Redrafting the 2011 NBA Draft: Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard battle for 1st pick, Klay Thompson rises

Jimmy Butler & Kawhi Leonard
(NBAE via Getty Images)

For every fan base that has been saddled with the No. 30 pick in the NBA Draft, there has always been the hope that they might stumble onto the next Jimmy Butler. 

The truth is that Butler was a one-of-a-kind steal with the last pick in the first round of the 2011 draft. More often, teams are stuck with a Lazar Hayward or Christian Eyenga, the two players taken at No. 30 in the two years before Butler. 

Butler is now one of the best playoff performers in recent history, a six-time All-Star who has been named to five All-Defensive Second Teams, and a lock for the Hall of Fame once he hangs up his jersey. Twelve years later, every team in the league is kicking themselves that they didn't take a chance on the skinny kid out of Marquette with a little bit of dog in him.

How far would Butler climb today in a redraft? There were some other great players coming out of that draft, and some noteworthy busts at the top. Two of our writers — Stephen Noh and Scott Rafferty — put on their GM hats and redrafted the 2011 lottery. 

MORE: Nikola Jokic rises from No. 41 to No. 1 in 2014 redraft

Jimmy Butler
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Redrafting the 2011 NBA Draft

1. Jimmy Butler, Cavaliers

  • Original pick: Kyrie Irving
  • Butler's original draft position: 30th (Bulls)

Butler versus Leonard was a tough choice for the top pick in this draft. Leonard has been the better player at his peak, and he has two Finals MVPs to show for it. But Butler has also carried some teams with much worse supporting talent to deep playoff runs, most notably the Heat to the Finals in the 2020 bubble. Butler has played a lot more minutes than Leonard as well. That was the deal-breaker for me. — Noh

2. Kawhi Leonard, Timberwolves

  • Original pick: Derrick Williams
  • Leonard's original draft position: 15th (Pacers, traded to Spurs)

I have the easy job because as good as some of the other players are in this draft, we all knew the No. 2 pick was going to be either Butler or Leonard. One of only 11 active players to make the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, Leonard is one of the greatest defenders of all time and has developed into an absolute assassin on offense. Even with all the injury stuff, there's no argument for him to fall beyond this pick. — Rafferty

MORE: Why Joel Embiid won SN's Player of the Year in 2023

3. Kyrie Irving, Jazz 

  • Original pick: Enes Kanter
  • Irving's original draft position: 1st (Cavaliers)

Irving has proven himself to be one of the best tough shot makers in the game. His handle and bag are the envy of his peers. He's won at the highest level, taking down the championship back in 2016. He has of course carried plenty of baggage too, which has him falling down to No. 3 in this redraft. — Noh

4. Klay Thompson, Cavaliers

  • Original pick: Tristan Thompson
  • Thompson's original draft position: 11th (Warriors)

Another easy decision for me. Thompson is still a lights-out shooter, but it's easy to forget just how good of a defender he was prior to his injuries. When Thompson was at his peak, there isn't a team in the league that he wouldn't have made sense on. Irving and LeBron James obviously had a lot of success together, but it's fun to think of an alternative universe where James returns to a Cavaliers team that features Butler, Thompson and Nikola Jokic— Rafferty

Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
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5. Nikola Vucevic, Raptors

  • Original pick: Jonas Valanciunas
  • Vucevic's original draft position: 16th (76ers)

This is where the class starts to get a little bit shaky. Vucevic has had a rock-solid career, making two All-Star games and averaging 17.0 points and 10.5 rebounds since being drafted. That's not the sexiest resume for a No. 5 pick, but he's been a high skill player that has made his teams better with his passing, shooting and flurry of post moves. — Noh

6. Kemba Walker, Wizards

  • Original pick: Jan Vesely
  • Walker's original draft position: 9th (Hornets)

Knee injuries robbed Walker of a longer prime, but he was one of the best point guards in the NBA for four seasons. Between 2016-17 and 2019-20, he earned four straight All-Star selections and an All-NBA Third Team selection with averages of 23.1 points and 5.5 assists per game. — Rafferty

