Living up to the billing of being picked first overall in the NBA Draft can be quite a daunting task. The pressure to perform can be too much for some, while others have thrived and played well above the standard set by those before them. But when the second-overall pick starts turning heads, critics begin to question who the better player is.
The number one pick from the each of the past 15 drafts has seen a mixed bag of players enter the NBA; ranging from the transcendent LeBron James in 2003 to the ultimately disappointing Anthony Bennett in 2013.
Many are seen to be franchise cornerstones coming out of college, capable of turning around a team's fortunes and propelling them to playoff success. Others meanwhile have failed to contribute much beyond being the butt of various jokes and being on the receiving end of substantial criticism.
But having the first pick in the draft doesn't necessarily guarantee success. It doesn't even guarantee that the player will have a considerable NBA career. There have been a number of cases in the past decade and a half where the player drafted second has outshone the number one pick. Whether it's unfortunate injuries or simply fitting into a team's system better, a number of first-overall draft picks have been immensely overshadowed.
So just how often does the number one pick live up to expectations? We take a look at the top two picks from the last 15 drafts and see who comes out on top.
30 30. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram (2016)
Coming out of college, Ben Simmons was widely seen as the unanimous first overall pick. Despite some issues with his outside shooting, he looked promising for the Philadelphia 76ers in the preseason.
However, a Jones fracture in his right foot less than a month before the start of the NBA season sidelined the Australian for the year. Fortunately, the 20-year-old got the chance to showcase his skills in the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.
Conversely, Brandon Ingram has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his rookie year but has been overlooked due to the Lakers' abysmal season. The Duke product began the season coming off the bench but has since established himself as a starter, taking over from swingman Luol Deng.
The second pick in the 2016 Draft has drawn comparisons to a young Kevin Durant, but Ingram has a long way to go if he's to live up to that comparison, as he's only averaging 8.7 points and 4 rebounds per contest.
29 29. Who is better?
It's always going to be difficult arguing that a player who is yet to play a single NBA game is better than one who suited up for 71 in the same time period.
And by that logic, Ingram is the obvious pick.
But future potential is one of the biggest factors when analyzing drafts and Simmons has the chance to become one of the better international players in the league. While there isn't a huge sample size to break down his overall ability, there's little doubt that the Australian will be an unknown for much longer.
28 28. Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell (2015)
The 2015 Draft class was one of the strongest in recent memory, led by versatile forward and unanimous Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns. The big man made an immediate impact on the struggling Timberwolves who were searching for a player to replace Kevin Love.
The Kentucky product had a better rookie campaign in comparison to Love, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds while starting all 82 games. Alongside Andrew Wiggins, Towns pushed the Timberwolves to a 29-53 record, a 13 game improvement over the team's 2014/15 effort.
Under the guidance of coach Tom Thibodeau, many expect him to become a more versatile player with an improved passing game, similar to that Joakim Noah back in his Chicago days.
While D'Angelo Russell's rookie campaign was almost completely overshadowed by Kobe Bryant's farewell tour, the 6'5" guard was still able to hold his own as he put up 13.2 points per game on 41% shooting from the field.
Most impressively, Russell only averages 2.7 turnovers per game this year while maintaining the highest usage rate on the Lakers at 27 percent.
27 27. Who is better?
This season has seen Towns take yet another leap as he's extended his range and shooting 35% from behind the arc, attempting just over three per game. Additionally, he currently ranks sixth in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), putting him ahead of the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry to name a few.
He's expected to help the Timberwolves make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and for good reason. Along with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, Towns is one of the rare bigs who can spread the floor and still finish inside with authority.
26 26. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker (2014)
It's only been three years since they were drafted, but both Wiggins and Parker have suffered through enough instability to last their entire careers. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seemed that Wiggins would be an understudy to LeBron James as he looked to finally bring a ring to the Cavs.
But after being infamously left out of LeBron's homecoming letter, Wiggins was traded to the Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love. He has since forged himself into one of the better all-around players in the NBA.
