With the NBA Draft fast approaching, there have been plenty of mock drafts, including my own. There also will be plenty of talk of the greatest busts and mistakes teams have made—in particular at the top of the draft.
But let's focus on the good by looking at the top picks of the last 40 years by selection.
Also, when you are done, check out Ranking the Number One Picks in NBA Draft History
Choosing the top No. 1 pick over the last 40 years was not easy. While there certainly have been some busts, many of the game's all-time greats came into the league with great expectations as top picks.
But, in the end, I had to choose Magic Johnson as the best No. 1 pick of the last 40 years, due to a career of winning. Between 1980 and 1991, Magic led the Lakers to the finals nine times, winning five championships, including back-to-back titles in 1987 and '88 (the first team to win back-to-back titles since the 1968 and '69 Celtics).
In 13 seasons—all with the Los Angeles Lakers—Magic was named to nine All-Star teams, nine first team All-NBA selections, won three regular season MVP awards, and was the MVP of the finals three times.
Magic was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2002.
Honorable Mention: Bill Walton (Portland Trail Blazers, 1974); Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets, 1984); David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs, 1987); Shaquille O'Neal (Orlando Magic, 1992); Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs, 1997); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003)
Long before Thomas was a terrible team president and head coach, he was possibly the best small guard in the history of the NBA. In 13 seasons—all with the Detroit Pistons—he was a 12-time All-Star. Three times he was selected to the All-NBA first team, and twice he made the second team.
Isiah led the "Bad Boy" Pistons to a pair of championships, in 1989 and 1990, with Thomas being named MVP of the 1990 finals.
For his career, he scored over 18,000 points, and in 2000, he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Bob McAdoo (Buffalo Braves, 1972); Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks, 1994); Alonzo Mourning (Charlotte Hornets, 1992); Kevin Durant (Seattle Sonics, 2007)
In what is still difficult to believe all these years later, Michael Jordan slipped to No. 3 in a deep draft that produced four Hall of Famers. The real problem being that the No. 2 pick was spent on someone who did not quite have a Hall of Fame career, allowing Jordan to fall to third in the draft.
Jordan played 15 years in the NBA, 13 with the Chicago Bulls before his final two-year comeback with the Washington Wizards. He was a 14-time All-Star. Ten times he was selected to the first-team All-NBA, and nine times he was a first team All-Defensive.
Jordan was league MVP five times and finished in the top three in MVP voting 10 times. In 1988, he was league MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year.
It would take Jordan until his seventh season to win a championship, but once he did, he would win five more, collecting six Finals MVP awards along the way. He led the Bulls to eight 50 win seasons, five 60-win seasons, and the record-setting 72-win season in 1995-96. Prior to Jordan's arrival, the Bulls had only won 50 games four times, and had not done it since the 1972-73 season.
Jordan is third all-time in career points with 32,293, but did so in just 1,072 games (not even in the top 50 all-time). For a comparison, Jordan played just 51 more games than Kobe Bryant has played, but scored over 6,000 more points. Or put another way, at his current career scoring average, it will take Bryant over 250 more games just to catch Jordan's scoring total.
Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times, each season between 1987 and 1993, and then from 1996-98. His 30.1 points per game average is the highest in NBA history, as is his 33.4 scoring average in the playoffs.
He gave a memorable speech (some may say infamous) at his Hall of Fame induction in 2009.
Honorable Mention: Pete Maravich (Atlanta Hawks, 1970); Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics, 1980); Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks, 1982)
Dave Cowens played 11 seasons in the NBA, 10 for the Boston Celtics. He was a seven-time All-Star and in 1973, he was the league MVP, when he averaged 20.5 points and 16 rebounds for a Celtics team that finished the year 68-14.
Cowens and the Celtics would not win the title that season, but he did lead Boston to a pair of championships, in 1974 and 1976.
Cowens also gets bonus points because I attended his basketball camp as a kid. For his career, he averaged 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Honorable Mention: Dikembe Mutombo (Denver Nuggets, 1991); Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets, 2005)
Prior to his current career as one of the most entertaining personalities in sports broadcasting, Barkley was an all-time great player in the NBA, playing 16 seasons, eight in Philadelphia, and the remainder split between Phoenix and Houston.
Barkley was an All-Star 11 times, and he made five All-NBA first teams and five All-NBA second teams. In his first season in Phoenix, 1993, he earned the league's MVP award and led the Suns to the finals, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
For his career, he averaged 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds, and he ranks sixth all-time in offensive rebounds with 4,260. The "Round Mound of Rebound" averaged an impressive 14.6 boards per game in the 1987 season.
