Every year the 2011 NBA Draft becomes more impressive. Kyrie Irving was the first pick and ended up being one of the three or four best No. 1 overall selections of the last decade. However, it’s the guys drafted behind him that have made the biggest impact on this class including Kawhi Leonard — the No. 15 pick — who just led the Raptors to an NBA Finals and is one of the two or three best players in the NBA.
Some franchises made decade-defining picks like the Golden State Warriors who took Klay Thompson 11th. Maybe the highest value No. 30 and No. 60 picks of all time came out of this draft in the form of Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas. The two rank fourth and seventh in points, respectively, and Butler is the win shares leader out of this class even ahead of Leonard.
But, of course, there were also picks that teams would like to forget like the Timberwolves who picked a player at No. 2 that ended up being one of the more uninspiring picks of the decade.
Picks (Pick No.): Kyrie Irving (No. 1), Tristan Thompson (No. 4), Justin Harper (No. 32), Milan Macvan
Did you know the Cavs got Kyrie Irving for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams? Cleveland traded those two players for the Clippers’ 2011 first round pick. With the eighth best odds to win the lottery, Los Angeles got the No. 1 overall pick, giving the Cavs two of the first four selections in this draft.
With those two picks, they of course picked Irving along with Tristan Thompson. The two come in sixth and seventh in minutes played among players in this draft class and both were on the Cleveland team that won a title. In my opinion, Irving is the most technically gifted player in the NBA and was a big reason why Lebron finally got a ring in Cleveland. Over the last several seasons, Irving has been in the news for almost every reason except for winning, but it’s indisputable he was the right pick at the time and made a big impact on the Cavs organization.
Grade: A+ | When you pick two players that go on to help you win a championship, you get an A+. It’s that simple.
Picks: Jonas Valanciunas (No. 5)
The Raptors picked up a draft pick in the trade that sent Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat. Originally, Toronto had two first round picks but traded one to the Bulls for James Johnson. With the No. 5 overall pick, the Raptors selected Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas might not be picked fifth again, but he’s had a very respectable NBA career. He’s 13th in this class in points, third in rebounds and first in field goal percentage. He’s played at least 62 games every year of his career except one and was an impact player from the moment he arrived in Toronto.
Grade: A- | This was a really solid pick for Toronto. Looking back, Valanciunas would still go in the top seven or eight picks if this draft was done again.
Picks: Jan Vesely (No. 6), Chris Singleton (No. 18), Shelvin Mack (No. 34)
The Wizards’ 34th pick — Shelvin Mack out of Butler — played more seasons than their No. 6 and No. 18 picks combined. That’s not a good thing. Jan Vesely, a Czech basketball player, was picked sixth having just won the 2010 FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year award playing for Partizan, a Serbian professional basketball team. Needless to say, he didn’t pan out in the NBA. He averaged 3.6 points per game in three seasons in the league. Chris Singleton had a similar career, playing three seasons averaging 4.1 points.
Mack played just over a season with the Wizards before moving onto his second of seven NBA teams over his eight-year career. He’s clearly the most impactful player taken by the Wizards in this draft, but that’s not saying much.
Grade: D+ | This is not a commentary on Mack. Getting eight seasons out of a second round pick is always a good thing. However, the poor decisions in the first round knock the Wizards’ grade down quite a bit.
Picks: Brandon Knight (No. 8), Kyle Singler (No. 33), Vernon Macklin (No. 52)
The Pistons picked up the No. 52 pick in a 2009 deal with the Denver Nuggets. Brandon Knight has been a solid NBA player since 2011. He’s 15th in points in this class and sixth in total assists. He peaked in 2015-16 when he averaged 19.6 points in 52 games for the Phoenix Suns. However, he hasn’t been on a good team his entire NBA career and has never been good enough to be the point guard on a contending team.
Kyle Singler was drafted 33rd as one of the better Duke players of the last 10 years. It’s not a total surprise he only lasted six seasons in the NBA considering he was decent at a lot of things but not particularly good at any of them. Ultimately, you want a little more from the No. 33 overall pick. Macklin was drafted 52nd, played 23 total games and was out of the league, but that’s to be expected from the No. 52 overall pick.
Grade: C | This draft wasn’t particularly horrible, but it wasn’t great and the Pistons still swim in the never ending ocean of mediocrity to this day.
Picks: Kemba Walker (No. 9), Tobias Harris (No. 19), Jeremy Tyler (No. 39)
The Bobcats picked one of the three best players in this draft and the best from a production standpoint. Kemba Walker is first in minutes played, points and assists. He is second in career points averaged and fourth in win shares — he would be higher if Charlotte had ever turned a corner. Walker was solid as a rookie and has reached a level of one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Imagine if Charlotte would’ve held on to Tobias Harris. He has become a sought after talent in 2020, but he was traded on draft night as part of a three-team trade that landed him in Milwaukee and Bismack Biyombo in Charlotte. Charlotte would’ve been a little more successful this decade if Harris stuck around to accompany Walker. Meanwhile, Jeremy Tyler played three seasons and was out of the league.
Grade: A | Drafting Walker with the No. 9 pick is high value. He would easily go top five if this draft was done again. Drafting Harris bumps them up even more even if he never played a game in Charlotte.
Picks: Jimmer Fredette (No. 10), Jon Leuer (No. 40)
Drafting Fredette where the Bucks did is a testament to how good he was at BYU. However, he never became much of anything in the NBA — to no one’s surprise. He never averaged more than 7.6 points, which is really poor for a guy who is nothing but a shooter at the end of the day. Despite being unimpressive himself, Jon Leuer is probably the higher value pick, ultimately. Fredette went straight to Sacramento on draft night which was ultimately a good move for the franchise. This was not exactly a successful draft night in Milwaukee.
