For the purposes of this exercise, we only included players who were drafted after 1980. This was the year when the draft expanded to 20-plus picks in the first round. As a result, we won’t include players such as Willis Reed — who was technically a second-round pick in 1964 (but the 10th selection overall). Now, for the list…
Jalen Brunson (33rd Pick, 2018)
Brunson has only been in the league for six seasons, but is already leaving an imprint as a former second-round selection. Playing his college ball at Villanova, Brunson was a bit of a late-bloomer. He entered the NBA Draft following his junior campaign, and slipped into the second round due to concerns over his size. Listed generously at 6-foot-2, Brunson has calmed any potential concerns. After a strong start to his career in Dallas, Brunson landed with the Knicks in the 2022 offseason. He’s already proven to be one of the best free agent signings in team history. In his first year with the team, Brunson led the Knicks to their first postseason series win in a decade. The diminutive guard is beloved by the city, and is a candidate to make his first All-Star team in short order.
Malcolm Brogdon (36th Pick, 2016)
We don’t need to wait until Malcolm Brogdon’s career comes to a close before honoring him as one of the great second round picks in NBA history. After all, in 2017 he became the first second rounder in over 50 years to be named Rookie of the Year. He’s since gone on to prove that older prospects (Brogdon was 23 when he was drafted) shouldn’t be overlooked as it pertains to the NBA Draft. After the Bucks shockingly let Brogdon walk as a restricted free agent two years ago, the combo guard has thrived at stops in Indiana, Boston, and Portland. His lone season with the Celtics led to Brogdon being honored as the league’s Sixth Man of the Year.
Monta Ellis (40th Pick, 2005)
Ellis slipped in the draft due to uncertainty about his NBA projections coming directly from high school. The “undersized” 2-guard silenced the critics emphatically by becoming one of the top scorers in the league in short order. From ’08-’15, Ellis averaged 20.8 PPG and also developed into a decent playmaker with 5.1 APG. In 2010, Ellis finished 6th in PPG. The only five players ahead of him? Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade. You’ve probably heard of them.
Kyle Korver (51st Pick, 2003)
Kyle Korver will go down as one of the greatest pure shooters in NBA history. He’s the only player in league history currently ranked top-10 in both three-pointers made and three-point percentage. Korver was named an All-Star in 2015, and deservedly so. His shooting ability was arguably the most important focal point of an Atlanta Hawks offense that won 60 games that year. Korver led the league by shooting 49.2-percent from three (one of four times he led the league in three-point percentage). In being named an All-Star, Korver had ascended to a level that was previously thought to be unreachable by a three-point specialist.
Trevor Ariza (43rd Pick, 2004)
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Trevor Ariza was his ability to earn playing time even in the waning years of his career. This is primarily due to the fact that defense is always at a premium, and Ariza maintained his ability to defend at a high level even while his athleticism diminished. The 6-foot-8 Ariza was a hawk in the passing lanes — forcing turnovers and creating easy opportunities on the offensive end. His shooting improved significantly over his career, to the point where teams couldn’t ignore him on the perimeter like some of the other defensive specialists. After 18 years in the NBA, Ariza finally called it quits following the ’22 season.
Rashard Lewis (32nd Pick, 1998)
Entering the league after foregoing a collegiate career, Lewis spent the first nine years of his career in Seattle. He was named an All-Star in 2005 playing for a Sonics team that torched teams from the outside with the duo of Lewis and Ray Allen. Following the conclusion of the ’07 season, Lewis was traded to the Magic where he found immediate success as one of the league’s top stretch forwards. He became an important piece on the 2009 Orlando Magic squad that made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Lewis also played a massive role in the team’s victory over the Lebron-led Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. A few years later, Lewis would help LeBron and company take home a title as a reserve for the 2013 Miami Heat.
DeAndre Jordan, (35th Pick, 2008)
Deandre Jordan didn’t start earning significant minutes until his third year with the Clippers, but his career really took off following the Chris Paul acquisition. In his first year with CP3, Jordan led the league in rebounds and field goal percentage. In his final five seasons in LA, Jordan averaged 14.2 RPG. That mark would be the 7th greatest of all-time — and the first among any player who has played since the ’80’s. Jordan was named to the All-NBA team three times — with a First Team nod in 2016. Jordan has been with the Nuggets since 2022, and appeared in four postseason games during Denver’s title-winning run.
