The Best NBA Draft Pick Ever Taken with Each 1st-Round Selection
With the 2014 NBA draft set for June 26, you might be wondering what type of player your favorite team will acquire with its first-round pick.
With a little help from the Draft Finder on Basketball-Reference, we have your answer. The tool allows for the user to see every player ever taken with every pick.
Based mostly on win shares, but with a little flexibility for active players, I found the best (for some selections the word "greatest" would be hyperbolic) player chosen in the first round with each selection.
One note for clarification: The player had to be chosen in the first round. For example, Alex English might be the best player ever taken with the No. 23 pick, but he was selected in the second round, so he didn’t qualify.
On each slide, the team that officially chose the player and the draft year are listed next to the name. Some teams and players will seem out of place because they were involved in draft-day trades. Those situations will be explained on the slide.
Other notable players appear on each slide as well. They are named according to the relative strength of the draft position, and they are presented here in order from 1-30.
Dare to dream.
Stats here are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise specified.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks, 1969
Not surprisingly, the No. 1 pick looks like a veritable, "who’s who" of NBA history. Every notable on here is a former league MVP.
Still, despite the colossal figures represented, it’s easy to pick Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here, who was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969.
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,837 points. He’s third in rebounds with 17,440. Despite being a center, he’s 38th in assists with 5,660. Only two other players are in the top 50 of all three major box-score criteria: Larry Bird and Kevin Garnett.
Abdul-Jabbar won six championships, six MVPs and two Finals MVPs. He was named to 19 All-Star teams, 15 All-NBA teams and 11 All-Defensive teams.
His jersey is retired by both teams he played for, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.
With all due respect to the other giants on this list, he stands above them all. I have him second on my list of greatest to ever play.
2. Bill Russell, St. Louis Hawks, 1956
Other Notables: Jerry West, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Bob Pettit, Isiah Thomas, Bailey Howell, Wes Unseld, Rick Barry, Kevin Durant
You read that right. In 1956, the St. Louis Hawks chose Bill Russell with their No. 2 pick. Then, they promptly traded him to the Boston Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.
While Hagan would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, he was no Russell.
Russell is the winningest player in NBA history, helping the Celtics go on to win 11 championships in 13 years, the first of which came over the Hawks in his rookie season.
Russell was a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. He is second all time with 21,620 rebounds.
He is also arguably the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.
3. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Other Notables: Kevin McHale, Dominique Wilkins, Pau Gasol, Grant Hill, Bob Cousy, Carmelo Anthony, Pete Maravich
Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the history of the game, so it goes without saying he’s the greatest player ever taken third.
The accolades around Jordan are huge. He was a six-time NBA champion, six-time Finals MVP, five-time league MVP and 10-time scoring champion.
He is the all-time leader in career player efficiency rating, at 27.9. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only two players in history to average 30 points per game for their careers, with Jordan’s 30.12 slightly edging out Chamberlain’s 30.06 for the all-time lead.
And, while we could go on all day with the numbers, there’s one thing that indisputably puts Jordan above every other player in history: He saved Tune Land from the Monstars.
4. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets, 2005
Other Notables: Dolph Schayes, Dikembe Mutombo, Chris Bosh
Chris Paul is barely 29, but he’s starting to climb the career-achievement ladder. In the nine seasons he’s played, he’s already reached several milestones, surpassing 11,000 points and 6,000 rebounds.
In fact, the only two players in history who match Paul’s numbers in points, rebounds and assists before turning 30 are Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson.
Paul is already 29th historically in career assists. If he maintains his career average of 679 per season, he’ll move up into the top 10 in just three more years.
If he maintains his steal rate, he’ll be closing in on the top 10 there too, sitting around 11th or 12th.
By the time he retires, Paul should have a resume that places him among the best point guards in NBA history.
5. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves, 1995
Other Notables: Charles Barkley, Ray Allen, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade
When we discuss the greatest all-around players in history, Kevin Garnett often gets omitted from the conversation, but he might be the titleholder.
Part of the reason for this is that when we think of all-around players, we tend to focus on the ones who run the team and do everything well (i.e., scoring point guards and point forwards).
But as a power forward, that’s not really Garnett’s job and never has been.
