Let’s be honest, not every single draft pick by an NBA team is going to work out. In fact, only a small fraction of the players drafted in the first round go on to become champions, all-stars, and all-pros. This is why taking an amazing player late is so difficult. Some of the best NBA Draft steals in history have even become franchise players. However, what is considered an NBA Draft steal? For us, the criteria for this is quite simple. Could a player have been taken higher if we did their draft over again? Would Pick #40 be the #5 Pick if we went back, knowing what we do? More importantly, did a player go far too late?
For our personal criteria, we wanted to make sure we put a list together that exposed the best steals in history. Some at the time made sense to go higher but if we did things over, they may still not move up much. For example, Michael Jordan was still drafted #3 overall but the #1 overall pick that same draft was Hakeem Olajuwon. It’s hard to say MJ needed to go over him. This is why our Draft Steal criteria will be based on picks that were taken outside the Top 10. That means those drafted anywhere in that sector will not count, even if they could have gone a bit earlier. With that said, we hope you enjoy our list of the 50 greatest NBA Draft steals in history.
40. Hassan Whiteside (Drafted 32nd Overall In 2010)
Most did not have faith in Hassan Whiteside. He was thought to have some talent but not enough, which resulted in Sacramento, the team that drafted him, to send him down to the D-League. They ended up letting him go and Miami took him on by 2012. He’d put up a respectable 11 points per game.
The following year, Whiteside exploded and has been a stud in the NBA ever since. He led the entire NBA in blocks in 2016 then led the NBA in rebounds in 2017! He now averages around 16 points, just over 11 rebounds, and around 2 blocks per game. Whiteside is the epitome of an NBA Draft steal, sadly the Kings did not benefit from it.
39. Patrick Beverley (Drafted 42nd Overall In 2009)
It is true that Patrick Beverley will not impress most with his scoring ability, though he can score relatively well. The main thing that he brings to the table is an elite defensive ability. With Houston, he was often put on an unstoppable point or shooting guard and the same thing continues today with the Los Angeles Clippers.
He averages around 2 steals a game and is one of the best defenders in the league. This has led to him landing on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2014 and the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2017. He’s a player every team truly needs, which is pretty special for the 42nd overall pick.
No one is really certain why David West fell to 18th in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was an impressive college player and was even named the AP National Player of the Year coming out. He fell to the Hornets and proceeded to have a terrific career, averaging around 20 points a game and even becoming a 2-time NBA All-Star.
West has always been renowned for being vocal and tough on the court. After leaving New Orleans he bounced around the NBA until he landed with Golden State, where he has been a useful bench player for the team. This also resulted in 2 NBA Championships. Not a bad career at all for Mr. West.
37. Khris Middleton (Drafted 39th Overall In 2012)
It seems that the team that drafted Khris Middleton, the Detroit Pistons, never wanted to give him time to develop. This is when he landed in the lap of the Milwaukee Bucks who developed him into a 12 points-per-game player in only his second year in the league. He has improved every year since and now averages over 20 points per game.
Despite his scoring, Khris is also capable of around 2 steals a game and taking down 6 rebounds as a guard or forward. Thus making him possible for defending and playing several positions. Middleton even made the All-Star team in 2019 and is now a major cog in the Bucks becoming threats to win the East for years to come.
It took some time for Paul Millsap to work out in the NBA, but it seems he managed to do this pretty well. Taken 47th overall by the Utah Jazz, he’d ride the bench a bit for the team before impressing enough to start. By 2008, he averaged 14 points per game and eventually averaged around 20 with the Jazz for years before leaving for Atlanta.
He is not only an impressive scorer but also a good rebounder and defender. As a defender, he has been known for his blocks and might be the best big man steal artists ever. This has resulted in Millsap landing on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2016. Millsap has become a 4-time NBA All-Star during his career.
Ever since Jrue Holiday entered the league in 2009, he had something special. However, it took him a little bit to figure things out seemingly. By year two, he seemed to know how to operate. Originally drafted by the 76ers, he played well there before ending up with New Orleans.
