NBA Draft Lottery: 5 Best Lottery Picks from Each Draft Class Since 2001

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMay 10, 2011

NBA Draft Lottery: 5 Best Lottery Picks from Each Draft Class Since 2001

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    In a little over a week, the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery will take place.  In a span of maybe five minutes or less, fans will be glued to their TVs and the anticipation will mount as it is determined which team will get the highly prized No. 1 overall pick.

    For those who aren't aware, the NBA Draft Lottery is the process that determines the draft order for the 14 NBA teams that were not fortunate enough to make the playoffs. 

    It is during this part of the actual draft that the best players are usually taken.  Two notable lottery picks in the NBA today are LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat (pictured at left).

    The 2011 NBA Draft Class is shaping up to be a good one, and the lottery will certainly shape the order of things.  That being said, let's go back in time and look at lottery picks through the ages.

    Here are the top five lottery picks from each NBA draft since 2001.

2001, No. 5: Jason Richardson

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    Don't let the frustrated look on his face fool you.  Before being taken fifth overall by the Golden State Warriors, Jason Richardson was a stud shooting guard at Michigan State, even winning a national championship in 2000. 

    His talents translated well to the NBA, as he averaged 18.2 points per game in six seasons with Golden State before being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Richardson has since been traded to the Phoenix Suns and most recently to the Orlando Magic, but should command a big contract this offseason despite being 30 years old. 

    He is still a great three-point shooter and also dunks with authority.  Remember, he won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie in 2002 and again the next year.

    On top of that, J-Rich is easily one of the most popular players in Warriors' history.  Honestly, how many other people write a letter of apology to the fans after missing the playoffs? 

    With his classy attitude and electrifying play, Jason Richardson is the perfect man to kick off 2001.

2001, No. 4: Shane Battier

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    Considering how he was taken sixth overall out of Duke by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001, Shane Battier's career numbers aren't what one would necessarily call overwhelming. 

    He has only averaged 9.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, pretty low for someone who's 6'8" and weighs 220 pounds.  Still, Battier has proven to be one of the top defenders and three-point shooters in the NBA.

    On top of that, Battier is a great leader.  In a career with the Grizzlies and Rockets, he has been an astounding locker room presence. 

    This season, the Rockets traded him back to the Grizzlies and he was instrumental in helping that young squad not only clinch the final playoff spot in the West but also eliminate the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

    With his blue-collar play and winning personality, Battier gets my recognition.

2001, No. 3: Richard Jefferson

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    Richard Jefferson played his college ball under the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona.  Translation: he was a great shooter in a system focused around the guards. 

    He was good enough in college to be picked 13th overall by the New Jersey Nets and for six of his seven seasons there, he was Jason Kidd's go-to guy.

    As a Net, Jefferson averaged 17.7 points per game and was instrumental in helping the team make the NBA Finals his first two seasons. 

    The Nets would make the playoffs the next four seasons as well, much in part to the spectacular play of Jefferson, Kidd and Vince Carter.  Besides that, he is currently the Nets' second all-time leading scorer.

    With his price rising, he was eventually traded from the Nets to the Milwaukee Bucks and after one season there, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs. 

    He's no longer the top shooter he was at the start of his career, but Jefferson can still be counted on to score points when called upon and has settled nicely into his role with the Spurs.

    With a new contract signed last offseason, look for Jefferson to be a large part of the Spurs' plans moving forward.

2001, No. 2: Joe Johnson

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    Joe Johnson was picked 10th overall out of Arkansas in 2001 by the Boston Celtics.  He didn't even play one full season with them, averaging 6.3 points per game before being traded to the Phoenix Suns.  There, his career took off.

    Johnson became an integral part of then-Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense and averaged 15.2 points per game before being sent to the Atlanta Hawks in a sign-and-trade deal. 

    Once in Atlanta, he averaged 20 or more points per game for his first five seasons and was a highly-coveted free agent last summer.  He ultimately chose to remain with the Hawks on a new six-year contract worth $119 million.

    Since having Johnson on the team, the Hawks have become perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference.  Their star guard is, as I have said many times before, part of the most dangerous starting five in the NBA. 

