Star who deserves to come up in the discussion of the most versatile and impactful defensive players in league history.
Additional Non-Lottery Shoutouts
This position is so loaded with post-lottery bargains that we had to make a special subsection to list them all. Carlos Boozer (No. 35 in 2002), Paul Millsap (No. 47 in 2006), Pascal Siakam (No. 27 in 2016) and Zach Randolph (No. 19 in 2001) are just a few examples of the ridiculous values we've seen at the 4 since 2000.
Best Lottery Value: Bam Adebayo, No. 14 in 2017
It feels appropriate that we just finished lauding Draymond Green since Bam Adebayo profiles as the next descendant in that specific player-type lineage.
Adebayo is similarly versatile on D, and though he doesn't have Green's lightspeed mental computing power, he's a better athlete who already has more off-the-dribble skill and an even higher ceiling as a playmaker. It's still early in Adebayo's career, so the Green comparison is premature. But you're fooling yourself if you're not seeing the parallels.
That Adebayo nearly fell all the way out of the 2014 lottery (and was projected by some to go much later than that) because he was raw and lacked feel, only to then demonstrate incredible passing skill and polish, speaks to the crapshoot nature of the draft.
Miami had some hot dice on this one.
Honorable Mention: Brook Lopez, No. 10 in 2008
Joakim Noah, taken ninth in 2007, was a consideration here. He won DPOY and finished a shocking fourth in MVP voting during 2013-14.
But now that Brook Lopez is also a mainstay in All-Defensive conversations, Noah's advantage on that end isn't as great. On the other, where Lopez's ability to stretch opposing centers out beyond the arc, opening up the space that makes Milwaukee's offense so potent, he's got Noah handily beaten.
Best Non-Lottery Value: Marc Gasol, No. 48 in 2007
Marc Gasol has everything necessary in a Hall of Fame center's resume: three All-Star nods, two All-NBA inclusions, a DPOY trophy, a championship and that harder-to-capture status as a symbol of a particular team in a particular era.
The Grit-'n-Grind Memphis Grizzlies got their edge from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, but it was Gasol's team-first approach and blue-collar game (with some slick passing mixed in) that made that group what it was.
Taken 48th in 2007, it's worth wondering if Gasol would have been drafted at all if his older brother wasn't already an All-Star.
Honorable Mention: Nikola Jokic, No. 41 in 2014
Only 25 and already acknowledged as the best passing center in the game, Nikola Jokic has a good chance to eventually overtake Gasol as the top non-lottery center value.
Jokic is the fulcrum of an offense in ways Gasol (and almost any other center in history) never was. He's already made a pair of All-Star teams and an All-NBA team, and he's averaged over 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in each of the last two seasons.
If Jokic's only skill were passing, perimeter accuracy or deft touch inside, he'd still make a huge impact. He's got all three, though, which puts him in the running for the unofficial title of "best center in the league" and renders him a once-in-a-generation talent.