In the NBA one player can change the course of a franchise more than in any other sport. The opportunity to choose first in an NBA draft is a monumental opportunity, a chance to transform a team in an instant. Some of the greatest players in NBA history were #1 picks, hall of famers like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem “The Dream” had an incredible career yet still wouldn’t have been drafted first in a re-draft. That honor goes to a Mr. Michael Jordan, the same guy who drafted one of the biggest busts in league history.
The draft breeds unpredictability. A can’t miss prospect often misses, a for sure thing can turn into absolutely nothing. Superstars can justify their #1 selection by year one just to have their careers derailed by injury by year four. To be awarded the first pick, a team has to have a terrible season. A terrible season can often be due to an incompetent front office. An incompetent front office with the power of choosing first overall, let the games begin.
In the 90s and 2000s, we’ve seen possibly the worst draft class ever, the LeBron draft (of if you prefer the glass half empty, the Darko draft), and we’ve unfortunately seen superstar #1 picks have their bodies fail them. There have been hits, misses, and players passed by many teams only to become the best of their draft class. I don’t envy the decisions a general manager has to make, actually yes I do, their 9-5 consists of managing a professional sports team. Sometimes selection is based on need rather than actual talent, but these players are all about going with the best possible talent.
18 1990 - Gary Payton
This one was essentially a no-brainer as Gary Payton is the only player from the 1990 class to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. While Derrick Coleman was a solid first overall pick, injuries eventually caught up to him. Payton was a nine-time All Star and helped the SuperSonics to a finals appearance in 1996. Along with Shawn Kemp, Payton formed one of the most dynamic duos the game had ever seen. Payton finally got his championship ring on the tail end of his career with the Miami Heat in 2006.
17 1991 - Dikembe Mutombo
Like Payton, Mutombo is also the only player from his draft class to reach the Hall of Fame. The Congolese center played for 18 NBA seasons, and at 7-foot-2 was one of the best shot blockers the game has ever seen. Mutombo is second only to Hakeem Olajuwon for most shots blocked in a career. Mutombo was also an eight-time All Star and won the Defensive Player of the Year award four times. Mutombo would play for six teams in his career.
16 1992 - Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal will be a first ballot Hall of Famer and despite having Alonzo Mourning at no.2, Shaq was a generational talent, while Mourning and Christian Laettner were also seen as can't miss prospects. Shaq instantly changed the fortunes of the Orlando Magic, leading them to the finals just a few years after being drafted. It's just too bad he had to leave Orlando in 1996, as the Lakers would be the ones reaping the most benefits from Shaq, seeing him win three NBA Finals MVP awards.
15 1993 - Chris Webber
Chris Webber was the rightful no.1 overall pick in 1993 by the Orlando Magic, but in hindsight, they probably should have held on to him. Penny Hardaway made a great duo with Shaq, but the Magic rushed themselves into contention, instead of letting Webber grow alongside Shaq. They also lost three first round picks in the trade. Webber would be a five-time All Star, but enjoyed his best days on the powerhouse Sacramento Kings teams of the early 2000s.
14 1994 - Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd enjoyed a very long NBA career, making 10 All-Star appearances and was one of the game's best point guards from the beginning to the end of his career. The actual top pick Glenn Robinson, would begin his career with a contract dispute with the Bucks, while Kidd won co-Rookie of the Year. Kidd is now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, the same team that passed on him with the first overall pick, but they would have been better served getting him as a player.
13 1995 - Kevin Garnett
Joe Smith joined a long list of one of the many, many draft mistakes of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors held the first pick in 1995 and passed on names like Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Antonio McDyess. The name that haunts the most though is Kevin Garnett, who went fifth overall to the Timberwolves. Garnett was a rare talent, who came into the NBA straight out of high school. Had the Warriors kept Webber and drafted KG in '95, perhaps they could have ended their championship drought a lot sooner.
12 1996 - Kobe Bryant
It says something when Allen Iverson is knocked off as a first overall pick, but you could understand it when he's replaced by Kobe Bryant. While Kobe never actually played for the team that drafted him (Charlotte) he is the biggest name of the legendary 1996 draft class. When you're taking perhaps the best player of his generation, of course he goes no.1. Iverson didn't disappoint in Philly, but perhaps the Sixers could have saved a lot of headaches they eventually got from Iverson. Kobe may now have been enjoying his farewell year in Philadelphia.
11 1997 - Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs didn't get to build their team by stockpiling on lottery picks, but they hit the jackpot in 1997, hitting a home run on the first overall pick. Tim Duncan was ready to play and make a big impact in the NBA as he was already a smart player as a youngster. The Spurs won a championship in 1999, showing how immediate Duncan's impact was on their franchise. Duncan has now led the Spurs to five and is one of the faces of his generation.
10 1998 - Dirk Nowitski
Michael Olowokandi is one of the biggest NBA draft busts at no.1 overall, so replacing him is very easy. Dirk Nowitski was unlike anything the NBA had ever seen before. Vince Carter and Paul Pierce definitely should have gone higher as well, but Dirk is the one deserving of the top spot. Like Kobe, Nowitski didn't play for the team that drafted him, as Milwaukee, after taking him ninth, shipped him off to Dallas. The Mavs' fortunes as a franchise instantly changed and they built one of the better teams of the 2000s and it all started with Nowitski.
