Like many NBA teams, the Philadelphia 76ers have lived and died with the draft. Aside from Moses Malone, Julius Erving and even Wilt Chamberlain, who was actually drafted by the Warriors franchise, the Sixers’ best players in history have come out of the draft. Even more so, it is all abound finding that next star in the first round. We will cover eight of the best first round draft picks by the 76ers. These players have helped win championships, bring excitement to the city and some will help guide the Sixers into the future.
Honorable Mention: Ben Simmons
Simmons has not yet suited up for his first game in a Sixers uniform, but the pick look likes it will end up making the top eight best first round picks ever.
Also worth mentioning the other young stars on the current roster: Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric. Once the roles are finally figured out, there should be some names added to the list.
Along with the good will come the bad. There have been some all out busts that have derailed the franchise for years, and draft picks that left the people of the city scratching their heads. The Sixers’ front office has missed on future hall of famers to draft the likes of a formidable but not tantalizing pro. No franchise ever nails on all of their picks, but let’s just say, by the way their picks were chosen, that Philadelphia has missed on players by the name of: Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Allan Houston, and the list could go on.
So here we will count down The 8 Best And 7 Worst First Round Draft Picks In Philadelphia 76ers History:
15. Best – Jrue Holiday
The 76ers made Holiday the 17th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Despite averaging just 8.5 PPG in his first and only year at UCLA, Holiday showed the ability and skillset to play the point guard in the NBA.
Holiday took over starting point guard duties in the 2009-2010 season. The team would fail to make the playoffs that year, but coming into the 2010-2011 season the Sixers hired Doug Collins. This would help Holiday and company trigger the last Sixers playoff run in recent memory. In the 2011-12 season Holiday averaged 13.5 PPG and 4.5 APG. During that season the Sixers would advance to the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, where they dropped the series in 7 games to the Boston Celtics. Holiday would go on to add an all star bid in 2012-2013 before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for current 76er Nerlens Noel.
14. Worst – Keith Van Horn
Philadelphia drafted Van Horn with the 2nd overall pick in the 1997 draft, and immediately traded his rights to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for the number 7 pick Tim Thomas, and Anthony Parker. Tim Thomas and Keith Van Horn both managed to carve out lengthy NBA careers, but spending the number 2 overall pick on a NBA journey man was not what the Sixers thought they were doing.
Along with some others on this list, this isn’t so much a case against Van Horn but more so who was drafted after Van Horn. The two biggest names would be Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. McGrady was one of the league’s all time scorers in his prime including two NBA Scoring Titles. McGrady would also add 7 All-NBA honors. Billups would go on to win a NBA Finals MVP for his role on a Detroit Pistons team that made six straight NBA Finals appearances.
13. Best – Doug Collins
If it wasn’t for injuries, Collins may have made it even further up on this list. Collins was drafted number 1 overall by the Sixers in 1973. The previous summer Collins played for the USA Basketball team in the 1972 Olympics. This team is remembered for losing the Olympics on the most controversial finish ever.
During his 8 year stint in Philadelphia, Collins averaged 17.9 PPG during the regular seasons, and poured in 21.5 PPG during three playoff runs. He was selected to four NBA All-Star games, and helped Julius Erving lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals in the 1976-1977 season. Collins’ career was cut short due to numerous foot and knee injuries. He still has stayed with the franchise actually coaching the team from 2010-2013, making the playoffs twice, and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011-12.
12. Worst – Charles Smith
The 3rd overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft never actually played a minute for the Philadelphia 76ers franchise. Instead he was shipped out on draft night for Hersey Hawkins and later on Kenny Payne. Hersey Hawkins did go on to have a decent Sixers career, but not a career worthy of a top 3 pick. Hawkins averaged 19 PPG for his 76ers career, but when Barkley moved on and Hawkins became the team’s best player the Sixers went 26-56 during the season. After five years he would move on from the franchise.
Drafted after Charles Smith would be NBA Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond, NBA All-Star Dan Majerle, All-NBA player Rod Strickland, and NBA Champions Steve Kerr and Vernon Maxwell. Maybe if this draft pick was used on one of these top players, Barkley never leaves and the 76ers bring another championship to Philadelphia.