Barkley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Honorable Mention: Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls, 1987); Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves, 1995); Ray Allen (Milwaukee Bucks, 1996); Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat, 2003)
Of all of Red Auerbach's great moves, drafting Larry Bird with the six pick in the 1978 draft—when Bird was eligible to be drafted even though he would play one more year in college (the rules would soon be changed)—may be his greatest.
Bird immediately turned the Celtics around, engineering, at the time, the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history during his rookie season. In his second year, Bird led the Celtics to the championship, and he would help Boston to two more during his career.
Bird played 13 years in the NBA—all for the Celtics—was an All-Star 12 times, and All-NBA first team selection nine times. He won three straight MVPs between 1984 and 1986, and he finished in the top three of MVP voting each year between 1981 and 1988.
In fact, his best statistical seasons were years when he did not win the MVP. In 1987, he averaged 28.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.6 assists, but Magic won the MVP. The following year, he averaged a Celtics single-season record 29.9 points, with 9.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists. A fourth year player named Michael Jordan won the MVP that season.
Bird retired after the 1992 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Honorable Mention: Adrian Dantley (Buffalo Braves, 1976)
Alvin Robertson played 10 years in the NBA, five with the Spurs, and also with the Bucks, Pistons, and Raptors. He was selected to four All-Star teams and averaged 14.0 points per game in his career, with a personal-best 19.6 in 1988 for the Spurs.
But, where he really made his mark was on the defensive end. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team three times and the second team three times. In 1986, he was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
He came up with 2,112 steals in his career, still good for 10th best all-time, and he still holds the record for steals per game over a career at 2.7.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Johnson (Cleveland Cavaliers, 1987)
Robert "The Chief" Parish played 21 years in the NBA, playing in 1,611 games. He started his career with the Golden State Warriors, but prior to the 1980 draft, he was traded along with the No. 3 pick to the Celtics, for what turned out to be Joe Barry Carroll. That third pick for Boston wound up being Kevin McHale. Not a bad deal.
Parish teamed with McHale and Bird to give Boston one of the great front courts in the history of the NBA. Parish would win three championships in Boston; he picked up a fourth ring at the end of his career with the Chicago Bulls.
Parish was a nine-time All-Star who averaged 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in his career. He ranks eighth all-time in NBA history in rebounding and 10th in blocks.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Toney (Philadelphia 76ers, 1980); Detlef Schrempf (Dallas Mavericks, 1985)
Dirk Nowitzki's career did not get off to a great start as he averaged just eight points per game in his rookie season. He would more than double that, though, in his second season, and beginning in his third season, he would never average below 21 points a year.
Nowitzki has been named to nine All-Star teams and is a four-time All-NBA first team selection. In 2007, after leading the Mavericks to the league's top record and averaging 24.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, he would be named league MVP.
For his career, he has averaged 22.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. Showing no signs of slowing down, Nowitzki has averaged over 25 points per game in each of the last two seasons and has played in 162 of a possible 164 regular season games in that span.
Honorable Mention: Tom Chambers (San Diego Clippers, 1981); Charles Oakley (Cleveland Cavaliers, 1985)
The 1998 draft did not get off to a good start with the Clippers taking Michael Olowokandi. But it did improve as it went on, with the Mavericks taking Nowitzki at No. 9 and the Boston Celtics choosing Paul Pierce with the next selection.
Pierce just completed his 12th season in the NBA and has been an All-Star eight times. He has just under 20,000 career points, which is good for third in Celtics history (behind Larry Bird, 21,791, and John Havlicek, 26,395).
Pierce helped lead the Celtics to the 2008 Championship, where he was the Finals MVP.
Honorable Mention: Paul Westphal (Boston Celtics, 1972); Eddie Jones (Los Angeles Lakers, 1994)
Reggie Miller played 18 years in the NBA, all for the Indiana Pacers, where he established himself as one of the game's greatest long-distance shooters. Miller is the NBA's all-time leader in made three pointers, 2560, and three-point attempts, 6,486.
Miller was a five-time All-Star and named to the All-NBA third team three times.
Honorable Mention: Lafayette "Fat" Lever (Portland Trail Blazers, 1982); Robert Horry (Houston Rockets, 1992)
Julius "Dr. J" Erving, spent five years in the ABA before he moved on to the NBA and finished his career playing 11 seasons in the NBA. Combined, he scored over 30,000 points.
