There are some years where the NBA Draft goes almost completely ignored because there are no prospects out there that are touted as “The next possible Michael Jordan”. We’ve seen plenty of these types of drafts over the past 15 years, but we’ve also had some deep ones. Who could forget how much hype there was surrounding the 2003 NBA Draft that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the top five?
The first overall pick in an NBA Draft is supposed to be the guy that turns the franchise around and gets them into title contention within a couple of years. Sometimes it works, and sometimes your franchise just gets set back another few years thanks to a bust. There’s a reason why the Cavaliers became a contender almost overnight more than a decade ago while the Wizards floundered for years and are still looking to get into the NBA Finals.
Last year, there was a lot of hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins, although the hype around him was a little more divided than in 2003. After being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers first overall, the Canadian was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love deal. Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 and appears to be set to be the face of the Timberwolves franchise for many years. Obviously we have no idea yet how Karl-Anthony Towns will fare as a top pick, so he'll be excluded on this list for now.
So out of the last 15 NBA Drafts, who has been the best top overall pick? You can probably guess who it is by now, but where do the other 14 stack up in comparison? Here are the last 15 top overall picks in the NBA Draft, ranked from worst to best.
15 Kwame Brown (2001)
Kwame Brown was the first overall selection in 2001, and will forever be regarded as one of the worst top overall picks in sports history. Brown was originally going to attend the University of Florida, but decided to forego college for the pros. In hindsight, it’s probably the only thing that made him millions. Michael Jordan and Doug Collins were told by Brown that they wouldn’t regret drafting him, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Brown played for seven different NBA teams, averaging just 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game before retiring after the 2012-13 season.
14 Anthony Bennett (2013)
I think everybody let out a collective “What?” on the night where Anthony Bennett was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2013 out of UNLV. The Canadian wasn’t regarded by many to be the top overall pick, but Cleveland went with it anyway and got next to nothing out of him. Bennett averaged 4.2 points and 3 rebounds in his rookie season before being shipped off to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love trade, and hasn’t improved much since. The only reason he’s not number 15 is because he’s played just two seasons.
13 Greg Oden (2007)
Greg Oden was a stud in high school, earning the prestigious Indiana Mr. Basketball title in 2006 and was just as good in college at Ohio State. Portland was excited to get what was supposed to be the next great big man with their top pick in 2007, but an injury kept him out for the first season. Oden would come back and play 61 games the next year, but only 44 more in the rest of his career with Portland and Miami. Oden is a cautionary tale for lanky big men, but he averaged a modest 8 points and 6.2 rebounds before hanging it up.
12 Andrea Bargnani (2006)
The Toronto Raptors missed out in the 2006 NBA Draft when they selected Andrea Bargnani first overall with LaMarcus Aldridge sitting right there. That’s not to say that Bargnani has been a bad player, but he hasn’t lived up to his billing as a top overall pick compared to Aldridge. Bargnani has since moved on to the Knicks, where he has played the last two seasons. Bargnani has 15 points and 4.8 rebounds per game so far in his career.
11 Andrew Bogut (2005)
After the excitement of the 2004 NBA Draft, there wasn’t much hype around the next year’s when Andrew Bogut was taken first overall by Milwaukee. Bogut struggled in his rookie year, but became a notable NBA talent in his later years with the Bucks. Bogut disappeared, however, when he was traded to the Warriors (in a trade that included Kwame Brown). He has also had some injury problems, but has still averaged nearly a double double in his career with 10.9 points and 9.2 rebounds.
10 Kenyon Martin (2000)
For younger fans that see the 37-year-old Kenyon Martin play, they might not believe that he was ever a number one overall pick. However, for the New Jersey Nets, he was the right choice back in 2000. Do you know who the second best player in the first round that year was? Jamaal Magloire. That’s how bad that draft was. Martin played for his fifth team in 2015 (Milwaukee) and has averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in his long career.
