The NBA Draft is arguably the most impactful selection process of any one involving the four major North American professional sports leagues. This year’s lottery will occur on Tuesday, May 16, and the draft itself will ensue 37 days later on Thursday, June 22, at a venue to be announced. With potential standouts like University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, University of Kansas small forward Josh Jackson, and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball all declaring their eligibility, many scouts and analysts believe this draft will prove to be the most consequential one in years. Unfortunately for organizations in dire need of a transformative player, the draft is an absolute crapshoot and nobody is guaranteed for superstardom. For example, as has been discussed ad nauseam, the Portland Trail Blazers chose dominant University of Kentucky center Sam Bowie over University of North Carolina shooting guard Michael Jordan with the second pick in the 1984 draft. The 7-foot-1 Bowie was constantly shelved with chronic leg and foot injuries over the course of a disheartening 11-year career. In stark contrast to Bowie, Michael Jordan matured into a global icon and NBA Hall of Famer on the hardwood.
Per usual, the NBA’s top overall selections this century have been a mixture of spectacular competitors and utter busts. As the Cleveland Cavaliers can attest, for every LeBron James in 2003, there has been an Anthony Bennett in 2013. This list, much of which will be comprised of projections, will rank every top pick in the association’s 16 drafts this millennium from worst to best.
17. ANTHONY BENNETT
The Cleveland Cavaliers took power forward Anthony Bennett out of the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV), with the top choice in the 2013 draft. The 24-year-old Bennett, a Toronto native who became the first Canadian to be drafted number one overall, was an unmitigated disaster in Cleveland. Cavaliers general manager David Griffin quickly realized the organization’s mistake and shipped the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Bennett to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-team trade in August 2014. The former Rebel floundered in the City of Lakes and was waived by the Timberwolves in September 2015. Bennett somehow managed to gain employment with the Toronto Raptors in September 2015 and then with the Brooklyn Nets in July 2016. The unthreatening Rebel now works for Fenerbahce of the Turkish Basketball League.
16. GREG ODEN – 2007
Greg Oden is essentially this generation’s Sam Bowie. The 29-year-old Oden was chosen first by the Portland Trail Blazers out of the Ohio State University in 2007. Taken a selection ahead of future hall of famer Kevin Durant, the 7-foot, 275-pound Oden was the most hyped center to enter the association since Shaquille O’Neal arrived in 1992. Regrettably for Oden and the Trail Blazers, the powerhouse in the paint had unsteady legs and feet and he was unable to remain healthy for any duration. To compound his problems, Oden struggled with alcohol abuse and was involved in a domestic violence incident in August 2014. Oden attempted to make comebacks with the Miami Heat and the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association. Oden ultimately realized that he was more spent than a 60-year-old prostitute and he formally announced his retirement in October 2016.
15. KWAME BROWN – 2001
The Washington Wizards chose Kwame Brown first overall out of Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, in 2001. The 35-year-old Brown, an extremely celebrated high school player, didn’t have the diligence or testicular fortitude to thrive on the professional level. Michael Jordan, who was responsible for drafting Brown, shamelessly bullied the 6-foot-11, 290-pound youngster and completely ravaged his confidence. Following four painful seasons in our nation’s capital, Brown was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in August 2005. The mammoth Georgian flopped in Tinseltown and was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies in February 2008. Already a journeyman, Brown subsequently played for the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers. Jobless since November 2013, Brown is reportedly trying to find an employer to return to the game.
14. ANDREA BARGNANI – 2006
Italian power forward Andrea Bargnani, who never played basketball on the high school or college level, was picked by the Toronto Raptors with the first choice in the 2006 draft. A feeble specimen, the 31-year-old Bargnani impressed initially and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2007. Regrettably for the wannabe Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-foot, 245-pound Bargnani quickly regressed and frustrated Raptors executives and fans with his soft and uninspiring efforts. Toronto’s hierarchy managed to fleece the aimless New York Knicks organization and they dispatched Bargnani to Gotham in July 2013. Predictably, the Roman failed in Manhattan with the Knicks and then as a member of the Nets in Brooklyn. Bargnani has competed for Saski Baskonia of the EuroLeague since October 2016.