Jrue not only improved his own scoring but he also was able to become a tremendous passer, just as he was in college. He’s also a defensive nightmare, as he averages around 2 steals a game. Holiday has been an NBA All-Star and landed on the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2018 & the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2019. Certainly, among the best NBA Draft steals in our books.
Jeff Hornacek was a tremendous shooting guard for multiple teams during his NBA career. Originally drafted by Phoenix, he became a great player for them. He’d reach the 20 points per game mark his last year with the Suns before going to Philadelphia for a few years where he averaged around 20 points yet again for a few years.
Hornacek played his final 7 years with the Utah Jazz where he was a critical part of the team getting into the NBA Finals a few times. Although he never won a title, he did become an All-Star once and won the NBA 3-Point contest twice. Due to his major career and overall contributions, he has to be considered one of the best NBA Draft steals ever.
Coming out of Duke, one would have assumed Carlos Boozer would have been given more credit by scouts. Sadly, he wasn’t and it resulted in the big man going 35th overall. He had a very respectable few years in Cleveland before ending up in Utah. For the Jazz, Boozer averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for 6 years straight.
Upon heading to Chicago, it was much of the same for Boozer until his retirement. Boozer became a 2-time NBA All-Star and even ended up on the All-NBA Third Team in 2008. Not bad for being a 35th overall pick.
Before entering the NBA, Goran Dragic was already one of the best European players in the world. Although he was drafted by Phoenix late in 2008, he actually did not do much with them to begin his career. That led to Goran ending up with Houston where he improved drastically and then ended back up on the Suns.
He spiked up to 20 points per game, earning him the 2014 NBA Most Improved Player Award and landing him on the All-NBA Third Team the same year. He remained on that level before he landed with the Heat where he has stood out as a good scorer ever since. Dragic eventually became an NBA All-Star with Miami in 2008. All of this proving why he is one of the best NBA Draft steals ever.
While his son is doing well in the NBA today, Larry Nance, Sr. was one of the best forwards in the NBA during his playing career. For nearly entire playing career (82-94) Nance averaged at least 16 points per game. This included large stretches at 20 or more points too. Nance is also known for his incredible defensive abilities.
From 1986 to 1992, he averaged over 2 blocks a game with one year at 3 blocks per game. All of this resulted in him landing on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice and the NBA All-Defensive First Team once. Nance even became a 3-time NBA All-Star during his career. Nance is also still Top 20 in total career blocks with 2,027.
Coming out of Kentucky, he was one of several players that left the university for the NBA in 2015. However, Booker was a scoring machine with the Wildcats, despite coming off the bench. This is likely why he landed 13th overall for the Phoenix Suns. Booker proved he was one of the best NBA Draft steals ever when he began dominating as a scorer in the Western Conference.
Since 2016, he has put up 22 points per game without faltering. His best year thus far was this past season (2018-2019) when he put up just over 26 points per game on average. He even averaged just under 7 assists this past season as well. Booker is going to be a force in the NBA for years to come, that is for certain.
In 1986, there were not as many teams as there are now. Therefore, 25th overall was in the second round funny enough. Price proved to be one of the best players in this draft when he went on to be a top player for the Cleveland Cavaliers for an entire decade. He was able to average 16 points from 1987 to 1995, with years of 20 points per game.
Price was impressive defensively too, averaging around 2 steals a game while with Cleveland. He’s also one of the best free throw shooters in NBA history, leading the league in the category 3 times. Price landed on the All-NBA First Team once and the All-NBA Third Team three times. This is on top of being a 4-time NBA All-Star and a 2-time 3-point Shootout winner.
Gilbert Arenas was not highly touted coming out of college. This led to Arenas being drafted at the 31rst spot by Golden State. However, by his second year in the NBA, Arenas was putting up 18 points per game. Gilbert then jumped to Washington where he became a Wizards legend. For 5 straight years (2003 to 2008) he was able to average at least 20 points per game.
