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5 biggest surprises in NBA Draft history

Apr 16, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) holds his head down in the second half iPortland Trail Blazers n game two of the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Often the picks at the top of the NBA Draft come into focus well before draft night. But then there are those picks that no one saw coming.

The 2023 NBA Draft is nearly two weeks away. So, now is a perfect time to look back in time and reexamine some of the biggest surprises in NBA Draft history.

There have been some shocking moves over the years. Some have paid off, while others have simply remained perplexing. From unexpected selections to blockbuster trades, here are the five biggest all-time surprises.

Biggest surprises in NBA Draft history: 5. Russell Westbrook

2008 NBA Draft: Round 1, pick 4 (Seattle SuperSonics)

In hindsight, taking Westbrook with the fourth overall pick looks like a no-brainer, but at the time, it was a divisive decision.

Out of high school, Westbrook was only a three-star recruit, per Rivals. He committed to UCLA. As a sophomore, he stepped into the starting lineup and enjoyed a breakout season. He averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.6 steals and won the PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year. As a result, he shot up draft boards, but not everyone was convinced.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress wrote the following about the pick:

“Russell Westbrook is a player that may or may not prove to be worthy of starting at either backcourt position in the NBA, and taking him fourth was definitely a surprise looking at some of the other players that were on the board here…considering that he might need a very particular type of lead-guard alongside him was he worthy of being drafted fourth overall? On first glance the answer to that seems to be no, but Sam Presti might know something that we don’t.”

Sam Fader of Bleacher Report echoed a similar sentiment:

“Russell Westbrook being taken at the number-four spot.  He’s a good player, but I don’t think he’s top-five good.  I think that NBA Execs overrated his ‘winning’ and ‘intangibles’ qualities.”

Sam Presti made a bold decision, and it paid off. Westbrook became a nine-time All-Star and league MVP. The next guards off the board were Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin, and Jerryd Bayless.

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