Culture of Hoops

Greatest second-round (and later) NBA draft picks of all-time

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

The 2014 NBA Draft is less than two weeks away, and for more than a year, the focus has been on players in the lottery and first round. However, year-in and year-out, diamonds in the rough are unearthed in the second round. Over the last 50 years, role players, All-Stars and even Hall of Famers have come out of the second round and later.

June 26, most of the buzz will be about who gets drafted where amongst the top-three and shortly beyond, but in nine months we’re sure to be talking about some steal from the second round. Below are the top 25 second round (and later) draft classes of the last 50 years. Prior to 1986, the NBA Draft had more than two rounds, so any players drafted outside of the first round were considered.

25. 1967 – Bob Rule and Phil Jackson

Rule had an impressive start to his career, averaging 22.2 points and 10.4 rebounds over his first three seasons. However, after four games of 29.8 points and 11.5 rebounds to start the 1970-71 season, he tore his Achilles tendon, an injury which he never fully recovered from.

Jackson won two Championships as a player before winning 10 as a coach. His stats don’t exactly jump off the page, but Jackson was a valuable contributor to the Knicks nonetheless.

24. 1997 – Stephen Jackson

Captain Jack! His talent has long been overshadowed by his attitude, which is why he’s played for eight different teams throughout his career (the Spurs for two different stints, eight years apart), but he’s always been skilled. He used his lank to his advantage on defense and had a versatile offensive game. Jackson started everywhere he played, except for his most recent stop with the Clippers, for a total of 676 starts.

23. 2011 – Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas

Parsons makes ladies swoon and nets snap. He’s a versatile player, whose skills are magnified in Houston’s free-flowing, up-tempo offense. Parsons can shoot the three, dish the rock and rebound, and is on his way to a lucrative contract extension this year.

Thomas was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft and, after just three seasons, may be the most successful “Mr. Irrelevant” in league history. He’s undersized, but one of the quickest players in the NBA, with a dangerous pull-up jumper and relentless tenacity to boot. Like Parsons, Thomas will be signing a big contract soon.

22. 1993 – Nick Van Exel and Bryon Russell

Van Exel had the scoring potency to ruin some teams’ days, or seasons if they were unfortunate enough to run into him on a hot streak in the playoffs. He was speedy quick, with streaky shooting touch and an eye to dish the ball to teammates – a tough cover for anyone.

Here’s another person on the list who lives on in infamy, rather for their play. Russell wasn’t an All-Star like others here, but he contributed on both sides of the ball to the Jazz teams of the ‘90s that often fell to the Bulls in the Finals.

21. 2001 – Gilbert Arenas and Mehmet Okur

Today, Arenas is infamous for bringing a gun into the Wizards’ locker room and having such an untradeable contract (Washington was able to trade it for Rashard Lewis’ “untradeable” contract) that it influenced the most recent CBA negotiations. However, before that, Arenas was a dynamic offensive force with a penchant for knocking down game-winners. For two seasons between 2005 and 2007, he averaged 28.9 points, six assists and four rebounds a night.

Though he played center and had a big frame, Okur had an unusually smooth touch from the perimeter. His ability to knock down mid-range and deep shots helped to stretch the floor for Deron Williams and the Jazz.

20. 1981 – Danny Ainge and Eddie Johnson

Now, he’s the brains behind the Boston Celtics front office, but 30 years ago Ainge was an important role player for them during their 1980s run, even earning an All-Star bid in 1988.

Wherever Johnson was throughout the first 10 years or so of his career didn’t matter much, he filled the stat sheet regardless. Over his 17 year career, Johnson, taken 29th in 1981, averaged 16 points per game.

19. 2005 – Monta Ellis and Marcin Gortat

Ellis may not be the best team player or the type of player that leads a team’s playoff push, but there’s no denying his talent, particularly as a scorer. His ability to get to the basket is nearly unparalleled in the NBA.

The Polish Hammer went from Dwight Howard’s backup in Orlando to having increasingly impactful roles on other teams. His versatile game, and contributions on both ends of the floor, played a key part in Washington’s success this season and it may pay off for him this summer.

18. 2002 – Carlos Boozer, Luis Scola and Matt Barnes

Boozer’s game comes under fire every now and then, and his scoring has been described as hollow, but that conversation isn’t had about most of the 33 players taken before him in the 2002 draft because most of them didn’t develop into All-Stars.

Scola is yet another foreign player the Spurs plucked late in the draft, though he made his biggest impact for the Rockets and Suns. With a crafty post game and the ability to knock down mid-range shots, Scola has put together a very successful career contributing to various playoff teams.

Ever the agitator, Barnes has played for about a third of the league and pissed off at least the other two thirds. He’s been a great defender throughout his career with flocculating offensive contributions.

17. 1985 – Tyrone Corbin, Spud Webb (fourth round) and Arvydas Sabonis (fourth round)

Any draft pick’s NBA lifespan is relatively unpredictable, but after the first round it becomes a bit of a crapshoot. Some second rounders nowadays don’t even end up making the roster of the team that drafts them. Corbin, selected 35th, had a 15 year career and played in over 1000 games. That kind of longevity is extremely rare for any NBA player. He was never a star, but obviously NBA teams valued what he brought to the table.

