2011 NBA Lottery: Does the No. 1 Pick Really Matter? Every No. 1 Pick in History
Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams, not necessarily in that order, appear to be the experts’ and the internet’s consensus picks for who will go No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft June 23rd.
After that, it’s a jumble of names, any order of which could be called out: Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, Jan Vesely, Kemba Walker, Jonas Valanciunas and others can squeak into the Top Five.
But first, which teams will be picking where needs to be decided tonight.
The 2011 NBA Lottery will be televised…at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN. Those NBA teams that did not make the playoffs will be vying for the No. 1 and successive picks via 1,000 lottery ball combinations. The odds of having “their number called” are based on how bad the teams’ records were in 2010-11.
Well, maybe not this year. There’s another consensus out there — that this draft, for lockout fears or other reasons, is weak.
That may be going a bit far. Those players mentioned above are all pretty good and may all make very good NBAers, and we didn’t get to Jordan Hamilton, the Morris brothers, Kahwi Leonard, Nolan Smith, Kenneth Faried and a fair number of others.
Time will tell if there is a superstar or two in there, but this draft class runs pretty deep with solid, strong, smart students of the game.
As for that No. 1 pick, everyone wants it bad. My first experience with it (and the first lottery by the way) was in 1985, when “the New York Knicks, with their first pick, select[ed] Patrick Ewing of Georgetown.”
Alas, Ewing’s Knicks never won a championship.
But Magic Johnson’s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s and Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers did. So did Tim Duncan’s and David Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs. And Bill Walton’s Portland Trail Blazers, too. Derrick Rose anyone?
Sounds pretty convincing. Get that No. 1 pick and you’re on your way to a ring. Right?
Only 16 No. 1 Picks…
…have won an NBA Championship.
That list in the intro from Magic Johnson to Bill Walton covers about 40 percent of all No. 1 picks who would go on to win it all.
The NBA draft has been around since 1950 (BAA between 1947 and 1949). Out of all 64 drafts, only 16 No. 1 picks—just one quarter —would eventually win a championship. That means 75 percent of the time the first pick would not, a huge number.
Only About One-Third…
…of all NBA and BAA championship teams have had a No. 1 pick on their roster.
23 of the 64 championship teams in NBA/BAA history had a first pick playing for them—35 percent.
Some teams had more than one. The 1987 and 1988 Los Angeles Lakers, for example, had four: Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Mychal Thompson.
Here’s a quick look at the 16 No. 1 picks who would go on to win titles, and all the other No. 1 picks, by decade...
2001-2010: Still Waiting
Derrick Rose (’08) and LeBron James (’03) are the only No. 1 picks from this decade still alive in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. One of them will be going to the NBA Finals and have a very real chance of becoming the 17th first pick to earn a ring.
Yao Ming (Rockets, ’02) did play in 2010-11…five games, before another injury finished another abbreviated season. He’s trying for a comeback that is, according to Reuters, “shrouded in mystery.” I think I know the ending.
Kwame Brown (Wizards, ’01) is on his fifth team in 10 years and has made the second round of the postseason once.
1991-2000: 3 No. 1 Picks from This Decade Become Champions
Kenyon Martin (Nets, ’00) came close, losing back-to-back Finals with New Jersey in 2002 and 2003.
Elton Brand was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in ’99, but was traded to the Clippers two years later. He would eventually get to the second round with L.A., once, the furthest in his still-active 12-year career.
Michael Olowokandi (Clippers, ’98) retired after the 2007 season. He made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 with Minnesota.
1997 No. 1 Pick: San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan (Champion No. 16)
He’s got four with the San Antonio Spurs: 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, winning the Finals MVP the first three of those years.
In the Spurs' latest title win, 2007, it was Tony Parker who snagged MVP honors, as San Antonio banished LeBron and the Cavaliers.
Joe Smith (Warriors, ’95) is still active (barely). He played in 16 regular season and five postseason games, the latter with the Lakers. Smith has been to the postseason 10 times, including twice with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in ’08 and ’09.