9 1999 - Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili is one of the biggest draft steals in NBA history, having gone late in the second round in 1999. Elton Brand had some good years in Chicago and is by no means a bust, but there's no doubt the Bulls would take Manu in a do-over. The Bulls needed some elite talent following the dismantling of their championship teams, but some mistakes cost them, as they are still looking for their first title post-Jordan.
The unanimously agreed upon worst draft in NBA history produced a combined three all-star appearances between the 58 players. Kenyon Martin was chosen 1st overall by the New Jersey Nets and carved out a 15 year career as a decent role player. This draft was so dreadful that he would probably still be a top 5 pick in the re-draft. Michael Redd would be the 1st pick, the lefty blossomed into an explosive offensive player averaging over 20 points per game in six straight seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks. He was fortunate enough to earn a spot on the 2008 gold medal winning USA Olympic squad.
This one came down to Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, two of the greatest European basketball players to ever don NBA jerseys. Gasol was picked third, 25 spots ahead of Parker, who is an example of what you would call grand theft. Gasol has the edge, he proved to be a dominant forward for multiple teams, fitting in with a variety of different offensive schemes. We will never know how successful Parker would have been in an offence not designed by Greg Popovich featuring Tim Duncan. This draft was the cause of the basketball world realizing the greatest basketball player ever might not posses the same front office skills. He drafted Kwame Brown first overall, Brown would go on to be one of the largest busts there ever was.
8 2002 - Yao Ming
Plagued by chronic foot issues, Yao’s career lasted less than 10 seasons. During his time the Rockets were consistently competitive as he dominated on both sides of the court. He also made the Rockets and the NBA a ton of money as a pioneer for basketball in China. Chinese reporters flocked to America giving the sport global attention. Despite having a shorter career, Yao still gets the nod over a trio of successful forwards, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Tayshaun Prince.
7 2003 - LeBron James
This draft was hyped as the greatest of all time, and for the most part lived up to the mighty expectations. LeBron was a prospect of epic proportions never seen before, labeled as the chosen one at the ripe age of 17. Since then he’s won multiple championships, and MVP awards, vaulting him in to the class of all time greats. The Detroit Pistons are the team that could really use this re-draft, they chose Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. This was not a good idea.
6 2004 - Dwight Howard
There was an enormous debate on who should be selected #1 in this draft. Emeka Okafor, who had a decorated career for the Uconn Huskies, or Dwight Howard, the high schooler with otherworldly talent but still an unknown coming straight from high school. The Orlando Magic chose the so called riskier Howard, and the reward was as gargantuan as Howard himself. He instantly became the face of the franchise putting the Magic back on the map, as they enjoyed success not seen since Shaquille O’Neal vacated the Sunshine State. Okafor had an average career, never able to replicate his college dominance.
5 2005 - Chris Paul
By mid-decade the NBA was beginning to evolve from a slower game dominated by forwards to a faster paced style led by guards. Steve Nash was named MVP this year orchestrating one of the most efficient, high scoring offences the game has seen. Unfortunately for Milwaukee Bucks fans, their front office was slow to adapt choosing center Andrew Bogut first. Chris Paul was picked 4th overall, and will go down as one of the best point guards to ever play the game. His ferociousness on defence combined with his magical playmaking skills have been nothing short of exceptional to observe.
4 2006 - LaMarcus Aldridge
The versatile big man Aldridge moves up just 1 spot from second to first. He narrowly edges out two guards, Rajon Rondo the triple double machine with a bad attitude, and Kyle Lowry who has slowly matured into an NBA all-star. At this pace he may one day pass Aldridge on this list, but for now the big man has earned the top spot leading the Blazers to several playoff appearances. One man who will definitely never hold top spot in this draft class again is Andrea Bargnani. The so called next Dirk Nowitzki was picked first overall by the Raptors, he was not the next Dirk Nowitzki.
3 2007 - Kevin Durant
Another highly contested first overall pick as the teams from the Pacific Northwest held the first two picks. Greg Oden was selected first by Portland, leaving the then Seattle Supersonics with Kevin Durant, a once in a generation talent. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Oden’s body failed him repeatedly, and we were never able to find out if he shared that same generational talent. The Supersonics were hijacked and taken to Oklahoma where Durant became a superstar displaying a transcendent offensive arsenal.
2 2008 - Russell Westbrook
Within three years, Rose had won Rookie of the Year and MVP and he still wouldn't be chosen first in the re-draft. Two torn ACLs later and Rose is a shell of the explosive guard he once was. Westbrook developed more gradually than Rose, but he is now firmly perched among the best players in the NBA. It would have have been fascinating to so see who would have had the better career between these two natural rivals as even without Rose’s injuries Westbrook may have become the best player in this draft.
1 2009 - Stephen Curry
Curry has taken the whole sporting world by storm over the last year. He won MVP, and led the Warriors to a championship before performing an epic encore this season putting up ridiculous numbers as the Warriors are off to the greatest start in NBA history. Curry’s career started off slow as he learned to battle NBA defenses as well as multiple ankle injuries. He figured it out in a massive way, as the best three point shooter to ever grace this planet has left fellow draft class superstars Blake Griffin and James Harden in the dust.
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