As of 2019, Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP and NBA champion. When his career first began, no one projected him to become as dominant as he is today. Superstar Kevin Durant even publically tweeted a response to a fan saying Leonard was better than Paul George: “He doing work like this because of the system. Put Paul George on the Spurs what would happen?” That was in 2014, three years after the draft. Fast forward five years and Leonard took down an injury-riddled Golden State Warriors in the Finals. It’s hard to imagine that these 14 teams passed on the San Diego State prospect in 2011…
Kyrie Irving – #1 Cleveland Cavaliers
One could make the argument that Kyrie Irving maybe didn’t deserve the first selection in the 2011 draft. He missed the majority of his lone season at Duke after a freak injury to his right toe. Still, Cleveland took a chance on the point guard.
David F. Baer of Bleacher Report said: “Irving is a true point guard, an underrated gift in today’s game. He’s a pass-first facilitator who can score when called upon. He’s no D-Rose or Tyreke Evans, he’s not going to take over a game on offense, but the Cavs can build around him.”
Irving And KD On The Nets
After helping bring the Cavaliers and LeBron James a championship in 2016, superstar Kyrie Irving started to get tired of the Cavs. He then requested a trade and landed on the Boston Celtics. The collection of players in Boston teaming up with Irving looked very promising.
After two seasons of not reaching the Finals as so many projected, Irving yet again left town during free agency and went to the Brooklyn Nets. There, he now has running mate Kevin Durant on his side.
Derrick Williams – #2 Minnesota Timberwolves
Derrick Williams had a ton of promise coming out of Arizona. The Minnesota Timberwolves felt confident enough in his skills to take him second overall ahead of Kawahi Leonard. At the time, he probably did look better than Leonard.
Nick Prevenas of FoxSports.com said: “Williams is arguably the most talented player in this draft, as his inside-outside game will prove to be a match-up nightmare. However, with Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph already on the roster (not to mention Kevin Love), don’t be surprised to see a trade.”
Derrick Williams Goes International
Between 2011 and 2018, Derrick Williams played for six different teams. He only played with the team that drafted him for three of those seasons, which is disheartening for the fans and franchise. In 2019, he may have finally found a place to call home.
Williams took his talents overseas to the Euroleague to play for the FC Bayern Munich. In June 2019, the team won the championship with help from Williams. Now, his contract is up for the FC Bayern Munich.
Enes Kanter – #3 Utah Jazz
In 2011, NBA teams valued big men way more than they do today. You weren’t a contender without a reliable center helping on defense. That’s what the Jazz wanted in 2011, so they got their man Enes Kanter.
Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com wrote: “Enes Kanter is one of the great mysteries of the 2011 NBA draft. He’s a player who has looked incredibly dominant in small glimpses, but about whom little is known due to the unique circumstances of his arrival in the United States.”
Tristan Thompson – #4 Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2011 draft was a special one for the Cavs for many reasons. They had two top-five picks one year after LeBron James left for the Miami Heat. That’s some kind of luck. After taking a point guard with their first pick, they could have selected someone to try and replace James (Leonard), but they chose a big man in Tristan Thompson.
Andy Bailey from Bleacher Report said: “Tristan Thompson is extremely raw and will definitely need a year or two to develop. And quite often, players selected purely on potential never pan out.”
The Man Out In Cleveland
As of 2019, Tristan Thompson is an NBA champion with the Cavaliers. Besides the outside drama surrounding him and the Kardashians, Thompson is someone any team could use. He isn’t a star by any stretch, but he’s the ultimate role player.
Not only does he hustle hard, but he’s also wildly durable. He went on a streak of 447 consecutive games played which dated back to the year he entered the league. Did we mention he’s also a rebounding machine?
Jonas Valančiūnas – #5 Toronto Raptors
What a surprise we have here. The team that Kawhi Leonard helped bring their first championship passed on him the draft. What’s funny is that the Raptors ended up trading Jonas Valančiūnas the same season they acquired Leonard.
Andy Hutchins of SBNation.com wrote: “[Valančiūnas is] considered a tough, defensive-minded center who should be a strong rebounder right out of the gate. But his offensive repertoire remains a work in progress, and he can’t be expected to score much from Day one.”
Jan Vesely – #6 Washington Wizards
If you want to know what athletic freaks look like, your search is over. Hailing from Serbia, Jan Vesely was a tall, international prospect that the Washington Wizards were high on. Leonard could have certainly fit in well with the Wizards, but it wasn’t his time yet.
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated wrote: “In grabbing the athletic, exciting small forward in Jan Vesely, they now have a get-up-and-go talent to run the break with their franchise centerpiece. Vesely has been the apple of the Wizards’ eye for quite some time and that’s precisely why.”
Bismack Biyombo – #7 Sacramento Kings
Once again this draft was a direct response to what type of players still catered to the league. Everyone needed a reliable big man, and the Kings went with the man from Spain, Bismack Biyombo. He instantly got traded to the Bobcats.