Chris Webber (Magic, ’93) also made the playoffs 10 times. He lost in the Western Conference Finals with the Sacramento Kings in 2002 and the Eastern Conference Finals with the Detroit Pistons in 2007.
Four-point play LJ, Larry Johnson (Charlotte Hornets, ’91), made it to the 1999 Finals with the New York Knicks, who lost to the San Antonio Spurs in five.
1994 No. 1 Pick: Milwaukee Bucks, Glenn Robinson (Champion No. 15)
After nine mostly full NBA seasons and then only a half season with Philadelphia in 2003-04, Glenn Robinson was fortunate enough to be signed as a free agent by the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, his last season, one month before the playoffs.
Robinson played in nine regular season games for the Spurs and 13 playoff games. San Antonio beat the Detroit Pistons in seven for the title.
1992 No. 1 Pick: Orlando Magic, Shaquille O’Neal (Champion No. 14)
Shaquille O’Neal has played in 216 playoff games —third all time—over 17 postseasons.
He has four rings: three with the Lakers in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and one with the Miami Heat in 2006.
Shaq was the Finals MVP for those three years in L.A. when the Lakers vanquished the Pacers, 76ers and Nets in that order —and in short order (12 games to three, all together).
1981-1990: 4 No. 1 Picks from This Decade Become Champions
Derrick Coleman (Nets, ’90) went to the playoffs seven times with three different teams. In 2003, he made it as far as the Eastern Conference Semifinals where he and the Sixers fell to the Pistons.
Never Nervous Pervis Ellison (Kings, ’89) played 11 seasons, making the playoffs once in 1995 with the Boston Celtics, who were dispatched 3-1 by the Orlando Magic in Round 1.
1987 No. 1 Pick: San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson (Champion No. 13)
In seven straight playoff years David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs could not get over the hump. It took the addition of Tim Duncan to finally put them over the top in 1999, over the New York Knicks.
Robinson shares another ring with Duncan and the Spurs: 2003, over the New Jersey Nets.
Brad Daugherty (Cavaliers, ’86) was a career Cavalier —eight years worth, five in the playoffs. The 1992 Cavaliers lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls (who were on the way to their second championship), in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Speaking of MJ and the Bulls, Patrick Ewing (Knicks, ’85) may have had a championship or two if not for them. Ewing and the Knicks were bounced from the playoffs five times by those Bulls, but they did make it to the Finals in 1994 and 1999 losing to the Rockets and Spurs.
Ralph Sampson (Rockets, ’83) was long gone from Houston by the time Hakeem Olajuwon brought rings to town in the mid-90's. Sampson did make it to the NBA Finals in 1986, though, but ran into MVP Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
1984 No. 1 Pick: Houston Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon (Champion No. 12)
Hakeem Olajuwon made the postseason 14 of his 17 years in Houston (and once with the Toronto Raptors).
He was on that Rockets team with Ralph Sampson that lost to the Celtics in 1986.
Olajuwon’s Hall of Fame play and patience was rewarded with back-to-back championships and Finals MVPs in 1994 and 1995 against the Knicks and the Magic.
1982 No. 1 Pick: Los Angeles Lakers, James Worthy (Champion No. 11)
James Worthy was a key member of the 1980’s showtime Lakers and won championships alongside Magic and Kareem in 1985, 1987 and 1988 (Celtics, Celtics, Pistons).
Worthy was the Finals MVP in the final year of that dynasty: 1988.
1981 No. 1 Pick: Dallas Mavericks, Mark Aguirre (Champion No. 10)
1971-1980: 3 No. 1 Picks from This Decade Become Champions
Joe Barry Carroll (Warriors, ’80) went to the playoffs four years with four different teams, but never made it past the second round.
Kent Benson (Bucks, ’77) never made it past the second round, either.
John Lucas (Rockets ’76) played for six different teams (three separate times with Houston, too) and made it to the playoffs with four of them, including the Eastern Conference Finals with the then-Eastern Houston Rockets in 1977.
