Overall the course of NBA history there have been many great players who, for one reason or another, were snubbed by teams that had an opportunity to draft them.There are many reasons why this happens. Sometimes it is the fault of scouts for incorrectly evaluating the potential of a player. Sometimes an athlete that was a superior player in college is chosen and turns out to be a bust. And in some cases the player in question is simply a late bloomer. By themselves, or in combination, these factors have allowed many teams to steal great players at the NBA draft table. They might not know they are getting such a great deal at the time, but history and numbers will eventually reveal how fortunate these teams were. Here is my list of some of the greatest players that were passed on: the top 10 NBA draft steals of all time.
10 – Paul Pierce
This electrifying Celtic didn’t get picked until 10th in the 1998 draft. Though this was a talent-laden draft that featured Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki, but there was also some duds that went ahead of him, most notably Michael Olowokandi who went 1st overall that year. Pierce has been a perennial scoring star with the Celts and put up almost 17,000 points in the first 10 years of his career.
9 – Steve Nash
Though somewhat small in stature this quicksilver Canadian controlled the game as well as anyone in the NBA when he was in his prime. Drafted 15th overall in 1996 behind such household names as Todd Fuller and Vitaly Potapenko, Nash has gone on to prove the scouts missed the boat on this one, putting together back to back MVP seasons to erase any doubt. This little point guard certainly qualifies as one of the biggest steals in the history of the NBA draft.
8 – Bill Laimbeer
This towering center didn’t show much during his college time at Notre Dame, and was passed over until Cleveland decided to take a chance on him, selecting him in the 3rd round, 65th overall in the 1979 NBA draft. He was traded to Detroit in 1982, and there made a name for himself as one of the nastiest players in the history of the game. He was a fierce rebounder though, especially on the defensive boards and helped the Pistons win back to back championships.
7 – Manu Ginobli
This determined guard from Argentina didn’t get picked until the 57th spot in the 1999 NBA draft, but since then he has proved he deserves to be considered as one of the top 10 NBA draft steals of all time. Known for his effort, and his clutch shooting, Ginobli has quickly gone from the NBA’s best 6th man to a dominating starter on this perennial championship contender.
6 – Larry Bird
It is hard to believe that a player like Bird, one of the true legends in the game, was passed over by 5 teams before Boston finally took him with the 6th overall pick in the 1978 draft. Now, some would say that a top 10 selection isn’t so bad, but remember that Bird was a huge star at Indiana University, and the Pacers had an opportunity to draft Bird with the #3 pick. Instead, they opted to draft Rick Robey. One of the biggest mistakes in the history of the NBA draft.
5 – Karl Malone
“The Mailman” is the 2nd leading scorer in NBA history. He and John Stockton formed one of the most dominant duos in basketball history during their time with the Utah Jazz. Yet despite his consistent play in college he was not selected until 13th overall in the 1985 NBA draft. He continued to “deliver” during his incredible NBA career, earning 2 league MVP titles along the way. Definitely one of the biggest NBA draft steals in the history of basketball.
4 – Kobe Bryant
Barring further injury, when his career is over it is very likely that Kobe will be the NBA’s all time leading scorer. He has 5 NBA championships already, and though the Lakers aren’t currently a contender, a healthy Kobe and perhaps a key free agent acquisition or two could have them back in the thick of things. In light of these accomplishments it is astonishing he was passed over 12 times before Charlotte finally took him with the 13th overall pick. Even worse, they went on to trade him. What were they thinking?
3 – Alex English
This Hall of Famer wasn’t selected until the 2nd round of the 1976 draft, and is a no-brainer for a high spot on the list of the top 10 NBA draft steals of all time. He went on to a great NBA career, scoring more points in the 80s than any other player, lighting it up as a member of the Denver Nuggets. He finished his career with 25,613 points, good for 12th on the all time list.
2 – John Stockton
Much like his partner in crime, Karl Malone, John Stockton wasn’t given the respect at the NBA draft table that history shows he deserved. The NBA’s all time leading assist man and 10 time all-star didn’t get taken until 16th overall in the 1984 draft. The Utah Jazz obviously had some great scouts, pulling off 2 of the greatest swindles in NBA history as they landed Stockton and Malone with late picks in back to back years.
1 – Michael Jordan
Regarded by most who follow the sport of basketball as the greatest player in NBA history, this superstar shooting guard out of North Carolina was shockingly passed on by Houston (Hakeem Olajuwon) and Portland (Sam Bowie) before Chicago finally snagged him with the #3 pick, thus perpetrating the biggest steal in NBA draft history. Jordan would go on to lead the Bulls to 6 NBA championships, while winning 5 MVP awards.