The 2011 NBA Draft was an anomaly: it has turned out to be one of the most talent-laden drafts in recent NBA history, but almost none of the best players were taken at the top of the lottery. 2011 may end up producing five Hall-of-Fame players, only one of whom (Kyrie Irving) was taken in the top ten, and two of whom were taken in the second round (Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas).
It’s probably safe to say we won’t see anything like it again anytime soon, if ever.
But what if teams had another chance to get it right? It may look a lot like this…
15. Bojan Bogdanovic (31st overall)
Bojan didn’t even enter the NBA until 2014-15 or make an impact until ’15-16, but the fact that he is currently averaging 15 PPG and shooting 46% from outside the arc as an indispensable bench player on a surprisingly feisty Wizards team notches him up into the top 15.
14. Marcus Morris (14th overall)
The lesser of the two Morris brothers battled through injuries and trades early in his career, but has always averaged about 15 and 6 per 36 minutes. He isn’t the problem in Detroit, but he certainly isn’t the solution either, which is why he stays in the exact same slot he was originally picked in.
13. Enes Kanter (3rd overall)
The fact that Kanter went third overall in the 2011 draft without playing a single game for Kentucky says something about how well the overall talent level was thought of at the time. As for Kanter himself, he is basically who the Jazz thought he was (a highly skilled low-post scorer), but the NBA has moved away from his style of play in general, and his inability to defend the pick-and-roll is particularly troubling.
12. Kenneth Faried (22nd overall)
A four year player at Morehead State, Faried came into the league close to a finished product and appeared to peak during his third season, averaging nearly 14 points and nine rebounds per game (along with a block and a steal each), before going on to star on the 2014 USA Basketball World Championship gold medal-winning squad. Since then, his lack of shooting ability (which knocked him down several slots on this list) and propensity for injuries have held him back, although the emergence of Nikola Jokic as a stretch five might pave the way for a career resurgence.
11. Markieff Morris (13th overall)
He isn’t the outside shooter his brother is, but he’s a more efficient scorer and in a better place in his career with the Wizards. He’s started every game this season and has given Washington some much-needed front court toughness, in addition to little overlooked things like averaging 1.2 steals per game.
10. Chandler Parsons (38th pick overall)
Despite being better know recently for suffering decimating knee injuries and attempting to be some sort of Hollywood model-type (above), during Parsons’ last year in Houston he was an efficient 6’10 scorer who hit a lot of threes and really stretched the floor. It wasn’t that long ago that Dallas and Mark Cuban thought of him as a potential third option on a title contender: these days you can find him in the Grizzlies’ trainer’s room, sidelined after yet another knee surgery.
9. Tobias Harris (19th overall)
The 2016-17 season has been disappointing for everyone in Detroit – especially the players – but Harris is still a prototypical small-ball stretch four who averages over 16 points per game with an effective FG% of .532. He’s also still only 24 years old. If he reminds you of Channing Frye, it’s because they’re cousins.
8. Reggie Jackson (24th overall)
Not the first, not the second, but the THIRD disappointing Detroit Piston on this list so far, Jackson went from unhappy Russell Westbrook backup to $80 million player to an inconsistent version of his previous self after coming off an injury, all within the course of about three years. His best year was last year, when he averaged 19 points and six assists per game in just 31 minutes. His high ceiling puts him this high on the list, despite his poor season in ’16-17.
7. Tristan Thompson (4th overall)
Thompson might have a case for being higher on this list, but his general lack of offensive skill leaves him bringing up the rear of the “Big Seven” of 2011. That, and the fact that he is dating Khloe Kardashian. At 6’9 he seems a tad bit short to play center, but his long arms and physicality/tenacity more than make up for it. Modest stats – 8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game this season, his best – belie the impact Thompson has on the game, and anyone who watched the Cavs during the 2016 playoffs would be hard pressed to disagree.
6. Kemba Walker (9th overall)
Walker was destined to be the college star who never quite made it in the pros. Except that once he got to the pros he just kept getting better, capped off by a 7% leap (30%-37%) in three point percentage from 2014-15 to 2015-16 (and then followed by another increase to 40% this season). He also improved his effective FG% (the most important offensive stat) a full 100 points (or 10%) during the same two year period. You can’t stay in front of him and you can’t let him shoot. The only criticisms you can really make of him are his lack of size on defense and his tendency to dominate the ball (despite decent assist numbers). Which all sounds a LOT like the next guy on the list:
5. Isaiah Thomas (60th overall)
If I didn’t watch IT every single night on League Pass, I might be more suspicious of his success, but the dude is just a super-efficient high volume scorer who does it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. There just aren’t many guys like that in the league. Not only does Isaiah have every trick in the book and an ability to use his height to his advantage, but he is also tearing it up from deep this year, shooting almost 39% on 8.4 attempts per game. That helps explain his absurd 7 PPG increase in scoring average. He’s also a natural leader who eats, breathes, and sleeps basketball. While he does dominate the ball, it isn’t in a Carmelo-type way that takes away from the team. The defensive issues are real though – it’s almost impossible to be a viable pick-and-roll defender at 5’8 – and they prevent him from going higher on this list.
4. Jimmy Butler (30th overall)
What else can you say about Butler that hasn’t been said a million times during trade talks this year? He goes above IT because he scores almost as much while being way more valuable on defense, but he isn’t transformational the way the top three are.
3. Klay Thompson (11th overall)
37-point quarter? Check. Top five shooter ever? Check. 60 points in 29 minutes? Check. At least one title, probably more? Check. Two-way player? Check. Taken one pick after Jimmer Fredette? Check. The only reason Klay is third is because of his status as a third or fourth banana on this Warriors team and his inconsistency from night to night. He may not belong in the highest echelon of NBA superstars, but he’s about as good as it gets one rung down.
2. Kyrie Irving (1st overall)
Kyrie may have the most lethal offensive skill set of any small man ever. He feels like a slightly bigger, more efficient version of Allen Iverson. He may not be quite as explosive as AI (who was?), but he also plays with LeBron James and has a ring on his hand. Do we think of Kyrie more as an injury-plagued ball hog who can’t make the playoffs and goes head to head with Russell Westbrook for dubious records like “most consecutive possessions where no one else on the team touches the ball,” if LeBron doesn’t say those three magical words? Probably. But he did and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Kyrie, allowing him to stop pretending to be a traditional point guard and to fully fulfill his destiny as a devastating one-on-one scorer.
1. Kawhi Leonard (15th overall)
Kawhi Leonard is a BAD man. Most casual basketball fans tend to discount the defensive end when rating players: it isn’t sexy enough. When fans think of the Bulls’ title teams, they picture MJ’s outstretched arm after another made jumper. What they should be picturing is Ron Harper, Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman (to a certain degree) switching on picks and demoralizing opposing perimeter-based offenses. Kawhi does the same thing for the Spurs, along with averaging 26 points and six rebounds per game, with an effective FG% of .539. Even if he was just an average defender, he would still be one of the best players in the league. The fact that he is the best ever makes him the obvious #1 pick if teams were allowed to re-do the 2011 draft.