1979 No. 1 Pick: Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson (Champion No. 9)
Magic Johnson won five championships with the Lakers: 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988.
Those first two titles were over Julius Erving's, Dr. J's, Philadelphia 76ers.
Johnson was the Finals MVP three times (’80, ’82, ’87).
1978 No. 1 Pick: Portland Trail Blazers, Mychal Thompson (Champion No. 8)
Mychal Thompson played in over 100 playoff games over 11 postseasons—six years with the Blazers and five with the Lakers.
He was traded from the Blazers to the Lakers via the Spurs in the 1986 offseason and went on to win two rings in L.A. (1987 and 1988).
David Thompson (Hawks, ’75) went to play with the ABA’s Denver Nuggets after being drafted. He was actually the ABA Rookie of the Year in 1976. He joined the NBA with the Nuggets the following year in the merger and went to the Western Conference Finals with them in 1978.
Doug Collins (76ers, ’73) went to the playoffs three times with the Sixers, making it all the way to the Finals in 1977. They lost to the Portland Trail Blazers and the No. 1 pick champion on the next slide.
LaRue Martin (Blazers, ’72) is widely regarded as the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history. He played only four years for the Trail Blazers, never making the postseason, then retired the year before they won it with that “dude” on the next slide again.
Austin Carr (Cavaliers, ’71) went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1976 with the Cavs, followed by playoff cameos in 1977 and 1978. That’s about it.
1974 No. 1 Pick: Portland Trail Blazers, Bill Walton (Champion No. 7)
Bill Walton won it with the Blazers in 1977—against Dr. J's Sixers (again), and was the Finals MVP.
He snagged another ring with the Celtics in 1986, when he was also voted the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
1961-1970: 3 No. 1 Picks from This Decade Become Champions
Bob Lanier (Pistons, ’70) had a lengthy career, 14 years, and finally made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Milwaukee Bucks in his last season, 1983-84. They lost to the Celtics.
Jimmy Walker (Pistons, ’67), pictured, only went to the postseason twice—once with the Pistons and once with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. Neither times proved fruitful.
1969 No. 1 Pick: Milwaukee Bucks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Champion No. 6)
Abdul-Jabbar has played in 237 playoff games, second most ever, over 18 postseasons.
He’s got six rings: one with the Bucks (who defeated the Baltimore Bullets in 1971), and five with the Lakers and Magic Johnson (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988).
Abdul-Jabbar was the Finals MVP in 1971 and, again 14 years later in 1985.
1968 No. 1 Pick: San Diego Rockets, Elvin Hayes (Champion No. 5)
The Big E went to the playoffs with the San Diego Rockets and the Houston Rockets. He also went to the playoffs with the Baltimore Bullets, Washington Capitols and the Washington Bullets.
Hayes and the Washington Bullets were swept by the Golden State Warriors in 1975. They got a second chance at a title in 1978 and beat the Seattle SuperSonics in seven.
The Seattle SuperSonics got a second chance in 1979 and beat Hayes and the Bullets in five.
Fred Hetzel (San Francisco Warriors, ’65) and the Warriors lost the 1967 Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers and were bounced out in the Western Conference Finals the following year by the L.A. Lakers. That’s as far as Hetzel went.
Journeyman Jim Barnes (Knicks, ’64) played for six different teams and made the playoffs with three of them—only into the first round though.
Art Heyman (Knicks, ’63) made it through three seasons in the NBA before jumping to the ABA for three more. Here’s a twist: he won the ABA championship with the Pittsburgh Pipers in 1968, over the New Orleans Buccaneers matey.
Bill McGill, The Hill (Chicago Zephyrs, ‘62), jumped to the ABA after three years too. He wasn’t as lucky as Heyman, and was a two-time first-round reject (once in each league).
Walt Bellamy (Chicago Packers, ’61), pictured with Wilt Chamberlain, played for six different teams, all in the NBA, and went as far as the Western Division Finals, with the Baltimore Bullets and the Atlanta Hawks.
