During NBA Draft season, commentators and pundits spend a good bit of the coverage predicting and analyzing who the 1st overall pick will be. But what about the second pick? These players are almost as (if not more) talented than the players taken #1, but they so often come without the fanfare of the players taken one selection before them. While many of these players are incredibly talented, many others have struggled in the pro ranks.
To provide a comprehensive history of the NBA players taken number 2, this list will countdown 8 NBA 2nd-overall picks who were great in the pros, and 7 who weren't. I delved deep into the NBA's history for some of these entries, but most have them come from Drafts which occurred in the last 20 years. Included on this list are NBA MVP's, certifiable busts, and even a Hall of Famer or two. One thing is for sure, nothing is guaranteed when you're the 2nd pick in the NBA Draft. If you can think of some great (or terrible) 2nd overall picks that didn't make our list, feel free to mention them in the comments.
15 Best - Kevin Durant
As a whole, this list doesn't provide a very favorable image of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise. A perfect example of this is the 2007 NBA Draft, where their front office decided to select Ohio State center Greg Oden with the first overall pick. This would have been bad in any year, but it was even worse in 2007 because the Seattle Supersonics selected Kevin Durant with the very next pick at number 2. While Oden was limited by injuries for his whole career, Durant has gone on to become one of (if not the) best players in the NBA. The Trail Blazers became a playoff team in their own right, thanks to Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge (another University of Texas alum), but imagine how good they could have been if they would have selected Durant instead of Oden.
14 Worst - Stromile Swift
At this point in the article you may be asking yourself "who the heck is Stromile Swift?" To which I would reply, "exactly." Swift was the 2nd overall pick by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 2000 NBA Draft. Despite having a lengthy career (Swift's last NBA season was with the Phoenix Suns in 2009), the power forward never lived up to the hype he had coming out of college. This was after some NBA pundits compared him to Shaquille O'Neal (another LSU alum) coming out of college. He was so ineffective, in fact, that no less than five teams had ditched him by the time that he finally retired. The Suns released him before he ever made it to training camp. Swift never obtained any NBA honors, and he makes our list here as one of the worst 2nd overall picks ever taken in the NBA draft.
13 Best - Gary Payton
For our next entry we go all the way back to 1990 (take it easy, older readers). That year, the Seattle Supersonics selected Gary Payton with the 2nd-overall pick in the NBA Draft. Payton would, of course, go on to become one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. He was a nine-time All-Star, and had legendary battles with the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. This pick becomes even more critical when you think of who was selected with the pick before Payton. Derrick Coleman was selected 1st overall by the New Jersey Nets, and I think it's fair to say that his NBA career was underwhelming. Imagine how the landscape of the league would have changed if they had instead drafted an All-star caliber player like Payton.
12 Worst - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
It seems that every year, the NBA Draft is filled with "one and done" Kentucky players, celebrating the draft simultaneously with their 19th birthdays. The question of whether these freshman super-teams are good for NCAA basketball is beyond the scope of this article. I think it is worth pointing out, however, that several of these young Kentucky players have gone on to become NBA Draft busts. A perfect example of this is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was selected by the Bobcats with the 2nd-overall pick in the 2012 Draft. To be fair, another Kentucky Wildcat, Anthony Davis was taken with the 1st pick in that draft and has gone on to have a phenomenal NBA career. Kidd-Gilchrist has not been nearly as productive, and makes our list of worst 2nd overall picks.
11 Best - LaMarcus Aldridge
When people think of great players from the University of Texas who were selected 2nd-overall in the NBA Draft, they undoubtedly think of perennial All-Star Kevin Durant. Before Durant was selected in 2007, however, Aldridge was taken 2nd overall in the 2006 Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. This was some vindication for a Trail Blazers franchise that has had a horrendous history with 2nd-overall picks. Aldridge is an incredible NBA talent, and you can see his impact on the court now that he has moved on to San Antonio. Aldridge can seemingly score at will, and his offensive post skillset is almost unparalleled among NBA power forwards. His six NBA All-Star Elections are enough for him to make our list of greatest players selected 2nd overall.
10 Worst - Hasheem Thabeet
I have to admit that I was one of the people who was very excited about Hasheem Thabeet's entrance into the NBA. The center from the University of Connecticut was dominate in college, and several NBA teams were salivating over the chance to insert him as a premier shot blocker and post defender. Instead, Thabeet has floundered about with several NBA teams, and makes our list here as one of the worst 2nd-overall picks of all time. To make matters even worse, Thabeet was selected after Blake Griffin, but before perennial All-Star James Harden. This isn't so much a knock on Thabeet, as it is a criticism of a Grizzlies front office that valued him more than the electric Harden. It is still amazing to me that someone with the size and athleticism of Thabeet has not had a more productive NBA career.
9 Best - Marcus Camby
Marcus Camby may not have been the most talented player taken in the 1996 Draft, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he is one of the most accomplished 2nd overall picks in recent NBA history. Camby was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, and would go on to be a defensive stalwart for several NBA teams. Camby made a handful of All-Star games, and was once named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. One reason why Camby is often overlooked is that so many good players were taken in that 1996 Draft. The 76ers selected Allen Iverson with the 1st pick that year, and future MVPs Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant were taken later in the 1st round. Camby wasn't as good as these players, but he was still a pretty great 2nd-overall pick.