13. ANDREW BOGUT – 2005
The Milwaukee Bucks chose Australian center Andrew Bogut first overall in 2005 out of the University of Utah. The 32-year-old Bogut, the 2005 national player of the year, earned a spot as a Buck on the 2006 NBA All-Rookie First Team. A defensive specialist, the 7-foot, 260-pound Bogut was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 2010 and was consistently a formidable presence in the paint as an employee in Brew City. After seven primarily productive seasons as a Buck, Milwaukee traded Bogut to the Golden State Warriors in March 2012. The towering Aussie made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2015 and, later that spring, helped the Warriors organization capture its first championship since 1975. Bogut, who also earned paychecks with the Dallas Mavericks, was waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers due to an injury this past March.
12. BEN SIMMONS – 2016
This is when projections start to become relevant. Forward Ben Simmons, who the Philadelphia 76ers took first in 2016 out of LSU, could mature into one of the association’s elite performers. Conversely, the 20-year-old Simmons may become the City of Brotherly Love’s latest punching bag. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons, who has the ability to play point guard for the 76ers, missed the entire 2016-17 season after suffering a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot in September 2016.
Now rumored to be 7 feet tall, Simmons should be fully healed and prepared to play with his talented, young teammates in Philadelphia this autumn. Simmons has tremendous court awareness and he is an outstanding passer who also can also grab a dozen rebounds any night. Provided Simmons remains healthy and doesn’t become a basket case, the former Tiger should be a menace on the hardwood.
11. Kenyon Martin – 2000
University of Cincinnati power forward Kenyon Martin was chosen first overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2000. Approximately a year after relocating to the Garden State, the 39-year-old Martin was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and finished second in voting for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Martin, an All-Star in 2004, played a pivotal role in helping the Nets advance to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Martin was traded to the Denver Nuggets following the conclusion of the 2003-04 campaign. While initially productive in the Mile High City, injuries dramatically hindered K-Mart’s abilities on the hardwood. Afterwards, Martin became a journeyman and played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks before retiring in July 2015.
10. ANDREW WIGGINS – 2014
The Cleveland Cavaliers took University of Kansas small forward Andrew Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 draft. The 22-year-old Wiggins, a native of Toronto who was a first-team All-Big 12 selection as a freshman Jayhawk, was sent by the Cavaliers to the Minnesota Timberwolves later that summer in August. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Wiggins immediately flourished in Minnesota and was named the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year. Wiggins, who was the NBA Rising Stars Challenge MVP in 2015, averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 82 games as a rookie starter. The brilliant Canadian has continued improving and he averaged 23.6 points, 4.0 boards and 2.3 dishes over 82 contests this year. Andrew Wiggins is a budding superstar who should command the association well into the 2020s.
9. YAO MING – 2002
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Yao Ming was selected first by the Houston Rockets in 2002. The 36-year-old Ming, an eight-time All-Star and two-time member of the All-NBA Second Team, was a force in the paint from the outset. The 7-foot-6, 310-pound Ming played for the Rockets from 2002 through 2011 and he averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.6 assists over that nine-year span of time. Regrettably, severe foot and ankle injuries forced Ming to retire in July 2011 at the young age of 30. A genuine trailblazer, the skyscraping Chinaman’s jersey number was retired by the Rockets in February 2017. The extremely-wealthy Ming was appointed as the president of the Chinese Basketball Association this past February.
8. DWIGHT HOWARD – 2004
Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy standout Dwight Howard was taken by the Orlando Magic first overall in 2004. The 31-year-old Howard is an eight-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA First Teamer who won the Defensive Player of the Year award for three consecutive seasons from 2009 through 2011. The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard is an absolute juggernaut in the paint when healthy and motivated. However, Howard’s battled a slew of back ailments and he’s a mercurial figure who can’t find a permanent home. After demanding a trade, Orlando sent the pouty Georgian to the Los Angeles Lakers in August 2012. Howard lasted one season in Tinseltown and has since played for the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks. While Howard’s accomplishments can’t be questioned, his character can be.
7. BLAKE GRIFFIN – 2009
The hapless Los Angeles Clippers chose University of Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin with the first choice in the 2009 draft. Unfortunately for the Clippers and Griffin, the soaring Sooner broke his left kneecap in January 2010 and was sidelined for the remainder of the 2009-2010 campaign. Fortunately for the Clippers and Griffin, the athletic Oklahoman fully recovered and captured the 2011 NBA Rookie of the Year award in a landslide vote. A five-time All-Star and three-time member of the All-NBA Second Team, the 28-year-old Griffin has averaged 21.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 471 games as a professional in the City of Angels. Regrettably, Griffin is reportedly anything but an angel and he is constantly the subject of trade rumors.