Set aside that concept, and just look at Garnett’s numbers. He has 25,626 points, 14,201 rebounds, 5,306 assists, 1,785 steals and 2,010 blocks. No one else is even close to putting up collaborative career numbers like that in those five areas.
Let’s just start with points and rebounds. Only five other players in history have 25,000 points and 14,000 rebounds.
Of those, only two—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone—also have 5,000 assists. Only one, Abdul-Jabbar, has 2,000 blocks. And, only one, Malone, has 2,000 steals. In other words, only two players even come close to matching Garnett in even four of the five traditional numbers.
Lest you argue that's just cherry-picking, if we drop the standards to 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks, there is still no one in history who comes close to filling box scores like Garnett.
Across the board, he has no peer.
Now, throw in the fact that Garnett was named to 12 All-Defensive teams and won the Defensive Player of the Year (2008), and that vindicates him on the other side of the ball.
Garnett has a legit case for best all-around player in history, and that’s enough to give him the edge over Charles Barkley for best No. 5 pick.
6. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics, 1978
Other Notables: Adrian Dantley, Lenny Wilkens
Larry Bird is widely viewed as one of the greatest players in history. He helped lead the Boston Celtics to three NBA championships, won two Finals MVPs, three league MVPs and was a 12-time All-Star.
He averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game over the course of his career. The other players who have accomplished that are…well, there aren’t any.
So how did such a great player drop to sixth in the draft? Here’s an explanation from New World Encyclopedia:
The Boston Celtics selected the 6'9," 220-pound Bird 6th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft, even though they were uncertain whether he would enter the NBA or remain at Indiana State to play his senior season. Bird ultimately decided to play his final college season at Indiana; however, the Celtics retained their exclusive rights to sign him until the 1979 Draft due to the NBA's "junior eligible" rule that existed at the time. The rule essentially allowed a collegiate player to be drafted when the player's original "entering" class was graduating and giving them one calendar year to sign them, regardless of whether they entered the NBA or decided to stay in college. Shortly before that deadline, Bird agreed to sign with the Celtics for a $650,000 a year contract, making him the highest-paid rookie in the history of the NBA up to that point. Soon thereafter, the NBA draft-eligibility rules were changed to prevent teams from drafting players before they were ready to sign. The rule is called the Bird Collegiate Rule.
7. John Havlicek, Boston Celtics, 1962
Other Notables: Chris Mullin, Kevin Johnson, Bernard King
You know what it’s like to be a four-time defending champion and draft a future Hall of Fame player like John Havlicek? Neither does anyone else except for the 1962 Boston Celtics.
In retrospect, it’s unbelievable that they were able to do that—and incredibly fortuitous. The Celtics of the late 1950s and '60s are famous for their 13-year run, but in many ways they were two teams, almost completely changing rosters in the span.
Havlicek and Bill Russell were what enabled that transition to occur. By the 1965-66 season, he was joining his teammates in the All-Star Game. By 1969, he was the only All-Star other than Russell on the Leprechauns.
Even after the Celtics' 13-year reign of terror, he helped the team to two more championships, in 1974 (where he was the Finals MVP) and 1976. In the end, he retired with eight rings and was named to 13 All-Star teams.
Havlicek remains the Celtics’ all-time leader in games, minutes and points.
8. Robert Parish, Golden State Warriors, 1976
Other Notables: Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf
Robert Parish was chosen by the Golden State Warriors in 1976 and played four years in the Bay Area.
Then he was traded to the Boston Celtics, along with the No. 3 pick which ended up being Kevin McHale, for No. 1 and No. 13 picks that would turn into Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown, respectively. Brown and Carroll had respectable careers. But, yeah, Golden State lost that trade.
Parish and McHale would go on with Larry Bird to form one of the greatest trios in league history, winning three championships.
In a great "could have been," the Warriors nearly had a Big Three of their own with Bernard King, McHale and Parish.
Parish is the all-time leader in games played. He is one of two players to see action in 21 seasons, with Kevin Willis being the other. Parish won four titles (his last coming with the Chicago Bulls in 1997) and was an All-Star nine times.