In his five years in the ABA, Dr. J averaged 28.7 points and 12.1 rebounds, won two MVP awards, and two championships.
He then went to the Sixers in the NBA where he was an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons, and averaged 22 points and 6.7 rebounds. He was the 1981 NBA MVP and helped Philadelphia win a championship in 1983.
Dr. J was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Honorable Mention: Kelly Tripucka (Detroit Pistons, 1981)
Kobe Bryant, the first guard ever drafted directly out of high school into the NBA, technically spent two weeks as a member of the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. I'm pretty sure the Lakers would do that one over again.
All Bryant has done in his 14 years in the NBA is help the Lakers to four championships, be named Finals MVP in 2009, win the regular season MVP in 2008, and be selected to the All-Star game 12 times. Bryant is a nine-time member of the All-NBA first team and a seven-time member of the All-Defensive first team.
Bryant, who is not even 32 years old yet, is about two seasons away from joining Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul Jabar as the only players to ever score 30,000 points in their NBA careers. He also is on the verge of his seventh trip to the NBA Finals.
Honorable Mention: Karl Malone (Utah Jazz, 1985)
Clyde Drexler would likely have been the game's best shooting guard throughout his career had it not been for Michael Jordan. Drexler played 15 years in the NBA, mostly with the Portland Trail Blazers before finishing up his career in Houston, and was a 10-time All-Star.
In 1992, he was second behind Jordan in the MVP voting. He was named All-NBA first team once, second team twice, and third team twice.
He helped Portland reach the Finals in both 1990 and 1992, losing both times. He then won that elusive championship with the Houston Rockets in 1995. Drexler averaged 20.4 points per game in his career, scoring over 27 a game in both 1988 and 1989, and he finished with 22,195 career points.
Drexler was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2004.
Honorable Mention: Tim Hardaway (Golden State Warriors, 1989)
Nash spent two non-memorable years at the start of his career in Phoenix before going to Dallas, where he still did not do much in his first two seasons there. But something clicked in that fifth season, when Nash's points went from 8.6 per game to 15.6 and his assists from 4.9 to 7.3.
After six seasons in Dallas, Nash returned to Phoenix and won the MVP in his first two seasons back with the Suns. As of the end of 2010, he has 8,397 assists, good for eighth all-time. He has led the NBA in assists four times, including this past season at 11 a game, and has been an All-Star seven times.
Honorable Mention: Dell Curry (Utah Jazz, 1986); Al Jefferson (Boston Celtics, 2004)
Next up is another all-time great point guard. John Stockton played his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz, where he was an All-Star 10 times, made two All-NBA first teams, and six all-NBA second teams.
Stockton led the league in assists each season from 1988 through 1996. He still holds the NBA records for assists in a career, with 15,806, and steals in a career, 3,265. He is also third all-time in games played, 1,504, and fifth all-time in minutes played, 47,764.
Stockton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Honorable Mention: Ron Artest (Chicago Bulls, 1999)
Because Shawn Kemp did not exactly exit the NBA on a high note, it is easy to forget just how good he was early in his career. Kemp played 14 years in the NBA, the first eight in Seattle, where he and Gary Payton led the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals. In that '96 season, he averaged nearly 20 points and a career-best 11.4 rebounds per game.
He was a six-time All-Star and three times was named to the All-NBA second team. For his career, he averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, and he averaged at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in each season from 1992 through 1997.
Honorable Mention: Chris Ford (Detroit Pistons, 1972); Jermaine O'Neal (Portland Trail Blazers, 1996); Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers, 2005)
Joe Dumars teamed with Isiah Thomas to give the Detroit Pistons one of the great backcourts in NBA history.
Dumars spent 14 years in the NBA—all with the Pistons—and was an All-Star six times. At times overshadowed by Thomas, it was Dumars who was the MVP of the Finals when the Pistons won the championship in 1989, and he helped Detroit win a second ring the following season.
Dumars made the NBA All-Defensive first team four times. He averaged a career-high 23.5 points per game in 1993 and 16.5 points per game for his career.
Dumars was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Honorable Mention: Calvin Murphy (San Diego Rockets, 1970)
Nate "Tiny" Archibald has the distinction of being the only player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season when he averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists for the Kansas City Kings in 1973 (he also played an astounding 46.0 minutes per game that season).