With the second pick in the draft, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker, who won Rookie of the Month in November before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in mid-December.
25 25. Who is better?
Wiggins has improved his scoring every year in the league and set his career high against the Lakers in 2016. He finished with an astonishing 47 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, knocking down 17 of 22 free throws in the process.
The Canadian has developed into a skilled two-way player who will be instrumental to the success of the Timberwolves alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. The duo are set to become one of the most dominant pairings in the league and, barring any significant injuries, should lead the team to playoff success.
24 24. Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo (2013)
One of the more forgettable draft classes in recent memory was headlined by Anthony Bennett, who is currently playing in Europe. A number of critics questioned whether Bennett was worthy of being drafted first, but the 6'8" forward impressed at UNLV, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Bennett struggled in his first year with the Cavs, extraordinarily missing his first 15 shots from the field. The 24-year-old was shipped to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love a year later but was seen to be an extraneous piece as Andrew Wiggins headlined the deal.
Meanwhile, the second pick of the 2013 Draft has developed into one of the more reliable players in the NBA. Victor Oladipo spent three years with the Orlando Magic before being traded to the Thunder for Serge Ibaka.
23 23. Who is better?
With Bennett no longer even in the NBA, it's beyond clear that Oladipo is the better of the top two picks from the 2013 Draft.
Bennett was signed and waived by a number of NBA team before being picked up by Fenerbahce in January 2017. Having averaged 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds, Bennett's NBA career is essentially dead and will likely go down as one of the worst busts in NBA history.
Meanwhile, Oladipo has formed a unique backcourt partnership in Oklahoma City; his calm demeanor a stark contrast to the untethered rage of Westbrook.
22 22. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012)
The 2012 NBA Draft was a big night for Kentucky as a total of six Wildcats were drafted in the first two rounds, including Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist at number one and two respectively. While the other four teammates are yet to establish themselves as NBA regulars, Davis was seen to be the key to turning around a franchise.
Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets, Davis has developed into one of the best players in the league. With a myriad of offensive moves in the post and the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line, Davis is almost guaranteed to win MVP at some stage in his career.
21 21. Who is better?
A number of injuries have slowed down MKG's development, with a chronic shoulder injury limiting him to just seven games last season. Regardless, it's still clear that Anthony Davis deserved to be drafted ahead of Kidd-Gilchrist.
Named an All-Star in each of the past four seasons, Davis smashed Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star game scoring record by dropping 52 points this year. While he has only reached the playoffs once with the Pelicans, he will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
In the four playoff games that he's played in, Davis averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. An outrageous stat line considering that the Pelicans lost all four games to the Golden State Warriors.
20 20. Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams (2011)
In what is now an incredibly rare occurrence, both Irving and Williams play for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they search for back-to-back championships. Kyrie was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers following a terrible season after LeBron James infamously took his talents to South Beach.
The 19-63 record was the second worst in the NBA but Irving was identified as the man to lead the Cavaliers in the post-LeBron era. Despite only playing 11 games for Duke in his only year in college, the Cavs took a risk with Irving and it certainly paid off.
Williams was initially drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves and seemed to be the perfect fit alongside Kevin Love. In his last year at the University of Arizona, Williams averaged 19.5 points while shooting an outrageous 57 percent from deep.
19 19. Who is better?
Irving has been phenomenal for the Cavs - both with and without LeBron - due to his ability to finish around the rim and shoot the three. The 6'3" guard has shot 46 percent from the field, an astounding number considering he attempts over 17 shots per game.
Kyrie's biggest achievement to date is undoubtedly winning the NBA title in 2016, where he hit a clutch three over Steph Curry to seal the comeback victory over the Warriors. Throughout the playoffs, the 25-year-old maintained a 30.4 percent usage rate, yet only turned the ball over 2.3 times per game; unreal protection considering the defense he came up against.