    He's only 29, so he's got plenty of good years left in him, and perhaps a championship is in his future.

    With his shooting touch, Johnson is the No. 2 man in the 2001 lottery.

2001, No. 1: Pau Gasol

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    This dynamic seven-footer had an interesting draft day.  He was picked third overall by the Atlanta Hawks, and was then immediately traded to the then-Vancouver Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.  In his rookie season, Gasol averaged 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

    Still, the Grizzlies were a young and inexperienced team and only made the playoffs twice with Gasol on their squad.  They were eliminated in the first round each time and with his price rising, Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008.

    Since joining the Lakers, Gasol has been someone the team can count on if Kobe Bryant is having an off-night.  In three and a half seasons with the team, he has been a top scorer and dynamic rebounder and shot blocker. 

    Combine that with his helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, and he is definitely the top lottery pick of 2001.

    Plus, he's a four-time All-Star.  What's not to like?

2002, No. 5: Drew Gooden

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    Considering how Drew Gooden was the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft, it's astounding how many teams he has played for.

    Here they are: Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (2002-2003), Orlando Magic (2003-2004), Cleveland Cavaliers (2004-2008), Chicago Bulls (2008-2009), Sacramento Kings (2009), San Antonio Spurs (2009), Dallas Mavericks (2009-2010), Los Angeles Clippers (2010), and Milwaukee Bucks (2010-present).

    His career in the NBA might not be as stellar as it was during his college days at Kansas, but Gooden has still been a reliable power forward ever since turning professional. 

    He consistently scores double-digits in both points and rebounds, and coaches seem to genuinely like having him on the team (same can't be said for the front office, apparently).

    He might not have the career numbers the experts thought he would, but Gooden is still solid enough that he gets to kick off 2002.

2002, No. 4: Caron Butler

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    For the past five seasons, Caron Butler has proven to be a reliable guard in his time spent with the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.  Yet, before joining either of those teams, Butler was making a name for himself with the Miami Heat, who drafted him 10th overall out of Connecticut.

    As a rookie, he started all 78 games in which he played and averaged 15.4 points per game as well as 5.1 rebounds. 

    After two years in South Beach, he was traded with Lamar Odom to the Los Angeles Lakers in the deal that brought Shaquille O'Neal to Miami.

    Butler broke out with the Wizards, being one of their "Big Three" along with Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas. 

    After four and a half seasons in DC, he was traded to the Mavericks and flourished there.  He was a top contributor this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

    He might not have any championship rings or considered one of the best, but Butler has been enough of a contributor throughout his career that he can be considered a top lottery pick of 2002.

2002, No. 3: Nene

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    This lottery pick brings a tear to my eye. 

    In 2002, my beloved New York Knicks drafted Nene with the seventh overall pick and then immediately traded him and fan favorites Marcus Camby and Mark Jackson to Denver for Antonio McDyess and the 25th overall pick, which the Knicks used to draft guard Frank Williams out of Illinois.

    The rest of the story goes like this: McDyess missed all of the 2002-2003 season and only played 18 games for the Knicks the following season.  Williams rarely saw any playing time and was out of the NBA by 2005.

    Nene, on the other hand, became one of the top big men in the league.  His toughness in the middle has been essential to the Nuggets' success as of late, and his inside scoring is hard to defend.

    One can only wonder what could have been if the Knicks had hung onto him.  Yet, that's a debate for another day.  Anyway, on to the next pick.

2002, No. 2: Yao Ming

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    After being a star in his native China for five years, it's no surprise that Yao Ming was taken by the Houston Rockets with the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.

    Though he's known more today for his injury problems, Yao was a dominant center in his career's early years, at least when he was healthy.

    Let's not forget that this man averaged 20 plus points and 10 plus rebounds per game twice and has averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for his career. 

    He hasn't played a full season since 2008, but Yao Ming still deserves recognition as a lottery pick, not only because of his skills, but because of how much he helped expand the NBA to a whole new market.

2002, No. 1: Amare Stoudemire

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    When I heard Amare Stoudemire's name called at the 2003 draft, I immediately assumed he would be a high school player who never lived up to his potential. 

    Rather, I was proven wrong as the ninth overall pick went on to become a star for the Phoenix Suns and most recently, the New York Knicks. 