He’d even put up near 30 a game during the 05-06 season. Arenas also put up near 2 steals a game and even proved himself as a gifted passer. He was able to win the 2003 NBA Most Improved Player Award, landed on the All-NBA Second Team (2007), and the All-NBA Third Team (2005, 2006). Gilbert even became a 3-time NBA All-Star. Its clear Arenas was one of the best NBA Draft steals ever!
Nikola Jokic has proven himself as a massively valuable big man in the NBA today. While he was taken in the second round due to not having a major European career by the time he declared for the NBA Draft, he did have every tool to succeed. By his second year in the NBA, Jokic was putting up around 17 points per game & 10 Rebounds. He has only improved since.
Every year afterward, Nikola kept putting up around 10 rebounds a game and recently averaged 20+ points per game. He has even proven himself to be the best passing big man in the NBA today! This led to Jokic being an NBA All-Star & land on the All-NBA First Team in 2019. As long as he stays healthy, Jokic will be a major force in the NBA for years.
Maurice Cheeks was one heck of a point guard in the NBA for more than a decade. The Philadelphia 76ers did not expect much from Cheeks early on, but he stood out right off. Maurice was never known for his amazing scoring ability, as he mostly put up 12 points per game on average his entire career. However, he was an amazing defender and passer.
Maurice was able to average near 3 steals a game a large portion of his career and it resulted in Cheeks being added to NBA All-Defensive Second Team once and the All-NBA First Team 4 times during his career. On top of this, Cheeks became an NBA All-Star 4 times and even won an NBA Championship in 1983. This is one heck of a career!
Michael Redd went to Ohio State, so one would have assumed enough scouts would have seen that Redd was worthy of a good pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. It was one of the weakest drafts of the 2000s, so there were tons of busts yet Redd succeeded heavily upon his arrival to Milwaukee. He did not play much his first year, but by year two, Redd began to destroy teams.
In fact, from 2003 to 2009, Redd put up 21 points or more per game each year. Injuries hurt him later on, which caused Redd’s career to end sooner than it would have. However, he was an NBA All-Star and even landed on the All-NBA Third Team once. He also has an Olympic Gold Medal, helping America win at the 2008 Summer Games.
The defensive mastermind, Rudy Gobert, was drafted 27th Overall in 2013 but was traded that same night to the Utah Jazz where he has been ever since. By 2015, he was a true starter that made the Jazz a huge defensive threat. Since 2015, Gobert has averaged 11 rebounds a game and even improved as a scorer.
The real thing Rudy brings to the table is his blocking ability. He led the league in blocks in 2017, in fact. He has a career 2.2 blocks per game average as of now too. This helped Gobert win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2017. Thus far, he has landed on the All-NBA Second Team once, All-NBA Third Team once, and has been on the NBA All-Defensive First Team three times.
Dennis Johnson is known as one of the greatest players in history, making him one of the best NBA Draft steals ever. He was an impressive bench player for the Boston Celtics from 1976 to 1981, despite averaging around 18 points a game in that time. While Dennis could score quite well, he was also an amazing defender and could even pass the ball very well too.
This helped Johnson land on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team 3 times & the NBA All-Defensive First Team 6 times. Due to his impressive play, he also made it onto the All-NBA Second Team & All-NBA Third Team one time each and was a 5-time NBA All-Star. Dennis was also a critical part of helping Boston win 3 NBA Championships and was the 1979 NBA Finals MVP.
While he was not an amazing player right off, Butler became great by 2015. This led to Jimmy Butler winning the NBA Most Improved Player Award In 2015. Since this timeframe, he has put up 20 points a game or more each year on average. He’s also an unsung defensive nightmare. This allowed him to land on the NBA All-Defensive Team 4 times thus far.
Due to being an all-around player, he landed on the All-NBA Third Team twice and he’s been a 4-time NBA All-Star thus far in his career. It’s clear that Butler is one of the best NBA Draft steals ever, but it’s undetermined how much better he will get. That is scary for opposing teams for sure.
You’d think that being the brother of Pau Gasol would earn him more respect but NBA scouts didn’t actually see Marc Gasol as an impressive player right off. This led to him dropping to 48th overall to the same team that took his brother, the Memphis Grizzlies. Since 2008, Marc has put up no less than 11 points per game on average.
