No. 4: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, No. 20 pick in 1996 Draft
Going back another 15 years we come to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a player who went a fair bit later in the draft than Kyrie Irving. The Lithuanian center was taken 20th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft and proceeded to play 13 seasons in the league, all but the last one with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the lost years prior to drafting LeBron James, Ilgauskas was the anchor on a number of teams that struggled to field talent around him. He was a reliable post scorer and elite rim protector, and once LeBron joined him they formed the backbone of league-leading defenses during the rest of Ilgauskas’s prime.
“Big Z” had an above-average career for being the 20th pick, but he also stands out in relation to the other options available in 1996. A number of all-time players were drafted ahead of him; Kobe Bryant, Seve Nash, Allen Iverson and Ray Allen all went in the top 15. Yet the list of players who went after Ilgauskas is grim; Derek Fisher was a valuable role player on title teams, and Erick Dampier carved out a long career, but Ilgauskas was the clear best pick for the Cavaliers at No. 20.
One of the defining faces of two different eras of Cleveland basketball, Ilgauskas was a two-time All-Star and features prominently on a number of franchise leaderboards. Big Z is second in career rebounds, first in blocks and second in career points. He wasn’t a Hall of Famer but he was a significant win with the 20th pick.