Relative to his reputation, Webb’s career may seem underwhelming, but he proved to be a solid distributor. His scoring numbers peaked briefly when he got a starting gig in Sacramento. But the impact the 5-foot-6 Webb had on the NBA in his dunk contest appearances was huge.

Sabonis is one of the European basketball pioneers to which his successors owe some thanks. He’s one of the best European bigs in the history of the game, largely making a name for himself internationally. Sabonis was a key player on that talented, troubled Trail Blazers team of the late ‘90s and a deserving Hall of Famer when factoring in his international impact. (Technically, Sabonis was selected in the first round in 1986 following complications with his 1985 selection, but I’m including him here anyway. Taken 77th in ’85, he was originally a late-round pick.)

16. 1998 – Rashard Lewis and Cuttino Mobley

At his height, with such lanky arms, Lewis’ long windup may look like a recipe for disaster, but he’s managed to minimize error and become one of the best shooting bigs in the last decade. When he was younger, with the Seattle Supersonics, Lewis had a more complete offensive game, which earned him one of the biggest contracts in the NBA. Alongside Hedo Turkoglu, Lewis played the perfect complement to Dwight Howard on an Orlando Magic team that was a few close plays away from winning a title in 2009.

Since shedding the pressure and baggage of his gargantuan contract, Lewis has carved himself out a role on the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat, playing a similar stretch four role to the one he did in Orlando.

Mobley, with his sharp shot and capable dribble, could fill it up on offense. He averaged 16 points per game over a 10 year career and never played less than 30 minutes a night after his rookie season. He can become an afterthought when looking back on a bygone time when the NBA was stocked with potent shooting guards.

15. 2007 – Marc Gasol, Carl Landry and Glen Davis

When the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol in 2008, the general consensus was that the Memphis Grizzlies got fleeced. There’s no denying that Los Angeles got the better end of the deal, riding Pau to two Championships, but the jokes about the Gasol brother Memphis got in return have dwindled into non-existence over the last five years. He won the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award and is the focal point of the Grizzlies offense at the high post. Not bad for a second round pick that was widely panned as a fat, less talented version of his older brother.

Neither Landry nor Davis is especially athletic, but they have nonetheless carved out niches as versatile offensive forwards. Davis was an important contributor in Boston’s run at the end of the last decade and Landry, while he’s bounced around, has made a career as a gritty  power forward known for his toughness and ability to score in a variety of ways on offense.

14. 1990 – Toni Kukoc and Antonio Davis

Kukoc, along with a certain Worm, came into Chicago around the same time as support for the team’s core duo. He added a reliable third scoring option to the mold, and was part of a European wave of talented forwards that entered the league throughout the 1990s.

An answer to the New York Knicks’ rough-and-tumble frontcourt pairing of Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, Davis provided the Pacers teams of the ‘90s with the interior defensive presence and toughness it needed to compete in the Eastern Conference. He went on to have a larger role in Toronto and even earned an All-Star selection in 2001.

13. 1978 – Mo Cheeks and Michael Cooper (third round)

Cheeks is another person on this list that’s probably better known now for his coaching credentials than his time as a player. Selected 36th overall, Cheeks proved to be a dual-threat as a point guard, with the ability to both score and distribute.

Another member of Showtime, Cooper, a lifelong Laker, was one of Los Angeles’ first options off the bench throughout its dynastic run of the 1980s.

12. 1980 – Jeff Ruland and Kurt Rambis (third round)

Ruland’s career was cut short by a foot injury similar to the one that prevented Bill Walton from becoming one of the best bigs in league history. Ruland, too, was a big-time talent before succumbing to his injury. He averaged 18.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game on 56.4 percent shooting in his first five seasons.

Rambis’ career numbers aren’t too impressive, but “Superman,” with his glasses and Selleck-esque ‘stache, was an iconic member of the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. Rambis flew around the court with an energy and edge that counter-balanced the silky-smoothness of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

11. 1975 – Gus Williams and World B. Free

Both were All-Stars and talented scorers; Williams averaged 17.1 points over his career and World B. Free had two seasons across which he averaged 29.4 points per game. Also, without the latter, would there be a Metta World Peace?

10. 1979 – Bill Laimbeer (third round)

If you saw the recent Bad Boys documentary, detailing the late-‘80s/early-‘90s run of the Pistons, you’ll be familiar with Laimbeer’s calculated deviousness. He had no problem being the villain, although he wasn’t just a pest or an instigator, but an All-Start talent as well.

9. 1973 – George McGinnis

In both the ABA and the NBA, McGinnis proved to be a voluminous scorer. He was an All-Star in both leagues, and averaged over 20 points per game in both as well. His scoring, along with his career averages of 11.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2 steals make for a gaudy résumé.