From 2014 to 2018, he put 17 points per game up on average too. Marc is an amazing defender, allowing him to land on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team once and even becoming the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been on the All-NBA Second Team & All-NBA First Team once each. This on top of being a 3-time NBA All-Star. If that wasn’t enough, a random trade would send him to Toronto in Feb. of 2019 where he’d win the 2019 NBA Championship.
Taken dead-last in the 2011 Draft, Isiah Thomas was not expected to be much of anything in the NBA when Sacramento took him with the pick. He was able to stand out right off as a scorer, which allowed him to eventually land in Phoenix and finally Boston where he’d become one of the best scorers in the league. Though not much of a defender, Thomas can pass very well too.
Due to an injury, Thomas has bounced around the league since his impressive 2016-2017 season when he put up near 29 points per game. His impressive play led to him landing on the All-NBA Second Team in 2017 and an NBA All-Star in 2016 & 2017.
19. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace (Drafted 18th Overall in 1999)
While going 18th overall isn’t a bad spot for most, the 1999 draft is filled with busts in the first round. Artest was someone that could get it done offensively but he truly stood out as a defender throughout his career. From 2000 to 20008, he averaged 2 or more steals a game, in fact.
Eventually, Ron became the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He has landed on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team & All-Defensive First Team twice each. Artest has also been an NBA All-Star and helped the LA Lakers win an NBA Championship in 2010.
18. Nate “Tiny” Archibald (Drafted 19th Overall In 1970)
Back in 1970, being drafted 19th meant you were a second round pick. In his time, Nate was considered “too small” to be effective coming out of college. His size ultimately made him a nightmare for defenders, allowing a speedy Archibald to run by them with ease. Nate was an amazing scorer, even proving this from 1971 to 1977 when he scored around 21 points a game or more.
He actually led the league in scoring, assists, and minutes played in 1973. In total for his career, he landed on the All-NBA Second Team twice and the All-NBA First Team three times, even becoming an NBA All-Star 6 times. On top of this, Nate became an NBA Champion in 1981.
When one thinks about great NBA Draft steals, you cannot overlook Joe Dumars. He improved every year he played in the NBA, even rising in points per game each year from 1985 to 1991. He averaged around 17 points per game throughout his career with some spots of 20 points per game or more too. Joe was also a gifted defender, as were most on the “Bad Boy” Pistons of the 80s.
He’d land on the NBA All-Defensive Team once but the All-Defensive First Team 4 times. Dumars became a 6-time NBA All-Star and helped the Detroit Pistons win two NBA Championships. For the one in 1989, he was even the NBA Finals MVP!
Alex English is one of the best scorers in NBA history, yet he’d hit the top of the second round in the 1976 NBA Draft. He was able to prove his scoring prowess by 1978. Yet from 1979 all the way to 1989, he averaged 21 to 25 points per game. He actually led the NBA in scoring in 1983 too.
English made the All-NBA Second Team three times in his career and was an 8-time NBA All-Star. He is also still 18th all-time on the NBA’s career points list. He is clearly proven to be one of the best NBA Draft steals ever!
Not much was expected out of DeAndre Jordan when he made it to the NBA but he quickly proved to be one of the best NBA Draft steals in years. By 2011, people were seeing Jordan as a defensive threat who was also a risk to score. This resulted in Jordan leading the league in Field Goal percentage each year from 2012 to 2017 & lead the NBA in rebounding twice (2014, 2015).
Since 2013 Jordan has averaged around 13 rebounds and two blocks per game. This is likely why DeAndre has landed on the NBA All-Defensive First Team twice. He even made the All-NBA First Team and his first NBA All-Star appearance in 2017.
It took a few years for Kyle Lowry to adjust to the NBA upon being drafted in 2006. However, he has since proven himself as one of the best NBA Draft steals in history due to his work since 2010. From this point to the present day, Lowry has averaged around 15 points per game with a few years seeing him average 20 or more.
