Willis Reed was drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft. So were Alex English and Dennis Johnson. Ditto Bill Sharman and Tiny Archibald. Each of the aforementioned players is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Heck, Sharman got in twice – first as a player and then as a coach.
So, while they all technically lasted until the second round of their respective NBA Drafts, they really weren’t second round-type talents. But don’t blame the scouts; they weren’t at fault. Rather, these legends played during the NBA’s pre-expansion era. Reed was selected with the 10th pick (in today’s NBA’s, a Lottery selection) in 1964; English went 23rd and Johnson 29th in 1976; Sharman went 17th in 1950; and Archibald went 17th in 1970.
Today, the NBA is a league of 30 teams split into six divisions. The NBA Draft has been cut to two rounds, and in drafts in which all 30 teams have retained a first-round pick, a player doesn’t get the second-round label – and far less guaranteed money than his first-round brethren – until pick 31. So, when a future Hall of Famer like Manu Ginobili has to hear 56 names called before his … yeah, you can blame 29 team scouting departments for that slight. Other times, however, a player’s true potential remains hidden until he reaches the NBA.
With the global basketball talent pool expanding seemingly exponentially, the NBA is increasingly seeing players that lasted until the second round developing into bona-fide stars. Following are the NBA’s ten best second-round players in order of their 2013-14 salaries.
10. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings, 2013-14 Salary: $884,293
Thomas was this close to beginning his professional basketball career overseas or in the NBA D-League. Then the Kings saved him from obscurity with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Who’s kidding who, the final selection of the NBA Draft defines obscurity. Unless, that is, you are Isaiah Thomas. Then, apparently, you are destined to start in the NBA. This season, the player who literally was picked last, is averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.37 steals and 34.8 minutes. Thomas has scored in double figures in 63 games, recorded 20 or more points in 41, and tallied at least 30 points in four. He has dished out 10 or more assists in six games. Standing only 5-9, Thomas has paced team in scoring in 16 games, and in assists in 52 games.
9. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers, 2013-14 Salary: $930,000
Paul George is the face of the Pacers. Stephenson’s, however, also is becoming well-known throughout the league as well. The 40th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is enjoying a breakout season. He is the NBA-leader in triple-doubles with four on the season, and the top rebounding guard in the league at 7.3 rpg. Entering this season, Stephenson had only recorded two double-doubles in his career; he has 18 thus far. A do-it-all player, Stephenson has paced Indiana in scoring seven times, in rebounding 22 times, and in assists 34 times. With a little under a month left in the regular season, Stephenson has already set single-season career highs in points, rebounds and assists.
8. Mo Williams, Portland Trail Blazers, 2013-14 Salary: $2,652,000
All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are reasons No. 1 and No. 1a why the Trail Blazers have been one of the league’s best teams this season. Williams, however, deserves recognition as well, for being a key factor for Portland off the bench this season. Numbers don’t lie: The Trail Blazers are 21-5 when Williams scores in double digits this season. The veteran, who also leads the NBA in assists off the bench with 273, was selected by the Utah Jazz at No, 47 in the 2003 NBA Draft.
7. Luis Scola, Indiana Pacers, 2013-14 Salary: $4,508,504
In the 2002 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs – get used to seeing that name – selected Argentine big man Luis Scola. While he was honing his trade overseas, the Spurs traded Scola’s Draft rights to Houston, and he finally made his NBA debut in 2007. In 536 career games in the NBA, Scola owns averages of 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds. Most impressively, perhaps, is Scola’s flexibility. Whether starting or coming off the bench, Scola delivers. In 410 starts, Scola has averaged about 30 minutes while recording 15.0 ppg and 7.8 rpg. In 126 games off the bench, he has played about 19 minutes per game, averaging 8.0 points and 5.7 rebounds. This season, his first with Indiana, Scola is anchoring a vastly improved Pacers bench. The Pacers are 24-4 this season when their bench equals or outscores their opponents’ bench
T5. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs, 2013-14 Salary: $7,500,000
Another Argentine, another Spurs draft pick. After playing out his contract in Italy, Ginobili joined the Spurs in 2002 after San Antonio had tapped him with the 57th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. It was well worth the wait for both parties. The only player on this list that’s a lock for the Hall of Fame, all Ginobili has done in his stellar NBA career, is help the Spurs win three NBA titles. Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have formed one of the league’s most enduring successful trios ever, having played in 665 career games together, the most among active players, and the third most all-time. A two-time All-Star and arguably the best reserve in league annals, Ginobili has finished with 15-plus points, five-plus rebounds, and five-plus assists off the bench 30 times in his career.
