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Head to Head: Best Draft Pick Value?

Which late first-round picks have been the best value over the last few drafts? Our writers discuss.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Each season there is a lot of hype surrounding the top 10 players selected in the draft. Last year it was Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum (among others) that drew a lot of attention and expectations. However, recent history has shown that some of the best values in the NBA come in the second half of the first-round. Cody Taylor, Moke Hamilton and Jesse Blancarte take a look at some recent examples of late first-round selections who have exceeded expectations:

Rudy Gobert

For his rookie season and much of this past season, the jury was out on how Rudy Gobert would develop in the NBA. This was a player that projected to do well given his size and length, but would need time to develop. The Denver Nuggets nabbed him with the 27th pick in the 2013 draft, but then traded the 7’1 center from France to the Utah Jazz in exchange for a second-round pick and cash considerations.

Gobert really didn’t bring much to the table during his rookie campaign in 2013-14. He appeared in just 45 games and averaged 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and less than one block in 9.6 minutes a game. He was buried on the bench waiting for his opportunity.

The 2014-15 season would be counted as his breakout year and he didn’t even fully breakout until after December. Playing in 45 games off of the bench last season, Gobert averaged 6.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Prior to February, Gobert started in just eight games before becoming a full-time starter on February 20 against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Once he became the starter, he didn’t look back. He averaged 10.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 34 minutes per game. It was clear that all he needed was an opportunity to start to become the player everyone hoped he could be. The Jazz greatly benefited the more he was out on the floor. The team racked up a 19-10 record once Gobert took over as the starter in February.

During the second-half of the season, the Jazz became one of the best defensive teams in the league and it had a direct correlation with Gobert being on the floor. Prior to January 1, the Jazz were ranked 27th in the league with a 108 defensive rating. After January 1, the Jazz climbed all the way up to the second-best defensive rating at 98.3. The team posted a 98.8 defensive rating with Gobert on the floor and a 106 defensive rating when he was out of the game. He proved himself to be a legitimate rim protector and that he belongs in the NBA.

Players drafted in the lottery often become significant contributors for their respective teams. Not every player selected in the lottery pans out, but they usually do well. However, players taken in the second-half of the draft are more of a gamble because teams really don’t know how they’ll end up. It seems the Jazz struck gold with their decision to trade for Gobert as he seems well on his way to becoming one of the elite centers in the NBA.

It sometimes depends on a player being in the right situation in order to perform well and it seems Gorbert has found the perfect system for his skills. He’s already turning heads with his excellent play in just his second season and has Jazz fans excited for what they can expect in the future. He’s due to earn $1,175,880 next year and $2,121,287 the following season, making him one of the best bargains in the NBA.

– Cody Taylor

Serge Ibaka

Each year, with fans and executives hoping to hit the jackpot in what I often refer to as the basketball talent lottery, I find myself constantly reminding people that the gross majority of NBA draft picks are more likely to wind up playing professionally in Europe than becoming perennial All-Stars in the NBA. What is even more interesting about the entire situation is that there are a great many players selected in the lottery and even in the top five that simply do not pan out in the long run.

For sure, there is value to be had elsewhere in the NBA draft, and in particular, for whatever reason, over the years, the 24th pick of the first round has produced a handful of productive players.

The best example of this in a contemporary sense is tough to call, but I would probably give Serge Ibaka a slight advantage over Reggie Jackson. Interestingly enough, each of these two players were drafted by Sam Presti, the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ibaka was selected in 2008, while Jackson was selected three years later in 2011.

At this point, though Ibaka has had a bit of a head start (and hence, a larger sample size), we can point to him as being an exquisite find. Ibaka has some of the best timing and shot blocking instincts the league has seen since Dwight Howard entered the NBA back in 2004. Unlike Howard and say, DeAndre Jordan, Ibaka is a smooth shooting big man who has extended his shooting range over the past few years and is not causing his team any handicap at the free-throw line. This past season, we have seen how important it is to have a big man who is a capable free-throw shooter.