11. Best – Andre Iguodala
The Sixers made the forward from Arizona the 9th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. An all around player Iguodala helped guide the Sixers to five playoff appearances from 2004-2005 to 2011-2012.
Iguodala had a love hate relationship with Philadelphia during his tenure. He was faced with the task of taking over as the leader when Allen Iverson departed for Denver. In his first full season without Iverson, Iguodala averaged 19.9 PPG. While that was his career high, Iguodala continued to play all around basketball for the 76ers through the 2011-2012 season, adding an NBA All-Star nod in 2012.
Iguodala’s trademark Sixers moment came in the 2011-12 NBA Playoffs, when Iguodala was able to sink two free throws to give the Sixers their first series win since 2003, as well as their last to date.
10. Worst – Evan Turner
Evan Turner was drafted out of Ohio State University after a college season in which he won the National College Player of the Year. The Sixers held the number two pick in the draft, and the Wizards were poised to take John Wall with their number one overall pick. Seemed like a fine consolation prize at the time. The Sixers would finally land their next franchise player to pair up with a nice young nucleus consisting already of Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, and Thaddeus Young. Evan Turner just never lived up to the hype.
Turner only became a full time starter during a 2012-13 season in which the team went 34-48. Following the season Doug Collins would leave town, and the Sixers would be on their way to the famous tank era. Turner is still in the NBA, now on his fourth team.
Drafted after Evan Turner in his draft?
9. Best – Andrew Toney
The man was dealt the nickname “The Boston Strangler” by the people of Boston, because of his play against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Playoffs. Any 76ers fan knows that if he received a nickname like that from the rival Celtics, then it was already a successful draft pick.
Toney was selected with the 8th overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft. He was named to two all star games in his career, and was an integral part of the 1983 NBA Champion Philadelphia 76ers. Still the last championship to date for Philly. Toney joined Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, and Mo Cheeks to form what some people consider one of the greatest teams ever.
Injuries halted Toney’s career from being even more special. He was never the same player after the 1984-85 season when stress fractures developed in both feet. Another career cut short, but in the short amount of time, Toney made his stamp on 76ers history.
8. Worst – Shawn Bradley
A 7’5” center who never averaged more than nine rebounds per game – seems like enough to make the list. Bradley was drafted with the number 2 overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. Just twelve games into his third NBA season, the Sixers, frustrated by his inconsistent play, shipped Bradley to the New Jersey Nets. Wasn’t too bad, Philadelphia did receive Derrick Coleman in return, who gave the franchise some decent years. Still not worth the Sixers number 2 overall pick when you look at who was drafted behind Bradley:
Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Allan Houston, Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel among others.
7. Best – Billy Cunningham
The “Kangaroo Kid” was selected 5th overall in the 1965 draft. Cunningham spent a total of 17 seasons with the 76ers franchise as a player (nine seasons) and a coach (eight seasons).
As a player Cunningham put together a Hall of Fame career which included 21.2 PPG 10.4 RPG, a NBA Championship in 1967, 4x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA honors, and a spot on the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
After his playing days, Cunningham became the 76ers coach in 1977. He coached the All-Star team four times, and finished his coaching career with a .698 winning percentage. Cunningham guided the star studded Sixers consisting of Mo Cheeks, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, and Andrew Toney to the NBA Championship in 1983. The team would go on to be mentioned in the greatest team of all time conversation, and it is still the 76ers last championship to date.
6. Worst – Sharone Wright
Sharone Wright was taken with the 6th overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. His rookie season would prove to be his best at 11.4 PPG and a Second Team All-Rookie honor. That year would also be his only full season with the franchise. Wright would flounder out of the league in 1998 after brief stints with the Toronto Raptors. Up until 2008 he did continue his playing career overseas. Not a career you think of out of a 6th overall pick.
Wright lands on the list mostly because of the length of his Sixers career. The players drafted behind him were not as star studded as others on the list but still included some players who put together credible NBA careers. Eddie Jones, Brian Grant, Aaron McKie, Wesley Person, Howard Eisley, and Voshon Lenard would have all been more sensible picks. Wright set the franchise back until the Sixers were finally able to land a franchise player in 1996.
