All-Gold Strike Team: Ten second-round picks who hit it big over the last decade
The Point Forward’s All-Gold Strike Team
Here’s a look at The Point Forward’s top 10 second-round picks from the last 10 drafts, a subjective ranking that attempts to balance current ability, overall career performance, awards and honors, advanced statistical production, and draft position (small bonus points given for later picks).
10. Amir Johnson (No. 56 in 2005)
The Raptors’ forward is a quintessential second-round hit in that he’s usually overlooked even in discussions of the “most overlooked” players. A modest 7.2 career scoring average can have that effect, but Johnson’s defensive ability, screen-setting skills and general awareness have cultivated a cult following among NBA geeks. Detroit selected him straight out of high school and his playing time ramped up slowly over his first four seasons. A change of scenery in 2009 opened up new possibilities for Johnson, 26, who has been used as both a starter and a big minutes reserve over the last four years in Toronto. He secured a five-year, $30 million contract in 2010 and has delivered by averaging 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. His 32.2 career Win Shares rank fourth among the 300 players taken in the second round since 2004.
Johnson got the nod for the final spot over the likes of Anderson Varejao, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat and Mario Chalmers.
9. DeAndre Jordan (No. 35 in 2008)
The second round is all about taking fliers and the Clippers’ decision to take one on Jordan has looked better and better by the year. Although his free throw shooting is ghastly and his ability to captain a defense still needs some work, the 25-year-old Jordan has made major strides since he entered the NBA after going one-and-done at Texas A&M. The 6-foot-11 alley-oop finishing machine hasn’t missed a game in three seasons, and he’s averaging a career-best 10.2 points and a league-leading 14 rebounds per game this season. Jordan understands his limitations and knows how to exploit his athletic advantages, two reasons why he’s shot better than 60 percent for six straight years. Will he ever fully realize his insane physical gifts? Who knows, but he’s already earned a four-year, $43 million contract in 2011.
8. Nikola Pekovic (No. 31 in 2008)
Effectively pulling off the draft-and-stash approach requires patience, luck and timing, not to mention a player who is skilled enough to successfully make the transition from the international game to the NBA. It took two full seasons after the 2008 draft for Pekovic, 28, to make his NBA debut and it took another season for him to truly get his bearings. The waiting has paid off, though, as the burly Montenegrin center has evolved into a low-post force capable of averaging 18 points and 9.1 rebounds per game this season. Coming to America has been worth Pekovic’s while too: he cashed in with a five-year, $60 million contract last summer, thanks in part to his elite offensive rebounding which is now among the league’s best for a third straight season. His average PER of 19.2 is tops among second-round picks from the last 10 years who have played at least two seasons.
7. Isaiah Thomas (No. 60 in 2011)
There was no mystery why Thomas, 25, slipped all the way to the last pick in the 2011 draft after three strong seasons at Washington. Passed over because of his 5-foot-9 height, Thomas has enjoyed a breakout 2013-14 season, as he ranks No. 4 among all point guards in PER. A smooth scorer with three-point range, Thomas is putting up 20.6 points and 6.3 assists for the Kings, who shipped out Greivis Vasquez in December and made him the full-time starter. Although his overall impact will always be curtailed by his defensive limitations, Thomas is in position to cash in on his scoring ability as soon as the summer free agency period hits. Given his draft position, he could go down as one of the greatest second-rounds steals of all time if he is able to continue piling up points in bunches throughout his prime.
6. Lance Stephenson (No. 40 in 2010)
One of this year’s leading All-Star snubs, Stephenson’s NBA journey began with a rocky start, as off-court issues killed his draft stock and limited his playing time over his first two seasons. Stepping into a starting role last year, Stephenson began to find a way to harness the athletic gifts that earned him his “Born Ready” moniker, and this season he’s taken his all-around game to another level. He’s averaging career-highs across the board — 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists — while handling more play-making duties on offense and evolving into an absolute menace on defense. A strong candidate for the 2014 Most Improved Player award, the 23-year-old Stephenson should be in line for a large payday this summer.