MORE: Redrafting 2016 with Jaylen Brown, Jamal Murray and more

7. Tobias Harris, Kings

  • Original pick: Bismack Biyombo (traded to Hornets)
  • Harris' original draft position: 19th (traded to Bucks)

Put aside Harris' ridiculous contract (he was the 19th-highest-paid player in 2023), and you start to appreciate that he has been a good pro throughout his career. He can be a nice third scoring option on a good team, hitting 36.9 percent of his career 3-pointers and having some ability to create his own offense off the dribble. Add in some positional size at 6-foot-8, and Harris is a solid two-way starter. — Noh

Isaiah Thomas Charlotte Hornets
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8. Isaiah Thomas, Pistons

  • Original pick: Brandon Knight
  • Thomas' original draft position: 60th (Kings)

Like Walker, injuries robbed Thomas of a longer prime. And like Walker, Thomas was one of the most electrifying point guards in the NBA for a few seasons. Don't forget that he finished fifth in MVP voting in 2016-17. He was an absolute killer in the fourth quarter of games that season. — Rafferty

9. Bojan Bogdanovic, Hornets

  • Original pick: Kemba Walker
  • Bogdanovic's original draft position: 31st (Heat, traded to Nets)

Bogdanovic spent all of his seasons before the age of 25 abroad, diminishing his value. When he finally did come over, he had a great career. He's a knock-down 3-point shooter and he has a surprisingly versatile bag in the post. He's shown later in his career that he's capable of manufacturing shots whenever his team needs one. — Noh

10. Jonas Valanciunas, Bucks

  • Original pick: Jimmer Fredette
  • Valanciunas' original draft position: 5th (Raptors)

Valanciunas slides a few picks in our redraft, but he's been a solid center for most of his NBA career. While he's always been a good rebounder, he's developed into a bruising post scorer, serviceable defender and decent shooter. He's not someone teams can take a night off against. — Rafferty

11. Chandler Parsons, Warriors

  • Original pick: Klay Thompson
  • Parsons' original draft position: 38th (Rockets)

Parsons' legacy will always be tainted by the $94 million that the Grizzlies gave him later in his career, when injuries decimated his body. He would certainly be red-flagged in this draft. But in those first five relatively healthy seasons, Parsons was exactly what the NBA is craving these days — a 3-and-D wing with some ball handling ability. Even if you could only squeeze a couple of productive years out of him, he was good enough to warrant a selection here in what wasn't exactly the deepest draft. — Noh


12. Tristan Thompson, Jazz

  • Original pick: Alec Burks
  • Thompson's original draft position: 4th (Cavaliers)

This might raise some eyebrows, but it's hard for me to overlook how important Thompson was to the Cavaliers when they won the championship. Not only was he a problem on the offensive glass, but he provided the type of versatility Cleveland needed from its center to even have a chance of keeping up with Golden State. — Rafferty

13. Nikola Mirotic, Suns

  • Original pick: Markieff Morris
  • Mirotic's original draft position: 23rd (Rockets, traded to Bulls)

Mirotic left the NBA after only five years to go win MVPs and drink good wine in Spain. When he was in the league, he was an underrated player. He played much better defense than his reputation suggests and could launch a ton of 3s. He would be much more valuable today than he was back in 2011. — Noh

14. Marcus Morris, Rockets

  • Original pick: Marcus Morris 
  • Morris' original draft position: Same

Apologies to Reggie Jackson, who I also considered for this spot. You can't go wrong with either, but I like the 3-point shooting, toughness and versatility Morris provides as a small ball power forward in today's NBA. — Rafferty

Best players still available: Enes Kanter, Kenneth Faried, Markieff Morris, Reggie Jackson, Bismack Biyobo, Cory Joseph, Alec Burks, Iman Shumpert

Author Photo
Stephen Noh is an NBA writer for The Sporting News.
Author Photo
Scott Rafferty is a Senior NBA Editor for The Sporting News