The NBA Draft is one of the most important aspects to running a successful franchise. Everyone wants to compete for a NBA Championship but very few teams have a legitimate chance at succeeding. Basketball creates fewer contenders for the title than any of the other major sports in North America and that’s because the best teams have the best stars. Stephen Curry is the main reason the Golden State Warriors are running the league. LeBron James is leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to playoff relevancy. Kawhi Leonard has the San Antonio Spurs in contention and Kevin Durant is trying to build up the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All of the best teams have a top five player right now and they actually all have multiple All-Star players. While free agency and the trade market plays a great role in the top tier teams getting better and improving towards playoff success, the rest of the league has to draft intelligently. The salary cap is rising and NBA players are becoming more marketable with high paying endorsement deals. You no longer have to reside in a big market to be a mainstream star in the league. This means players can put more importance on winning and that leaves the bad teams with less free agency options and more significance on the draft.
The last fifteen years of NBA Draft history has featured the superstars of this generation being brought into the league. Plenty of the best players went first overall to teams that they helped put on the map but there were quite a few duds. We’re going to look back at each of them and see who would have gone first overall knowing everything we know today after watching their careers play out. Many teams endured success, some felt heartbreak and a few just want do-overs with the pressure that comes with the top pick. Join us as we re-draft the last fifteen first overall picks of the NBA Draft.
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15 2015: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves made the right choice when they selected Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall pick in the most recent draft. The big debate during the college basketball season was between Towns and Jahlil Okafor being the best NBA prospect. Towns has been a superior player so far in their rookie seasons and shows a more mature attitude towards the off-court aspect of the sport. New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis may rival Towns as the best player selected in this draft for many years going forward but Towns appears to be better right now and has a higher upside as a likely frequent All-Star forward.
14 2014: Andrew Wiggins
Much like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins appears to be the real deal as a future star of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins was actually drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers but was traded for Kevin Love before his rookie season began as the team went for the established talent who improved their chances at a title but they surely regret it today. Wiggins has shown flashes of brilliance and has a great chance to become a superstar in the league if he works on his flaws. Jabari Parker was the other top standout in the 2014 Draft but injuries and lack of a defined role have hindered him while Wiggins only gets better.
13 2013: C.J. McCollum
2013 featured the Cleveland Cavaliers making one of the worst decisions of all time when they selected Anthony Bennett first overall. No one expected him to go that high in the draft but Cleveland made the bold choice and immediately regretted it. Bennett is no longer in the NBA after just two seasons and the best player of this weak draft is C.J. McCollum. The young guard didn’t get the opportunity until now to breakout in Portland but he’s become one of the stars in Portland and has helped the team get into playoff contention. McCollum appears to be a future All-Star and the Cavaliers missed out by passing on him for the horrible Bennett. Victor Oladipo, selected second overall, has also been solid and he would've been a better selection than Bennett as well.
12 2012: Anthony Davis
The 2012 NBA Draft featured two All-Star talents that are already established superstars and the faces of their franchises with Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. The New Orleans Pelicans selected Davis with the first overall pick and they would have done well with either man but Davis is the better bet. Lillard is an All-Star point guard but Davis has the talent to become the best talent in the entire league. Most expect him to bring a championship to New Orleans and emerge as the top star of the NBA once some of the current stars start to decline with age. Davis was the right choice here but Lillard is a close second.
11 2011: Kawhi Leonard
NBA Drafts are very risky with talents hitting or missing and organizations just hoping they made the right choice in selecting a future star. The 2011 Draft featured stars like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler getting draft. All of those men offer something unique and impressive, with Kyrie Irving going first overall. You can’t fault the Cleveland Cavaliers for selecting an All-Star that plays with an exciting style but the best player in the draft turned out to be Kawhi Leonard. The Indiana Pacers actually drafted Leonard but dealt him to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill. Leonard has developed into one of the best two-way players in the NBA and may be a top five overall talent in the league right now.
10 2010: Paul George
Three stars have emerged from the 2010 Draft with quite a few role players rounding out the field. The best players to come from the draft class are John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George. While the Washington Wizards made a tremendous selection with Wall, you have to go with George as being the best choice in the draft. Wall has been an All-Star star point guard but George’s playoff success gives him a slight edge. George led an Indiana Pacers team to competitive series with the stacked Miami Heat. The fact that George competed with LeBron James and crew in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals says a lot about his makeup and he would be re-drafted over Wall due to this.
9 2009: Stephen Curry
The Los Angeles Clippers franchise endured a huge makeover and turnaround from their woeful history with the selection of Blake Griffin as the first overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Chris Paul would get traded to the team and a few more signings would turn them into a credible contender in the West. Unfortunately for the Clippers, they missed out on someone even more special by passing on Stephen Curry. The greatest shooter in NBA history has taken over the league and is leading the Golden State Warriors to historical greatness with his own personal historical achievements. Curry is a once in a generation star and fans of the sport adore him. Only the Clippers could lose in a draft that saw them select a potential future Hall of Famer.
