NBA Draft 2011: Ranking the First Overall NBA Draft Picks from the Last 20 Years
At the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery, the Cleveland Cavaliers were lucky enough to walk home with the number one pick and a chance to turn around their franchise. Even though this years’ draft class isn’t considered to be that great, expectations will still be high for which ever young player the Cavs choose first.
With that in mind, let’s go back in history and analyze the first overall draft picks from the last 20 years. Some have gone on to have legendary careers, while others have gone down as legendary disappointments. See who ranks where on this list of the number one overall NBA draft picks since 1991.
Note: The year listed beside each player’s name is that player’s draft year.
20. Kwame Brown—2001
Career PPG: 6.8
Career RPG: 5.6
This guy might be the biggest NBA bust ever, let alone in the last 20 years. Kwame Brown was drafted first overall during the brief era where it was popular for high school stars to declare for the draft. In fact, he was the first ever player to be drafted number one overall straight out of high school. Because of this, he is considered by many to be the poster boy for why it was a huge gamble to draft high school players with high draft picks.
Brown was picked by the Washington Wizards because of his abnormal size, strength and athletic ability for his age. Too bad his work ethic and skills didn’t develop the way the Wizards wanted. His career is probably summed up best by reports that, when yelled at and challenged by Michael Jordan at various Wizards training camp scrimmages, Brown broke down and cried instead of using Jordan’s criticism as motivation.
After lasting only four seasons with the Wizards, Brown was traded to the L.A. Lakers and his career got even worse from there. He has since become an after-thought in NBA circles and has bounced from team to team over the past few years, playing sparingly along the way.
19. Greg Oden - 2007
Career PPG: 9.4
Career RPG: 7.3
Career BPG: 1.4
Greg Oden’s NBA career so far has been filled with misfortune due to a rash of bad injuries. He missed his entire rookie season after he fractured his right knee before the regular season even began and was forced to undergo surgery. This was a sign of things to come.
In the first game of the next season, Oden injured his foot and was forced to miss time again. During the season after that, he injured his left knee on two separate occasions and was eventually forced to have another knee surgery.
The 2010-2011 season was missed entirely by Oden as well due to, wait for it, yet another surgery on the same left knee. In four NBA seasons since Oden was drafted, he has played in a grand total of 82 games, which is the exact equivalent of one full season.
If one were to grade Oden’s career to date, they’d be forced to give him an Incomplete. It’s only fair considering we haven’t seen what he can really do when he’s completely healthy. However, with the amount of knee problems he’s already had at such a young age, many people are wondering if we ever will.
18. Michael Olowokandi – 1998
Career PPG: 8.3
Career RPG: 6.8
Career BPG: 1.4
Michael Olowokandi is at the top of the long list of busts for the L.A. Clippers. Most of us knew very little about Olowokandi entering the 1998 NBA Draft. He played his college ball at the University of Pacific, so he didn’t receive a ton of exposure. However, his seven-foot, 270 lb frame combined with his soft hands around the rim were enough for the Clippers to take him first overall.
During his time with the L.A. Clippers, Olowokandi actually showed signs of potential and appeared to be coming along nicely. He was averaging over 12 points per game in his final season with the Clippers before he sustained a hernia and a knee injury, which ended his season prematurely. Olowokandi became a free agent that offseason and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
From then it was pretty much all downhill for Olowokandi as the rest of his career was marked by inconsistent play and injury problems. He retired in 2007 after playing exactly 500 regular season games.
17. John Wall—2010
Career PPG: 16.4
Career APG: 8.3
John Wall will likely move up on this list as the years go by, but for now he has just completed his rookie season so those stats you see are strictly from the 2010-2011 campaign.
Wall didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, but he was almost unanimously voted onto the NBA’s all-rookie first team this year and his 8.3 assists per game ranked third in the entire league.
Year one was a promising start for the speedy point guard out of University of Kentucky. Let’s hope it’s the start of a nice career.
16. Andrea Bargnani—2006
Career PPG: 15.1
Career RPG: 4.9
This seven-foot tall, lanky Italian has definitely showed flashes of brilliance during his five seasons in the NBA. Unfortunately for fans of the Toronto Raptors, those flash bulbs haven’t gone off enough and the fans are starting to grow tired of Bargnani’s streaky shooting, lethargic rebounding and horrific interior defence.
