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Post-Lottery Players Proving Their Worth This Postseason

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In a tank-driven era of the NBA, teams that do not find themselves directly competing for a championship are opting to plunge deep into the draft lottery for the opportunity to select premier prospects down the road.

The idea behind this practice is that the players available at the top of the draft possess the talent to alter the course of a franchise and ultimately deliver a Larry O’Brien trophy to the team that picks them.

While a majority of the NBA’s heavy-hitters are those blue-chip prospects selected in the lottery, this season’s playoff picture is being impacted by players who didn’t make the cut on draft night to earn the “lottery pick” distinction.

Of course, the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s, Steph Curry’s and James Harden’s of the world hold their place on the NBA’s elite player mantel, but this season and postseason fans haven’t had to look far to see dominant performances from guys drafted 15th or later. In fact, it’s become rather common.

So without further ado, let’s highlight the players who were overlooked in their draft class and are making a major impact in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard (15th overall, 2011)

In hindsight, how Leonard fell outside of the lottery is mind-boggling. But at the time, in a draft that featured blue-blood college stars like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight, taking a small forward from San Diego State with a broken jump shot with a top pick seemed like a tough call.

However, that didn’t matter for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, who swiftly traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to Leonard on draft night.

At just 25 years old, Leonard already has an NBA Finals MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and has cemented himself as the premier two-way player in the league. After delivering a 2016-17 campaign performance that has him in contention for both the league MVP and DPOY awards, Leonard is continuing to dominate the postseason.

In the Spurs’ first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, Leonard is averaging 32.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two steals per game. While posting gaudy raw numbers, Leonard is doing so with unfathomable efficiency, shooting 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc — not to mention he’s a perfect 40-for-40 from the free-throw line through the first four games of the series.

With the Spurs and Grizzlies locked at two games apiece in their series, Leonard will likely have to keep up his red-hot performances to see San Antonio advance to the next round.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th overall, 2013)

This season’s sensation in the NBA came in the form of a 6-foot-11 point guard from Greece, who plays in Milwaukee.

Commonly referred to as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo possesses a unique combination of size, speed, power and ability that allow him to confuse opposing defenders in just about every way imaginable.

So far this postseason, Antetokounmpo has the Bucks competing with the Toronto Raptors. Impacting the court in all facets, the 22-year-old is posting 23 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. Despite expending a ton of energy running the team’s offense, Antetokounmpo is all over the place during the game, getting teammates open and affecting opponents’ shots with his length.

As the series heads back to Milwaukee for a win-or-go-home Game 6 scenario, Antetokounmpo will likely have to deliver a do-it-all performance to keep the Bucks alive. But regardless of the outcome, the Greek Freak has shown the ability to put one of the Eastern Conference’s heavyweight team’s back against the wall in just his second ever playoff series. Pretty good for a guy who wasn’t a lottery pick.

Kyle Lowry (24th overall, 2006)

On the other side of the Raptors-Bucks series is the starting point guard for Toronto, who slid all the way to the bottom-third of the first round in his draft class.

After being selected by the Grizzlies in 2006, Lowry bounced around from Memphis to Houston before being traded to Toronto. As a Raptor, Lowry has flourished, sharing the backcourt with DeMar DeRozan and forming one of the most dangerous guard combinations in the league.

Despite struggling to begin the series against Milwaukee — scoring just four points in Game 1 — Lowry has bounced back, averaging 17.5 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last four matchups.

Responsible for orchestrating Toronto’s offense, when Lowry isn’t on the court, the Raptors struggle to operate at a competitive level. The difference in the team’s offensive rating when Lowry is playing and when he is resting is +12.6. The Raptors also average 5.8 more turnovers over 100 plays when Lowry isn’t on the court and controlling the ball.

As Toronto looks to close out Milwaukee and advance past the first round for the second straight season, Lowry will likely need to be running the show for a majority of the game in order to overcome the feisty Bucks.

Rudy Gobert (27th overall, 2013)

Seven different centers were selected ahead of Gobert before the Utah Jazz swiped the seven-foot Frenchman off the board. Of the players chosen before him, none have averaged a double-double like Gobert did this season.

Posting 14 points, 12.8 rebounds and a league-leading 2.6 blocks per game, Gobert has his name firmly placed in the Defensive Player of the Year award race. However, he’s registered just 24 minutes so far in Utah’s postseason series against the Los Angeles Clippers (currently tied 2-2). Seventeen seconds into Game 1, Gobert hyper extended his left knee and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Utah pulled off a victory without him, but Los Angeles won two straight as Gobert sat out.

Returning for Game 4, Utah’s defensive anchor proved his importance, scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking two shots to help even the series despite losing leading scorer Gordon Hayward to food poisoning.

As Game 5 gets set to kick off, a dominant defensive performance from Gobert could potentially swing the even series in Utah’s favor.

Draymond Green (35th overall, 2012)

On a Golden State Warriors team that features a slew of highly drafted players, their arguably most valuable piece slipped all the way to the second round of his respective draft class.

Green is a jack-of-all-trades player for the Warriors, as well as the team’s defensive enforcer inside, despite being just 6-foot-7.

Appearing as the front-runner in a close race for the Defensive Player of the Year, Green entered the postseason and served as the difference maker in Golden State’s four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Averaging 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 4.3 blocks and 1.8 steals per game, Green consistently stuffed the box score in a series that saw the Warriors periodically without Durant and head coach Steve Kerr.

Green posted near triple-doubles to start the series. In Game 1 he scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and assisted on nine baskets. The next game, despite not being his night in terms of scoring, Green made an impact everywhere else on the court. He grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 10 assists to go with his six points.

Arguably the most versatile player in the NBA, Green makes the Warriors better in nearly every advanced metric and aspect of the game.

As Golden State eye’s their second NBA championship in three years, the key to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy once again may fall on the shoulders of a second-round draft pick.

Isaiah Thomas (60th overall, 2011)

Mr. Irrelevant of the NBA’s 2011 draft, Thomas was never projected — or expected — to reach the level of stardom that he has found with the Boston Celtics.

Drafted by the Sacramento Kings, Thomas was acquired by Danny Ainge from the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 19, 2015. Since joining Boston and head coach Brad Stevens, Thomas has exploded to a level of play that isn’t common for a 5-foot-9 point guard selected with the last pick in the draft.

Despite being an afterthought on draft night in 2011, Thomas has gone on to a post the third-highest win shares figure in his class. At 45.4 win shares, only Leonard (55.4) and Jimmy Butler (49.3) rate higher. Irving — selected first overall — sits right behind Thomas at 40.4 win shares.

Entering this postseason as the top-seed in the Eastern Conference, Thomas and the Celtics found themselves down 2-0 to the Chicago Bulls. Looking to avoid getting swept out of the playoffs as the No.1-seed, Thomas orchestrated two straight wins to tie the series.

In Game 3, Thomas posted a near double-double, scoring 16 points and dishing out nine assists. His Game 4 performance was just what the Celtics needed as he scored 33 points to go with seven assists and four rebounds en route to a 104-95 win. After nearly going undrafted, Thomas is positioned to pull his team out from a two-game deficit in the playoffs.

Players selected in the draft lottery may have a better opportunity to serve as franchise cornerstones, but as this season and postseason have shown, it’s unwise to think difference-makers are only available in the first 14 picks of the draft.

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About Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.