What is also amazing about Ibaka is that he strikes the fine line between playing the game with an edge and swagger, but remaining humble and down to earth in such a way that allows him to take and accept criticism from his coaches and teammates. From what I have heard and learned of Ibaka, he is amazingly humble and coachabletwo traits not often associated with a big man who possess his level of talent.

As the years have progressed, we have seen Ibaka become a major asset on the offensive side of the ball for the Thunder, and for him, getting to the next level will require the development of a consistent back-to-the-basket game. In effect, when the Thunder signed him to a four-year, $48 million extension back in 2012, it made it difficult for the team to stomach the idea of signing James Harden to what would have been a four-year maximum extension. Harden was eventually dealt to the Houston Rockets as a result.

That may not have been the wisest of decisions considering the rise of Harden, but that the Thunder opted to go with Ibaka, who was selected at number 24, is a testament to the belief that the Thunder feel they got incredible value with his selection. It is difficult to argue with that.

Historically, the 24th pick has yielded other gems, as well. Going all the way back to the 1980s, one need to look no further than the Lithuanian legend, Arvydas Sabonis. Sabonis is regarded as one of the greatest European players in history, but anyone who has watched the NBA for more than 20 years will agree that Sabonis was a revolutionary player at the center position. He was selected 24th overall back in 1986.

In 1992, the Golden State Warriors picked Latrell Sprewell at number 24, and although his career will probably be remembered for the wrong reasonshis altercation with P.J. Carlesimo and his comments about feeding his family come to mindSprewell was a four-time All-Star who made the All-NBA First Team in 1994 and was instrumental in the New York Knicks winning the Eastern Conference in 1999.

Other notable names selected at number 24 include Terry Porter (1985), Brian Shaw (1988), Sam Cassell (1993), Derek Fisher (1996), Andrei Kirilenko (1999) and Kyle Lowry (2006).

As the Cleveland Cavaliers set to select at number 24 in this Junes draft, general manager David Griffin and his staff can find solace in the fact that history has shown that value can certainly be found, even at this late stage of the draft.

– Moke Hamilton

Jimmy Butler

There are a lot of people that put little value on non-lottery draft picks. The reasoning is that for every productive role player, there are maybe five players that never meet expectations or sometimes wash out of the NBA in just a few seasons.

But we have seen in recent years that holding onto these draft picks and trying to gouge maximum value out of them is one of the best ways to build a championship contender. Look around the league, and we see that some of the most successful teams have late draft picks as key pieces. The Los Angeles Clippers’ defense has been anchored by DeAndre Jordan in recent years, who was selected 35th overall in the 2008 draft. The Golden State Warriors just won the NBA Championship with Draymond Green, selected 35th in the 2012 draft, playing a huge role. The Utah Jazz nabbed Rudy Gobert out of Denver for a second-round pick and cash considerations, and now have a defensive anchor that, alongside Derrick Favors, will keep opponents out of the paint for years to come.

Arguably the best recent example of this is Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Butler was selected 30th overall by the Bulls in the 2011 NBA draft after playing one season at Tyler (Texas) Junior College and three seasons at Marquette.

In his first season in the NBA, Butler played just 8.5 minutes per game and was buried on the bench behind Luol Deng (who averaged a whopping 39.4 minutes per game that season).

Fast forward to the 2012-13 season, and Butler got his chance to shine after Deng suffered an injury. With as much playing time as he could handle, Butler quickly proved himself to be a strong defender and solid three-point shooter. It looked as though Butler would become one of the league’s next best 3-and-D wing players, which is a pretty nice acquisition with the 30th pick in any draft.

But Butler didn’t stop there. He entered this last season aiming to prove that he was worthy of a max-level contract, and he did just that. In the 2013-14 season, Butler averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from three-point range. This last season, Butler upped his averages to 20 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond-the-arc.

Butler went from a solid 3-and-D wing to go-to scorer in one season. He was the Bulls’ best player this season and it’s not hard to argue that this is now his team, rather than Rose’s (who was the number one overall pick in 2008 and League MVP in 2011). Butler’s rise to this level is an inspiring one and the fact that he now is arguably a more important player to the Bulls than even Rose highlights how much value even a late first-round pick can have.

Butler will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

– Jesse Blancarte

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