8. 1999 – Manu Ginobili

The Argentinian guard has put together a Hall of Fame career as an underrated player off the bench for the oft overlooked Spurs. He’s craftiness personified, squirming his way to the rim with slippery euro-steps, finishing tough looks with his left hand and fitting passes into the tightest of windows.

In ’99, San Antonio, fresh off a Championship season, selected Ginobili 57th overall – the second-to-last pick of the draft. Since then he’s gained more and more responsibility and become a staple of the Spurs’ Championship core.

7. 1970 – Nate “Tiny” Archibald

Archibald is a Hall of Famer, whose jersey is hanging in the rafters in Sacramento. In his third season with the Royals (in Rochester at the time), Archibald averaged an eye-popping 34 points and 11.4 assists.

6. 2008 – DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic, Nikola Pekovic and Omer Asik

The 1984 NBA Draft was recently lionized as the greatest in league history in a documentary on NBATV, and it very well may be, but the depth of the 2008 draft throws its name into the discussion. The first round was loaded with current All-Stars, and the second round also produced numerous big names.

Jordan entered the draft as a raw talent, and looks to have realized his potential under Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, as the most athletic interior force in the league. Dragic was billed as Eric Bledsoe’s backcourt sidekick, or even backup, before the season started, but as Bledsoe watched from the sideline, injured, for much of the season, Dragic flourished into the Phoenix Suns’ centerpiece with a season worthy, albeit short, of an All-Star selection.

Pekovic and Asik both played their way into lucrative contracts. Pekovic is (or soon-to-be “was”) Kevin Love’s right hand as a starter in Minnesota and Asik is starter-caliber, though he spent much of the last few months pouting on Houston’s bench.

5. 1964 – Willis Reed and Jerry Sloan

Reed’s determination to play in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals still survives as one of the legendary moments of the NBA’s history. As defining as it was, though, it was but a single moment of an overall prolific Hall-of-Fame career. Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds throughout his career and won two Championships.

Best known for his historically long and successful career at the helm of the Utah Jazz, Sloan was a solid contributor to the Bulls in his playing days as well.

4. 1971 – Spencer Haywood and Artis Gilmore (seventh round)

These ABA guys are tricky. This pair may have been higher if not for Gilmore’s No. 1 overall selection in the dispersal draft following the ABA-NBA merger.

Gilmore was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years ago, a testament to his career as an imposing center. He averaged 18.8 points and 12.3 rebounds over the course of his 16 year career and was named to 11 All-Star teams (five ABA, six NBA). Haywood was a similarly dominant post player, though not for nearly as long as Gilmore. Still, his production is some of the best of any second round pick.

3. 1986 – Mark Price, Dennis Rodman and Jeff Hornacek

Three All-Stars; one of them (Rodman), a Hall-of-Famer. The 1986 NBA Draft was the league’s first with just two rounds, but there was no lack of late-talent.

Price often gets lost in NBA nostalgia, but he was a skilled offensive point guard. During his prime (his second to eighth seasons), Price never shot less than 45.9 percent from the field. He’s probably best known as the leader of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that fell victim to an iconic Michael Jordan shot, which may explain his being left out of conversations about the era.

Rodman’s an oddball, but his edge fueled Championship runs for the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. He didn’t, however, get into the Hall of Fame for his one-of-a-kind personality; he was one of the best rebounders in the history of the NBA. As the game has evolved, dominant post play has become more and more scarce. Rodman, though, had prolific rebounding numbers throughout his career, pulling down 18.7 boards in the 1991-92 season.

Hornacek was a key part of the Utah Jazz teams of the ‘90s that challenged the Bulls time and time again in the finals, and, aside from his first two seasons, he never averaged less than double-digit scoring.

2. 1976 – Dennis Johnson and Alex English

When people think of the great Celtics teams of the 1980s, they understandably gravitate to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, but at the helm of Boston’s offense was Dennis Johnson. The Hall of Fame point guard could score and distribute, and his intuiting helped finish off one of the most memorable plays of the decade.

English’s Denver teams never accomplished much, but he continually scored at a big clip regardless. He averaged 21.5 points a night throughout his 14 year career and led the league in the 1982-83 season with 28.4, a potency that paved his way to the Hall of Fame.

1. 1974 – George Gervin (third round) and Truck Robinson

Like many players drafted in the ABA era, this comes with somewhat of a caveat: Gervin never played for the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 1974. He was traded from the ABA’s Virginia Squires to the San Antonio Spurs, who later merged with the NBA. Nonetheless, Gervin’s impact was profound.

As Kevin Durant’s game matured, he drew comparisons to Gervin, and with good reason. Gervin is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the game, averaging 25.1 points per game over a 13 year career. He’s a Hall of Famer and was named to the NBA’s Top 50 Players of All-Time in 1996. No one better has ever been selected beyond the first round of an NBA draft.

Gervin alone would probably be enough to solidify this class as the best late-round one ever, but Robinson’s presence only improves the case for it. Robinson was a two-time All-Star and nearly averaged a double-double for his entire career, peaking in the 1977-78 season when he averaged 22.7 points and 15.7 points a night.

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