Archibald played 13 seasons in the NBA and was an All-Star six times. He never won the MVP, finishing third in 1973 (the Kings were last in their division with a 36-46 record), and was in the top 10 in voting four other times.
After three stops in the first seven years of his career, Archibald moved on to Boston in 1978 and helped the Celtics win the championship in 1981.
Honorable Mention: John Paxson (San Antonio Spurs, 1983); Rod Strickland (New York Knicks, 1988); Dee Brown (Boston Celtics, 1990)
Larry Nance spent 13 seasons in the NBA, split basically evenly between Phoenix, where he began his career, and Cleveland, where he finished it. He made three All-Star teams and three NBA All-Defensive teams in a career where he averaged 17.1 points and 8.0 rebounds.
But, what Nance may be best known for is he was the winner of the first ever slam dunk contest in the NBA in 1984, an accomplishment that helped him earn the nickname "The High Ayatollah of Slamola."
Honorable Mention: Gus Williams (Golden State Warriors, 1975)
After the Suns drafted Rajon Rondo in 2006, he was traded to Boston for a 2007 first round pick and cash considerations. The Suns then sent that 2007 pick to Portland in exchange for cash, so essentially, the Suns traded away Rajon Rondo for money. Phoenix's loss is Boston's gain.
Rondo has improved his points, assists, and steals in each of his four seasons, and in 2010, he made the All-Star team for the first time, led the league in steals, and was named to the All-Defensive first team.
But Rondo has really made his mark in the playoffs, helping Boston win a championship in 2008, including a 21-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist performance in the title clinching Game Six win over the Lakers. In 2009, Rondo nearly averaged a triple double in a series against the Bulls, and then in 2010, he led Boston to an upset win over the Cleveland Cavs, highlighted by his 29 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in the series-turning Game Four victory by Boston.
Honorable Mention: Michael Finley (Phoenix Suns, 1995)
George McGinnis is another player who got his start in the ABA, playing for the Indiana Pacers, winning the ABA MVP in 1975 and a pair of championships in 1972 and '73. For his ABA career, McGinnis averaged 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game.
McGinnis then spent seven years in the NBA with Philadelphia, Denver, and Indiana. He averaged an NBA career-best 23.0 points and 12.6 rebounds in his first season with the Sixers in 1976.
Overall, McGinnis was an All-Star six times, three times in the ABA and three times in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Lewis (Boston Celtics, 1987)
Alex English spent 15 years in the NBA, 11 with the Denver Nuggets. He was an All-Star eight times and a second-team All-NBA selection three times.
His career took off when in the middle of his fourth season in 1980, he was traded to the Nuggets. Prior to the trade, he was averaging 14.9 points (at the time, a career high), but after the trade, he averaged 21.3 for the remainder of the year in Denver, and averaged at least 23.8 points in each of the next nine seasons.
In 1983, he led the NBA in scoring at 28.4 points per game, and he finished his career with 25,613 points, good for 13th most in league history. For his career, he averaged 21.5 points and 5.5 assists.
English was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Honorable Mention: Lloyd "World B" Free (Philadelphia 76ers, 1975), A.C. Green (Los Angeles Lakers, 1985)
The picture explains exactly what Sam Cassell may have been best known for in his NBA career. Cassell played for eight teams in his 15 years, a surprisingly high number for a player that appeared to have such a positive impact on each team he played for.
Early in his career, Cassell was a key member of a pair of championship teams in Houston. In 2001, he teamed with Ray Allen and Glen Robinson to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals. Then in 2004, he put together personal bests of 19.8 points and 7.3 assists in helping the Minnesota Timberwolves advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.
Cassell then capped his career by being a part of the Celtics title team in 2008.
He played in 993 career games and averaged 15.7 points and 6 assists.
Honorable Mention: Terry Porter (Portland Trail Blazers, 1985); Arvydas Sabonis (Portland Trail Blazers, 1986)
Drafted by Dallas, Mark Price was immediately traded to Cleveland where he spent the first nine seasons of his 12-year NBA career. Price was named an all-star four times, was a first team All-NBA selection in 1993, and a third-team choice on three occasions.
In 1993, Price averaged 18.2 points and 8 assists, and shot 94.8-percent from the free throw line. For his career, he averaged 15.2 points and 6.7 assists. Seven times in his career he shot better than 90 percent from the free throw line, and his career free throw percentage of 90.4 stands as the highest in NBA history.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Ruland (Golden State Warriros, 1980); Gerald Wallace (Sacramento Kings, 2001)
Vlade Divac spent 16 years in the NBA, the first seven in Los Angleles with the Lakers before being dealt to Charlotte as part of the Kobe Bryant trade.