8 Worst - Darko Milicic
Our next entry is the most infamous 2nd-overall pick of all time, Darko Milicic. The second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft isn't so well known merely because of his ineptitude as an NBA, but also because he was chosen second in what is probably the greatest NBA draft of all-time. Luckily for Darko, he was selected after LeBron James (can you imagine how destitute Cleveland would be if they had selected Darko with the 1st-overall pick), but he was still taken before several All-Star (and maybe even Hall of Fame) caliber players. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh were all selected after Darko in the Draft. With the productive careers that these players have had, one has to wonder what the Pistons were thinking taking Milicic with the 2nd overall pick.
7 Best - Mike Bibby
When you think of great NBA players, Mike Bibby probably isn't the name that first comes to mind. This point guard, however, had a very admirable NBA career, and was one of the best players in what ended up being a bad 1998 Draft. For evidence of how good the selection of Bibby was, look no further than the player taken 1st-overall that year, Michael Olowokandi. Olowokandi mightily struggled making the transition to the NBA, and he was never a significant contributor for the team that drafted him. In contrast, Bibby was a huge contributor for the Grizzlies, Kings, and Heat, and he was one of the people that made the Hawks a perennial playoff team in the late 2000s.
6 Worst - Sam Bowie
The Portland Trail Blazers made a huge blunder in 2007 when they took Greg Oden with the 1st overall pick, leaving the Seattle Supersonics to take perennial All-star, Kevin Durant, with the 2nd pick. This, however, was not the biggest draft day error in the history of the franchise. This dubious honor goes to the Trail Blazers' front office in 1984, when they owned the 2nd-overall selection. After the Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon with the 1st pick, Portland drafted Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. With the very next pick, the Chicago Bulls selected a shooting guard out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. Choosing Sam Bowie, whose NBA career was mediocre at best, instead of the player who for 20 years was the unquestioned greatest player in the history of the NBA, has to be considered one of the worst 2nd-overall picks of all-time.
5 Best - Tyson Chandler
I remember the 2001 NBA Draft being one of the weirdest professional sports drafts I had ever seen. That year, four centers were selected with the first four picks of the draft. The best of these was the 2nd overall pick, Tyson Chandler. The Clippers selected Chandler directly out of high school, and he would go on to become one of the leagues few true rim protectors. He has been selected to multiple All-Star games, and he has even been awarded the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He has certainly been a more productive player than the man taken with the pick before him, Kwame Brown. Unfortunately for him, he never developed the offensive game to become a true superstar.
4 Worst - Keith Van Horn
If you are ever drafted between Tim Duncan and Chauncey Billups, and you don't end up being a household name, chances are that you didn't pan out as a 2nd overall pick. Such is the case with Keith Van Horn, a forward who was chosen by the New Jersey Nets. Van Horn never made an All-Star game in the NBA, and struggled making the transition to the more athletic NBA talent. And while he did average 16 points per game over his career, those numbers can be deceiving, as Van Horn mostly recorded those with bad teams, and didn't do much else aside from score.
To make matters even worse, later that Draft one of the most electric players in NBA history was drafted, a young shooting guard named Tracy McGrady. While T-Mac was becoming a league sensation for the Orlando Magic, the Nets were left wondering whether they had made a mistake choosing Van Horn 2nd overall. Spoiler alert, they did.
3 Best - Jason Kidd
Leading up to the 1994 Draft, the biggest knock on Jason Kidd was that he didn't have much of an outside shot. Many front offices were convinced that an NBA point guard couldn't be successful without the ability to shoot threes. Do you think that the team that drafted 1st overall that year regrets not choosing Jason Kidd? Kidd would go on to become not only the best point guard in that draft class, but also one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Kidd appeared in 10 total All-star games, and finally culminated his career in 2011 when he won an NBA Championship during his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks (the team that drafted him in 1994).
2 Worst - Armen Gilliam
Our next 2nd overall pick that didn't work out, is actually one of the most tragic stories on this list. Armen Gilliam was selected with the 2nd pick in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. Gilliam attended UNLV, where the squad made the NCAA Basketball Tournament every year that he was with the team. Gilliam was even named to the NCAA Final Four all-tournament team in '87 before he was drafted. This is where Gilliam's career peaked, however, as he was never able to duplicate the dominance that he had in college in the NBA, and, like Van Horn, had decent career stats mostly because he played for a lot of bad teams. Gilliam did stick around for a while, playing for six separate teams in a 13-year NBA career. Gilliam tragically died of a heart attack in 2011 while playing a pick-up game in his hometown of Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.
1 Best - Alonzo Mourning
Now that you're nearing the end of this list, you may have noticed that several of these 2nd overall picks have been defined by their defensive prowess. Our next entry is the perfect culmination of this, as Alonzo Mourning is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the NBA. When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Mourning in 1992, he had just graduated from Georgetown where he had been one of college basketball's most dominant big men. Mourning easily transitioned to the NBA, and would go on to be chosen to seven All-Star games, and to win back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1999 and 2000. Granted, most of this success came as a member of Miami Heat, but that doesn't change the fact that this was an exceptional pick on the part of the Hornets.