9 Yao Ming (2002)
The international craze in the NBA started in earnest with Chinese giant Yao Ming. Ming was the consensus top selection by scouts in 2002, and easily the best player selected in the lottery that season. Yao Ming was a force for the Houston Rockets for many years, but he missed a ton of games due to injury concerns. Still, he was selected to eight All-Star teams (mostly due to name recognition) and averaged a solid 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. If only he were as durable as his first three years in the league, he may have been higher on this list.
8 Andrew Wiggins (2014)
Andrew Wiggins has only played one year in the NBA, but he appears to be well on his way to stardom after winning the 2015 Rookie of the Year, he just needs to stay healthy. Wiggins was drafted first overall last June by the Cavaliers, but was shipped alongside Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love trade. The Kansas product got off to a hot start, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and those numbers should only get better over the next few years as the Wolves continue to build.
7 John Wall (2010)
John Calipari of Kentucky has come to perfect the ‘one and done’ basketball player, and John Wall was one of his first at the school. Wall was part of a deep draft class in 2010 that featured DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and Greg Monroe in the top 10. People weren’t sure if Wall would reach his potential due to injuries in his first three seasons, but he has only missed three regular season games over the past two years, averaging 17.6 points and 8.7 assists per game in his career.
6 Kyrie Irving (2011)
Cleveland was a dark and dreary place after LeBron James packed up and moved to Miami, but at least one bad season landed them with Kyrie Irving. Irving wasn’t considered to be a franchise changing prospect by most when he was coming out of Duke, but he was a pretty clear choice for the top pick in 2011. Irving is still on the team, and has reached the All-Star Game in each of his last three seasons, winning the 2014 All-Star Game MVP Award. As for his stats, he has averaged 21 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.
5 Derrick Rose (2008)
We have seen what Derrick Rose can do when he’s healthy, and we’ve also seen how long he can sit out when he’s injured. Rose was taken by the Bulls with the first pick in 2008 NBA Draft that also featured Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love in the top five. Rose was at the top of his game in the 2010-11 season when he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game, earning the season’s Most Valuable Player award. Rose has played just 100 games over the past four NBA seasons after missing just six in his first three years.
4 Dwight Howard (2004)
It’s hard to find a good big man in the NBA, but Dwight Howard is the closest you can get to bridging the gap between today’s big stars and Shaquille O’Neal’s run in the 1990s. Howard was taken first in 2004 by Orlando, and it was certainly the right choice. Howard played with the Magic for eight seasons before getting shipped off to the Lakers. Howard had a rough time fitting in there, but has revitalized himself since signing with the Rockets despite injury issues. Howard has averaged 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in his career, being named to eight All-Star Games.
3 Anthony Davis (2012)
One of the greatest hypothetical topics in sports talk is “If you were building a franchise from scratch, who would you draft first overall?” The answer for a lot of analysts has been Anthony Davis, the first overall pick in 2012 out of Kentucky. Davis has only gotten better over his first three seasons in the league and is an absolute blocking machine. While Davis’s career average has netted him 19.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, his latest season was the greatest with 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Davis is sure to be a star for a long time in the league.
2 Blake Griffin (2009)
Oklahoma is more known for their football prowess than basketball, but Blake Griffin was able to lead the team to the Final Four in his tenure there. Griffin was then taken with the top spot in 2009’s draft by the Clippers in front of the likes of James Harden and Steph Curry. The Clippers can’t be too upset with their selection of a guy that has reached the last five All-Star Games, four All-NBA teams and playoff appearances that were once out of reach for the franchise. Griffin so far has averaged 21.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4 assists per game in his career.
1 LeBron James (2003)
And of course, you had to have known that LeBron James would be the best top overall pick in the last 15 years, and easily one of the best of all time. James has had an absolute monster career that has somehow surpassed the hype that was set for him while he was still in high school. What has James done in his career? Oh, just two titles, four MVP trophies, 11 All-Star Games and All-NBA teams and two gold medals, nothing major. Of course, you have to talk stats, and he has averaged an incredible 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game over a 12 year career.