Divac made the All-Rookie team in his first season in the league, and over the course of his career, he averaged 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. Divac was also one of the better passing centers in the league, and averaged 5.3 assists per game in 2004.
Divac, in addition to his time spent with the Lakers, is remembered for his six seasons in Sacramento, where he teamed with Chris Webber to give the Kings one of the better passing front courts in the league.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Ward (New York Knicks, 1994)
Dennis Rodman averaged 25.7 points per game in college. But scoring would not be something he would do much of in the NBA. Rodman made a name for himself during his 14 years in the NBA as one of the league's all-time great defenders, rebounders, and agitators.
Rodman won five rings, two with the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons and then three with Michael Jordan and the Bulls. He was the Defensive Player of the Year twice and a seven-time All-Defensive first team selection.
Rodman led the NBA in rebounding each season from 1992 through 1998, and averaged over 18 rebounds per game in both 1992 and 1993. Rodman's 13.1 rebounds per game average over his career is tenth best in NBA history, and all nine of the players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Elden Campbell (Los Angeles Lakers, 1990)
Tony Parker just finished his ninth season in the NBA. He is a three-time All-Star and helped the Spurs to three championships. Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007, the last time San Antonio won the championship.
For his career, he is averaging 16.6 points and 5.6 assists. In 2009, he averaged a career-high 22 points and was a third-team All-NBA selection. Despite having already spent nine seasons in the NBA, Parker is just 27.
Honorable Mention: Dan Roundfield (Cleveland Cavaliers, 1975); Sherman Douglas (Miami Heat, 1989)
Dennis "DJ" Johnson, who passed away in 2007, played 14 years in the NBA with the Seattle Sonics, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics. He averaged 14.1 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in his career, spanning over 1,100 games.
Johnson was even better in the postseason, averaging 17.3 points in 180 career playoff games. In 1979, he led Seattle to an NBA title, scoring 20.9 points per game in the playoffs to go with 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and being named MVP of the Finals.
Johnson would win two more titles, with the 1984 and '86 Celtics. He was a five-time All-Star, and a six-time All-Defensive first team and four-time All-Defensive second team selection.
In 2010, DJ was selected to the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mention: Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Kings, 1981); Vinny Del Negro (Sacramento Kings, 1988); Toni Kukoc (Chicago Bulls, 1990)
Spencer Haywood played one year in the ABA for the Denver Rockets before moving on to the NBA, where he had a 12 year career that included five seasons in Seattle and four in New York.
He was the ABA MVP in his lone season in 1970 when he averaged 30 points and 19 rebounds per game. For his NBA career, he averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds.
Haywoood was a two-time selection to the first-team All-NBA and two-time selection to the second-team All-NBA. In 1980, Haywood was a member of the Lakers team that won the championship.
Honorable Mention: David Lee (New York Knicks, 2005)
1. Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, 1979
2. Isiah Thomas, Detroit Pistons, 1981
3. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1984
4. Dave Cowens, Boston Celtics, 1970
5. Charles Barkley, Philadelphia 76ers, 1984
6. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics, 1978
7. Alvin Robertson, San Antonio Spurs, 1984
8. Robert Parish, Golden State Warriors, 1976
9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, 1998
10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics, 1998
11. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers, 1987
12. Julius Erving, Milwaukee Bucks, 1972
13. Kobe Bryant, Charlotte Hornets, 1996
14. Clyde Drexler, Portland Trail Blazers, 1983
15. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns, 1996
16. John Stockton, Utah Jazz, 1984
17. Shawn Kempt, Seattle Super Sonics, 1989
18. Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons, 1985
19. Nate "Tiny" Archibald, Cincinnati Royals, 1970
20. Larry Nance, Phoenix Suns, 1981
21. Rajon Rondo, Phoenix Suns, 2006
22. George McGinnis, Philadelphia 76ers, 1973
23. Alex English, Milwaukee Bucks, 1976
24. Sam Cassell, Houston Rockets, 1993
25. Mark Price, Dallas Mavericks, 1986
26. Vlade Divac, Los Angeles Lakers, 1989
27. Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons, 1986
28. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, 2001
29. Dennis Johnson, Seattle Super Sonics, 1976
30. Spencer Haywood, Buffalo Braves, 1971
Also, check out Ranking the Number One Picks in NBA Draft History
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