9. Dirk Nowitzki, Milwaukee Bucks, 1998
Other Notables: Shawn Marion, Tracy McGrady, Otis Thorpe
Dirk Nowitzki was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, but they immediately traded him and Pat Garrity to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert "Tractor" Traylor. Interestingly, Garrity was then traded to Phoenix in a package for some guy named Steve Nash.
Nowitzki is easily the greatest player in Mavericks’ franchise history, probably the greatest European player ever, and he is moving up the list of greatest players the NBA has seen, period.
He’s ninth all time in career win shares and 10th in points. If he matches last year’s production, next season he would jump to sixth and seventh, respectively.
He also redefined the power forward position as the first truly great stretch 4.
He’s been named to 12 All-Star teams and 12 All-NBA teams.
Does he get the level of respect he’s earned, though? For example, Bill Simmons only has him ranked 39th all time. Just food for thought.
Where does Nowitzki’s legacy land with the other greats? And do we subconsciously downgrade him because of his European roots?
10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics, 1998
Other Notables: Horace Grant, Eddie Jones
Paul Pierce is the greatest non-great player ever.
And now you’re wondering what on earth that means.
Pierce has compiled some amazing numbers for his career, totaling 25,031 points, 6,999 rebounds and 4,483 assists.
There are only six players in NBA history who exceed him in all three standards: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, John Havlicek, Kevin Garnett and Oscar Robertson—all of whom would be on most "top-20 all-time" lists. Pierce wouldn’t be.
Of those players, the only one who never won the MVP was Havlicek, but at least he finished in the top five twice.
Pierce has never even been an afterthought for the award. The closest he ever came was the 2008-09 season, when he finished seventh, getting one third-, two fourth- and 10 fifth-place votes, according to NBA.com. In fact, 108 voters didn’t even put him on the ballot.
He’s only finished 10th or better in win shares three times, and he's never been better than fifth.
He’s been a consistent top-10 to top-20 player in the league for a long time. He’s been named to 10 All-Star teams. However, he's only been named to four All-NBA teams, once to the second team and thrice to the third team.
He’s been very good and consistent for so long that in the totality of his career, he becomes great, even though he was never truly "great" at any one time.
So, like I said, he’s the greatest non-great player ever.
11. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers, 1987
Other Notables: Kiki Vandeweghe, Jamaal Wilkes, Robert Horry
Reggie Miller is the easy selection here. Faced with a choice between Miller and Kiki Vandeweghe, I didn’t have to give it a lot of thought.
Miller spent his whole career with the Indiana Pacers, who drafted him in 1987. And while most people consider him to be one of the great three-point shooters of all time, I wonder how much thought has been given to how many deep balls he would hit in today’s NBA.
When Miller played, the three-point shot was used nowhere near as frequently as it is today. Consider this: Over his career, Miller attempted 4.7 deep attempts per game. This season, 37 players took that many.
With today’s drive-and-kick offenses and emphasis on scoring efficiency and stretching the court, you have to wonder what kind of destruction he could unleash upon the league.
Miller was a five-time All-Star and is second all time in three-pointers.
12. Julius Erving, Milwaukee Bucks, 1972
Other Notables: Cedric Maxwell, Mookie Blaylock
The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Julius Erving with the 12th pick in 1972. It was a bit of a gamble because the rival ABA already had a team with Erving under contract, the Virginia Squires.
So, after getting drafted by the Bucks, Erving did the only reasonable thing: He tried to go play for the Atlanta Hawks.
Huh? Per his NBA.com bio:
When Erving's college class graduation rolled around that year, he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round (12th pick overall) of the 1972 NBA Draft. It may be tortuous for Bucks fan to reflect upon that now as Erving, Abdul-Jabbar along with a veteran Oscar Robertson would have been quite an assemblage of talent.
However, during this time players were playing musical teams and Erving was no exception. Rather than attempt to play for the Bucks, he attempted to jump to the Atlanta Hawks before the 1972-73 season began. Prior to Atlanta games, he would be at the arena ready to don a Hawks uniform, but he was legally barred from playing due to court injunctions initiated by the Squires and a court order eventually forced his return to Virginia four games into the ABA campaign.
How great would have that Abdul-Jabbar, Erving, Robertson trio been?
He eventually came to the NBA after the ABA and NBA merged, at which time Erving was a New Jersey Net. According to Erving's ESPN bio, "Nets owner Roy Boe couldn't afford to keep Erving, so he sold his contract to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million."
