Teams that have dismal NBA seasons may have the misfortune of being at the outside looking in when the season concludes, but they do have the fortune of being in the NBA's draft lottery. The draft lottery provides teams that finished outside the playoff picture with the chance to add the best college and international talent to their rosters. Now, a high pick doesn't necessarily guarantee that a team will be drafting a stud. For every successful first overall pick, such as David Robinson, there is an unsuccessful first overall pick, such as Greg Oden.
Then there are early second round picks, like the Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler or the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green, who end up being absolute steals for their respective draft teams. There are even bigger steals, such as the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili and the Boston Celtics' Isaiah Thomas, who went fifty-seventh in 1999 and sixtieth in 2011, respectively.
While these players have been exceptional additions to their teams (save for Greg Oden), they haven't had their team's greatest rookie season. Here, we take a look at the greatest rookie season for every NBA team.
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30 Atlanta Hawks - Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins was originally drafted by Salt Lake City's Utah Jazz with the third overall pick in 1982. However, Wilkins expressed a desire to play elsewhere and he never suited up for the Jazz as his talents were shipped off to the Peach State where he would play for the Atlanta Hawks. Wilkins proved to be a pivotal player for the Hawks franchise for twelve straight seasons from 1982-1994. His impact was apparent from the minute he threw on his red, yellow and white Hawks jersey. Wilkins showcased his scoring prowess by putting up 17.5 PPG and posting what eventually ended up being his highest field goal percentage at 49% in his rookie campaign. Wilkins also showcased his defensive skill set as he was good for one steal per game and just shy of one block per game at 0.8.
29 Boston Celtics - Larry Bird
To the five teams that passed on Larry Legend in the 1978 NBA Draft (Portland Trail Blazers, Kansas City Kings, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors), it's safe to say all of those franchises wish they could have that one back. Bird established himself as a dominant force instantaneously. Bird posted double double averages with 21.3 PPG and 10.4 RPG. He was also an absolute pest on defense as he averaged 1.7 SPG. For the record the players taken before Bird were Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, Rick Robey, Michael Ray Richardson and Purvis Short. Bird won three NBA championships; all of those NBA franchises combined have won one since 1978 with the Golden State Warriors winning in 2015.
28 Brooklyn Nets - Bernard King
Many likely remember King better as either a New York Knick or a Washington Bullet. However, King was drafted seventh overall in 1977 by the then New Jersey Nets. King only remained a Net until the 1979 before he became a member of the Utah Jazz for one short year, but King gave Nets fans a few years to be proud of as he provided the team with a spark the minute he stepped foot on the hardwood. King averaged 24.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG to go along with 1.5 SPG which certainly gave his opponents fits in his inaugural NBA season. His scoring ability propelled him to seize the Nets rookie record for points scored in a season as he was good for 1,909 points for the season. He still holds the Nets franchise record in this department.
27 Charlotte Hornets - Larry Johnson
The Black Mamba himself Kobe Bryant was initially drafted by the North Carolina franchise. However, as we all know, Bryant never suited up for the Hornets as he was shipped off to LaLa Land for Center, Vlade Divac. Before Bryant made it to the league, the Hornets had picked up quite the talent in UNLV's Larry Johnson, a.k.a. Grandmama by way of selecting him first overall in the 1991 NBA draft. Johnson quickly cemented himself as a franchise player as he posted 19.2 PPG, 11.0 RPG and a steal per contest. Johnson is probably best remembered for his iconic four point play in the 1999 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs; before that he tore it up for the Charlotte Hornets for five straight years.
26 Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan
Were you expecting anyone other than "His Airness" himself? The Houston Rockets can't be too mad at themselves for selecting Hakeem Olajuwon first overall in the 1984 draft, but Portland Trail Blazers fans are still kicking themselves for selecting Sam Bowie over the eventual third overall pick, Michael Jordan. Often referred to as the Greatest of All Time, Jordan seized a spot on the All-Star team along with adding the Rookie of the Year award to his collection in his rookie campaign. With averages of 28.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.9 APG and 2.4 APG to tout across the stat sheet, is anyone surprised that Jordan not only ran away with the Rookie of the Year award but is the greatest rookie likely ever in Bulls history?