Chad Ford of ESPN really liked the potential that Biyombo had. He said: “”What Biyombo brings to the game right now is exactly what you’d expect when you first see him. But I like his nimbleness in defending ball screens and closing out shooters.”
Brandon Knight – #8 Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons got their man in Brandon Knight, a savvy point guard from the University of Kentucky. The great Coach Calipari mentored him, and he’s had a great history of bringing up point guards heading into the NBA. The Pistons were hoping they were getting the next John Wall or Derrick Rose.
While Knight isn’t someone to laugh at on the court, his most memorable moments come at the expense of his pride. Think Kyrie Irving breaking his ankles, and Deandre Jordan performing the greatest posterizing dunk of all-time on top of Knight.
Kemba Walker – #9 Charlotte Bobcats
Kemba Walker had a stellar college career. He became one of the most clutch players to ever play college ball during his final season at UConn which helped boost his draft stock tremendously. Being as small as he was, he needed every bit of hype he could get.
Ben Shapiro of Masslive.com had some interesting words about Walker heading into the draft. “Most people know Kemba Walker,” he said. “The New York City product led UConn to the National Championship last season, but, in spite of a decorated resume of high-scoring games punctuated by big shots, Walker remains an undersized shooting guard with an inconsistent outside shot.”
Bringing More Hope To Boston
Kemba Walker might be the best player to ever suit up in a Charlotte Hornets (in its current iteration) jersey. It’s that simple. We can go on for quite a while if we discussed his accomplishments and stats, so you’re going to have to take our word for it.
The sad thing is that he couldn’t do it on his own. Owner Michael Jordan failed to bring Walker the proper help, so during the 2019 free agency, Walker packed his bags and signed with the Boston Celtics.
Jimmer Fredette – #10 Milwaukee Bucks
Coming out of college in 2011, no other player could score the ball the way Jimmer Fredette did. He became the unanimous National Player of the Year, and he won Best Male College Athlete at the ESPYS. He was almost automatic from when he shot the ball, but his game had plenty of holes.
Grantland wrote that “Jimmer Fredette is this year’s installment of the incredibly productive college player whose “athleticism” threatens his NBA future. That’s a minor red flag compared to the worries about his defense.”
A True Journey Man
Upon entering the NBA, Fredette couldn’t catch a break. He wasn’t the same Player of the Year from college and looked useless on the court. In his first season, he only produced 7.6 points per game. Soon, the Kings let him go and thus began his journey across five teams.
Fredette landed overseas at one point, and he played well in China. After dominating in China, the Phoenix Suns decided to give him a chance at the end of the 2019 season. Unfortunately, he still looks like he’s not ready for the NBA in his late twenties.
Klay Thompson – #11 Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson is a player you can say deserved to get drafted ahead of Leonard. While you can make a case for either of two being better than the other, it comes down to preference. The Golden State Warriors preferred Thompson with the eleventh pick.
Nate Parham for goldenstateofmind.com had concerns over Thompson’s defense more than anything. “So although it should be noted that Thompson’s basketball IQ should allow him to be a solid team defender in the NBA, the biggest concern about him is his on-ball defense in college,” Parham wrote.
Three-Point Machine Klay
If Steph Curry is the greatest shooter of all-time, then Klay Thompson must be the second best to do it. Thompson’s trajectory from when he entered the league, to where it is now is like night and day. No one saw him coming in and becoming an elite scorer and defender.
He’s one fo the premier two-way players alongside Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors made a great decision in drafting Thompson and have done fantastic at developing his talent.
Alec Burks – #12 Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz entered the 2011 draft with two top-15 picks. After selecting Enes Kanter at number three, they went with Alec Burks from the University of Colorado. The 6’6″ shooting guard received indifferent draft reviews from multiple outlets.
Kenny Shulsne for thejnotes.com criticized those who thought Burks couldn’t shoot. “All of those so-called experts who say Burks can’t shoot must not have watched many of his games,” Shulsne wrote. “He has a fantastic pull-up jumper and great mid-range game, he may not be a great spot up 3 point shooter right now but give him time.”
Markieff Morris – #13 Phoenix Suns
Identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris got drafted one after another in 2011, but Markieff went first to the Phoenix Suns. They might be identical, but they don’t play the same. One thing they do have in common on the court is that fiery passion.
His head coach at the University of Kansas said: “Kieff is different [from Marcus]. He’s a low post presence. He didn’t have the perimeter skill set that Marcus has. But he can stretch it, and he’s a great passer like Marcus. He just doesn’t put it down as well.”
Marcus Morris – #14 Houston Rockets
The second of the twins and the last to get drafted before Kawhi Leonard is Marcus Morris. Many thought Marcus was the better player of the brothers, but he fell behind him one spot on draft night, which isn’t that bad. That’s something Markieff probably holds over his head at family dinners.
NBAdraft.net’s Jonathan Wasserman had a pretty accurate scouting report on Marcus. He said: “Morris is a guy who should be able to step in and contribute right away. His ability to spread the floor and create balanced spacing should allow him to find a spot in a rotation immediately.”