He was able to land on the All-NBA Third Team in 2016 and Lowry has also managed to be an NBA All-Star 5 times thus far. This past season, he was also instrumental in helping the Toronto Raptors win the 2019 NBA Championship, the first in franchise history.
To some, Steve Nash went where he should have in 1995 but looking at his career, he could have easily been picked in the Top 5 of the draft. Nash was known for being an amazing passer who could somewhat score while he played for Dallas. Upon his arrival to Phoenix, his passing remained impressive but now he proved he could be a deadly scorer.
Overall, Nash is an 8-time NBA All-Star who led the league in assists 5 times. He landed on the All-NBA First Team three times and is a 2-time NBA MVP. Nash is still third all-time in career assists with 10,335 total.
There were several impressive players that came out of the 1985 NBA Draft, but if any team can say they grabbed one of the best NBA Draft steals that year, it’s the Utah Jazz. Malone fell to them at 13th overall and he would go on a tear with the team right away. In fact, from 1986 to 2003, Malone put up 20 points per game or more with most being over 25.
Karl was also known for being an impressive rebounder and remains 7th All-Time in career rebounds as a result. He was also an 11-time NBA All-Star and 10-time All-NBA First Team selection. Not to mention, he is a 2-time NBA MVP. Oh yeah, and he’s still second all-time in career points.
Check out the 1983 draft when you can and you’ll just how big a miss so many teams made that year. Clyde Drexler became one of the best NBA Draft steals in history when Portland took him 14th overall. This resulted in Drexler lighting the league on fire as a scorer. He averaged over 20 points per game for his career which likely how he became a 10-time NBA All-Star.
Drexler landed on the All-NBA Third Team twice, All-NBA Second Team twice, and All-NBA First Team once. He eventually joined the Rockets where Clyde was able to win the 1995 NBA Championship alongside Hakeem Olajuwon.
The story of the 2011 NBA Draft is that teams missed hard or hit it big. Golden State belongs to the latter, as they drafted Klay Thompson who somehow landed in their laps at 11th overall. As a member of the “Splash Brothers” for the Warriors, Klay has quickly become one of the deadliest shooters in the NBA.
He can hit 3’s all game and completely light up teams if they don’t guard him. He averages over 20 points for his career and has done this as a second or third option on Golden State. This has resulted in him becoming a 5-time NBA All-Star and 2-time All-NBA Third Team selection. To top it off, he’s a 3-time NBA Champion as well.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Drafted 15th Overall In 2013)
The impressive Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the greatest NBA Draft steals ever, full stop. The 7-footer is impressively athletic and capable of doing anything. He’s an amazing scorer, rebounder, and defender. He has also improved in every major stat line every single year of his career.
This has resulted in a 2019 year where he averaged 12 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, and over 27 points per game. All in all, Giannis is a 3-time NBA All-Star, 2-time All-NBA Second Team selection (2017, 2018), an All-NBA First-Team selection (2019), an All-Defensive First Team (2019) selection, and All-Defensive Second Team selection(2017). He should also end up being the 2019 NBA MVP.
The 1984 draft was loaded but had several misses in it along with great players too. Stockton happened to randomly fall to the Utah Jazz at 16th overall and he’d make every team regret passing up on him. Stockton is now known to NBA fans as the greatest passer and steals artist who ever lived. He is #1 all-time in both passes and steals for a career by a massive margin.
Stockton led the league in assists 9 times and led the league 2 times in steals. He is a 10-time NBA All-Star who is, quite frankly, one of the most unstoppable players who ever lived. This is mostly because he played both sides of the ball and was a nightmare for every team. Gary Payton even claimed Stockton was a harder guard than Michael Jordan. That is saying something!
It’s quite clear by now that Manu Ginobili is one of the greatest NBA Draft steals ever. To find him at 57th overall and see him become so amazing is saying a lot. Manu was always a great European player but no one knew how he’d adapt to the NBA upon arrival. However, he proved to be massively valuable to the San Antonio Spurs as a part of their big three for more than a decade.
