In theory, the best players are selected in the first picks of the NBA Draft, and usually the first picks live up to expectations. However, sometimes they turn out to be busts, while the real superstars are taken in later rounds.
It feels weird to see some of the biggest players of all time decided outside the first 10 picks in a draft, and even some of them out of the top 20. These NBA players fell off teams’ draft lists because scouts didn’t see much potential in them, but these guys ended up proving everyone wrong. Without further ado, below are the 10 biggest draft steals in NBA history.
10 Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard was the 15th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, by the Indiana Pacers, but was immediately sent to the San Antonio Spurs along with Dāvis Bertāns and Erazem Lorbek in exchange for George Hill. Leonard had a slow start in the NBA, but progressively improved to become one of the best players of his generation. Kawhi has been a two-time NBA champion, being the Finals MVP both times, he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s been named All-NBA First Team three times.
9 Draymond Green
Draymond Green is one of the best defenders in the NBA in the last 10 years, hands down. In fact, he’s been named All-Defensive team on seven occasions. He has been crucial to the Golden State Warriors’ four championships, averaging 11.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in the playoffs. Anyone would say Draymond Green was among the top 10 picks in his class, but he was actually the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft.
8 Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginóbili was the 57th overall pick in the 1999 draft, that is, he was taken second to last. Amazing, isn’t it? Ginobili ended up with the highest VORP player in that class (47.1), scoring over 14,000 points, with over 4,000 assists and 3,500 rebounds and 1,300 steals. In addition, Gino finished his career with four championship rings and, most importantly, he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
7 Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak is one of the most dominant players in the NBA in recent years, an unstoppable force in the paint, and a natural rebounder. Giannis Antetokounmpo was born to play basketball, but for some reason scouts didn’t take him seriously, and he was the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft. It is inexplicable that 14 teams ignored Giannis, who has been the best player in that class by far. Anthony Bennet was the first pick that year, and that was one of the worst first picks of all time.
6 Rudy Gobert
The Denver Nuggets selected Rudy Gobert with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, which is unbelievable. This French Center has had a brilliant NBA career, recording 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in nine years with the Utah Jazz.
Gobert is a three-time Defensive Player Of The Year, and he’s a mainstay on the All-NBA Defensive team, with six appearances. Rudy Gobert is one of the best foreign players in the NBA so far, and perhaps one of the best foreign players of all time.
5 Dennis Rodman
The NBA Hall of Famer was a rebounding champion for seven consecutive seasons, averaging 16.7 rebounds per game in that span. But in addition to his unique ability to grab rebounds, Dennis Rodman was a major contributor defensively, being one of the best defenders of his generation, in fact, he twice won the defensive player of the year award. To top it off, The Worm won five championships, two with the Detroit Pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls. Believe or not, Rodman was the 27th overall pick in the 1986 draft.
4 John Stockton
John Stockton was the 16th overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, and it’s safe to say that no one thought this guy would end his career as the all-time leader in assists, with 15,806, a record that will probably never be broken. Stockton won the assists title on nine straight seasons, which is, absolutely mind-blowing. Stock won two steals title as well, and he made the All-NBA team 11 times.
3 Karl Malone
The following draft, the Utah Jazz selected Karl Malone with the 13th pick. That’s right, the Jazz stole the draft in two consecutive years. Malone had a legendary career, winning two MVP awards, and appearing 14 times in the All-Star game.
The Mailman averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, and, according to Stathead, he had 706 20-Pt/10-Reb games, the most in NBA history. Malone was the best player in the 1985 class, even better than the first pick, Patrick Ewing.
2 Kobe Bryant
Another inexplicable 13th pick was none other than Kobe Bryant. How on earth did 12 teams pass up on Kobe Bryant? And to make matters worse, the Charlotte Hornets selected him, but traded him before his debut to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.
Kobe ended up being an NBA Hall of Famer, with five Championship rings, he was a two-time Finals MVP, 2007-08 MVP, two-time scoring champion and made the All-NBA team 15 times. Kobe averaged 25 points per game, racking up 33,643 points.
1 Nikola Jokić
Nikola Jokić was the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and with the simple fact that he has won two consecutive MVP awards, and that it seems he hasn’t reached his peak yet, it can be said that he is the biggest draft steal in NBA history. The Serbian has been improving his numbers year after year, and in the 2021-22 season he put up video game stats, 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Nikola Jokić is the best player in the NBA right now, hands down.