Decade Debate: 10 Best Late-First Round NBA Picks

In any NBA Draft, after the top few picks are gone, things start to get dicey. Things get even sketchier once the draft hits the late-first round, and teams are lucky if they can find a starter-quality player, much less an All-Star. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, here are the NBA’s top 10 picks from the late-first round (pick #16 or later) in the last ten years. Players are ranked in order of talent and accomplishment, and the later the pick, the better.

10. Kevin Martin (drafted #26 by the Kings in ’04)

Martin is one of the best scorers in the league. Before a broken hand derailed his 2009-10 campaign, he was averaging 31-5-3 and was nailing 45% of his 3PT attempts. The Kings got him late in the first because he played at Western Carolina and has busted form on his jumper. Hey, it goes in, and that’s all that matters.

9. David Lee (drafted #30 by the Knicks in ’05)

Say what you will about Isiah Thomas the GM. Zeke the scout had an eye for talent. Lee averaged a double-double in his second season, and as Mike D’Antoni implemented his up-tempo attack, Lee’s numbers grew to 16-12 (on 55% shooting) last season. He’s bound to get a fat contract next summer, but how much are his numbers inflated playing for D’Antoni?

8. Josh Smith (drafted #17 by the Hawks in ’04)

Let’s see — “J-Smoove” has posted four straight years of 15+ points and 7+ rebounds, plus at least 2.8 blocks in three of his last four seasons, and he’s just 23 since he entered the league straight out of high school. If he is able to fulfill his potential, he’ll surely move up this list. Versatile enough to play either forward position, Smith is coming into his own this season, averaging 16-9-4 with 2.8 blocks through 18 games. It helps that he’s not jacking the outside shot like he used to.

7. Rajon Rondo (drafted #21 by the Suns in ’06)

The Celtics deserve credit for this one as they traded for Rondo on draft day. Rondo isn’t a very good shooter, but he does everything else well, not unlike Jason Kidd. Last season, he averaged 12-5-8 with two steals, and was named to the All-Defensive 2nd Team. In the playoffs, he averaged 17-10-10 and helped the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Semis without Kevin Garnett. So far this season, Rondo is averaging 11-4-9, and is shooting 54% from the field. Simply stated, he’s one of the very best two-way guards in the NBA.

6. Josh Howard (drafted #29 by the Mavs in ’03)

Howard was the classic case of a four-year senior that didn’t have any jaw-dropping skills, so he slipped all the way to the last pick in the first round. Over he last three seasons, he averaged at least 18-5, but he seems to have hit his ceiling and his reputation has taken a hit with some…um…poor off court decisions.

5. Jameer Nelson (drafted #20 by the Nuggets in ’04)

The Magic acquired Nelson after the draft and haven’t looked back. Deemed too short for the NBA — he’s listed at a very generous 6’0″ — scouts thought that Nelson’s ceiling was as a backup, but the league’s rule changes (handchecking) and his dead-eye shooting made him an All-Star last season. He averaged 17-5-4 and shot 50% from the field, 45% from 3PT and 89% from the free throw line.

4. David West (drafted #18 by the Hornets in ’03)

West’s career really took off in 2005, when he joined forces with rookie Chris Paul to form a dangerous one-two punch. He’s a terrific mid-range jumpshooter, which is a perfect complement for Paul’s drive-and-dish game. Over the past two years, West has averaged 21-9 and shot at least 47% from the field, making the All-Star Game in both seasons.

3. Danny Granger (drafted #17 by the Pacers in ’05)

I’m projecting a bit by putting Granger ahead of West here, but he made his first All-Star Game when he was 25, while West made his first at the age of 27. Granger also isn’t dependent on a point guard like West is. Over the last season and a quarter, Granger is averaging 25-6-3 and looks like he’ll be All-Star caliber for the foreseeable future. The guy is just a terrific scorer.

2. Tayshaun Prince (drafted #23 by the Pistons in ’02)

How many All-Star nods are four All-Defensive 2nd Team honors (from ’05-’08) worth? I don’t know, but when the same player is posting 14-6-3 and is shooting 46% from the field, he gets to be #2 on this list. Maybe those aren’t eye-popping stats, but how much damage did he do on the defensive end? Four straight All-Defensive nods is as beautiful as Prince’s jumper is ugly.

1. Tony Parker (drafted #28 by the Spurs in ’01)

Parker has three All-Star nods (’06, ’07 and ’09), an All-NBA 3rd Team (’09) and a Finals MVP (’07) under his belt and he’s only 27 years-old. It has been fun to watch Parker develop from a clueless rookie to one of the most difficult covers in the league (married to one of the hottest women in the world). He’s lightning quick, is a solid playmaker and has an improving jumper. But the big question is — can he carry a team once Tim Duncan retires?

Honorable Mention: Gerald Wallace (#25), Boris Diaw (#24), Hedo Turkoglu (#16), Zach Randolph (#19), Jamal Magloire (#19), Leandro Barbosa (#28) Aaron Brooks (#26), John Salmons (#26), Morris Peterson (#21), Kendrick Perkins (#27), Delonte West (#24), Nate Robinson (#21), Rudy Fernandez (#24), Wilson Chandler (#23)

Up-and-Comers: Marreese Speights (#16), J.J. Hickson (#19), Ryan Anderson (#21), Courtney Lee (#22), George Hill (#26)

Photos from fOTOGLIF

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