6. JOHN WALL – 2010
Former University of Kentucky point guard John Wall was nabbed by the Washington Wizards with the first pick in the 2010 draft. The 26-year-old Wall, a consensus First-Team All-American in Lexington who was the SEC Player of the Year in 2010, immediately wowed as a Wizard in our nation’s capital. A lockdown defender, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Wall is a four-time All Star who has averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 dishes, 4.4 boards and 1.7 steals over 500 games in the District of Columbia. More importantly, the Wildcat from yesteryear has helped the Wizards return to relevance for the first time since the Carter administration. With Wall at the helm and surrounded by a collection of solid ballplayers, the future is bright in D.C.
5. DERRICK ROSE – 2008
Electric University of Memphis point guard Derrick Rose was drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls with the first pick in 2008. The 28-year-old Rose immediately bloomed in the Windy City and was named the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year. Rose, who attended high school at Neal F. Simeon Career Academy on Chicago’s South Side, offered Bulls fans hope in the post-Michael Jordan era. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Rose is a three-time All-Star who became the youngest man to earn the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2011. With the Bulls considered viable championship contenders, Rose suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs versus the Philadelphia 76ers in April 2012. Hobbled by injuries and ridiculed for extended absences, D-Rose was sent to the New York Knicks in June 2016.
4. KYRIE IRVING – 2011
The Cleveland Cavaliers chose point guard Kyrie Irving first overall out of Duke University in 2011. The 25-year-old Irving prospered in Cleveland and captured NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2012. A four-time All-Star who earned the NBA All-Star Game MVP in 2014, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Irving has averaged 20.8 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 309 contests as a Cavalier. Of greatest significance, the former Blue Devil played an instrumental role in pushing the Cavaliers to its lone championship last June. Irving and LeBron James have seemingly developed a solid rapport on the court. With the dynamic duo intact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cleveland adds a couple of more titles. As Irving nears his prime years and James continues to shine, it may be more surprising if the Cavaliers don’t add a couple of more crowns.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns – 2015
Karl-Anthony Towns is the definition of a projection pick. Towns may mature into the association’s next overwhelming big man or he could become this decade’s answer to Greg Oden. The Minnesota Timberwolves took the 21-year-old Towns first overall in the 2015 draft out of the University of Kentucky. The 7-foot, 245-pound Towns instantly impressed coaches, scouts, analysts and onlookers and won the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year award. Following an exhilarating inaugural campaign, Towns averaged an incredible 25.1 points, 12.3 boards, 2.7 dishes and 1.3 blocks as a sophomore in the City of Lakes. Alongside fellow budding superstar Andrew Wiggins, Towns seems poised to eventually guide the Timberwolves to its first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy.
2. ANTHONY DAVIS – 2012
Although further along than Karl-Anthony Towns, standout power forward Anthony Davis is also the definition of a projection pick. The 24-year-old Davis was chosen by the New Orleans Hornets out of the University of Kentucky with the top pick in 2012. The 6-foot-11, 253-pound Davis, who is often compared to San Antonio Spurs icon Tim Duncan, is a four-time All-Star and a member of the 2015 All-NBA First Team. Now a brilliant performer for the Pelicans, the past Wildcat averaged 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.1 assists this season. Accordingly, expect Davis to retain his status as an All-NBA First Teamer when votes are tallied later this spring. A Chicago native, Davis makes things look exceedingly simple in the Big Easy.
1. LEBRON JAMES – 2003
LeBron James is one of the preeminent players in the annals of the association. The 32-year-old James was taken first by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. Since entering the NBA as a teenager, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James has accomplished virtually everything on the hardwood. James is a 13-time All-Star, a 10-time member of the All-NBA First Team and a five-time All-Defensive First Teamer who has earned four Most Valuable Player Awards. James is also a three-time NBA Finals MVP who led the Cavaliers to a title in 2016 and Miami Heat to championships in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. It’s virtually impossible to fathom that James will ever be supplanted on this list as the premier overall draft pick.
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