    In his rookie season, the man they call "Stat" averaged 13.5 points and 8.7 rebounds as he beat out Yao Ming and Caron Butler for the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

    Since that season, Stoudemire has made six All-Star teams and become one of the top power forwards in the NBA. 

    He has averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds for his career and basically made the New York Knicks relevant again before the Carmelo Anthony trade even happened.

    Out of all the lottery picks of 2002, Stoudemire has the brightest future.  Thus, he gets the top spot of this year.

2003, No. 5: Kirk Hinrich

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    The 2003 NBA Draft was certainly a good one.  Four of the greatest players in NBA history were taken with the first five picks and we'll get to them later, but I'd like to kick this draft's lottery picks with the 7th overall pick: a guard from Kansas named Kirk Hinrich.

    Hinrich was a star point guard at Kansas, helping the Jayhawks become national runners-up to Syracuse in 2003. 

    The Chicago Bulls chose him with the seventh overall pick and since then, he has become an effective three-point shooter and decent defender.

    The Bulls traded him to the Washington Wizards last offseason and he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks this season, but Hinrich has been able to be successful in a league where his style of play is slowly dying. 

    For his tough play, he kicks off 2003.

2003, No. 4: Chris Bosh

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    The Toronto Raptors took Chris Bosh with the fourth overall pick in 2003.  Six All-Star games later, it's a safe bet that the team and its fans were upset when he bolted wintry Toronto for sunny Miami. 

    He had a modest rookie campaign, only averaging 11.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but his career only went up from there .

    For his career, Bosh has averaged 20 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, as he is easily one of the top forward/centers in the NBA. 

    He may have been the odd man out in Miami's "Big Three" this season, but he has been instrumental down the stretch.  He is a deadly shooter from any spot on the court.

    Given his all-around skills, it's no wonder he was a lottery pick.

2003, No. 3: Dwyane Wade

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    I remember when watching Dwyane Wade play college ball for Marquette, I thought he would be a star.  The Miami Heat then took him with the fifth overall pick in 2003, and a new legacy was born.

    Like Bosh, Wade had a modest rookie season: he averaged 16.2 points in only 61 games.  Yet, he averaged 24.1 points the next season and today is considered one of the best guards in the league.

    He helped the Heat win their only NBA Championship in 2006 against the heavily-favored Dallas Mavericks, and he was named MVP of the Finals.  Wade has also made seven All-Star teams.

    Despite being a great shooter with a career average of 25.4 points per game, Wade is also a great defender with a career average of 1.8 steals per game. 

    With a great team to work with, look for the Heat to make life hard for the rest of the Eastern Conference for years to come.

2003, No. 2: Carmelo Anthony

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    As a freshman at Syracuse University, Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to a national championship.  He declared for the draft shortly afterward and was taken third overall by the Denver Nuggets and became an instant hit. 

    In his rookie season, Anthony averaged 21 points and six rebounds per game.  For his career, he is averaging 24.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

    Long story short, Anthony brought the Nuggets franchise out of the doldrums and made them regular contenders. 

    Even after trading him to the New York Knicks this past season, the team continued to look good.  Once he was in the Big Apple, his play helped the Knicks make the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

    He helps to improve any team he plays on, so Carmelo Anthony is definitely one of the better lottery picks of 2003.  Just ask his four All-Star berths.

2003, No. 1: LeBron James

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    Going into the 2003 NBA Draft, LeBron James was probably the most-hyped high school player in league history. 

    Even in the months preceding the draft, it was fairly common knowledge that he was going to be the first overall pick.  That ended up coming true, as the Cleveland Cavaliers were the lucky team.

    In his rookie season, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game as he was named the league's top rookie. 

    Today, putting my feelings about him aside, I can safely say that he is the best all-around player in the NBA.  He can shoot, rebound and pass; his career averages are 27.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and seven assists per game.

    On top of that, his career accolades are unbelievable.  James is a two-time MVP, has seven All-Star berths, has played in the NBA Finals, the list goes on. 

    Love him or hate him, there's no denying that he was the top lottery pick of 2003.

