Today I’m ranking the five best second-round picks in NBA history. While tons of talent has been drafted throughout NBA history, it’s a lot more difficult to find All-Stars or All-NBA caliber players in the second round; however, certain teams have a knack for drafting the best players available, even if not the most highly ranked or hyped. With this in mind, let’s start with an honorable mention.
Disclaimer: This blog is my opinion, and my opinion only
Honorable Mention: Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton is an All-Star and great three-point shooter, as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s sidekick and second option on the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s a young player and full of potential, but he isn’t yet good enough to crack the top five. There are probably a half-dozen other players that I could have included as Honorable Mentions, but I decided not to for the sake of saving time. If I’m missing a really good player, let me know in the comment below.
#5: Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas’ prime was short, but great. Drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the 1st pick in the second round (31st overall), Arenas came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. It seemed as though no one recognized his talent, and no one knew the player that he could and would become. He decided to wear the number zero because that’s how many minutes the so-called analysts thought he would play. In his first season, he averaged 10.9 points per game, and 18.3 the next season; however, it wasn’t until Gilbert Arenas was traded to the Washington Wizards that he really found his place in the NBA. In just his second season with the Wizards, Gilbert Arenas averaged 25.5 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds while becoming an All-Star and being named to the All-NBA Third Team. The next year he was an All-Star and member of the All-NBA Third Team once more, and in 2007, he was an All-Star and member of the All-NBA Second Team. Unfortunately, the season success did not bring playoff success, as the furthest Arenas and his Wizards ever got in the playoffs was the second round. However, a gun scandal in 2009 unexpectedly ended Gilbert Arenas’ prime and his chances of making a deep playoff run. If you want to learn more about that incident, let me know in the comments and I will do a separate blog about it.
#4: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is the youngest player on this list, and still has the most to prove in his career. He’s not yet a champion, but is an All-Star, member of the All-NBA, and the best passing big man the NBA has ever seen. That’s not an exaggeration; if you look up his highlights on YouTube, you’ll see that he has perfected the art of full-court passes to the point where Peyton Manning had to show up at a Nuggets game to prove he can still throw it. Jokic was drafted with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, and while he showed some promise his rookie season, being named to the All-Rookie Team, he only averaged 10 points per game and has lots of room for improvement. His breakout year came in the 2018-2019 season, where Jokic averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. He led the Nuggets to the second round of the playoffs where they were defeated in heartbreaking fashion by the Portland Trail Blazers, but that season Jokic showed the world how much damage he could truly do, being named to the 1st Team All-NBA. The next season, Jokic was again an All-Star, again a member of the All-NBA, and again proved that he and a young Nuggets team are going to cause trouble in the NBA. In the Disney NBA bubble, the Nuggets faced a 3-1 deficit against the Utah Jazz in a best of seven series. The Nuggets calmly overcame this deficit, which has only happened a couple of times in NBA history (most notably in 2016, with the Warriors overcoming the deficit in the Western Conference Finals and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals)! In the second round, the Nuggets faced the Los Angeles Clippers, and again found themselves in a 3-1 hole. No worries, the Nuggets came back from another 3-1 deficit and advanced to the Western Conference Finals! They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, who went on to win the 2020 NBA Championship, but they did something that has never been done before; come back from a 3-1 deficit in back-to-back playoff series. This season, Nikola Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double and is an MVP candidate. There is no doubt in my mind we will be hearing his name come up more and more often, until he retires and becomes one of the best big men the NBA has ever seen.
#3: Draymond Green
Draymond Green’s career is in a slow decline, and Nikola Jokic is definitely playing much better than Green right now. Slower, older, veteran, mentor to rookie James Wiseman; why is he ranked higher than Nikola Jokic? For one, Draymond Green is a three-time All-Star, a two-time member of the All-NBA, a Defensive Player of the Year, the 2016-2017 Steals Champion, and most importantly, a three-time NBA Champion. Needless to say, Green’s career averages of 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and five assists per game don’t do him justice. Picked up by the Warriors (who seem to have a knack for spotting talent) with the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Green became the heart and soul of the Warriors team. While not a flashy player, Green does all the intangibles on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and his ability to guard every position on the court makes him all the more valuable. Green’s three championships are his most impressive feat, and while some fans claim that this is only because of Kevin Durant, Green’s defense on Lebron James helped the Warriors best the Cavs multiple times, and if not for a couple of questionable calls in the 2016 NBA Finals, Green would be a four-time NBA Champion. More valuable to his team than words can describe, Draymond Green has solidified his place in NBA history and will always be remembered as one of the best second round picks and steals ever.
#2: Manu Ginobili
Originally, I planned on putting Ginobili at number one, but after research, I just couldn’t do it. That doesn’t mean that he’s not one of the greatest second round picks ever, however. Drafted with the #57 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Ginobili did not actually play for the Spurs until three years after he was drafted by them. Instead, he played in the Euro League for a team called the Kinder Bologna. He debuted for the Spurs as a 25 year old, and even though he only averaged 7.6 points per game his rookie year, he was still named to the All-Rookie Team. However, it was the 2004-2005 season where Ginobili showed the world just how good he was. Averaging 16, 4, and 4, Ginobili was selected as an NBA All-Star and member of the All-NBA, while helping to lead the San Antonio Spurs to their second championship (his first). While the Spurs next championship season would come just two years later, and another championship two years after that, Ginobili wasn’t named an All-Star or member of the All-NBA again until 2011, despite averaging nearly identical numbers in previous years. In the 2007-2008 season, Ginobili won the NBA 6th Man of the Year award, given to the best player to come off the bench. Most people don’t know this, but Ginobili came off the bench more often then he started games, despite being part of the Spurs’ big three. However you spin it, Ginobili ended his career as a four-time NBA Champion (his final championship came in 2014), two-time All-Star, two-time member of the All-NBA, and the 2008 6th Man of the Year. His jersey is retired by the San Antonio Spurs, and it’s safe to say that his career averages of 13 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds don’t tell the whole story of his greatness.
#1: Dennis Rodman
Fans of the NBA from the 1990s remember Dennis Rodman as a teammate of Michael Jordan on his second three-peat and a member of the Detroit “Bad-Boy” Pistons in the late 80s. Rodman had lots of on and off court antics, but Rodman was much more than that on the floor. Drafted in a time when the NBA Draft had seven rounds, Rodman was drafted with the 27th overall pick, which back then was in the second round. Rodman started off slow in the league, but like most everyone else on this list, he picked up his game and soon became an all-time great. He won his first championship with the Pistons in just his third year in the league, and in his next, he won another championship, was named an NBA All-Star, led the league in games played, and won Defensive Player of the Year. The next year, in 1991, Rodman led the league in games played once again with 82, and won Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. The year after that, 1992, Rodman was once more an All-Star and led the league in rebounds with 18.7! Keep in mind, Rodman was a 6’7″ power forward, meaning he was playing against guys anywhere from 1-7 inches taller than him. After his years in Detroit, he played two seasons in San Antonio, and then three-peated with the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Throughout his years on the Spurs and Bulls, Rodman always led the league in rebounding, doing so in seven consecutive years. He’s had his number retired five different times by multiple teams, and finished his career as a five-time NBA Champion and a Hall-of-Famer. He is clear-cut the best second round pick ever.
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