18 18. John Wall and Evan Turner (2010)
The first and second picks in the 2010 draft could not be any more different. While John Wall has established himself as one of the best point guards in the league with the Wizards, Evan Turner has turned into a relatively serviceable player, albeit an expendable one.
The 26-year-old was initially thrown into the deep end with the Wizards as the team struggled to string together victories and it wasn't until the 2013/14 season that Wall finished the regular season a winning record.
For the first time in his NBA career, the former Kentucky guard currently averages more than 20 points a night. Alongside his scoring, Wall has always been able to dish out assists, ranking inside the top ten in the NBA in six of his seven seasons.
The 6'7" wing was drafted by the 76ers and some might argue that he was a cut from the same cloth as Draymond Green. While nowhere near as dramatic, Turner was able to do a little bit of everything while defending the opposition's best player.
17 17. Who is better?
Turner's style of play is now outdated due to his inability to stretch the floor and John Wall has developed into one of the most dynamic players in the current NBA.
Many expected Turner to integrate a three-point shot into his offensive repertoire but fortunately, age is on his side. At 28 years old, Turner still has time to become a decent shooter and it seems that he's on the right path as his attempts from distance have nearly doubled since last season.
But Turner is still a limited player and John Wall has evolved from a pass-first guard into a finely-tuned offensive juggernaut. Wall has ranked inside the top ten in assists per game in six out of his seven seasons and currently leads the league in total steals.
16 16. Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet (2009)
By all accounts, the now 30-year-old Thabeet should've been a good NBA player. Standing at 7'3", he averaged a double-double in his final year at Connecticut while shooting 64 percent from the field.
Unfortunately, he wasn't unable to transfer those skills to the NBA outside of his rookie season with the Grizzlies. While his per game stats look mediocre, Thabeet's per 36 numbers tell a different story. 8.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game in his rookie year are more indicative of the big man's skill level.
While Thabeet's career ended on a limp, Blake Griffin's began with one, as a fractured kneecap sidelined him for his entire rookie season. Despite the injury, Griffin won the Rookie of the Year award the following year, averaging 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
15 15. Who is better?
While Thabeet hates being labeled a bust, many will continue to argue that he failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him.
A number of injuries would prevent Thabeet from ever averaging more than 13 minutes a game and his NBA career never really took off. He was last seen competing in Dubai earlier this year as he attempts to make an NBA comeback.
Conversely, Blake Griffin has surpassed what experts believed to be his ceiling - an athletic dunker with very limited basketball skills.
The 6'10" forward still relies on his athleticism to finish around the rim but he has developed a respectable mid-range jumper and started working extending his range out to the three-point line.
14 14. Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley (2008)
Possibly the saddest story in recent years has been Derrick Rose's rapid decline after suffering two gruesome injuries. Tears to his ACL and meniscus essentially robbed Rose of two full NBA seasons and his athleticism.
It wasn't always gloomy for Rose as he took home MVP honors for the 2010/11 season and, at 22, was the youngest player to ever win the illustrious award. While leading the Bulls to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance that year, he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists.
Drafted behind Rose was the multi-skilled Michael Beasley who averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds during his year at Kansas State. His production and versatility drew comparisons to Carmelo Anthony, but it was Beasley's off-court antics that got the most attention.
Within three years of being drafted by the Heat, there were three reported incidents linking the forward to marijuana, despite Beasley checking into rehabilitation in August 2009.
13 13. Who is better?
Both players have struggled to stay on the court for a number of different reasons and many sympathize with Rose because of his rollercoaster career and rapid decline.
The injuries clearly impacted his overall production as Rose hasn't ranked inside the top ten in any major statistical category (outside usage rate) since the 2011/12 season. The 28-year-old was traded to the Knicks in 2016 and has been contributing 17.8 points per game.
Witnessing Rose suffer through his injuries and return to the NBA puts his stats in perspective. Any player averaging just under 20 points per game while shooting above 45 percent from the field is someone who certainly belongs in the NBA.