2004, No. 5: Andre Iguodala

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    In a fairly weak lottery class of 2004, Andre Iguodala was one of a few bright spots.  He was an average player at Arizona, so it was surprising that the Philadelphia 76ers chose him with the ninth overall pick.

    He started all 82 games his rookie season, but only averaged nine points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

    However, Iguodala improved and put up scoring averages of 12.3 and 18.2 points per game the next two seasons. 

    He has become a decent shooting guard, but was been plagued by injuries last year.  Still, there's no denying that when Iguodala is on, he is on.

    He gets his recognition as a lottery pick for helping the Sixers get back to the playoffs this season.

2004, No. 4: Luol Deng

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    After one year at Duke, Luol Deng entered the draft and was taken seventh overall by the Phoenix Suns, then was immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls.  In an injury-shortened rookie campaign, he averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

    Deng has been a solid contributor throughout his career, be it coming off the bench or as a starter.  His only issue is health, but he is good enough when at 100 percent that those issues can be brushed off. 

    He has averaged 16 points and 6.3 rebounds for his career and is a fan favorite in Chicago.

    Throw in his charity work and 2007 NBA Sportsmanship Award, and Deng is a pretty good lottery pick.

2004, No. 3: Kris Humphries

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    2010-11 was Kris Humphries's seventh year in the NBA, but his performance this past season is enough to call him a great lottery pick. 

    The Utah Jazz took him 14th overall out of Minnesota and he had stints with them, the Toronto Raptors and the Dallas Mavericks before settling in with the New Jersey Nets. 

    Last season, he averaged 10 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.  In March alone, he averaged 14.2 points and 14.8 rebounds.

    Humphries might not have been a lottery pick with immediate impact, but his breakout this past season is reason enough to mention him.  He is a free agent this offseason and will surely demand a big contract.

2004, No. 2: Devin Harris

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    After three good years at Wisconsin, Devin Harris was chosen fifth overall by the Dallas Mavericks.  He did not do much as a rookie, only 5.7 points and 2.2 assists. 

    However, after overcoming injuries, a trade to the New Jersey Nets and then another to the Utah Jazz, plus playing on some pretty bad teams, Harris can now be considered one of the better point guards in the NBA.

    Last season, with the Jazz and the Nets, he averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 assists per game.  Harris is injury prone and pretty much a risk/liability with any team he plays for, but he is a master at driving to the basket and is a decent passer as well. 

    He made the All-Star team in 2009 and if he stays healthy, he will make more All-Star squads.

2004, No. 1: Dwight Howard

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    Out of all the lottery picks of 2004, Dwight Howard is (and I know I'm going to get a lot of hate for saying this) the only A-list name. 

    He was the first overall pick out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and after putting up modest numbers in his first NBA season (12 points, 10 rebounds, 1.7 blocks), he is now a basketball legend.

    In 2010, Howard averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.  For his career, he has averages of 18.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.  His accomplishments and awards are a completely different story.

    The man they call "Superman" has made five All-Star teams and has won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award three consecutive years.  If he can get some support in Orlando, he can hopefully add a championship ring to his resume.

2005, No. 5: Raymond Felton

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    In 2005, Raymond Felton was the starting point guard for the University of North Carolina team that won the tournament that year. 

    He opted to skip his senior season and enter the draft.  He was picked fifth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats and flourished.  In his first year in the NBA, he averaged 11.8 points and 5.6 assists.

    For his career, Felton has been a solid and dependable point man for the Bobcats, Knicks and Nuggets.

    His career averages of 13.7 points and 6.7 assists are a testament to him being a team-first player and was slowly becoming an elite point guard for the Knicks this season before being sent to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade.

    He might not be a flashy point guard like Deron Williams or Chris Paul, but Raymond Felton easily makes this list as one of the more underrated lottery picks of all time.

2005, No. 4: Andrew Bynum

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    The 2004-2005 season was an interesting one for the Los Angeles Lakers.  They were without Phil Jackson all season thanks to the Zen Master taking a year off, and underachieved all season long. 

    They missed the playoffs and were awarded the 10th pick in the draft, using it to pick center Andrew Bynum out of high school.

    Bynum was a non-factor his rookie year, appearing in only 46 games and averaging just 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds. 