5. Best – Charles Barkley
The number 5 overall pick in the 1984 draft, Charles was an instant star in Philadelphia. He joined the team a year after the team brought a NBA Championship to Philadelphia and would carry the franchise into their next era. During his tenure the Sixers would make six playoff appearances including a conference finals and three semi finals appearances. Barkley was All-NBA five times during his time in Philly, adding an All-Star Game MVP in the process. Barkley would move on to the Phoenix Suns in 1992 where he added a NBA MVP to his resume.
Barkley finished his career with a stat line of 22.1 PPG and 11.7 RPG. An Olympic Gold Medalist, he was voted onto the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, and has his jersey retired, hanging in the Philadelphia rafters. The Suns would also honor him with a jersey retirement. Barkley didn’t bring a championship to Philadelphia, but he carried the franchise after the Dr. J era.
4. Worst – Jiri Welsch
Welsch was traded by the 76ers on draft night, and only lasted four years in the NBA. This should be a good thing for the 76ers. Except what they received back for the 16th overall pick wasn’t much better. In exchange for Welsch the Sixers used the future draft picks on Viktor Sanikidze, whom never played an NBA minute, and Joey Graham who also never suited up for Philadelphia.
Welsch lands on this list because he was drafted during a time the franchise needed to find players to help aid Allen Iverson in taking the team to the next level. Instead the team drafted Welsch before players of all-star caliber: Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Boozer. In exchange for someone who never played NBA minutes could have been either one of these NBA long time veterans. Maybe Iverson never leaves for Denver, and the Sixers actually add a championship in the 2000’s.
3. Best – Joel Embiid
Maybe buying in to the hype a little too quick here, but after some of the darkest years in Philadelphia 76ers history, Embiid has brought basketball back to Philadelphia. Embiid was selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. A 7 foot center, who will challenge any attempt around the rim, but also is smooth enough to take the occasional three-point shot, Embiid has captivated the city and the basketball world.
It looked like Embiid would probably land on the “worst” side of this article, not even a year ago. Embiid was forced to sit out his first two seasons due to back and foot injuries. But during the 2016-2017 season the player who has labeled himself “The Process” finally made his NBA debut, and in 25 minutes of action he poured in 20 points, while adding 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. The numbers have not suffered since then, Embiid is currently averaging 25.4 MPG, 20.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 2.5 BPG. Rather incredible for a guy who sat out the last two full seasons. Embiid will continue to be the center piece of the new era 76ers. His accomplishments and team’s accomplishments should continue to grow to earn his spot in the conversation of best draft pick ever.
2. Worst – Larry Hughes
Not so much an attack on Larry Hughes himself. He put together an average NBA career that included leading the league in steals, and an All-Defensive Team. Rather so, his spot on this list is because instead of pairing Hughes with Allen Iverson in 1998, the Sixers missed out on potential Basketball Hall of Famers who could have paired with A.I. and rewritten 76ers history.
Hughes was selected with the 8th overall pick after one year at Saint Louis. Hughes would go on to play for eight teams during his NBA career. Now we can look at who was drafted after the 8th pick in the draft:
Dirk Nowitzki: 13x NBA All-Star, NBA MVP, NBA Champion, 12x All-NBA all for the Dallas Mavericks
Paul Pierce: 10x NBA All-Star, NBA Champion, 4x All-NBA for the rival Boston Celtics
1. Best – Allen Iverson
A 6 foot guard from Georgetown, number 3, Allen Iverson. Iverson was taken with the number 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft. And immediately brought life back to the Philadelphia basketball world. In the five seasons previous to the draft pick the Sixers won a average of 25 games per year. By the 1998-99 season, Iverson and the Sixers would find themselves back in the playoffs and contender status.
From 1998-2003 the 76ers appeared in all five playoffs, lasting to at least the Eastern Conference Semi Finals four times. In the 2000-01 season Iverson would lead the team to the NBA Finals during a historic and somewhat unprecedented run in which he averaged 32.9 PPG throughout the playoffs. A.I. would take home NBA MVP honors that year, while winning the scoring title. The rest of his accomplishments include: 11x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA All-Star MVP, 7x All-NBA, NBA Rookie of the Year, 4x scoring champ, 3x steals leader, which all lead to his number 3 jersey being retired by the Philadelphia 76ers. Iverson finished career with a 26.7 PPG average, and landed in the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot in 2016. His relentless style represented everything the city of Philadelphia looks for in their professional athletes.
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