Ranking the 10 Best 2nd-Round NBA Draft Picks of All Time
The NBA draft lottery can make or break an organization's fortunes. Securing the top pick can lead to a generational superstar and years of success.
But over the course of the league's history, a handful of those franchise-altering talents were actually found well outside the lottery. Nailing a second-round pick might almost be more satisfying than getting No. 1 right.
If you can parlay a selection that late in the draft into a star, team-building becomes an exponentially easier exercise.
The players who follow were exactly those kinds of picks. When most of these names were called on draft night, few likely recognized them. By the time they retired (or after a few years in the league), it was clear the teams that passed on them blew their opportunities to roster game-changers.
Methodology and Close Calls
Before we hit the top 10, some words on the methodology.
First, players included in this exercise had to be drafted in 1977 or later, simply because that's the first year in which the first round included 20 or more selections. It doesn't really fit the spirit of the exercise to include someone like Willis Reed, who was a second-rounder but still the eighth overall pick.
Next, players had to log at least 5,000 career regular-season minutes to qualify. That narrowed the field to 242 players.
Then, the top 50 in career regular-season wins over replacement player were plugged into one of our handy-dandy either-or voting exercises. That's one subjective component of the process.
All 50 of those players were then sorted by the average of their ranks (among each other) in that fan vote, MVP shares, championship points and playoff and regular-season box plus/minus, wins over replacement player, win shares per 48 minutes and win shares.
(Championship points are merely the total number of teams your squad bested in a title-winning season. For example, Marc Gasol gets 29 championship points for winning the title during a year in which there were 30 teams.)
Finally, a little extra weight was given to playoff and regular-season box plus/minus, as well as the fan vote. There's our other subjective component.
In the end, these were the first 10 players to miss the cut: Rashard Lewis, DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Danny Ainge, Danny Green, Nate McMillan, Trevor Ariza and Jerome Kersey.
10. Doc Rivers
The 31st overall pick in 1983 and a one-time All-Star, Doc Rivers is 68th all-time in career assists and 36th in career steals. His career defensive box plus/minus is the 17th-best mark in league history.
From 1985-86 to 1987-88, he averaged 13.0 points, 9.4 assists and 2.0 steals. He was seventh in the league in box plus/minus during that stretch, trailing only Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Clyde Drexler.
Most modern fans will know him for the title he won as the head coach of the Boston Celtics or as the longtime coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, but this second-round pick did plenty as a player.
Beyond being able to engineer his team's offenses for nearly a decade (he started 586 of the 704 games he played during his first 10 years), Rivers was often tasked with defending the opposition's top perimeter player. And as that top-20 career DBPM suggests, he generally rose to that challenge.
9. Paul Millsap
Paul (The Anchorman?) Millsap developed from a rebounding specialist early in his career with the Utah Jazz to become one of the game's premier Swiss Army knife forwards.
Over the course of his career, Millsap has averaged 18.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per 75 possessions. DeMarcus Cousins is the only player in NBA history who matches or exceeds all five marks.
And if he gets six more career blocks, he'll become just the 15th player in league history with at least 7,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks.
Now, as he ages into his mid-30s, Millsap remains a critically important player for a title contender. Over the course of his three seasons with the Denver Nuggets, his team is plus-7.7 points per 100 possessions with Millsap on the floor and minus-0.2 with him off.
8. Mark Price
Mark Price, who is 40th all-time in career box plus/minus, is one of the greatest shooters ever.
When he retired in 1998, his 53.0 career effective field-goal percentage ranked third among players who attempted at least as many threes, trailing only Reggie Miller and Dale Ellis. To this day, his 90.4 free-throw percentage ranks third in NBA history.
But Price was much more than just a shooter. His 6.7 assists per game rank 30th all-time. And when you combine those two skills, his production is nearly unprecedented.
Just 42 players in NBA history have recorded at least 1,000 career three-point attempts and a 40-plus three-point percentage. Steve Nash is the only player in that group with a higher assist percentage than Price.
7. Maurice Cheeks
From 1980-81 to 1987-88, Maurice Cheeks had an eight-year peak in which he averaged 12.9 points, 7.5 assists and 2.4 steals while ranking 13th in box plus/minus.
In the same stretch, he made four All-Star teams and helped the Philadelphia 76ers win a title in 1983 alongside Moses Malone and Julius Erving.
His two-way contributions were summed up well on the Sixers' team website:
"Always in control, Cheeks knew when to make defenses pay for not respecting his own scoring ability, but getting those points was always in the flow of the offense. Despite that gentlemanly and equitable offensive disposition, Cheeks took the velvet gloves off when it came to defense. Don't get things twisted. He played that nasty defense fairly, but it was nasty nonetheless. You can't fully quantify defensive filthiness, but watching Maurice hunker down into his defensive stance was an imposing sight for opposing guards."
Most of the accolades and attention understandably went to Erving, Malone and, later, Charles Barkley. But Cheeks was often the engine of those teams in Philly.