As a Sixer, Erving helped the team to a championship in 1983.
He scored over 30,000 points as a professional (ABA and NBA combined) and became one of the key figures in transitioning the NBA from a sport where the Finals were shown on Sunday afternoon tape delay, to a live, prime-time sport.
13. Kobe Bryant, Charlotte Hornets, 1996
Other Notables: Karl Malone
Maybe 13 isn’t such an unlucky number after all? Both Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone were taken with that pick. And while Malone is the second all-time leading scorer and a two-time MVP, Bryant was the easy choice here.
First, Bryant has been a pretty good scorer in his own right. He’s fourth all time and could still catch Malone in that category, though missing most of last season will make it more difficult. And Bryant also has an MVP.
But he has five rings to his credit, which is five more than Malone. And while it’s true that teams, not individuals, win championships, the difference between five and zero is dramatic. And it’s not like Malone never had help (see No. 16).
All said, the two best No. 13 picks in history stand up with any draft position after No. 1. That sounds pretty lucky to me.
Bryant is a 16-time All-Star. His four All-Star Game MVPs are tied for the most ever with Bob Pettit. He’s been named to 15 All-NBA teams and 12 All-Defensive teams. He also has two scoring titles to his credit.
14. Clyde Drexler, Portland Trail Blazers, 1983
Other Notables: Tim Hardaway, Peja Stojakovic, Dan Majerle
There’s a club that exists only in my head: "The Victims of Jordan." They are the players who lived in Michael Jordan’s shadow and as a result don’t have the prestige they would today had it not been for their dastardly nemesis.
The mythical club’s president is Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. He was a great all-around player; he just wasn’t as great as Jordan.
During Drexler’s prime, from 1987-88 to 1991-92, he was one of only two players who totaled 10,000 points, 2,500 assists and 3,000 rebounds over the stretch, yet he was dwarfed by Jordan.
And that was the problem for his whole career. He was "not Jordan."
Jordan had a huge name, endorsements and worldwide fame. He was putting up massive numbers. He played in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city.
Drexler toiled away in Portland. The first time he made it to the Finals (1990), he lost to the Detroit Pistons.
When he got there a second time (1992), Jordan’s Chicago Bulls beat him.
When he finally won a championship in Houston with the Rockets, it was "just because Jordan was retired."
No, Drexler was not Jordan, but he was better than history remembers him. He was a 10-time All-Star and was named to five All-NBA teams. He’s one of the five best to ever play the position, and he’s one of just three players to record 20,000 points, 6,000 assists and 6,000 rebounds. And Jordan’s not one of them!
Take that, MJ!
15. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns, 1996
Other Notables: Brent Barry, Al Jefferson
On the offensive side of the ball, Steve Nash could very well be the best combination of passing and shooting in NBA history.
No player has ever shot for a higher percentage than him from two, three and the free-throw line. In fact, only Mark Price has come close.
As a passer, only two players, John Stockton and Chris Paul, have at least 5,000 dimes and a higher assist percentage than Nash’s 41.5.
Factoring in his ball-handling abilities and his knack for moving through traffic, Nash is the perfect point guard on offense.
On defense, though, not so much. You get crossed over by Justin Bieber one lousy time, and the Internet never lets you forget about it.
Nash has two MVPs to his credit, has been named to eight All-Star teams and has the third-most assists in history.
16. John Stockton, Utah Jazz, 1984
Other Notables: Metta World Peace
When John Stockton was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 16th pick in 1984, it was met with boos—literally. It surprised everyone, and not pleasantly.
As the video above reveals, the Jazz just hoped he would be a capable back up to All-Star Rickey Green. And for three years, that’s what he did.
Once he stepped in as the starter, he became the all-time leader in steals and assists. It’s safe to say he exceeded expectations.
And his career lead in assists is positively massive. In fact, he has 30.7 percent more than any player in history.
Looking through the records in the four main North American sports, I can find only two athletes who have that much statistical dominance in a major cumulative stat.
Wayne Gretzky has 34.0 percent more points than any NHL player (and 36.4 percent more assists). Jerry Rice has 30.2 percent more receiving yards than any NFL receiver. Both are considered among the greatest in the history of their sport, if not the greatest.
