People love to bask in the toppling of giants, and that is why sports fans so often talk about draft busts. This guy flamed out, that guy couldn’t cut it, they’re all overrated.
Never is schadenfreude more prevalent than in analyzing the NBA draft. We prefer to celebrate the good in basketball, like a 50th pick becoming an five-time NBA champion and a 31st pick blossoming into a 30-point scorer.
Here, we take a look not at failure, but of fortune. As Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson prepare for the biggest night of their lives, here’s a countdown of the top 10 NBA draft steals in Arizona history.
10. Luke Walton — 2003 2nd round, pick 32, Los Angeles Lakers
Walton averaged more than 7.3 points per game just once, and he started roughly a quarter of his career NBA games, but this is a second-rounder who lasted 10 years in the league and won a pair of NBA championships. Walton’s knowledge of the triangle offense was invaluable to Phil Jackson, and his locker-room presence was a welcome balance to Kobe Bryant’s anger.
9. Sean Rooks — 1992 2nd round, pick 30, Dallas Mavericks
Rooks never had the team success that Walton did – in fact, he played on some truly terrible squads – but for the 30th pick in a draft, he put together a nice career. Rooks started 166 games his first three years, averaging at least 10 points per game each of those seasons, before becoming a valuable role player for the last nine years of his career.
8. Mike Bibby — 1998 1st round, pick 2, Vancouver Grizzlies
Bibby was a well-known starter for his first 14 NBA seasons, until time caught up with him, and he averaged at least 14 points per game in nine of those seasons, including a high of 21.1 points per game with the Sacramento Kings in 2005-06. By then, Bibby was a fixture on the talented Kings teams of the early 2000s, long after he was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team in 1999. He’s most remembered for his playoff run in 2002, when he averaged 20.3 points and five assists in 16 playoff games.
7. Damon Stoudamire, 1995 1st round, pick 7, Toronto Raptors
There are many what-ifs about Stoudamire’s pro career, but no one can deny the instant impact he made on the league upon his arrival. The expansion Raptors’ first draft pick in team history, Stoudamire exploded onto the scene as a rookie, averaging 19 points and nine assists before winning Rookie of the Year honors. He would remain a major offensive threat for two more years – averaging 20.2 and 19.4 points, respectively, for the Raptors in 1996-97 and 1997-98 – but a trade to Portland drastically affected his scoring. Still, a more-than-solid 14-year pro career.
6. Jason Terry — 1999 1st round, pick 10, Atlanta Hawks
Terry has been one of the league’s best most consistent midlevel scorers for going on 15 years now. As the 10th pick and with an NCAA championship and Pac-12 Player of the Year award under his belt, big things were expected of him, but a career 15.4 scoring average, a No. 4 ranking on the all-time 3-pointers-made list, a 2011 NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks and a Sixth Man of the Year award (2009) have made for a very fine career.
5. Andre Iguodala – 2004 1st round, pick 9, Philadelphia 76ers
The ninth pick in an overall underwhelming 2004 Draft, Iguodala would’ve gone No. 2 in any redraft, and for good reason. He started off strong, surprising many by becoming the only rookie to start all 82 games and nabbing All-Rookie first team honors. A standout defensive player and dunker, Iguodala eventually averaged 17.1 points or better for four straight years, and he remains a starter 10 years into his career, with one All-Star Game under his belt (2012)
4. Sean Elliott – 1989 1st round, pick 3, San Antonio Spurs
A two-time all-star and one-time NBA champion, with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, Elliott is not just a Tucson legend, but an NBA hero. Late in his career, long after he’d become a key cog to the Spurs alongside David Robinson, Elliott revealed that he would require a kidney transplant. For a player who averaged 14 points for his career and made a pair of all-star teams, his return after the transplant was even more significant. But don’t forget — he also the only player in Spurs history to rank among the franchise’s top 10 in six different statistical categories: games played (third, 669), points (fourth, 9,659), rebounds (sixth, 2,941), assists (seventh, 1,700), steals (eighth, 522), and blocks (ninth, 257).
3. Richard Jefferson – 2001 1st round, pick 13, Houston Rockets (traded to New Jersey Nets)
Jefferson instantly became a valuable piece of the puzzle to the NBA Finals-bound Nets in 2002 and 2003, and he would become a highly paid, highly effective scorer in New Jersey for almost a decade. He would eventually move on to Milwaukee, San Antonio, Golden State and, now, Utah. At the age of 33, he became a starter once more, scoring above 10 points per game for the first time since 2010, but 10th time in his career.
2. Steve Kerr — 1988 2nd round, pick 50, Phoenix Suns
By the time he entered high school, Kerr was already a world traveler, so it makes sense that he played for six different teams and was just named head coach of a seventh, the Golden State Warriors. What makes less sense is how a relatively unathletic and relatively slow 50th pick ended up being a key cog on two dynasties. Kerr was not a prolific singular NBA talent, but he did win five titles with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, playing 20-plus minutes each year during the second Chicago three-peat.
1. Gilbert Arenas – 2001 2nd round, pick 31, Golden State Warriors
What Kerr was with championships, Arenas was with points. Arenas ranked in the top seven in scoring in the NBA during three straight years from 2004-05 through 2006-07, topping out at 29.3 points per game in 2005-06. A seven-time NBA Player of the Week, three-time All-NBA selection and the 2002-03 Most Improved Player, Arenas was a revelation before his career went south. His career 20.7 average is impressive, though perhaps not as impressive as his $140-plus million in career salary earnings.