The 2011 NBA draft is a great example of why scouting is not an exact science. First, pundits labeled it a weak draft crop, which it certainly wasn’t. Second, they were way off on a lot of individual players.
As you’ll see in this redraft, the top 10 of this draft doesn’t look great. However, future All-Star players Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic and Isaiah Thomas were all taken outside of the top 10. There is also a ton of depth, with several solid players emerging, even though many of them haven’t quite reached the All-Star level.
Let’s hop into the time machine and decide who each team in the top 10 would have picked if they knew what we know now about each player.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers select F Kawhi Leonard
Original pick: G Kyrie Irving
LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland in 2010 left the Cavaliers in major disarray. The squad went from 61 to 21 wins in just one season. Cleveland’s roster at the time of the 2011 draft was in need of help at pretty much every position, so it would make sense for the team to take the best prospect available rather than look for a specific need.
The Cavaliers have no choice here but to select Leonard. There are other stars at the top of this draft, including Irving, but Leonard is the only superstar. He is a guy you can depend on to be the top player on a championship team. In fact, he has two Finals MVP awards, and one of them came with him as the clear top dog on the 2019 Toronto Raptors.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves select G/F Klay Thompson
Original pick: F Derrick Williams
In the 2010 redraft published here earlier this week, we sent All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to the Timberwolves to join Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
However, Thompson is an even more interesting hypothetical piece to add to that young Minnesota core. With Rubio as a pass-first point guard who would rather not shoot from the outside, Thompson is an excellent fit. He is a killer spot-up shooter who can drain threes both from a standstill and on the move. Both Rubio and Love will be sure to find him in the spots he likes with accurate passes.
Also, with Love as a below-average defender, the defensive strength of Thompson and Rubio would help deter ball-handlers from approaching the paint.
3. Utah Jazz select G Kyrie Irving
Original pick: C Enes Kanter
In the summer of 2011, Utah had just lost All-Star point guard Deron Williams at the trade deadline and was heading into several years of middling play from starting point guards. The Jazz benefit here from the Timberwolves needing a wing player at No. 2, because Irving is the perfect pick for Utah.
Irving would complement Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors to form a talented young core in Utah. The Jazz were stuck around the middle of the league between 2011 and 2013, but Irving’s dynamic on-ball exploits might have pushed them further up the ladder.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers select G/F Jimmy Butler
Original pick: F/C Tristan Thompson
May I present the winners of the 2011 NBA Draft: the Cleveland Cavaliers! Cleveland ends up with not one, but two star wing players here in the top four. With the way the NBA was starting to favor versatile players in the early-2010s, Cleveland would be far ahead of the curve with Leonard and Butler, two guys with great size and athleticism who contribute in a variety of ways on both sides of the floor.
What if LeBron James had still signed back with the Cavs in the summer of 2014 to join Leonard and Butler? Provided that team had at least some shooting and size, Cleveland could have been an NBA dynasty.
5. Toronto Raptors select G Kemba Walker
Original pick: C Jonas Valanciunas
The Raptors selecting Valanciunas wasn’t a terrible decision here. He gave the team six-plus seasons as a capable starting center, even though he never really peaked at quite the level Toronto was probably expecting from him.
Walker is clearly the top player remaining on the board and the team hadn’t yet acquired six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry. Cardiac Kemba is finally reaping the benefits of quality offensive support with the Boston Celtics this season after eight seasons toiling away in Charlotte. He could have gotten that sooner if he had joined DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors in 2011.
6. Washington Wizards select F Tobias Harris
Original pick: F Jan Vesely
Vesely was definitely the biggest bust from this draft. He played a total of 2,455 minutes in the NBA, which is fewer than any other player in the top 20 of his class. At 6’11” with solid athleticism, he was billed as a combo forward. In reality, though, he didn’t have the shooting stroke, ball-handling or quickness to play the perimeter or the strength or moves to play inside.
In 2011, Washington was building a young core around point guard John Wall and bigs JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche. None of those three guys could shoot three-pointers at the time.
Harris didn’t start his career as a great shooter, but he has turned into a very solid marksman from the midrange areas and behind the arc. He is also a very strong all-around scorer.
7. Sacramento Kings select G Isaiah Thomas
Original pick: C Bismack Biyombo (traded to Charlotte Bobcats)
Well, isn’t this ironic? The Kings still end up with Thomas in this redraft, but this time, they take him at No. 7 rather than snatching him up at No. 60. It is still a wonder that Thomas stayed on the board for that long in 2011.
Thomas’ biggest weakness is his size, at just 5’9 and 185 pounds. To be fair, that has hindered his impact at each of his NBA stops, especially on defense. However, IT peaked as a member of the All-NBA Second Team in 2017 and made two All-Star teams.
Sacramento would gladly take Thomas again at a much earlier draft position. Only this time, the Kings might have been more motivated to keep him around as a free agent in the summer of 2014.
8. Detroit Pistons select F/C Nikola Vucevic
Original pick: G Brandon Knight
The Pistons had a seven-year gap between playoff appearances spanning from the 2008-09 season to the 2015-16 season. Poor drafting, trades and free agency decisions all played a big role in their struggles.
One moment Detroit could have helped its rebuild was to select Vucevic instead of Knight, who has struggled with injuries and inefficiency throughout his career. Vucevic may have ended up being an awkward fit next to fellow young big Greg Monroe in a changing NBA, but it could have worked for a while.
Both Vucevic and Monroe could rebound, pass and score inside, and Vucevic has always had a pretty jump shot from the mid-range area to keep defenses honest.
9. Charlotte Bobcats select C Jonas Valanciunas
Original pick: G Kemba Walker
Essentially, we have the Bobcats and Raptors switching prospects, with the Bobcats getting Valanciunas and the Raptors getting Walker. Charlotte was about to embark on a 7-59 season in 2011-12, and the Bobcats’ roster needed all the help it could get.
The 2011-12 Bobcats had Byron Mullens getting most of the minutes at center, so that tells you how much help they needed inside. Valanciunas waited a year before coming over from Europe, but he is the best prospect available in this redraft and could have been a reliable interior option for Charlotte’s franchise for several years.
10. Milwaukee Bucks select F Bojan Bogdanovic
Original pick: G Jimmer Fredette (traded to Sacramento Kings)
The Bucks seemed to be building around point guard Brandon Jennings and center Andrew Bogut in 2011. The 2010-11 squad played Carlos Delfino and an aging John Salmons much of the minutes at the wing spots, so that definitely indicates a need to upgrade there.
There are a lot of solid players still available here, including Enes Kanter, Reggie Jackson, Tristan Thompson, Chandler Parsons, Nikola Mirotic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Davis Bertans, but I think Bogdanovic’s excellent three-point shooting and overall perimeter scoring fits Milwaukee’s roster makeup the best.
Bogey didn’t end up coming to the NBA until 2014, but I think the Bucks would have pushed harder to bring him over earlier if they knew he would become an efficient guy who could supply 15 to 18 points per game in a starting role.