Bargnani was compared to Dirk Nowitzki on the day of the draft back in ’06: an agile seven-footer that’s capable of lighting it up from three-point range and beating defenders off the dribble. These are two of Bargnani’s best qualities and he has done a decent job of utilizing them so far in his career.
However, it appears that Bargnani has yet to grasp the other parts of the game that make most seven-foot tall post players successful. He is soft and he’s a liability on defence, to put it bluntly. Perhaps it’s the Raptors fault because they’ve been trying to play him at center for his entire career when he’s clearly better suited to play the power forward position.
Nevertheless, Bargnani’s low post game needs more work. It would be nice if the Raptors would actually acquire a legitimate starting center to help him out because the potential is still there for him to be an All-Star one day.
15. Andrew Bogut—2005
Career PPG: 12.7
Career RPG: 9.4
Career BPG: 1.6
So far in his six-year NBA career, Andrew Bogut’s stats have been fairly underwhelming by number one pick standards. However, he has still been, for the most part, the solid center that the Milwaukee Bucks thought they were getting when they picked him first overall in the ’05 draft.
There’s nothing flashy about Bogut’s game. He’s just a solid, seven-foot Aussie bruiser who defends hard and is good for 10 to 15 points just about every night. I’m sure if you asked anyone on the Bucks, they’d love it if he was able to give the team 15 to 20 points a night, but they probably wouldn’t trade it for his defence.
Bogut has had a couple of untimely injuries in his career to date as well. One of those injuries forced him to miss the entire first-round playoff series last year. Bogut is hoping that doesn’t happen again the next time the playoffs roll around for the Bucks.
14. Joe Smith—1995
Career PPG: 10.9
Career RPG: 6.4
Despite his status as a former first overall pick, the career of Joe Smith has stood out about as much as his name does. Smith’s style, statistics and accomplishments have all been pretty average, but it appears that he’s just fine what that.
The best years of Smith’s NBA career were his early years. However, he never averaged more than 18 points per game in any season and since 2005, he has only averaged double-digits in points once.
But that hasn’t stopped several NBA teams from acquiring the services of Smith over the last few years. The number of teams he has played on in his 16 year career currently sits at 12. Sure he’s a drifter, but it’s still impressive that he has lasted this long in the league.
Where will Joe Smith end up next? No one knows and not a lot of people care at this point, but that’s okay with Smith.
13. Blake Griffin—2009
Career PPG: 22.5
Career RPG: 12.1
Career APG: 3.8
Just like John Wall, these so-called career stats are only based on the performance from one season for Blake Griffin. The reason for that is due to a knee injury that ended Griffin’s inaugural NBA season before it started, just like Greg Oden.
But unlike Oden, Blake Griffin came back in the next year stronger than ever. He ran away with the Rookie of the Year award and became a human highlight reel in the process!
The sky is the limit for Griffin in his NBA career, unless of course he leaps into outer space for his next jaw-dropping dunk.
Expect to see this guy moving up on this list sooner rather than later.
12. Kenyon Martin—2000
Career PPG: 13.5
Career RPG: 7.2
Career BPG: 1.2
The numbers that Kenyon Martin has put up in his career so far have been pretty average, but he puts up those numbers with a lot of style and power.
Martin has always been known for his tough attitude that is often matched by his fearsome dunks and blocks. He has been a major part of winning teams his entire career, both with the New Jersey Nets and the Denver Nuggets.
With the Nets, Martin played a big role in the team reaching the NBA finals in both 2002 and 2003. He was on the receiving end of many sweet dishes from Jason Kidd and averaged 17 and 19 points per game in those playoff runs.
On the Nuggets, Martin is one of many double-digit scorers on a nightly basis and has helped lead them to four straight playoff appearances, including the Western Conference finals in 2009.
Kenyon Martin is now 33-years-old, but he appears to have plenty of energy left in the tank to continue a solid NBA career.
11. Yao Ming—2002
Career PPG: 19
Career RPG: 9.2
Career BPG: 1.9
The NBA career of Yao Ming has had many highs and lows. The biggest high is obviously his seven-foot-six inch height. Then there’s his amazing skills and mobility for someone of his size. Yao has used these talents to average more than 20 points per game three times in his NBA career to date.