    Yet, the oft-injured center was instrumental in the Lakers winning the NBA Finals last season.  He has respectable career averages of 10.5 points and 7.1 rebounds.

    He may have only one full season under his belt but it can't be denied that when Bynum is on, he is ON.  I tip my hat to him on this countdown.

2005, No. 3: Andrew Bogut

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    This tall Australian was drafted first overall out of Utah by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005 and has become an effective big man in the seasons since. 

    He had a modest rookie campaign, averaging 9.4 points and seven rebounds, and has not played a full season since.

    He may get banged up easily, but Andrew Bogut has become one of the top shot blockers in the NBA each of the past two seasons.  During that stretch, he has averaged 2.5 blocks per game.

    He's not the best center in the NBA, but Bogut's tough play is enough to land him a spot on this feature.

2005, No. 2: Deron Williams

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    In three years at Illinois, Deron Williams put up respectable averages of 11 points and 5.9 assists per game.  He was drafted third overall by the Utah Jazz and was expected to fill the void left by the legendary John Stockton.  His rookie numbers were average, as he put up 10.8 points and 4.5 assists per game.

    Four seasons later, Williams was one of the NBA's elite point guards as he was averaging double digits in both points and assists. 

    In 2010, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris and made an immediate impact before missing most of March and April with a wrist injury.

    With career averages of 17.2 points and 9.2 assists, Williams deserves recognition as one of the best lottery picks of both 2005 and of all time.

2005, No. 1: Chris Paul

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    After two years at Wake Forest, Chris Paul entered the draft.  The New Orleans Hornets took him with the fourth overall pick and he was an instant sensation. 

    He averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 assists and won the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2006.  He has made four All-Star teams and besides being a great offensive force, Paul is a phenomenal defender.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here.  If there's anybody in the game today who can average a triple double, it's Chris Paul. 

    Despite being just six feet tall, he crashes the boards with the drive and strength of a center or power forward.  Given his electrifying presence on the court, he is the No. 1 lottery pick of 2005.

2006, No. 5: Tyrus Thomas

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    2006 was a year of another weak lottery class, and one of the few bright spots was power forward Tyrus Thomas. 

    He was taken by the Chicago Bulls out of LSU with the fourth overall pick and while he isn't a top offensive big man, he still plays great defense in the post.

    Injuries have plagued him the past couple of seasons, but Thomas has still been a valuable defensive presence on the Bulls and most recently, the Charlotte Bobcats.

    He gets recognition here on the Shane Battier Clause: tough defense and leadership in the locker room.

2006, No. 4: Andrea Bargnani

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    This Italian seven-footer was taken first overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2006, deemed by scouts as a Dirk Nowitzki type.  He took some time to adjust to the NBA but today, Andrea Bargnani is a talented shooter.

    This past season, he averaged 21.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game on a Raptors team that had very little to cheer about.

    He may be slowed down by nagging injuries, but the 25-year-old Bargnani has a bright future. 

    His defense may never be dominant, but his shooting touch will continue to improve over the next couple of years. 

    If he can get out of Toronto, all the better.

2006, No. 3: Rudy Gay

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    Before turning pro, Rudy Gay was a star for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut.  After his sophomore season, he declared himself eligible for the draft and was taken eighth overall by the Houston Rockets, immediately being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Gay had a modest rookie campaign and averaged 10.8 points, but since then has become one of the NBA's best shooters and the Grizzlies' go-to guy on offense. 

    Over the past four seasons, he has averaged 19.6 points per game and has been instrumental in the Grizzlies becoming contenders. 

    He has missed most of this season with an injury and has not been a factor in the playoffs, but look for Gay to be Memphis's biggest cheerleader on the sidelines and a force next year as they try to get back to the playoffs.

2006, No. 2: Brandon Roy

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    After four years at the University of Washington, Brandon Roy entered the draft and was picked sixth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves before being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Like many lottery picks, he made an immediate impact.  In his first year, he averaged 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and four assists as he was named Rookie of the Year despite only playing in 57 games, due to injury.

    Injuries have been Roy's problem throughout his career, as he has only played in more than 70 games twice. 