Danny Green (46th Pick, 2009)
Three titles for three teams, Danny Green has been a premier role player for his entire career. It was a bit surprising that Green slipped all the way to the 46th overall pick 2009. He checked a majority of the boxes necessary for a wing prospect: good size, shooting touch, played for a National title winning team at UNC. Teams typically get enamored with “potential” when it comes to the draft. This premise makes them opt for an unproven 19-year-old over a college senior with skills that are clearly transferrable to the NBA level.
Green didn’t stick with his original team (Cleveland), but leave it to the Spurs to unlock his potential. He became a household name when he broke the record for made threes in a NBA Finals series in ’13, and has since played for a number of legitimate contenders. Green has collected three rings (’14 Spurs, ’19 Raptors, ’20 Lakers) and started in all 68 games during those three separate playoff runs.
Doc Rivers (31st Pick, 1983)
The title-winning coach was one of the best second round picks in NBA history. Before winning a championship as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Rivers was a fine player in his own right. The Marquette product was selected with the seventh pick of the second round in ’83. After the No. 14 pick Clyde Drexler, there’s an argument to be made that Rivers had the second best career of any other player from the 1983 draft class.
In 1987, Rivers started and played in all 82 games for the Hawks — averaging a double-double with 12.8 PPG, 10.0 APG, and 2.1 SPG. A year later, Rivers was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team as the backup point guard to Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. Rivers ended his career in Atlanta as the franchise’s all-time assist leader with 3,866 dimes.
Toni Kukoc (29th Pick, 1990)
The Bulls selected Toni Kukoc in the ’90 draft, but he wouldn’t join the team until three years later. The European basketball sensation joined at just the right time. Fresh off winning three straight titles, Kukoc added a new dimension to a Chicago team that was stacked with talent. He faced some growing pains at first, but by the time the ’96 season rolled around, Kukoc was an integral part of Phil Jackson’s rotation.
Playing alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Kukoc was the ideal tertiary option. With his size and skill, the 6-foot-11 Croatian could fill a number of roles — including as a spot-up shooter or as a playmaker. He wound up playing 13 years in the league, finishing with well-rounded career averages of 11.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, and 1.0 SPG.
Goran Dragic (45th Pick, 2008)
One thing is clear based on the first-half of this list: teams are getting better at finding gems in the second round. How else can we explain the amount of recently-active NBA players who have flooded the first half of this ranking? Add former Phoenix Suns draft pick Goran Dragic to the list. Playing behind Steve Nash to begin his career, Dragic showed flashes in a reserve role with the Suns. Once he earned a starting role years later, the Slovenian-born guard proved he could compete with all of the league’s top guards.
The crafty lefty utilized an unorthodox style to keep defenders off-balance. Dragic is a relentless player who can create havoc from every spot on the floor. He was absolutely critical during the Miami Heat’s run to the Finals in ’20. After he got injured, Miami’s offense sputtered and looked far less creative. Dragic was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player/made All-NBA Third Team in 2014, and earned his first All-Star team appearance in ’18.
Carlos Boozer (35th Pick, 2002)
The tail-end of Boozer’s career may have made some fans forget just how good of an NBA player he was. We’re talking about a player who played 13 seasons in the league, and averaged double-digit points every single year. Boozer was a true force with the Jazz from ’05-’10. He created a dynamic pick-and-roll partnership with Deron Williams, and was one of the top power forwards in the league during that period. In that span, Boozer averaged a double-double for four straight years (’07-’10), made two All-Star teams, and was named to the All-NBA Third Team in ’08.
Paul Millsap (47th Pick, 2006)
It didn’t take long for NBA teams to realize they had made a dire mistake allowing Paul Millsap to slip to the 47th overall pick. Millsap appeared in all 82 games for the Jazz in each of his first two seasons, and received an expanded role heading into Year 3. After seven strong years in Utah, Millsap signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks and his career began to take off. Millsap was named an All-Star four times with the Hawks, and led the team in scoring during the memorable 60-win campaign in ’15. Millsap spent the late years of his career as the starting four on a young Nuggets team. He helped establish a culture for a squad that would go onto become a power out West.