25 Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
The 2003 NBA Draft lottery balls were on the Cavaliers' side as they landed the number one pick and were able to draft Akron, Ohio's very own, LeBron James. The hype behind James was something unreal as evidenced by ESPN regularly broadcasting the self-proclaimed King's high school games on multiple occasions. While the expectations were as sky-high as they have ever been for a rookie, James didn't disappoint. James claimed the 2003 Rookie of the Year (even if many claim Carmelo Anthony may have been more deserving of the award) averaged 20.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 5.5 RPG and 1.6 SPG to kick off his NBA career. A mere eighteen years of age when he debuted, James proved that his claim of wanting to enter the association as a seventeen-year-old wasn't blasphemous as he surely held his own against the best of the best competition.
24 Dallas Mavericks - Jason Kidd
The 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year along with Grant Hill, and current Milwaukee Bucks head coach known for his passing ability, provided the Mavericks with a well-needed bright spot as the team was coming off a woeful thirteen wins the year prior. Kidd established himself as the set up man at the helm of the offense as he averaged 7.7 APG in his rookie season. Kidd was also a defensive stalwart as he averaged a hair under two steals per game at 1.9. Kidd showed that he could put the ball through the net as he averaged double digits with 11.7 PPG. No to forget, Kidd proved he was quite the presence on the glass as he was able to grab 5.4 RPG which proved to be exceptional board numbers for a point guard.
23 Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony
Melo's often chastised for being a player thats a me first player as opposed to being a team player. However, when Melo was drafted by the Mile High City's Denver Nuggets he helped the team reach the playoffs in the uber tough Western Conference, something they hadn't achieved in eight years. LeBron James didn't do this in his inaugural season and he had the privilege of playing in the lackluster Eastern Conference. Melo proved to be the scorer the Nuggets desperately yearned for as he provided the team with 21.0 PPG in a uncharacteristically high 36.5 MPG which was exceptionally high for a rookie. Let's not forget the Denver altitude which doesn't make for the easiest transition for players. Melo also added 6.1 RPG and 1.2 SPG.
22 Detroit Pistons - Grant Hill
Relax Isiah Thomas fans. Along with Jason Kidd, Grant Hill was named the 1994-1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year. However, many would argue that the award should've solely been Hill's. In his first season Hill established himself as a two-way player that could do it all. Hill averaged 19.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 5.0 APG on the offensive side of the ball. Hill was good for close to two thefts a game at 1.8 SPG and finished just a hair shy of one block a game at 0.9 BPG. Hill is unfortunately remembered as a shell of himself as lingering ankle woes plagued him when he departed the Detroit Pistons for the Orlando Magic. Hill still ended up being quite the role player in his career even if he was no longer a superstar as he played in the league for nineteen seasons.
21 Golden State Warriors - Chris Webber
C-Webb was supposed to play alongside Shaquille O'Neal in Orlando to form the NBA's most intimidating front court while Penny Hardaway was supposed to man the Point Guard position in Oakland, California for the Warriors. But, Penny and Shaq formed quite the bond on the set of Blue Chips which led to the Magic trading Webber (the number one pick) for Hardaway, the third overall selection. Both players ended up playing well for their respective franchises, which was surprising for Webber as he and Head Coach Don Nelson had quite the hatred for each other primarily because Nelson wished for Webber to play Center while Webber wanted to play his natural position of Power Forward. Despite the two clashing, Webber still grasped the 1994 Rookie of the Year Award. Webber averaged 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG and what ended up being a career-high 2.2 BPG. Webber's beef with Nelson was sky-high and he only spent one season with the team before he was traded to Washington.
20 Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon
By way of Lagos, Nigeria, Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon had to travel quite the distance when he first came to the United States. However, the former Houston Cougars wouldn't have a setting change upon declaring for the NBA Draft as he was drafted by the Houston Rockets. Olajuwon had an instant impact for the Rockets showing that he was a franchise player for years to come. Olajuwon posted a double-double average of 20.6 PPG and 11.9 RPG to go along with 2.7 BPG. In practically any year these stats would be good enough to run away with the Rookie of the Year award; unfortunately for Olajuwon he was a part of the same draft class as Michael Jordan. To Olajuwon's credit he was the only rookie that year to receive Rookie of the Year votes. He also helped the Rockets improve its win total by nineteen games from twenty-nine to forty-eight.
19 Indiana Pacers - Rik Smits
The Pacers tend to have franchise players that don't start off hot right out the gate, such as Paul George, Danny Granger and Reggie Miller. Unfortunately, the Pacers don't have a player that sticks out as having a "great" rookie season. Perhaps if they had held on to the draft rights of Kawhi Leonard the story would be different. As a result, Rik Smits finds himself in the position of the Pacers best rookie. The Dutchman who played his college ball for the Marist Red Foxes was drafted second overall in the 1988 NBA Draft. He assumed the starting Center duties for the Hoosier state based Pacers and provided the Pacers with a promising rookie. Smits averaged 11.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 1.8 BPG in his first season. The rebounding numbers were rather sad considering Smits was a massive 7'4''.