Stockton was named to 10 All-Star teams and made All-NBA on 11 occasions.
"Boo me now!"
17. Shawn Kemp, Seattle SuperSonics, 1989
Other Notables: Jermaine O’Neal, Doug Christie, Josh Smith
Among big men, Shawn Kemp, aka The Reignman, was the best in-game dunker I’ve ever seen. Currently, the only one who can come close is Blake Griffin. Kemp was better at creating dunks out of the post than Griffin, though.
While he was in Seattle, Kemp played his best years.
In the 1995-96 season, he helped the Sonics to a 64-18 record. The team went on to the NBA Finals where they were promptly run over by the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan.
A year later, Kemp got miffed when the SuperSonics wouldn't renegotiate his contract and claimed he would never play for them again.
So, they traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He gained excessive weight and pretty much destroyed his career by doing so.
Still, for those year in Seattle, he was positively electric.
He was named to six All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams.
18. Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons, 1985
Other Notables: Mark Jackson, Ricky Pierce, David West
Joe Dumars was a part of the "Bad Boy" Pistons who won titles in 1989 and 1990. Also, before there was the "Victims of Jordan Club" (see No. 14), Dumars’ Pistons were making victims of Jordan. And of everyone else in the league.
They played team ball. They also played hard, physical basketball. If you listened to them, it wasn't dirty. If you asked anyone they played against, it was filthy. Which was it?
In a nifty little piece for FiveThirtyEight, Benjamin Morris proves empirically that they were dirty and that it helped them win. He did so by looking at technical fouls, which he charmingly refers to as "badness":
Boom! Using badness relative to a team’s era as the measure, the top two baddest teams are the two Bad Boys teams that won championships. For once, a harder look at the data seemingly confirms rather than undermines a popular sports narrative.
But there’s something even more fascinating going on here: Technical fouls are bizarrely predictive of success. Individually, they give the other team a free attempt at another point, which should have about the same effect on the game as a turnover; they have no business indicating strength as well as they do. But they do. Not only are better teams more likely to get technicals (and vice versa), but “bad” plays may themselves add value. In other words, the Bad Boys may have been onto something.
So why am I talking about the Bad Boys and not just Dumars?
Dumars made six All-Star teams and earned a Finals MVP. He merits his place here, but I think the Bad Boys should always be treated as a group.
They were a team to the core.
19. Rod Strickland, New York Knicks, 1988
Other Notables: Zach Randolph
Rod Strickland had a fairly unique career. He played for a long time as a serviceable but unrecognized point guard. He bounced around from team to team, putting up solid numbers.
Then he peaked at 31 with the Washington Wizards, registering 10.5 assists per game in the 1997-98 season. After that, his numbers started to decline, but he still remained capable as he aged.
Just through sheer aggregation of years, he accumulated some impressive career totals. Only eight other players match him in points and assists.
One of them, Andre Miller, is the player I think of as the most like him. Both stuck around forever, and neither ever made an All-Star team.
To put the length of Strickland’s career in perspective, shortly after he was drafted, George H.W. Bush was elected president. Shortly after Bush’s son was elected to his second term, Strickland retired. That’s longevity.
20. Larry Nance, Phoenix Suns, 1981
Other Notables: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jameer Nelson
Larry Nance was chosen by the Phoenix Suns in 1981. The power forward would go on to make three All-Star teams, in 1985, ’89 and ’93.
He had a solid career, averaging 17.1 points and 8.0 rebounds, but he never made it deeper in the postseason than the conference finals.
Nance’s claim to fame, though, was winning the NBA’s first Slam Dunk Contest.
Suns.com quotes the Phoenix Suns 25th Anniversary book:
Nance was nothing short of sensational. His dunks included reverse slams, wrap-arounds and a two-fisted reverse utilizing two basketballs. Erving and Nance took the competition to new heights in the final round, where Nance emerged victorious after “Doc” missed one of his three dunks.
The win earned Nance the nickname, The High-Ayatollah of Slamola.
21. Rajon Rondo, Phoenix Suns, 2006
Other Notables: Michael Finley, Jeff Foster, Boris Diaw
Rajon Rondo was technically drafted by the Phoenix Suns, but he was immediately traded to the Boston Celtics on draft night.