5. Monta Ellis (No. 40 in 2005)
You can certainly argue that the polarizing Ellis wasn’t worth the six-year, $66 million contract he signed in 2008 or even the three-year, $25.1 million contract he signed last summer, but you can’t dispute that he has been a home run as far as second-round picks go. Drafted straight out of high school prior to the implementation of the one-and-done rule, Ellis averaged at least 19 points for five straight seasons with the Warriors and Bucks. Best known for his love of shooting, as he peaked at an absurd 22 field goal attempts per game in 2010, Ellis has proven to be a nice fit with the Mavericks, who have taken advantage of his comfort in pick-and-roll situations. If there’s one thing that Ellis doesn’t get enough credit for, it’s his ability to handle gigantic workloads year after year: his 20,000+ career minutes is 3,000+ more than any other player taken in the second round from 2004 to 2013, totally outpacing the likes of Millsap, Gasol and Ariza.
4. Goran Dragic (No. 45 in 2008)
Sometimes second-round gold can look like pyrite for years. The Slovenian point guard saw more than his fair share of turbulence early in his career, as he spent two-plus seasons playing limited minutes for the Suns, who acquired his draft rights in a trade with the Spurs. Phoenix actually gave up on him in 2011, shipping him to Houston with a first-round pick for Aaron Brooks. Dragic established himself as a starting quality player in 2011-12 with the Rockets, but that progress wasn’t rewarded by Houston’s management, who instead successfully pursued Jeremy Lin in restricted free agency. Dragic ultimately signed a handsome four-year, $30 million contract to return to Phoenix, where he was tasked with heading up the post-Steve Nash transition. Things have gone swimmingly this season: The 27-year-old Dragic put himself in contention for an All-Star spot by averaging 20.3 points and 5.2 assists for the surprising Suns, who are tracking towards a playoff spot under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek.
3. Chandler Parsons (No. 38 in 2011)
If there was a single blueprint for the ideal second-round pick, Parsons just might be the guy. Not only did he arrive in the league ready to contribute after spending four years at Florida, the small forward has shown steady progress over the course of his three-year career. A perfect fit in Houston’s three-point happy system, Parsons is averaging a career-high 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from deep. He’s proven to be very reliable despite playing huge minutes both this season and last, and he even went above and beyond to help recruit an A-list franchise center in Dwight Howard. As if that combination of production, fit, durability and team-first personality wasn’t enough, Parsons is also one of the league’s very best values, thanks to the ingenious four-year, $3.6 million contract the Rockets inked him to in 2011. If he continues to progress at his current rate, the 25-year-old Parsons could soon find himself in the discussion for an All-Star spot, even if he’s clearly Houston’s third wheel behind Howard and James Harden. His 5.5 Win Shares per year trails only Gasol and Millsap among the last 10 years worth of second-round picks.
2. Paul Millsap (No. 47 in 2006)
It took awhile for the Louisiana Tech product to hear his name called on draft night in 2006, but he wasted no time at all making an impact for Jerry Sloan’s Jazz. The durable Millsap missed just six games total over his first three years, and he parlayed that durability and a versatile inside/outside game into a four-year, $32 million offer sheet from the Blazers in 2009. Appreciating Millsap’s game and wanting to keep him in the fold with a team that made the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, Utah matched and retained his rights, eventually pairing him with Al Jefferson to lead the post-Deron Williams Jazz. After that duo ran its course, the Hawks capitalized on Utah’s rebuilding plans by signing Millsap, 29, to a bargain basement two-year, $19 million contract last summer. He promptly delivered the first All-Star appearance of his career while averaging a career-high 17.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Millsap’s 52.9 career Win Shares are tops among the 300 second-round picks selected over the last 10 years.
1. Marc Gasol (No. 48 in 2007)
A true franchise talent, the 29-year-old Spanish center was drafted by the Lakers and included in the trade package that brought his brother Pau to Los Angeles. That exchange was derided as lopsided — especially once the Lakers went on to win back-to-back titles — but Marc’s growth has squashed that talk in recent years. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 All-NBA Second Team performer led Memphis to the Western Conference finals last year, marking the best campaign in franchise history. A skilled passer and effective rebounder, Gasol’s 44.9 career Win Shares rank No. 2 among all second-round picks over the last decade (behind Millsap), while his 7.5 Win Shares per year rank No. 1. He holds averages of 13.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game over six years, all spent with the Grizzlies. Finding this type of sturdy backbone capable of impacting games on both ends usually requires a top-10 pick.