    Still, his career average of 19 points per game make his injury problems fairly easy to overlook.  If he can stay healthy, look for the 26-year-old to continue improving his game.

2006, No. 1: LaMarcus Aldridge

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    The Chicago Bulls picked LaMarcus Aldridge with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, and immediately traded him to Portland. 

    Why they did that is a mystery to me.  This past season, Aldridge established himself as one of the top big men in the NBA.

    Aldridge averaged a career-high 21.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.  I still don't understand why he wasn't named to the All-Star team. 

    Considering how he only averaged nine points and five rebounds per game as a rookie, he has certainly come a long way, with career averages of 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.

    With Marcus Camby slowing down with age, look for this top lottery pick to become the go-to guy in the middle in Portland.

2007, No. 5: Mike Conley Jr.

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    On paper, Mike Conley is not what one would call an elite point guard.  He has only averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 assists per game for his career.  While respectable numbers, they do not put him in the same league as the Chris Pauls and Deron Williams of the league.

    Yet, with his hard-nosed defense and leadership attitude, he has been essential in turning the Grizzlies into contenders. 

    Each of his four seasons in the league, he has improved in all major offensive categories.  The same goes for steals, he averaged 1.8 per game in 2010-2011.

    Conley is still young at 23, so his ceiling is still very high.  If he can keep playing the way he has for all of his career, then he'll soon become not just a great lottery pick, but a great NBA point guard.

2007, No. 4: Thaddeus Young

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    Many of you have probably never heard of Thaddeus Young.  He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2007 with the 12th overall pick.  At this point in his career, he can best be described as a defensive forward.

    Young played college ball at Georgia Tech and in his sole season there, averaged 14.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.  Those numbers are about the same on the professional level, with career averages of 12.5 points and 4.9 rebounds.  Given how small forward is a crowded position in Philly thanks to Andre Iguodala's presence, I'm going to say those stats are pretty impressive.

    Like many of the people I've mentioned, Young isn't a lottery pick that is flashy with his game.  He's just a player who goes to work everyday and puts his team first.  On top of that, his defense makes him valuable as he also averages a steal a game.  Thus, he is recognized here.

2007, No. 3: Joakim Noah

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    At age 26, Joakim Noah is quietly becoming one of the better big men in the NBA.  He doesn't put up Shaq-like numbers, but still plays a good game in the post.  He was taken 9th overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2007 and has been instrumental in their recent successes.

    Noah struggled his first two seasons, only averaging 6.6 points and rebounds per game and an arrest for drug possession in 2008 called his maturity into question.  Yet, for the past two seasons, he has improved immensely despite missing significant time with injuries.  He has averaged 11.2 points and 10.7 rebounds over that stretch.

    Noah still has a lot to learn, and could easily become great if he stays healthy.  His sole dedication to the game earns him a spot here.

2007, No. 2: Al Horford

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    When the Atlanta Hawks chose Al Horford with the 3rd overall pick in 2007, I knew he would be something special.  Four years later, I think I've been proven right.  He has improved his offense each of his four seasons, going from 10.1 points per game as a rookie to 15.3 today.

    His 6'10", 240 pound frame is perfect for an NBA big man and most importantly, he has turned the Hawks from underachievers into contenders.  Currently, they are locked in a battle with the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see how that matchup pans out.

2007, No. 1: Kevin Durant

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    In his one year at Texas, Kevin Durant was a stud shooter for the Longhorns.  As a freshman, he averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds.  He entered the draft and was selected 2nd overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder (then Seattle SuperSonics).

    In his first pro season, Durant averaged 20.3 points and was named Rookie of the Year.  His game improved each year after that.  For the past two seasons, he has led the league in scoring and has astounding career averages of 25.9 points and 6.3 rebounds.  There's no denying that this two-time All-Star is one of the game's best.

    And to think that the Portland Trail Blazers chose Greg Oden instead of him.  What were they thinking????

2008, No. 5: Eric Gordon

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    For one year, Eric Gordon was a star guard for the famed Indiana Hoosiers program.  He averaged 20.9 points per game in one college season and then entered the draft.  The Los Angeles Clippers selected him with the 7th pick.