1966 No. 1 Pick: New York Knicks, Cazzie Russell (Champion No. 4)
Cazzie Russell won it with the Knicks in 1970 (over the Lakers), but was traded to the San Francisco Warriors the following year for none other than key-1973 Knick Jerry Lucas.
Russell made it to the Western Conference Finals twice after that, once with the Golden State Warriors and once with the L.A. Lakers.
1947-1960: 3 No. 1 Picks from This “Decade” Become Champions
Poor Elgin Baylor (Minneapolis Lakers, ’58), pictured, went to the postseason 12 times during the Boston Celtics-dominated 1960’s. Baylor and the Lakers (Minn. and L.A.) lost in the Finals seven times and in the Western Division Finals twice during that era. Ouch.
Hot Rod Hundley (Cincinnati Royals, ’57) was traded on draft day to the Minneapolis Lakers. Hundley played for six years, joining Baylor in three of those Finals defeats. He must have read the writing on the wall, and retired early.
Si Green (Rochester Royals, ’56) was traded to the St. Louis Hawks in 1959. Si and St. Louis ran into the Big Green Monster in 1960 and 1961.
1960 No. 1 Pick: Cincinnati Royals, Oscar Robertson (Champion No. 3)
The Big O has one title to his credit.
Robertson was traded to the Bucks in 1970, where he teamed with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the player on the next slide, to win one for Milwaukee in 1971.
The two returned to the finals with the Bucks in 1974, but lost to guess who? The Boston Celtics.
1959 No. 1 Pick: Cincinnati Royals, Bob Boozer (Champion No. 2)
Lucky Bob Boozer (no relation to Carlos) played for five teams over 10 years and had a solid career (14.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG) before settling on a championship team for a final year in Milwaukee, in 1971, with Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar.
Dick Ricketts (St. Louis Hawks, ’55) only played three seasons and two playoff games. The Cincinnati Royals lost 2-0 to the Detroit Pistons in 1958.
Frank Selvy (Baltimore Bullets, ’54) played for five different teams his first five years in the league. Eventually, Selvy wound up on the L.A. Lakers where he lost in the Finals twice to No.1 pick wreckers, those Celtics again!
Fellow Bullets draftee Ray Felix (Baltimore Bullets, ’53) ran into the Celtics with Selvy in 1962.
Mark Workman (Milwaukee Hawks, ’52) didn’t really work out. He played just two years. No playoff appearances.
Gene “Squeaky” Melchiorre (Baltimore Bullets, ’51), pictured, never played at all. He was banned from pro ball due to point shaving in college.
1950 No. 1 Pick: Boston Celtics, Chuck Share (Champion No. 1)
After all of those Boston Celtics championships, how ironic that Chuck Share, the Celts No. 1 pick in 1950 would win a ring with another team.
Share never played a game for Boston. He was traded to the Fort Wayne Pistons before his first NBA game. Two years later he was traded to the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks.
Share and the Hawks shared the title in 1958...when they beat the Boston Celtics. Double irony probation.
The NBA came into existence after the 1949 season when two professional basketball leagues, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL), merged.
The following final No. 1 picks are from the BAA draft 1947-1949, according to the NBA’s official lineage.
Howie Shannon (Providence Steam Rollers, ’49) played just two years and never made the postseason.
Andy Tonkovich (Providence Steam Rollers, ’48) played only 17 games.
Clifton McNeely (Pittsburgh Ironmen, ’47) never played at all, deciding to coach high school ball instead.
So, after all that, does the No. 1 pick really matter that much?
Well, there’s a small twist to the plot…
Even though only about one-third (35 percent) of NBA Championship teams had a No. 1 pick on their roster, some teams had more than one.
So, the 16 No. 1 picks have 38 rings amongst them, which means, technically, that picking at No. 1 gives a team a 38 out of 64 chance (suddenly, 59 percent) of raising a championship banner.
You just have to make sure you get the right one, or two or three...
Will some mathematician let me know if that’s correct? I’m a sportswriter.
Follow me on Twitter @VinGetz for cool sports stuff.