12 12. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant (2007)
The term "bust" gets thrown around a lot to describe players who don't live up to their expectations but to call Greg Oden that simply wouldn't be fair on the 7-footer. That's because he only played a total of 105 NBA games due to a litany of lower-body injuries.
Microfracture surgery in his left knee prior to his rookie season sidelined Oden for the year. He came back and featured in 61 games for the Blazers, averaging 8.9 points and 7 rebounds - standard numbers for a big man coming off a significant surgery.
Drafted second behind Oden was eight-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant. The 28-year-old formed a formidable partnership with Russell Westbrook and took the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012.
11 11. Who is better?
Unfortunately for Oden, Kevin Durant is widely regarded to be one of the best players of the generation. If it wasn't for injuries, the order of these picks may have been up for debate but Oden had no such luck after returning to the court.
His time playing competitive basketball was cut short thanks to another two microfracture surgeries in 2010 and 2012 respectively, effectively ending his career. He officially retired in October 2016 and is now a volunteer student coach at Ohio State.
Despite joining a Warriors side that's already loaded with offensive weapons, Durant's production hasn't dropped off. With Durant on the roster, many saw Golden State as favorites to win the title.
10 10. Andrea Bargnani and LaMarcus Aldridge (2006)
The 2006 draft marked the beginning of a new era - the big man who can shoot the ball - as opposed to the traditional center whose offense was primarily focused on finishing around the rim.
With the first pick in the draft, the Raptors selected Bargnani and critics expected he would be the perfect complementary piece to Chris Bosh's interior scoring. The inside-out punch never quite flourished as the Raptors only made the playoffs twice during his time with the team.
On the defensive end, the Italian was more than a liability and was seemingly incapable of rebounding effectively. Bargnani was shipped to the Knicks and then the Nets before landing in Europe where he will likely see out the end of his career.
LaMarcus Aldridge has had a substantially more successful career, though Bargnani didn't exactly set the bar too high. The 6'11" forward has been averaging 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds and is a five-time All-Star.
9 9. Who is better?
While both players had similar skill sets coming into the 2006 draft, it's clear that Aldridge has experienced the most success out of the two.
Bargnani did have his limitations on the defensive end but still proved to be a decent offensive player. He peaked in the 2010/11 season where he put up 21.4 points per game on 35 percent shooting from deep.
A forgotten fact about LaMarcus Aldridge is that he was originally drafted by the Chicago Bulls, who then traded him to the Blazers for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa.
Who knows how different his career could've been, being paired with the likes of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah. Nevertheless, he experienced playoff success while with the Blazers but never made it past the Western Conference semi-finals.
8 8. Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams (2005)
After being drafted first by the Milwaukee Bucks, Andrew Bogut was fortunate enough to step into a team where he wasn't expected to completely turn around the franchise. The Bucks finished with an underwhelming 30-52 record before drafting the Australian but Bogut would help them reach the playoffs for the second time in three years in his rookie season.
Milwaukee already had a decent roster, led by Michael Redd who averaged 25.4 points per game. Bogut held his own and averaged 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in Milwaukee but suffered from a multitude of injuries.
Marvin Williams meanwhile has had a good but not great career. Originally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, the 6'9" journeyman was a viable third option alongside Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. But after being traded to the Jazz in 2012, Williams began to further develop his jump shot and became a potent shooter.
7 7. Who is better?
After signing a multi-year extension with the Bucks, Bogut was shipped to Golden State in exchange for Monta Ellis and featured prominently as the Warriors won the NBA title in 2015. Unfortunately, injuries have once again plagued the Australian, with the most recent coming 58 seconds into his debut for the Cavaliers, ruling him out indefinitely.
Despite his injuries, Bogut has forged an admirable NBA career and proven he can still contribute on a championship team after returning from serious injuries.
In each of the last five seasons, Bogut has averaged more than 3.2 assists per 100 possessions and peaked at 5.6 assists in the 2014-15 season.