Interestingly, the pick started off with the Los Angeles Lakers and was dealt to Boston, then to the Atlanta Hawks, who traded it to Phoenix. No wonder Rondo has been involved with so many trade rumors in his career; it started in the proverbial draft womb!
Rondo earned a reputation for incredible all-around play alongside the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Near the end of the era, people were even beginning to say it was more of a Big Four, which was a fair assessment.
Over the last five years, counting regular season and postseason games combined, Rondo has 29 triple-doubles, the most in the NBA.
Rondo tore his ACL, though, in January 2013. When he came back nearly a year later, he essentially had a new team and a new coach. Garnett and Pierce were gone, and Brad Stevens had taken over for Doc Rivers at the helm.
Rondo only played 30 games, missing sporadic time here and there, but showed promise that he can regain the form he had before he got injured. The Celtics, though, weren’t doing well, going 6-24 with him in the lineup.
And this will be the next challenge for Rondo’s career: He can produce numbers, but can he deliver wins as the leader of the team?
Rondo has one ring to his credit. He's been named to four All-Star teams, one All-NBA team and four All-Defensive teams.
22. Norm Nixon, Los Angeles Lakers, 1977
Other Notables: Reggie Lewis, Kenneth Faried
Quick! Who was the starting point guard when the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship in 1982?
If you guessed Magic Johnson, according to Basketball-Reference, you’re wrong. Johnson was starting for the Lakers, but he was the shooting guard. Norm Nixon was the point guard.
To be fair, positions weren’t so clearly defined. Both did plenty of running the offense and plenty of scoring.
Nixon wasn’t just there as a role player, either. He was a legit threat, averaging 16.9 points and 7.9 assists in the years he shared the backcourt with Johnson. In ’82 they became the only pair in history to average 17 points and eight assists for the same team.
Nixon was named to two All-Star teams and was on the Lakers for two of their championship runs, 1980 and 1982. But he’s often a forgotten part of the era.
23. A.C. Green, Los Angeles Lakers, 1985
Other Notables: Tayshaun Prince
A.C. Green was primarily notable for two things.
First, he did not get hurt. He missed three games his second season and then played in 1,192 consecutive games straight over 16 seasons.
Second, he was a bit of a "Tim Tebow" for his day, remaining celibate until his wedding night when he was 38 years old.
While he was never a statistically dominant player (9.6 points, 7.4 rebounds for his career), he did make one All-Star team in 1989-90 and was named All-Defensive second team in 1988-89. He helped the Lakers to three titles.
In retirement, Green has a ministry devoted to helping children develop the same type of strength and character he demonstrated as a man and player during his career.
24. Terry Porter, Portland Trail Blazers, 1985
Other Notables: Sam Cassell, Andrei Kirilenko, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka
Those paying careful attention will note something interesting.
A.C. Green, the best player ever chosen 23rd, was taken in the same draft as Terry Porter, the best player ever taken 24th. Joe Dumars (No. 18) also represents the 1985 draft, as does Karl Malone (who didn’t make the list but only because of Kobe Bryant).
That non-lottery haul popped out to me as the best of any years since the inception of the sweepstakes.
But onto Porter. Steve Nash was the only non-lottery pick to amass more career win shares than his 110.4. Over 17 years, Porter had 15,586 points and 7,160 assists.
He spent his best years with the Portland Trail Blazers, the team that drafted him, averaging 14.9 points and 7.0 assists.
He made two All-Star teams, in 1990-91 and 1992-93, and he missed the playoffs only once in his career.
25. Gerald Wallace, Sacramento Kings, 2001
Other Notables: Nicolas Batum
Gerald Wallace has had a 13-year career in which he’s played for five different teams. His best years were spent in Charlotte where he averaged 16.4 points 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He made one All-Star team in 2010 and was named to the first-team All-Defensive team the same year.
Since then, his career has spiraled. He averaged just 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds last season for the Boston Celtics.
His selection here is more an indication of the weakness of the picks than his accomplishments. I couldn’t justify putting Nicolas Batum here yet, as Wallace has 59.6 win shares to Batum’s 32.2.
There’s a good chance Batum will pass Wallace eventually, though.
