Few things in the NBA can change a franchise’s destiny like a No. 1 overall draft pick, but that’s not always a good thing. For every Tim Duncan who can carry the team for more than a decade, there’s a Michael Olowokandi who can’t even stay in the league for a decade.
The latest top prospect to get his chance to sink or swim as a pro is Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, chosen No. 1 by the Hornets last week. It’s much too early to tell what Davis’ NBA future looks like, but after his magnificent season in Lexington, the Hornets have good reason to hope that he will turn out to be the best player in the 2012 draft class.
Read on for a look at Davis and the rest of the last decade of No. 1 overall selections, with an eye both to their NBA performance and to how badly their teams might have wished for a do-over with the advantages of draft-class hindsight.
Greg Oden would’ve been a disastrous enough pick in the top slot regardless of what the rest of the 2007 draft class looked like. But the fact that he was chosen immediately ahead of Kevin Durant adds insult to injury for Blazers fans.
Oden could have been an All-Star center, but devastating knee problems have limited him to just 82 career games in the NBA.
He’s only even appeared in two of the five seasons since he was drafted, meaning that his respectable career averages (9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game) must be taken with a serious grain of salt.
The 2006 draft class was, in retrospect, a pretty dreadful one, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that Andrea Bargnani is ranked so low here.
With the exception of No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge, the top 10 picks were riddled with failures (Adam Morrison, Patrick O’Bryant) and almost-but-not-quite standouts (Randy Foye and Tyrus Thomas).
Bargnani himself has become a fine scorer as the Raptors’ starting center, averaging 21.4 and 19.5 points per game in his last two seasons respectively.
That said, he’s contributed little else besides scoring, grabbing a dreadful 5.5 rebounds a night last year and playing some of the worst defense of anyone starting at his position.
Despite battling his share of injuries, Andrew Bogut has put in some impressive seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. His career averages—12.7 points, 9.3 boards, 1.6 blocks per game—are nothing to sneeze at, and he led the league in rejections in 2010-11.
For all his best efforts, though, the seven-foot Aussie has never made an All-Star team, which can’t help but have contributed to his being dealt to Golden State last season.
Bogut’s standing on this list is also hurt by the slew of genuine stars—Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andrew Bynum—chosen in the nine spots behind him in 2005.
Kyrie Irving’s low spot on this list isn’t any indictment of his brilliant rookie year. Instead, it’s meant to reflect his lack of a track record, considering that he’s played only one NBA season in his career.
Obviously, he made the most of that one pro season, lighting up the scoreboards in winning Rookie of the Year for the otherwise dreadful Cavaliers.
With another impressive draft class likely to strengthen the lineup around him, Irving should improve on his already impressive averages of 18.5 points and 5.4 assists a night.
By definition, Anthony Davis’ ranking here is largely guesswork. Still, it seems safe to project that he’ll belong at least this high once he gets some NBA seasons under his belt.
After all, none of the 10 players on this list can come close to Davis’ college performance, in which he not only led Kentucky to the national title but turned in the fourth-best shot-blocking season in Division I history.
If he's really lucky, he’ll manage something close to the NBA success of the man whose NCAA blocks record he barely missed in 2011-12: David Robinson.
John Wall has done little to improve the cellar-dwelling of the Washington Wizards in two years since being drafted, but it’s hard to fault just Wall for that. After all, the flashy floor general is averaging 16.3 points and 8.2 assists per game at the NBA level.
All-Star openings at the point are going to be hard to come by in the Eastern Conference during Wall’s career, but don’t write him off.
If the Wizards can figure out how to put the right team around him, Wall—one of the most successful player from the 2010 draft at this stage—has the talent to challenge even the likes of Deron Williams and Derrick Rose.
If Ricky Rubio hadn’t gotten hurt, the 2009 draft would’ve produced three players worthy of the Rookie of the Year honor (Tyreke Evans, Blake Griffin and Rubio).
Even in that rarefied company, Griffin has left no doubt that he deserved to be the No. 1 overall selection.
On an individual level, of course, Griffin has been magnificent, averaging 21.7 points and 11.5 rebounds a night in two All-Star seasons since recovering from knee surgery.
Just as important, he’s become the face of the reborn Clippers franchise, turning the team from a recurring butt of jokes into a No. 5 seed in the West last season.
The only thing that keeps Derrick Rose from placing even higher on this list is the fact that he’s never won a conference championship.
With that omission aside—and one more healthy postseason could easily remedy it—Rose has done everything the Bulls could have asked for over his four NBA seasons.
The 2010-11 MVP has averaged as many as 25 points and 7.9 assists per game as a pro, earning All-Star recognition in each of the last three seasons.
After years of mediocrity (or worse), the Bulls are back to being a feared team in the Eastern Conference, and Rose has a lot to do with that.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t missed an All-Star game since making his first appearance as a third-year pro in 2007.
Howard has now led the NBA in field-goal percentage (once), blocks (twice) and rebounding (four times, including last season).
Even if his time in Orlando is at an end, he would be departing having led a squad to the NBA Finals (in 2009) and six straight playoff appearances overall.
He has a long way to go to live up to the boasting that accompanied his arrival in Miami, but LeBron James’ first NBA title has erased the biggest black mark on the superstar’s record.
James, who won his third MVP award this year, has firmly established himself as one of the most dominant players in basketball, and many would place him unchallenged at the top of that list.
Although Kevin Durant has kept him from repeating his 2008 scoring title (the only time he’s led the league in any single category), James is as versatile a player as there is in the game today.
Although there is a case to be made for bumping James down this list because the team that drafted him didn’t reap the benefits of his brilliance, there is also no doubt that the Cavaliers found the right man—and the most skilled No. 1 pick of the last decade.