Grade: D | These players weren’t very good and the value the Bucks got trading both of them by the 2012 draft wasn’t exactly high either.
Picks: Kawhi Leonard (No. 15), Davis Bertans (No. 42)
This is the biggest “what if” of this draft, but you can’t fault Indiana for trading Kawhi Leonard, who was never supposed to be what he became. But in reality, Paul George and Leonard are now on the same team, and they would’ve been nine years earlier in Indiana if this trade hadn’t gone down.
The Pacers traded Leonard and Davis Bertans — who has turned himself into a really solid NBA player — to the Spurs for George Hill, which is really unfortunate. I want to give them an A+ but I just can’t do that when they trade Leonard right away.
Grade: B+ | George Hill ultimately was part of the Pacers teams that competed to go to the NBA Finals in the middle of the decade. It’s a little sour looking back, but the trades were a good thing for Indiana at the time.
Picks: Nikola Vucevic (No. 16), Lavoy Allen (No. 50)
It’s funny, the Sixers made the right call drafting Vucevic, and the wrong one trading him away. Of course, he would’ve gotten in the way of “Trust the Process”, but Vucevic has turned himself into an All-Star and the best player on a Magic team that fights for a playoff spot. He’s eighth in points in this class and first in rebounds by some 700 boards.
Allen was decent for a No. 50 pick playing six seasons in the NBA and a total of 388 games. As far as No. 50 picks go, that’s not too bad.
Grade: B | This is a solid draft for the Sixers that ultimately did nothing for them in the future. Nonetheless, solid picks.
New York Knicks
Picks: Iman Shumpert (No. 17)
Shumpert has had a respectable NBA career, including a ring with Lebron and the Cavaliers. At this point, the Knicks had acquired Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony in the last year and were just looking for pieces to accompany those two stars. They got that to a certain extent in Shumpert. He was part of the Knicks team that won 54 games in 2012-13 and was a reasonable contributor all three seasons.
Grade: B | Shumpert was nothing special, just like a B, but it’ll get the job done most of the time.
Picks: MarShon Brooks (No. 25), E’Twaun Moore (No. 55)
Brooks’ Basketball Reference page is so weird. He never averages more than 12.6 points per game but then has a really awesome run for the Grizzlies in 2017-18 when he averages 20.1 points. Ultimately, he’s been irrelevant in the NBA since being drafted 25th overall. Ultimately, Moore was the better pick and that just isn’t good when he is picked 30 spots after Brooks.
The Celtics traded Brooks for JaJuan Johnson on draft night, who had even less of an impact in the NBA. There isn’t a lot going on here, but Boston had just gone 56-26 and wasn’t really looking to build from the draft at that point.
Grade: C+ | This grade is relative to the spots they were picking. Brooks isn’t good at all at 25th, but getting a guy with the value of Moore out of the No. 55 pick is very respectable.
New Jersey Nets
Picks: JaJuan Johnson (No. 27), Jordan Williams (No. 36)
On the surface, the Nets picked no one who did anything in the NBA. Williams and Johnson combined for two seasons and 79 games total. However, they traded Johnson on draft night to Boston for MarShon Brooks who was a little better, especially in his rookie season. They also acquired Bojan Bogdonavic who has turned himself into a good NBA player but he has really taken off after leaving the Nets.
Grade: C- | They ultimately got more production using these picks in trades, but on the surface these were awful picks.
Picks: Norris Cole (No. 28), Jimmy Butler (No. 30), Malcolm Lee (No. 43)
The Bulls drafted a player fourth in points, first in win shares and third in minutes played with No. 30 overall pick. Nobody made a better move in the 2011 draft than the Bulls. Jimmy Butler has become one of the better shooting guards of the decade and was just inside the first round of this draft. 9,823 points is good for anybody in nine NBA seasons; it’s spectacular for the 30th pick.
On top of that, the Bulls used Cole and Lee to get Nikola Mirotic, who was more impactful than either of those players. This is one of the drafts that really makes you wonder what the Bull’s could’ve been if Derrick Rose never gets injured.
Grade: A+ | It’s a top-five player with the 30th pick. No other grade is appropriate.
Picks: Bojan Bogdanovic (No. 31)
The Heat didn’t need anything in this draft, except maybe a backup point guard with Lebron and Chris Bosh both on their way to Miami. In reality, they ended up with a decent backup point guard in Norris Cole ,who they traded Bogdanovic for on draft night. Cole played in at least 65 games every year he was in Miami and was a respectable backup guard to Mario Chalmers. Miami needed nothing from this draft and still managed to get something.
Grade: B+ | This is a grade that really leans on context. Is Norris Cole alone a B+? No. But when considering what Miami needed, the 2011 draft is a success.
Picks: Keith Benson (No. 48)
There’s at least one team every year who just shouldn’t have shown up to the draft. Atlanta was one of those teams in 2011. They traded away their first round pick earlier in 2011 for Kirk Hinrich and drafted Benson with their only pick. Benson appeared in three NBA games for a total of nine minutes.
Grade: No grade | What else needs to be said?
Picks: DeAndre Liggins (No. 53)
The Magic were still enjoying the Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson years at this point. They actually traded their first round pick in December of 2010 for Hedo Turkoglu and other pieces. It was his second stint in Orlando after his really solid years in the late 2000s. Ultimately, the Magic were good and didn’t have a lot of leverage in the draft as a result. In a related issue, Liggins has performed roughly as you would expect the 53rd pick to perform.
Grade: C | It feels inappropriate to be especially critical of the Magic in this draft. They didn’t have a draft pick that usually produces an impactful NBA player and that was the case in 2011.
Photo by: Erik Drost / Wikimedia Commons