Isaiah Thomas (60th Pick, 2011)
Dwayne Collins. Semih Erden. Milovan Raković. Alpha Kaba. Cory Jefferson. Andrea Glyniadakis. Isaiah Thomas. These players all have something in common…they were selected with the last pick of their draft. The only difference is, you’ve never heard of any of them other than Thomas. This is usually the case with the last pick every year. For the most part, Mr. Irrelevant is better known for comedic purposes rather than their playing skill. Guys like Robert Sacre and Kostas Antetokounmpo are internet memes who aren’t lauded for their basketball skill.
Thomas broke the mold, and completely shattered the glass ceiling. As a 5-foot-9 (generously listed) guard, Thomas developed into one of the deadliest offensive powerhouses in basketball. In 2017, Thomas poured in one of the great seasons by a second round pick ever which led to a fifth place finish in the MVP voting that year. Thomas averaged 28.9 PPG and was named to the All-NBA Second Team for a Celtics squad that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. His prime was short-lived, but Thomas’ peak was truly a spectacle.
Lou Williams (45th Pick, 2005)
The ultimate sixth man gets his due. Williams’ prime wasn’t as spectacular as a player like Isaiah Thomas, but his longevity was breathtaking. Williams entered the league in 2006 as a teenager. As a rookie, Williams played alongside Chris Webber and Allen Iverson (both of whom called it a career over a decade ago). Over 1100 career games later, Lou Will was still getting buckets in his age-35 season.
The three-time Sixth Man of the Year was a microwave. He could heat up in an instant, and had the ability to swing games in crunch time. Williams even seemed to get better with age. From ’18-’20 (his age 31-33 seasons), Williams averaged 20.4 PPG and 5.4 APG. Williams holds the record for the most points scored by a bench player with over 13,000 career points poured in as a reserve.
Jeff Hornacek (46th Pick, 1986)
A better player than he was a coach, Jeff Hornacek enjoyed a fruitful 14-year career in the league. The Iowa State legend was an excellent offensive player. He was named an All-Star in ’92 (which ended up being his last year in Phoenix). Hornacek was traded to the 76ers the following year. The rebuilding 76ers had no use for a 30-year-old guard, and traded him to a team that needed one more piece to make a Finals push: The Utah Jazz.
With John Stockton already in tow, Hornacek shifted to the role of shooting guard and immediately became one of the best spot-up shooters in the league. Hornacek ended his career shooting 49.6-percent from the field, 40.3-percent from three, and 87.7-percent from the line. Additionally, Hornacek may have been a part of the greatest second round in NBA history. Consider this, most would agree that Hornacek was the third best player from the 1986 second round. One of the two ahead of him being…
Mark Price (25th Pick, 1986)
…the 25th overall pick from the ’86 draft, Mark Price. Dallas’ selection of Price kicked off a stacked second round which featured a slew of quality NBA players including Hornacek, Nate McMillan, Johnny Newman, and Kevin Duckworth. While his career didn’t last as long as Hornacek’s (Price played just 12 seasons), Price was the more impactful player during his prime.
A four-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection, Price was one of the top lead guards from ’88-’95. In ’93, Price was named to the All-NBA First Team alongside Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. He earned the First Team nod at point guard over John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, and Tim Hardaway. A great shooter and gifted playmaker, Price ranks third all-time in free throw percentage and 31st in career assists per game. Having said that, he still wasn’t the best that the second round of 1983 draft had to offer. More on that player in a bit.
Gilbert Arenas (31st Pick, 2001)
Arenas certainly looked the part of a first-round pick during his time at Arizona. Reportedly, a poor pre-draft workout led to the enigmatic guard slipping to the Warriors with the second pick of the second round. He made an impact early, and caught the attention of the Washington Wizards when he became a free agent following the ’03 season. Arenas’ career took off in Washington. The ‘Agent Zero’ moniker was born as the explosive guard lit the league ablaze.
From ’05-’07, Arenas averaged 27.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, 4.3 RPG and was named an All-Star/an All-NBA member each year. His style was eerily similar to the way guards play in today’s league. Arenas had unlimited range from beyond the arc and could get to the foul line at will. Injuries and poor choices away from the court ultimately ended his career, but Arenas was an offensive supernova during his prime.
Khris Middleton (39th Pick, 2012)
We simply cannot ignore what Middleton has accomplished to this point in his career. A three-time All-Star who was the No. 2 option (sometimes No. 1) for a title-winning team. Middleton was sensational during the Bucks playoff run in ’21. When Milwaukee desperately needed offense, they turned to Middleton as the primary creator and he came through more often than not. His shot-making ability and pick-and-roll decision making were invaluable for Milwaukee.