26. Vlade Divac, Los Angeles Lakers, 1989
Other Notables: Kevin Martin, Taj Gibson
Vlade Divac was taken in the 1989 draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. After seven non-spectacular but reasonably productive years, he finally delivered for the Lakers in a big way—by getting traded to the Charlotte Hornets for Kobe Bryant.
Divac played two years in Charlotte before signing with the Sacramento Kings where he spent six years.
He was a versatile big who passed well, averaging 3.1 assists for his career. He was one of only eight centers to average 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in multiple seasons. That made him a critical part of a team that was among the league's elite offenses while he was there and noted for sharing the ball.
The Kings lost in seven games in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, a series to this day marred by the controversy of Tim Donaghy fixing games as a referee. You'd be hard pressed to find a Kings fan that doesn't still feel robbed.
Divac made one All-Star team, in 2001.
The other "contribution" that Divac brought to the sport was flopping.
Divac not only admitted he did it, he boasted that he practiced for it, telling Kevin Modesti (h/t thefreelibrary.com), "It's just timing, like any other move you have to work on. A lot of times it comes when the official has been missing calls, and you know that they know they're wrong (and they owe you one)."
At least as a pick he wasn’t a flop.
27. Elden Campbell, Los Angeles Lakers, 1990
Other Notables: Arron Afflalo
A side note to point out here is that Elden Campbell accounts for the fourth Los Angeles Laker to make the bottom third of this list, along with Norm Nixon (22), A.C. Green (23) and Vlade Divac (26). That indicates the Lakers of the '80s and '90s drafted well.
Campbell was one of the Lakers' most productive players in the '90s before he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets, where he filled the void left by Divac, who had departed in free agency.
He played three years there, was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics and later signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2003. As a backup big man, he helped the Detroit Pistons upset the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 Finals.
Campbell is currently 29th in NBA history with 1,602 career blocks.
28. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, 2001
Other Notables: Greg Ostertag
It is only fitting that a San Antonio Spur sits near the bottom of this list. The Spurs have built a dynasty by patching late draft picks, D-League players and waiver-wire pickups around their lone lottery selection, Tim Duncan.
And now, with Duncan 38, Parker has assumed the role of bearing most of the offensive burden. The "loop" sets and heavy picks the Spurs run are all predicated upon Parker's niche for maintaining his dribble, utilizing screens, keeping his head up and finding open shooters.
Parker has six All-Star nods to his credit, including each of the last three. He won the Finals MVP in 2007 and has been on four championship squads with the Spurs.
There are only 16 players who have more assists, points and win shares than Parker, and they are all in the Hall of Fame already or are expected to be first-ballot entries.
29. Josh Howard, Dallas Mavericks, 2003
Other Notables: Nazr Mohammed
The No. 29 pick doesn’t have a very good history behind it. In fact, Josh Howard, with 38.0 career win shares, has the most of any player taken with it. That places it as the worst of any first-round selection.
Sadly, it could have gone better. Howard actually started off looking like a promising player.
He was developing steadily for the Dallas Mavericks for the first six years of his career. From the 2005-06 season to the 2008-09 season, he averaged 18.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He even made the All-Star team in 2007.
Howard had one setback after another following that, and his career imploded. He only played in 76 more games before essentially washing out of the NBA.
30. David Lee, New York Knicks, 2005
Other Notables: Jimmy Butler
For a team that has been reckless with its draft picks for most of the new millennium, the Knicks sure scored when they grabbed David Lee with the last pick of the first round in the 2005 draft.
In fact, based on win shares, Lee is the best pick the Knicks have taken since 1988 when they chose Rod Strickland. Lee is also the 11th-best selection in their entire history, going by win shares.
But in the James Dolan era of the Knicks, if there’s a way to screw up a good thing, he will. Dolan, trying to secure a "super team," signed Amar’e Stoudemire in the summer of 2010 and dealt Lee to Golden State in a sign-and trade (from which none of the players the Knicks received produced anything meaningful).
Since then, Stoudemire has accumulated just 18.6 win shares in four years. David Lee, meanwhile, has generated almost 50 percent more than that (27.8) with his new team. And he’s cost them about $43.7 million less.
Lee has made two All-Star teams and was named third-team All-NBA for the 2012-13 season.
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