    Gordon did fairly well his first year, averaging 16.1 points per game.  That statistic has improved each of the past two seasons, with averages of 16.9 points his second year and 22.3 points this past season.

    The only knock against Gordon is that he is not much of a point guard.  Most of his career, he has been exclusively a shooter.  Yet, his assist averages have improved each of his three years in the NBA and now that Baron Davis is out of LA, he can hopefully become a top point guard and the leader of the Clippers along with Blake Griffin.

2008, No. 4: Brook Lopez

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    This seven-footer is truly a dynamic player.  The New Jersey Nets took him with the 10th overall pick and he immediately produced.  As a rookie, he averaged 13.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

    The next year, he upped those totals to 18.8 points and 8.6 rebounds.  Last season he averaged a career high 20.4 points and while the rebound average dropped to six, we can't fault him for that.  He was adjusting to Avery Johnson's coaching style and Kris Humphries was doing most of the rebounding duties.

    Either way, Lopez is a solid young center and if the Nets can bring in some help for him, perhaps they will finally get back to the playoffs.

2008, No. 3: Kevin Love

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    The Memphis Grizzlies drafted Kevin Love 5th overall and then immediately traded him to the Minnesota TImberwolves.  Over his first two seasons, he split his time between the bench and the starting lineup and averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds.  Last season, however, he was a full-time starter and had a breakout year.

    Love averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds per game, making his first All-Star game and winning the NBA Most Improved Player award.  On top of that, he shot 41 percent from three-point range.

    The fact is that Love is a great player on a team that needs a lot of help.  If the T-Wolves use their draft pick wisely and bring in a top point guard to feed Love the ball, then they might just have a shot at the playoffs in 2011.

2008, No. 2: Russell Westbrook

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Westbrook with the 4th overall pick with the intention of getting a top point man to feed Durant the ball.  The former UCLA Bruin has done just that and more.

    As a rookie, he averaged 15.3 points and 5.3 assists.  The next season, those averages rose to 16.1 points and eight assists.  This past year, he had a career high 21.9 points and 8.3 assists per game and made his first All-Star team.

    He and Durant have exhibited great chemistry the past three seasons and if that continues, the Thunder have nowhere to go but up.

2008, No. 1: Derrick Rose

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    First overall pick in 2008 and reigning NBA MVP.  Need I say more?

2009, No. 5: James Harden

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    The Thunder took Harden with the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 draft.  Yet, he was not immediately inserted into the starting lineup.  Rather, he is the team's shooter off the bench.

    Harden has excelled in that position, averaging 9.9 points in 2009 and 12.2 points this past season.  In all honesty, given his touch, I don't understand why he comes off the bench and Thabo Sefolosha starts.

    Can you imagine an Oklahoma City Starting lineup featuring Durant, Westbrook and Harden?  Now that's a REAL Big Three.

2008, No. 4: Demar DeRozan

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    When I learned that USC guard DeMar DeRozan was leaving school for the NBA after one year, I shook my head.  Here was a young man who could be a college star and then a great professional player, but instead he was risking it all after one year.  Still, the Toronto Raptors took him 9th overall.

    Sure enough, DeRozan didn't make much of an impact his rookie year.  He averaged just 8.6 points in an offense centered around Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.  Yet, when Bosh left for Miami, he was given the opportunity to blossom.

    This season, DeRozan averaged an impressive 17.2 points and showed that if given the chance, he can be an effective guard.  If the 6'7" shooter improves his three-point shot, he will become truly deadly with the rock.

2008, No. 3: Brandon Jennings

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    The story of Brandon Jennings is an interesting one.  Rather than play one year of college ball and then enter the NBA draft, he chose to play one year in Italy instead.  He was good enough in Europe that the Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the 10th pick.

    While Jennings hasn't been bad by any means, he has been very inconsistent.  Though he has a point guard's build at 6'1" and 169 pounds, he plays like a shooter.  He has respectable career averages of 15.8 points and 5.3 assists, but needs to improve on his skills as a point guard.

    He's still young at 21, so there's plenty of time.  Look for him to improve over the next couple of years and bring the Bucks back to the playoffs.

2008, No. 2: Stephen Curry

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    Before being chosen 7th overall by the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry had a reputation as a pesky shooting guard for Davidson College.  In three seasons there, he averaged 25.3 points per game on 41 percent three-point shooting.