18 Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin
Griffin was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 NBA Draft; however, he missed the entire 2009-2010 season as a result of a fractured left kneecap. The 2010-2011 season was Griffin's first lacing up his sneakers on the NBA hardwood for Clipper Nation. As a result, John Wall wasn't the only number one pick that would be debuting this year. No disrespect to Wall, but Griffin claimed the season as his own and he was named as the NBA's Rookie of the Year in unanimous fashion. Griffin played and started all eighty-two games of the season and posted 22.5 PPG and 12.1 RPG (which still remains his career high) on 50% shooting from the field. Griffin also set an NBA record for the longest double-double streak for a rookie at twenty-seven games.
17 Los Angeles Lakers - Earvin "Magic" Johnson
The former Michigan State Spartan took the league by storm once the Lakers selected him first in the 1979 NBA Draft. The league wasn't ready for the 6'9'' Point Guard who literally had the ability to play and excel at all five positions. Johnson showcased his talent and established to his opponents that he was a triple-double threat night in and night out as he scored 18.0 PPG, grabbed 7.7 RPG and dished out 7.3 APG. The rookie also found himself as a member of the Western Conference All-Stars. However, what is most impressive about Johnson's first season is that he played a pivotal role, along with Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in leading the Lakers to an NBA Championship. Magic's rookie campaign is truly something to marvel at.
16 Memphis Grizzlies - Pau Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies have the Atlanta Hawks to thank for the talents of Pau Gasol. Gasol was obtained by the Tennessee franchise on draft night for the Grizzlies twenty-seventh draft pick in the 2001 NBA Draft and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Gasol was the third overall pick in his own right. Gasol delighted the Grizzly faithful while infuriating the Hawks fanbase. He set out to show the league that he wasn't just another soft European (despite what others may tell you). Gasol averaged 17.6 PPG to go along with 8.9 RPG and 2.1 BPG. He displayed good judgment in regards to his shot selection and was able to post a field goal percentage of 51%. Gasol's draft cap may display a hawk; however, his jersey never displayed one, it displayed a grizzly for seven seasons.
15 Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade
Pat Riley is on record saying had both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade been available when the Heat drafted fifth overall in 2003 he would've selected Bosh. A fruit basket at the very least should've been sent the Toronto Raptors way as they selected Bosh forth overall. Not that Bosh isn't a formidable player in his own right, but he isn't no D-Wade. The current Chicago Bull played his college ball at Marquette and adapted the nickname of Flash (credit to Shaquille O'Neal) for his blazing quickness. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were the most prominent names of the 2003 Draft, but Wade showed he was a force as well. Wade averaged 16.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.5 APG and 1.4 SPG. This was only the beginning as Wade led the Heat to three NBA championships before he departed for the Windy City due to Riley taking him for granted in contract negotiations throughout the years.
14 Milwaukee Bucks - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Better known to the masses as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the man formerly known as Lew Alcindor claimed the 1970 NBA Rookie of the Year award with relative ease. The league wasn't quite ready for Kareem, who was more than ready for the league. A former UCLA Bruin, Kareem averaged 28.8 PPG, 14.5 RPG and 4.1 APG. He not only led rookies in points and rebounds, but he also was second in the league for PPG and third for RPG. By the way, in the 1969-1970 season the NBA had not started counting blocked shots statistically; this did not begin until the 1972-1973 season. Ironically, Abdul-Jabbar almost wasn't a Milwaukee Buck and could've just as easily been a New York Net. He was selected number one by the Bucks in the NBA and number one by the Nets in the ABA. Kareem offered both teams one opportunity to submit their best offer; the team with the better offer would be the team Kareem would take his talents to. He thus became a Milwaukee Buck.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl Anthony-Towns
Remember, we are talking about the franchise's greatest rookie season (for all the diehard fans of the "Big Ticket", Kevin Garnett). Fresh out of Farragut Academy in Chicago, Illinois, Garnett didn't wow as a Rookie like Towns did. Garnet averaged 10.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG. Now, let's contrast this with the 2015-2016 Rookie of the Year, Towns. Towns was good for 18.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG and 1.7 BPG, defeating Garnett in all categories. Not to mention Towns drained over half his field goals as he shot 54%. Timberwolves fans thought they had found their new franchise player in Andrew Wiggins in 2015. While Wiggins is certainly a major cornerstone for the Land of 10,000 Lakes franchise, Towns is the face of the franchise for years to come.