8 2008: Russell Westbrook
The Chicago Bulls finally returned to relevance after a decade of losing when they selected Derrick Rose with the first overall pick in 2008. Rose would become an MVP Award winner and lead the team to regular season success with the best record in the East multiple times. Unfortunately, Rose would suffer various knee injuries that ruined his career from continuing at an All-Star level. Regardless of how Rose’s health would have shaken out, Russell Westbrook was the better player in this draft. Westbrook’s intensity and athleticism has led to him becoming one of the best point guards in the sport. The style of play and dominant nature of Westbrook would have been adored in Chicago and he’d likely be an even bigger star if selected first over Rose.
7 2007: Kevin Durant
Very few drafts have ever been as heartbreaking for the team with the top overall pick as the 2007 Draft was for Portland Trail Blazers fans. The team selected center Greg Oden with the top pick and hoped to have this generation’s version of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain or Shaquille O’Neal. Oden was never able to achieve that success due to foot injuries sabotaging his career before it ever truly began in the NBA. The second pick in the draft sending Kevin Durant to the Oklahoma City Thunder made matters even worse as the future Hall of Famer has been an elite player in the league for years now. Blazers fans still have dreams about life with Durant as the top draft pick.
6 2006: LaMarcus Aldridge
Another horrible draft pick with the top overall pick saw the Toronto Raptors take a big chance by going with foreign player Andrea Bargnani. The big man with outside shooting skills showed a world of potential and did achieve some success in the NBA as a scorer but he was not a difference maker. Bargnani didn’t change the game or contribute to winning and Toronto instantly regretted missing out on LaMarcus Aldridge for him. Aldridge is arguably the best power forward in the NBA and has been great for many years now. Toronto would have had their star of the future if they selected Aldridge from that class like many wanted them to.
5 2005: Chris Paul
The 2005 Draft featured the age old debate of big men vs. guards. The Milwaukee Bucks decided to go big by selecting Andrew Bogut with the first overall pick. Bogut did a fine job at center but he was nowhere near worthy of the top selection and the team missed out on both Chris Paul and Deron Williams. The league was nearing the early stages of point guards taking over the game and the Bucks would have been better off with Paul as their superstar. Paul has become legendary and he’s going to go down as one of the best point guards in NBA history. Milwaukee fans are still trying to inven a time machine to go back and select him first overall in 2005.
4 2004: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard is currently a controversial figure in the NBA with most fans having a great disdain for him but there’s no doubt he was the correct pick by the Orlando Magic in the 2004 Draft. The other two top prospects entering that draft were UCONN stars Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. Neither man still holds a job in the NBA and Howard is still a valued asset. Howard has been the only player from the 2004 Draft to make multiple All-Star appearances and the All-NBA team. It’s easy to dislike his attitude but Howard was the best center in the NBA for many years before injuries started to get the better of him. There’s no doubt he would still go down as the top pick in a re-draft scenario.
3 2003: LeBron James
This should be the most obvious choice of the past fifteen years of NBA drafts but the insane star power from 2003 makes it (somewhat) debatable. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh are all likely heading to Hall of Fame with absolutely superb careers but none compare to LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers first overall pick was the right one by acquiring a top three all-time NBA player. While James has yet to win a title for Cleveland and ditched them in heartbreaking fashion for a four-season run with the Miami Heat, he is back and actually boosting the town’s economy. James is bigger than basketball in Cleveland and he was definitely the correct draft decision, even if he fails to bring the Cavaliers their first ring.
2 2002: Amar'e Stoudemire
The Houston Rockets took a calculated risk by selecting Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming with the first overall pick in 2002. Before this, most international players coming to the NBA floundered and Ming was met with great hype leading to great fear. Ming actually lived up to the expectations with All-Star play and helped the NBA become the global phenomenon it is today in China but for pure on-court reasons, he wasn’t the best pick. Amar'e Stoudemire had a great run as one of the top big men in the NBA and was a bit more versatile than Ming. Stoudemire was younger, more athletic and achieved more success as the top scoring option on the Phoenix Suns for many years. Houston would have benefited longer from Amar'e.
1 2001: Pau Gasol
The 2001 Draft featured the historically bad draft pick by Michael Jordan when the Washington Wizards drafted Kwame Brown with the first overall pick. Brown was so bad that Jordan would curse him out in practice during his return from retirement and the big man would turn into a punch line for many years. Fans and rappers still make jokes about Kwame Brown. The better picks in the draft featured players still with active roles in the NBA today such as Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Tyson Chandler and Zach Randolph. Quite frankly, anyone would have been less embarrassing than Brown but Gasol should have gone first overall to Washington.
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