    His shooting touched followed him to the NBA.  Over two years, he is averaging 18 points per game and has made an astounding 44 percent of his three-pointers.  He's a perfect fit for Golden State, so look for him to continue putting up impressive numbers.

2009, No. 1: Blake Griffin

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    I know, I know.  Blake Griffin was the Rookie of the Year in 2010-2011, so why is he being featured as part of 2009?  Well, believe it or not, Griffin was drafted by the Clippers in 2009 with the 1st pick in the draft!

    Yet, Griffin missed all of that season due to microfracture surgery on his knee.  Thus, he was considered a rookie this past season and more than impressed everyone.  He averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds.

    As long as Griffin's knees hold up, we can expect him to be a top power forward for years to come.  If the rest of the team around him gels, look for the Clippers to turn from pretenders into contenders.

2010, No. 5: Evan Turner

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    There's no other way of saying this.  Evan Turner's rookie year was a major disappointment.  After averaging 15.4 points per game over the course of three years at Ohio State, he only averaged eight points in his first year with the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected him 2nd overall.  Those aren't exactly numbers you'd expect from someone who was signed to a three-year deal worth $12 million.

    The facts are simple.  Turner is the type of player who needs to play regularly in order to be effective, and he didn't get that opportunity that often this season.  Unless the front office can find a way to unclog the backcourt currently occupied by Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks, Turner will slowly become a bust.

    Yet, that doesn't take away from the fact that he is too talented to not include on this list of best lottery picks.  Fingers crossed, he'll improve next season.

2010, No. 4: Greg Monroe

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    After two years at Georgetown, Greg Monroe entered the draft and was taken 7th overall by the Detroit Pistons.  As a rookie, he averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  Call me crazy, but that's unacceptable for someone who's 6'11" and weighs 250.

    Yet, we must cut Monroe some slack as the Pistons were a mess all year.  Coach John Kuester clashed with the players all season long and if the new ownership can bring in a coach who works well with young players instead of pissing the entire squad off, then Monroe can develop fully.

    He's from a program famous for centers, so he gets on this countdown because of his high ceiling.

2010, No. 3: Ed Davis

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    Before turning pro, Ed Davis was a talented big man for North Carolina.  He was picked 13th overall by the Toronto Raptors and spent some time in the D-League before becoming a full-time starter.  He averaged 7.7 points and 7.1 rebounds as a rookie.

    While Davis is talented, he's simply too small to be an effective big man on the NBA level at this point.  He has the height at 6'10", but his 215 pound frame is a recipe for disaster.  Yet, he showed flashes of potential towards the end of the season and if he can beef up a bit in the offseason, perhaps he can fill the void left by Chris Bosh.

2010, No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins

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    After one year at Kentucky, power forward DeMarcus Cousins joined his teammate John Wall in the draft.  He was taken 5th overall by the Sacramento Kings.  Overall, he had a solid year and averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds.

    Yet, the one issue with Cousins appears to be maturity.  In a game between the Kings and the New York Knicks, Knicks broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier made an interesting point.  In practice, whenever Kings coach Paul Westphal or one of his assistants tried to coach Cousins, he took it as criticism and lashed out.

    His attitude got him into trouble this season when he got into an altercation with a teammate on the team flight before takeoff.  He was removed from the plane and suspended.

    If Cousins can adjust his attitude, he can become a great big man.  More importantly, he could be the saving grace for a franchise mired in uncertainty.

2010, No. 1: John Wall

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    In one year at Kentucky, John Wall was simply great.  He averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft.  Subsequently, the Washington Wizards drafted him with the 1st overall pick.

    Sure enough, Wall had a decent rookie season.  He averaged 16.4 points and 8.3 assists, building a rapport with the team's young talent like guard Nick Young and center Javale McGee.  Yet, he of course got a little shooter-happy and only shot 29 percent from three-point range.

    However, Wall has an extremely bright future.  If he can improve his all around game as a point guard and continue to build chemistry with future stars like Young and McGee, then the only way for the Wizards to go is up.  At that point, the magic will be injected back into the franchise.