T5. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns, 2013-14 Salary: $7,500,000
Yes, yet another international player plucked up in the second round by the Spurs, this time with the 45th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft. Alas, San Antonio already had a pretty good point guard from overseas by the name of Tony Parker, so the Spurs traded Dragic to the Suns, where he apprenticed another international (sort of) playmaker named Steve Nash. All in all, it’s working out well for Dragic. Over his last 38 games, Dragic has scored 20-plus points 24 times and is averaging 22.0 points, 6.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting .527 from the field and .453 from distance. And how’s this for select company: Dragic joins LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the only players this season to be averaging at least 19.0 points and 5.0 assists while shooting at least .480 from the field.
4. Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks, 2013-14 Salary: $8,000,000
Only 6-3, Ellis is the little engine who can … do a lot. And he’s been doing it pretty much since the Golden State Warriors made him the 40th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. In his first season with the Mavericks, Ellis is averaging 18.7 points, ranking second on the team to Dirk Nowitzki’s 21.4 ppg, while pacing the team in assists (5.8 apg), steals (1.8 spg) and minutes (36.5 mpg). Ellis always has had a penchant for the dramatic shot (the five times in his career that he has nailed a game-winning basket with 1.0 second or less remaining attest to that). This season, though, Ellis has also shown a flair for the pass: The Mavericks are 19-7 when he hands out at least seven assists in a game.
3. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks, 2013-14 Salary: $9,500,000
When the Utah Jazz selected him with the 47th pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, Millsap was considering a tweener. Today, the Hawks simply refer to him as an NBA All-Star. Millsap earned his first All-Star berth in this season, and for good reason. The only player in the NBA this averaging at least 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks, Millsap is producing a career-best 17.9 ppg to go along with 8.2 rpg, 3.1 asp, 1.8 spg and 1.1 bpg in his first campaign for Atlanta. On the year, Millsap owns 21 double-doubles, and has scored in double-figures 53 times with 24 20-point efforts and two 30-point games. Since Al Horford went down with a season-ending injury, Millsap has kept the Hawks in the postseason hunt.
2. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, 2013-14 Salary: $14,860,523
Remember when the Grizzlies were absolutely murdered for trading away Pau Gasol, getting his brother, Marc, as part of the return? Yeah, well … The 48th pick (by the Lakers) in the 2007 NBA Draft, Gasol may be the league’s most underrated superstar. Since he returned after missing 23 games with a left MCL sprain, the Grizzlies are 22-8 and tied for first in points allowed (91.0 ppg) and points allowed per 100 possessions (98.1 ppg). They went 10-13 when the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year was nursing his injury. Gasol, however, is more than a one-trick pony. Over the past four seasons, he has recorded 25 games with at least seven assists, tying Chicago’s Joakim Noah for the most by an NBA center over that span. Over that same stretch, the rest of the NBA’s centers have combined for 23 such games.
1. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, 2013-14 Salary: $15,300,000
Forgive the baseball metaphor, but Boozer started his NBA career with two strikes. The first was a Duke pedigree. The school was a great place to win national titles, but not so great if one wanted to develop an NBA game. Strike two occurred when Boozer fell to the second round, getting selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 35th pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. Then Boozer got hold of one. For more than a decade, Boozer has played at a just-below-star level, which isn’t too shabby for a second round draft pick. He sports career averages of 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while shooting .523 from the field. Among active players, the two-time All-Star ranks 35th in total points, 11th in total rebounds and fifth in rebounds per game. Additionally, Boozer is one of only 20 players in NBA history to have averaged more than 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in each of his first 11 seasons in the league.