No one can oversell the qualities that make a player worthy of the top selection in the NBA Draft. A baller who lives up to his promise can change a franchise’s fortunes and deliver a decade’s worth of dazzling performances and Larry O’Brien Trophies.
As talk about the John Wall sweepstakes boils, I decided to examine and rank the previous 25 No. 1 picks.
The comatose, abominable squads in the hunt for the explosive Kentucky guard—a dynamite speedster with pogo-stick hops—should know what happens when a worshiped collegiate or international athlete flops. Faulty selections can haunt a front office for years. Some executives harbor delusions a failed pro just needs a bit more seasoning when he has been over-salted, peppered, and charred.
In the previous 25 years, the team with the top selection missed the draft’s best player at least 12 times, with one year too close to call and another incomplete. The list includes all top picks from 1986 to now.
Hoops bosses should know how this works. The GMs who passed on Brandon Roy in 2006 do not get a pass because of his concerning injury history. Those who said “no thanks” have paid the steep price.
All drafts involve guesswork. If GMs could use science to find sure-fire NBA performers, late June would arrive with less suspense and retrospective report cards would be frivolous.
My top-five and bottom-two choices should not surprise anyone.
A successful No. 1 pick provides his squad a go-to option on one or both ends of the floor. Bill Russell demonstrated that a ferocious defender with primeval offensive skills could lead eight consecutive championship charges. A top pick should also play with poise under pressure and command the respect of his teammates. He must also become a Hall of Fame-caliber superstar.
How many heralded players since 1986 have fulfilled that towering job description?
Players ranked lower than 15 failed to perform the above tasks, while those in the top half of the discussion triumphed at some level.
Our colossal expectations are understandable and justified, since 23 of the last 25 selections have been forwards or centers. Lottery winners tapped guards just twice.
Here’s the list.