12 New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis
The Pelicans were once the New Orleans Hornets. The Charlotte Hornets were once the Charlotte Hornets; then they became the Charlotte Bobcats; now, they are currently the Charlotte Hornets. Anthony Davis was technically drafted by the New Orleans Hornets before they became the Pelicans the following season. Davis was taken with the first pick in the 2012 draft and while injury history has plagued him he has proven that he is an absolute stud when he is on the court. Davis played in sixty-four of a possible eighty-two games in the 2012-2013 season and showed that he was a jack of all trades. Davis averaged 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.8 BPG as a rookie and has continued to expand his skill set in the years since. He has been named an All-Star three years straight from 2014-2016 and made the All-NBA first team in 2015.
11 New York Knicks - Patrick Ewing
The pride of Kingston, Jamaica was drafted number one overall by the franchise from Gotham City in the 1985 NBA Draft. Ewing was expected to contribute immediately by the notoriously impatient New York fan base; he did not disappoint. Ewing took home the Rookie of the Year award and was the first great big man groomed by John Thompson, the Georgetown Hoyas Head Coach (with the others being Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo). Ewing fell just short of hitting double digits in the rebounding department as he put up nine a contest. The rebounding numbers are nothing to scoff at and Ewing proved he was quite the presence in the paint on offense as he averaged 20 PPG as well as on defense as he swatted 2.5 shots per game. Ewing is currently a associate coach for the Charlotte Hornets.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have inherited the banners and accolades of the Seattle Supersonics but it's clear as day that there's no love lost between the the cities of Oklahoma City and Seattle. Oklahomans view the Thunder as their own; Seattleites view the team as their stolen property. Arguably the greatest Sonic of all-time, Gary Payton, has refused to have his number retired by the Oklahoma franchise and has stated he will wait until the Seattle Supersonics are brought back. As a result let's focus on a player practically everyone is rooting for as a result of KD bolting for the Golden State Warriors, Russell Westbrook. Ironically, Westbrook was the last first round pick of the Supersonics but he never played for the team as they relocated to Oklahoma prior to the 2008-2009 season commencing. Today, Westbrook is the biggest triple-double threat in the NBA. As a rookie this promise was evident as he showed a knack for being able to do a little bit of everything. Westbrook averaged 15.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG 5.3 APG and 1.3 SPG. Today he is most persons favorite to hoist the 2016-2017 NBA MVP award.
9 Orlando Magic - Shaquille O'Neal
Before taking his talents to the Entertainment Capital of the World, Los Angeles, O'Neal was taking the league by storm in the home of Disney: Orlando, Florida. O'Neal has a case of not only being the most dominant big man to ever play in the league but as being the NBA's most dominant rookie ever as well. Shaq's 23.4 PPG, 13.9 RPG and 3.5 BPG made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Well, except for when Shaq was at the line! O'Neal's freakish athleticism and speed for a man of his size was something that was foreign to the NBA. O'Neal easily won the 1993 Rookie of the Year award and also found himself as a member of the Eastern Conference All-Stars in his very first year.
8 Philadelphia 76ers - Allen Iverson
Before the highly anticipated 2003 NBA Draft, there was the highly anticipated 1996 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers had the pleasure of owning the number one pick and with that they selected Allen Iverson by way of Hampton, Virginia from Georgetown University. The 6'0'' tall 165-pound Iverson's frame seemed awfully frail to play at a high level in the league, let alone be drafted number one overall. But, what Iverson lacked in weight he made up for with heart. Iverson, primarily known for his scoring abilities throughout college and high school showed he could light it up in the big leagues as well. Iverson put up 23.5 PPG to go along with dishing 7.5 APG. Iverson also showcased his defensive skill set as he was good for 2.1 SPG. Iverson's statistics propelled him to the 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
7 Phoenix Suns - Amar'e Stoudemire
The lasting image most have of A'mare Stoudemire is of him battling numerous knee issues with the New York Knicks and many mocking him by calling him "Amarknee" as opposed to "Amar'e". In sunnier days, in the Valley of the Sun ironically, Stoudemire made up one half of one of the 2000s most effective tandems along with former two-time NBA MVP, Steve Nash. Stoudemire became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year award that went to the NBA straight out of high school. In his rookie season the Cypress Creek High School alum averaged 13.5 pPG, 8.8 RPG and 1.1 BPG in one of three seasons in which he played the full NBA schedule of eighty-two games. Stoudemire remains the only rookie straight out of high school to win the Rookie of the Year Award with the exception of LeBron James.