6. Toni Kukoc
Understandably overshadowed by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and even Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc was nevertheless a critical piece of the three-peat Chicago Bulls of the late 1990s.
Essentially a point forward off the bench (until he started 52 games in 1997-98), Kukoc averaged 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 28.1 minutes per contest during the three championship campaigns.
And in that Last Dance season, he ably took on a bigger role.
"Toni was instrumental when Pip missed the first 30 some games [in 1997-98]," then-Chicago head coach Phil Jackson told Sam Smith of the team's website. "He was a terrific player who has been overlooked."
Up until Pippen's return that season, Kukoc averaged 14.2 points, 4.7 assists and 1.1 threes with a 37.5 three-point percentage as MJ's No. 2.
The next season, he finally had a shot to lead his own team. The Bulls were terrible (13-37, to be exact), but Kukoc averaged 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
In many ways, Kukoc was the trailblazer for players like Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic. When he entered the league, players born outside the United States were still often perceived as "soft." But his wide-ranging skills were a glimpse of things to come from other continents.
5. Draymond Green
After he averaged 2.9 points and shot 32.7 percent from the field over 79 games as a rookie, few could've predicted that Draymond Green would develop into a multi-time All-Star and one-time Defensive Player of the Year.
But a drive to improve, a willingness to do everything on defense and an injury suffered by David Lee put Green in the Golden State Warriors' starting lineup during his third season.
"[Head coach Steve] Kerr says he came in believing Lee would be his starting power forward," Monte Pool wrote for NBC Sports in November 2017. "Lee had the misfortune of straining a hamstring in the final preseason game, pressing Green into the starting lineup. He has been there ever since."
The rest, as they say, was history.
Over the ensuing four seasons, Green averaged 11.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks. He was 16th in box plus/minus and second in raw plus/minus during that stretch from 2014-15 through 2017-18.
4. Nikola Jokic
Think it's too early to have Nikola Jokic here? Consider the following.
Among the players who qualified for this exercise, Jokic is first in win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, MVP shares, playoff win shares per 48 minutes and playoff box plus/minus. He trailed only Manu Ginobili in the fan vote.
And forget the comparison to other second-rounders. Among all players with at least 5,000 career minutes, Jokic trails only Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Magic Johnson and David Robinson in box plus/minus.
The game behind those numbers is even more impressive than the stats.
His water polo-esque playmaking was something we'd never seen before he entered the league. He has feathery shooting touch from all three levels on offense.
And despite his reputation, he has always been a solid defender thanks to his size, quick hands and the fact that he's generally in the right spot. Denver's defense has been comfortably better with Jokic on the floor in each of his five seasons.
3. Jeff Hornacek
Many know Jeff Hornacek for his role as the third wheel on the late-1990s Utah Jazz teams that faced Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. And he was excellent in that role, averaging 14.4 points and 4.0 assists while shooting 42.8 percent from three during his seven years in Utah.
But he put up borderline superstar numbers over his last four full seasons before joining the Jazz. As a member of the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers from 1989-90 to 1992-93, Hornacek went for 18.5 points and 5.6 assists per game with a 41.2 three-point percentage.
The combo guard only made one All-Star appearance in his career, but he's 48th all-time in career wins over replacement player.
2. Marc Gasol
Shortly after the Memphis Grizzlies sent Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, two first-round picks and Marc Gasol, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich went off.
"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense," he said. "I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."
Reactions like that and Stephen A. Smith's famous rant still make plenty of sense in hindsight. The Lakers won two titles with Pau, whose net rating swing was a hefty plus-6.0 points per 100 possessions over those two postseasons.
But it wasn't quite the landslide many made it out to be at the time.
Pau's younger brother, Marc, is now Memphis' franchise leader in career box plus/minus, wins over replacement player, win shares, blocks, rebounds, free throws, two-pointers, field goals and minutes played.
During his 10-plus seasons with the Grizzlies, Gasol made three All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13. And Memphis was plus-1.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to minus-2.4 with him off.
Then, in 2018-19, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and instantly became a high-post playmaking hub and defensive anchor for the eventual champions.
1. Manu Ginobili
Even before the criteria were put in place for this project, Manu Ginobili ending up at No. 1 felt inevitable.
The 57th pick in a 58-player 1999 draft, Ginobili was an instant-impact player when he came to the San Antonio Spurs three years later.
As a rookie in 2002-03, he averaged 9.4 points and 2.9 assists in 27.5 minutes per game during the title-winning postseason run. San Antonio was plus-15.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-7.0 with him off over those 24 playoff games.
And his role took off from there.
Ginobili went on to make two All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams. He won three more championships and was the 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year, and he's 17th in league history in career playoff wins over replacement player.
Over the course of his career, the Spurs were plus-7.7 points per 100 possessions with Manu on the floor in the playoffs and minus-2.5 with him off.