Unsurprisingly, that was the year the Warriors won their first championship since 1975.
6 6. Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor (2004)
The 2004 draft was headlined by two athletic players in Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor. While their careers would go in essentially opposite directions, both were defensive-minded bigs who averaged more than a block per game.
Drafted straight out of high school, Dwight Howard was selected first overall by the Orlando Magic and won three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
While averaging 20.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game, Howard would carry the Magic to the Finals in 2009 but they would fall to the Lakers. Disappointed with the lack of success, Howard forced his way out of Orlando and was traded to Los Angeles but soon clashed with Kobe Bryant.
Emeka Okafor also enjoyed a successful career but nowhere close to the level of Howard. During his first five years in Charlotte, he averaged double-digits in scoring while blocking 1.9 shots per game.
5 5. Who is better?
Howard has been one of the most polarizing players of this generation with a number of critics arguing that he doesn't have the right attitude to win an NBA title.
After reportedly clashing with Kobe in Los Angeles and with James Harden in Houston, Howard has settled into a back-seat role with the Atlanta Hawks. Howard still averages a double-double but his time outside the spotlight has led to his career being somewhat rejuvenated.
The likelihood of Howard winning an NBA title is looking slim as the Eastern Conference continues to improve and opposing big men are able to stretch the floor. But take nothing away from the Atlanta native, who has been one of the best big men in the league throughout the past decade.
4 4. LeBron James and Darko Milicic (2003)
Out of the past 15 years, no top two draft picks could have had such drastically different careers. While LeBron James has gone on to become arguably one of the greatest players of all time, Darko Milicic bounced between six different NBA teams before finally retiring in 2013.
The Cavaliers drafted LeBron straight out of high school and it was easy to see why. While he couldn't bring a title to Cleveland during his first stint with the Cavs, LeBron averaged a ridiculous 27.8 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
On the other end of the spectrum, second-overall pick Darko Milicic currently works as a farmer in Serbia.
3 3. Who is better?
It's practically impossible to find anyone who could make a legitimate argument that Darko Milicic turned out to have a more successful career. Maybe in farming, but certainly not basketball.
After a 52 year drought, LeBron was finally able to deliver a championship to the city Cleveland, albeit after making a quick pit-stop in Miami. The Cavs made history by becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit in a miraculous NBA Finals.
King James' ability to dominate all aspects of the game is reflected in his trophy case; four NBA titles, four MVP trophies, and three Finals MVP trophies.
2 2. Yao Ming and Jay Williams (2002)
Many NBA players will look back on their career and wonder what could have been, but none more so than Yao Ming and Jay Williams.
The 7'6" giant was drafted by the Houston Rockets and immediately made his presence known. Between 2002 and 2009, Yao averaged 19.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.
But his career was unfortunately riddled by a number of foot injuries, with a stress fracture in his left ankle sidelining him for all but five games across his final two seasons in the NBA. Yao would officially retire in 2011 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
1 1. Who is better?
Considering that Yao Ming is in the Hall of Fame, you have to give the edge to Yao.
A motorcycle accident prior to the 2003-04 season saw Williams hospitalized as he severed a nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three of the four main ligaments in his left knee.
Williams was waived by the Bulls and unfortunately would not return to the court. Just last year, the 35-year-old released a book titled "Life Is Not An Accident" which recounts his battle with depression and recovery from the gruesome accident.
Williams currently works as a host on ESPN analyzing college basketball.
Conversely, Yao Ming has led a quiet life following his exit from the NBA. While still owning a team in the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao has been fighting ivory trade across Africa by attempting to persuade China to stop buying the luxury good.
Both Williams and Yao have good reasons to look back on their respective NBA careers and wonder what could have been. But in the end, the injuries they sustained puts life into perspective and helped them look at the bigger picture.
Many fans would've loved for their careers on the court to have been extended but it's clear that both players have worked hard and made the most of the opportunities that they have been afforded off the court.
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