6 Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard
The Trail Blazers have had their fair share of bad luck in the NBA Draft, most notably selecting Sam Bowie and Greg Oden respectively over Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant respectively. However, they're forever indebted to the Brooklyn Nets, the team they acquired the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft from. Coming out of Weber State University in Utah, many critics thought Lillard's game would suffer in the NBA as he was coming over from the Big Sky Conference, a conference not known to produce NBA ready talent. However, Lillard made a strong impact upon throwing on his red, black and white PDX jersey as he became only the forth player to be named as the unanimous Rookie of the Year. The players to achieve this feat before him were Ralph Sampson, David Robinson and Blake Griffin. Lillard quickly became LaMarcus Aldridge's Robin to his Batman as he posted 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 3.1 RPG per game. Today, Lillard serves as the face of the Trail Blazers franchise while also being quite the impressive rapper in his spare time.
5 Sacramento Kings - Tyreke Evans
The current New Orleans Pelican and Chester, Pennsylvania native beat out quite the crop of players for the 2010 Rookie of the Year award when looking at the players credentials today. Some of these names include defending two-time MVP Stephen Curry, James Harden and Demar Derozan. However, in 2010 Evans was leaps and bounds ahead of these players; this sounds like quite the absurd remark to make in 2016. But, Evans was simply off the charts in the 2009-2010 season. He became the forth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game as he averaged 20.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.8 APG. He joined illustrious company as the three players to achieve this feat before him were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
4 San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan
Shaquille O'Neal has a knack for selecting nicknames for NBA players (he doesn't have a knack for commentary as he is often incoherent) and him giving Duncan the title of "The Big Fundamental" fits like a glove. The San Antonio Spurs had a dismal 1996-1997 campaign due to David Robinson's season ending broken foot injury. Robinson's injury was a blessing in disguise as it enabled the Spurs to obtain the #1 pick in the 1997 draft where they drafted the greatest PF ever in NBA history. Duncan's greatness was on full display in his rookie career as he averaged 21.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG and 2.5 BPG. Along with Robinson, the duo was given the nickname of the "Twin Towers". He ran away with the Rookie of the Year award and also was selected to the western conference All-Star team.
3 Toronto Raptors - Vince Carter
Dubbed as "Vinsanity" and "Air Canada" the latter of the two nicknames seemed far fetched on draft day considering Carter was drafted by the Bay Area's Golden State Warriors. However, he was traded for his UNC Tar Heel teammate, Antwan Jamison. Carter, a walking, talking human highlight reel brought plenty of excitement north of the border and not just because of his freakish athleticism. The 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year played all fifty games in the lockout shortened season and contributed 18.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG and perhaps most impressively an unheard of 1.5 BPG for a shooting guard. Carter's one of the last players left from the nineties that still plays in the association to this day as he is a reserve for the Memphis Grizzlies.
2 Utah Jazz - Karl Malone
The "Mailman" played eighteen seasons in the NBA, and discounting his swan song with the Los Angeles lakers, he averaged twenty plus points every year minus his rookie season. Malone who occupies the number two slot on the most points scored by an NBA player, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar showed that putting the ball through the net wasn't a problem in his rookie season. Number thirty-two provided Utah's lone big four franchise with 14.9 PPG and 8.9 RPG. The Summerfield, Louisiana native didn't claim the Rookie of the Year award as that went to the New York Knicks new franchise player that was supposedly landed via a frozen envelope, Patrick Ewing. But Malone was selected to the 1986 All-Rookie team. Malone would up playing at a high level for the Jazz for seventeen seasons and even added two MVP's during that span.
1 Washington Wizards - Earl Monroe
The Baltimore Bullets who later became the Washington Bullets and then became the Washington Wizards drafted Monroe with the second overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft. Monroe played his college ball at Winston-Salem State in North Carolina and put up a ridiculous 41.5 PPG in his senior season. Monroe wasn't able to replicate that PPG average when he entered the NBA, but he still put together quite the rookie campaign. Not to mention, he did set a franchise record at the time as he dropped fifty-six points against the Lakers. Monroe averaged 24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 4.3 APG while shooting an impressive (for a Point Guard) 45% from the field. Monroe was named the 1968 NBA Rookie of the Year and became the first Wizards (Bullets) player to win the award. Ironically, Wes Unseld won it the following year for the team.
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