Middleton made clutch basket after clutch basket for the Bucks in both of the team’s two most important series versus Brooklyn and Phoenix. He led the way with a 40-point effort in a crucial Game 4 victory over the Suns to tie the series at 2-2. Over the six-game set, Middleton averaged 24.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.5 SPG. He proved to be the perfect Robin to Giannis’ Batman, and has shown that he can perform when the lights are brightest.
Mo Cheeks (36th Pick, 1978)
There’s something about guards from Chicago. They play with an edge and fight for every last possession. Mo Cheeks fit this description perfectly. The Illinois native epitomized his hometown. Tough and gritty, Cheeks was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team five times (four First Team honors). His 2.1 steals per game ranks 10th all time, and Cheeks was also a fairly solid shot-blocker for someone of his stature (just above 6-feet tall). Cheeks was named an All-Star four times as a member of the 76ers, and helped the franchise to its most recent title in ’83. In 2018, Cheeks was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for his efforts as a player.
Marc Gasol (48th Pick, 2007)
Gasol fell to the 48th pick in ’07, and was famously traded for his brother, Pau, before even making his NBA debut. Teams likely shied away from Marc due to his burly body type (even though Pau was selected third overall and was clearly on the path to becoming an elite NBA player). Gasol hit the ground running when he debuted in ’08, and became a staple in the Grizzlies’ franchise. The big Spaniard was a highly intellectual player who had the ability to dominate both ends of the floor. Over his illustrious career, Gasol was a three-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, and helped the Raptors capture the franchise’s lone NBA title.
Draymond Green (35th Pick, 2012)
Draymond Green’s contributions won’t show up on a box score. He isn’t a prolific scorer or a knockdown shooter. He also won’t make many highlight reels with any thunderous dunks or anything of that nature. What he will do, though, is help your team win basketball games. Green is one of the core pieces for a dynastic Warriors team that has collected four NBA titles. His defensive versatility is second to none.
The eight-time All-Defensive team selection was named the Defensive Player of the Year in ’17. He reads and processes the game at a faster rate than just about anybody in the league. Green is always a step or two ahead of every player on the floor. Golden State set their rebuild in the right direction when Steph Curry fell into their laps in ’09, but stealing Draymond Green with the 35th pick in ’12 kicked the franchise into overdrive.
Dennis Rodman (27th Pick, 1986)
Finally, we arrive at the player who is considered to be the best from the stacked second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. Truly, it’s a miracle Rodman was drafted at all. It wasn’t until a growth spurt following his high school days that Rodman began to seriously focus on basketball. He latched on with Division II program Southeastern Oklahoma State and began building his draft profile from there. The Pistons took a chance on the 24-year-old prospect with the 27th overall pick. Not even they could have known the player he would become. Rodman is one of the greatest rebounders and defensive players the league has ever seen. At the conclusion of his career, Rodman was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice, led the league in rebounding seven times, and captured five NBA titles as a member of the Pistons and Bulls.
Manu Ginobili (57th Pick, 1999)
Originally a Spurs draft pick from 1999, Ginóbili didn’t make his NBA debut until three years after he was drafted. The wait was worth it. Ginóbili formed a dominant trinity alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Though considered one of the most skilled players in the league at the time, Ginóbili sacrificed individual accolades for team success. He accepted a reserve role within Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich’s system, and flourished as the team’s sixth man. A fearless competitor, Ginóbili never backed down from the game’s biggest stars, earning the respect of his peers. The hardware speaks for itself. Ginóbili was named Sixth Man of the Year in ’08, made two All-Star teams, was named to the All-NBA Third Team twice, and helped the Spurs win four titles during his illustrious 16-year career.
Nikola Jokić (41st Pick, 2014)
Undoubtedly, Nikola Jokic has been the best player to ever be taken in the second round of the NBA Draft. The Serbian center is building a case to be one of the greatest players ever, regardless of draft position. Denver’s 2023 championship run cemented Jokic as the best player in the game today. Already regarded as the best big man passer ever, Jokic also routinely is among the league leaders in rebounds, and ranks 9th all-time in postseason PPG. With two MVP’s to his name, the 28-year-old will continue to add to his expansive collection of hardware.