This resulted in Manu being a 2-time NBA All-Star and 2-time All-NBA Third Team selection. Due to an injury, Manu had to miss some time and then the Spurs made him a bench man in 2007-2008, which resulted in Manu being named the 2008 NBA Sixth Man of the Year! All in all, Manu helped the Spurs win 4 NBA Championships. That is something special!
During the 80s, the NBA had more than 2 rounds for the draft. This is how Mark Eaton was capable of being picked in what amounted to the 4th round at the 72nd overall pick by Utah in 1982. Eaton developed into one of the greatest defensive players to ever play the game. For his career, he averaged an NBA record 3.5 blocks per game.
He also led the league in blocks 4 times, with one year putting up a still NBA record 5.6 blocks per game. He is a 2-time All-Defensive Second Team selection & 3-time All-Defensive First Team selection. This is on top of being a former NBA All-Star and 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Mark is still 4th all-time in total blocks with 3,064.
The Spurs got it right more than once later in the draft and managed to pick up the future Hall of Famer Tony Parker at 28th overall in 2001. Like Manu, Parker was an amazing European player but some did not know how well he’d translate to the NBA. Parker was able to make everyone pay as he became a major fixture for the Spurs for a decade.
He had several years where he put up 17 points per game or more. Overall, his success at the Spurs led to being a 6-time NBA All-Star, 3-time All-NBA Second Team Selection, and 1-time All-NBA Third Team selection. Parker is also a key reason why the Spurs won 4 NBA Championships while he was there, even taking NBA Finals MVP honors in 2007 to prove it.
Draymond Green is one of the most well known NBA Draft steals in history for obvious reasons. He is a massive reason why the Golden State Warriors have been successful. Green is an amazing rebounder and defender, yet he is also one of the most gifted passers in the NBA too.
As a defender, Green is a 2-time All-Defensive Second Team selection and 3-time All-Defensive First Team selection. He led the league in steals & even won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2017. Green is a 3-time NBA All-Star, 1-time All-NBA Third Team selection, and 1-time All-NBA Second Team selection. As previously mentioned, he has also been a key reason for the Warriors’ title runs, helping them win 3 NBA Championships.
Kawhi Leonard has proven himself to be among the best NBA Draft steals ever. He came into the league as a good defender but quickly improved as a scorer as well. By 2015, he was putting up 21 points per game and up. Yet he has always relied on his defensive abilities. This as allowed him to become a 2-time All-Defensive Second team selection & 3-time All-Defensive First Team selection.
Leonard led the league in steals in 2015, yet he was impressive in 2016 defensively too. This allowed him to become the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice as a result. He’s a 3-time NBA All-Star who has now led two different teams to NBA Championships and was the NBA Finals MVP for both of them.
We’re not sure how so many passed up on Kobe Bryant in the 1996 draft, yet he has now become one of the most iconic NBA Draft steals in history because of it. Kobe would be drafted by Charlotte yet traded to the Lakers the same night. It’s not common for franchise players to fall this far. Kobe is a notable scorer, averaging 25 points per game during his career. He even led the NBA in scoring twice.
Despite this, Kobe is also a very gifted defender. This allowed him to become a 3-time All-Defensive Second Team selection & 9-time All-Defensive First Team selection. Kobe is also an 18-time NBA All-Star & 11-time All-NBA First Team selection. Not to mention, the NBA MVP in 2008. Bryant also helped guide the LA Lakers to 5 NBA Championships, where he was NBA Finals MVP twice.
Dennis Rodman is clearly among the best NBA Draft steals ever, but he might be the biggest due to falling all the way to the second round in 1986. While Rodman was never known as a notable scorer, he is known for being one of the greatest defenders and rebounders in NBA history. He was a key asset to two different championship franchises, Chicago & Detroit.
As a member of the Bad Boy Pistons, he became the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice. Overall, he is a 7-time All-Defensive First Team selection and even became a 2-time All-NBA Third Team selection. On top of being an NBA All-Star twice, he led the league in rebounding 7 times. He even did this 7 straight years (1992-1998). Overall, Rodman managed to win 5 NBA Championships in his NBA career.