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5 of the Biggest NBA Draft Steals

The NBA is one of the biggest sports leagues in the world and I have been a fan for nearly three decades.

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1. Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert was a second round pick selected 31st overall in the 2001 draft. While he was a pretty good player in Arizona, where he averaged 16.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 2.3 APG for the Wildcats, he fell all the way to the second round. He was considered by many teams in the first round, but none of them ultimately pulled the trigger.

Arenas chose the number zero as his jersey number as this was the number of minutes people said he would play. While he did not light the world on fire in his rookie season, he played very much like a first round pick. He averaged 10.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 3.7 APG.

Gilbert's second season was his breakout season. He finished it with 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 6.3 APG. This made Gilbert a more desired commodity.

After two years with Golden State, he signed a lucrative deal with the Washington Wizards and he became their main man. Gilbert delivered on his first season with the Wizards with 19.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 5.0 APG.

His production peaked at 29.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 6.1 APG in the 2005-2006 season. Arenas' finest game was a 60-point explosion against Kobe Bryant's Lakers. He also complied 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals in that same game.

In his time with Washington, Gilbert was able to make the team into a contender.

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2. Tony Parker

Tony Parker is not an unknown player, but he was largely unknown in the United States as he played professionally in France. Americans most likely saw him compete for the French national team during the Olympics. Back then, scouts tended to focus solely on recruiting locally. They did not bother to do much scouting outside the country.

This is where the San Antonio Spurs tried a different approach. They scouted heavily into Europe and other countries to find Olympic-caliber players who many teams overlooked. The San Antonio Spurs drafted Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. San Antonio picking Tony did not generate waves of excitement in the media because there was no hype behind it.

Nevertheless, Tony still produced solid numbers for a guy drafted very low in the NBA Draft. He averaged 9.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 4.3 APG. Parker was around for four out of the five Spurs championships in the Tim Duncan era. He even became the 2007 NBA Finals MVP where he averaged 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 3.3 APG.

Tony had a long 18-year career where many players in his draft position would be lucky to get 5 years.

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3. Manu Ginobili

The San Antonio Spurs popularized scouting players outside the United States. They also popularized the draft and stash strategy. This is where they would draft players who either would not or could not play in the NBA for several years and let them develop in foreign leagues first. This ensured that the Spurs got a pretty good player for a very low draft selection.

Manu Ginobili was selected with the 57th pick of the 1999 NBA Draft. Despite not being known in the United States, Manu was quite popular in the European and Argentine leagues; he was a prominent player in the Argentine national team. Ginobili did not sign with the Spurs; he decided to play in Italy and was the Italian League MVP for the 2000–2001 and 2001–2002 seasons.

Manu finally made his NBA debut in the 2002-2003 season. People were amazed by his flashy style of play. He was one of the players who popularized the Eurostep. Despite limited minutes, he would average 7.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 2 APG.

Just like his running mate Tony Parker, Ginobili would be part of four of the Spurs' five championships during the Tim Duncan era. Manu would normally come off the bench and was one of the premiere sixth men in the league. He would win the Sixth Man of the Year in 2008 where he would average 19.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 4.5 APG.

Ginobili would play 16 seasons in the league as a Spurs lifer. Very few people play more than a decade in the league, so playing 16 seasons is an achievement.

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4. Nick Van Exel

Nick Van Exel was a very talented and flashy player for the Cincinnati Bearcats. He averaged 18.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, and 4.5 APG. This was certainly enough to warrant a selection in the first round. However, Van Exel had a lot of baggage. He was disruptive to the team and had attitude problems. This caused his stock to fall. He fell all the way to the 37th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.

"Nick the Quick" dazzled the crowd with his flashy moves and sweet shooting. He became popular enough to make it to the 1998 All-Star Team alongside teammates Eddie Jones, Shaquille O' Neil and Kobe Bryant. After five seasons with the Lakers, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets where he would spend the next three and a half seasons. Nick's best season in Denver was in 2001-2002; he averaged 21.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 8.1 APG.

He would then be shipped to Dallas in the 2001-2002 season where he played a vital role as their sixth man. Van Exel went for scoring explosions in the 2003 playoffs against the Sacramento Kings; he scored 36 points in Game 2 and 40 points in Game 3. This helped the team reach the Western Conference Finals.

Nick played for 13 seasons in the NBA and was part of several good teams. Not bad for a second rounder.

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5. Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas was named after the great Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons. His father, who was a Lakers fan, made a bet. The bet was that the Lakers would beat the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals. The Pistons ended up sweeping the Lakers in four games.

Thomas was a good player for the Washington Huskies. He averaged 16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 4.0 APG for the three seasons he was there. Despite his obvious scoring talent, Thomas fell in the draft to the 60th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. This was due to his short stature of 5' 9".

Thomas may be a stud on the offensive end, but he will always be a defensive liability. Sacramento was able to nab a gem in Thomas as he averaged 11.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 4.1 APG in his rookie season. He upped his game in his second season where he averaged 13.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 4.0 APG. In his third and last year in Sacramento, he averaged 20.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 6.3 APG.

Isaiah would spend half a season with Phoenix before landing in Boston. With the Celtics, he would be a scoring machine. His best season was in 2016-2017 where he averaged 28.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, and 5.9 APG. He was an MVP candidate and led his team all the way to the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals.

Thomas is one of the best "little men" to ever play in the league.

© 2021 Jan Michael Ong

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