The NBA Draft is relatively simple. Usually, the top player picked is one of the better players in the class, and lottery picks tend to do better than second-rounders. NBA scouts are good like that—they see talent, then they pick it in the draft.
Sometimes, a crazy player comes out of nowhere and makes a leap. In 2013, Anthony Bennett was infamously picked first overall. Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the best players in the game, was picked 15th. So the Greek Freak makes a 14-spot jump, which is significant. On a smaller scale, the 2003 NBA Draft is regarded as one of the best ever. LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade round out the top five.
James stays put, but Darko moves way down. Wade overtakes Anthony, so that’s a three-spot jump for Wade. Kobe Bryant had a 12-pick jump in the 1996 NBA Draft, but as we will soon see, that’s just a drop in the bucket. To find the biggest leap in a redraft, we must spend a significant amount of time in the overlooked second round.
Who were the most undervalued players in NBA Draft history?
Our oldest entry is Dennis Rodman, who was picked in the second round of the 1986 draft. At the time, there were only 24 picks, so Rodman went in the early second round, 27th overall. Jeff Hornacek is the only player with more win shares, but Rodman is a Hall of Famer and goes first overall, for a 26-pick leap. This is substantial, but we’re going to double it later on.
Moving up to a more recent time–2012. Khris Middleton is taken 39th overall by Detroit. No one expected him to be a key option on a championship team and a multi-time All-Star. Draymond Green was also taken in this draft, at 35th overall. In a redraft, I’m still taking Anthony Davis first, and moving Damian Lillard to second.
Beal can stay at third, then all hell breaks loose. Green bumps up to fourth, in a 31-pick leap. Middleton goes fifth, ahead of Dion Waiters and Harrison Barnes, for a whopping 34-pick jump. We have a new leader. In 2001, the Spurs stole Tony Parker at 29th, and he jumps all the way to second overall, just behind Pau Gasol.
The 27-spot jump isn’t enough to beat out his 2012 compadres, but it’s still noteworthy. Parker could make the Hall of Fame alongside Gasol next season, so it’s cool to see a lottery pick and fringe first-rounder stand side by side. Speaking of Gasol, let’s talk about Marc. The towering center was selected 48th in 2007.
Greg Oden went first, and Kevin Durant beats him out for a one-spot jump. Gasol flies all the way up to second, beating out Oden, Al Horford, and Mike Conley.
Even though he is retired, he is Memphis’s best player ever, and that’s worth something here. 46 spots is a hard number to beat, even as we look at a two-time league MVP.
Famously, Nikola Jokic was selected 41st overall during a Taco Bell commercial. He easily beats out top picks like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Aaron Gordan. Personally, I would rather have Embiid, but I understand if you have Jokic going first overall. Either way, a 40-pick jump is no match for the younger Gasol brother.
We have two players left. The 1996 draft class was loaded and included players such as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, and Stephon Marbury. Ten players from this draft class made an All-Star game, including one who wasn’t even drafted. Ben Wallace is the only undrafted player to make the Hall of Fame.
A four-time Defensive Player of the Year and NBA champion, Wallace would be selected first overall most years. Because he went undrafted, we can’t assign an original pick with any degree of accuracy. So, for argument’s sake, we will say he was selected 61st, to replicate the 60-person NBA Draft today.
Most years, he would go first overall, but MVPs like Bryant, Nash, and Iverson get to be picked first. That puts Wallace, generously, at fourth overall, for a 57-spot leap. That being said, since he was undrafted, you have to take this ranking with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s illegitimate, maybe it’s very real to you. Maybe you value defense and want him ahead of Steve Nash. I won’t knock you for that.
The clear-cut winner here, Wallace’s rule bends aside, is Manu Ginobili. In 1999, the Spurs picked him 57th overall. He went on to make two All-Star games, win four championships, and lead his draft class in win shares and VORP. Andre Miller, Elton Brand, and Shawn Marion don’t compare.
Manu is the only Hall of Famer from his draft class and by far the most valuable player. He was the second or third option in the greatest dynasty in sports. Manu makes the 56-spot jump to first overall, which is the largest in league history. Almost no one aside from Isaiah Thomas could ever dream of making that jump, but his career was cut short.
The clear winner of this experiment is either Wallace or Ginobili. If you value defense and individual accolades, pick Wallace. If you enjoy flashy games and winning, pick Manu. If you’re a fan of the underdog, why pit these two against each other? Ginobili is the best player drafted in the 50s, and Wallace is the best-undrafted player ever. The only thing holding Big Ben back was the loaded class in front of him.