When Yao Ming is healthy he is one of the most dominant big men in the game. But lately, his health has been his biggest obstacle. Over the last five years, Yao has dealt with a number of serious injuries and he may have to end his career early because of this. He has played in just five games over the past two seasons because of foot and ankle fractures.
If not for injuries, Yao Ming would be much higher on this list. Let’s hope the future for Ming has him healthy enough to continue his career as one of the NBA’s best centers.
10. Elton Brand—1999
Career PPG: 18.8
Career RPG: 9.6
Career BPG: 1.9
After being drafted into the NBA by the Chicago Bulls, Elton Brand averaged 20 points a game in each of his first two years, winning the Rookie of the Year award in his inaugural season.
After that, Brand was traded to the L.A. Clippers where he continued average close to 20 PPG and 10 RPG. In 2002 and 2006 Brand was named to the All-Star team. Later in 2006, he led the Clippers to the second round of the NBA playoffs. To date, it’s the farthest any of his teams have advanced in the post season.
Currently Elton Brand is working the low post in Philadelphia for the 76ers. His numbers have dropped slightly during his time in Philadelphia due to a couple of injuries. However, he continues to be a consistent scorer and rebounder and has had a very strong 12 year NBA career.
9. Larry Johnson—1991
Career PPG: 16.2
Career RPG: 7.5
Career APG: 3.3
Larry Johnson, bizarrely nicknamed “Grandmama” in a TV campaign, was a strong forward who could also step outside and shoot from long distance when necessary. He was drafted into the NBA by the Charlotte Hornets and played his first five seasons in the league for them. During his time in Charlotte, Johnson was named to the All-Star team twice and also took the Hornets to the playoffs twice.
In 1996, he was traded to the New York Knicks where his personal statistics dropped off, but his teams’ success was much better. The Knicks made the playoffs in four of Johnson’s five seasons with the team. They never lost in the first round in any of those playoff runs, and made the NBA Finals in 1999 along with the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he had to retire in 2001 because of chronic back problems and only ended up playing 10 seasons in the NBA. Johnson’s career in the NBA was a very good one, even though it may not have been as overwhelmingly successful as some number one draft picks. The best way to describe his contributions to the league is the same way you would describe his body: Solid.
8. Glenn Robinson – 1994
Career PPG: 20.7
Career RPG: 6.1
Career APG: 2.1
Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson came out of Purdue after his junior year and commanded one of the biggest rookie contracts ever. The 10-year, $68 million deal he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks was probably the biggest reason why a salary cap for rookies was implemented the following season.
Robinson may have been worth that contract though. He averaged over 20 points per game in seven of his eight seasons with the Bucks and was a key member of their 2001 squad who made it within one game of the NBA finals. He was also an NBA All-Star in 2000 and 2001.
In 2002, Robinson was traded to Atlanta and only played in the NBA for three more years after that due to various knee injuries. Many people look back at the Big Dog’s career as being somewhat mediocre because he retired at a young age and his play dropped off considerably in his last few seasons. But for seven or eight years, Robinson was a very consistent scorer and, believe it or not, he even has an NBA championship ring thanks to the San Antonio Spurs picking him up midway through the 2004-2005 season.
7. Derrick Rose—2008
Career PPG: 20.9
Career APG: 6.7
What more can you say about the brief but tremendous career of Derrick Rose to this point? He won the Rookie of the Year award in his first year. He averaged over 20 points and 6 assists per game in his second season and led a young Chicago Bulls team to the playoffs as a sophomore point guard.
Then there’s this season. MVP!
No one predicted that Rose would outplay LeBron, Kobe, Wade, D12 and KD for the league’s Most Valuable Player in just his third season as a pro. But he did in near unanimous fashion and now he’s lighting it up in the playoffs for the Bulls and has them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rose is quickly turning into a legend in Chicago, which isn’t easy to do with their rich history of great basketball players. He will almost certainly move up on this list in the next few years and if he can lead the Bulls to a title this year, he might just make it to the podium.
6. Chris Webber—1993
Career PPG: 20.7
Career RPG: 9.8
Career APG: 4.2
Career BPG: 1.4
The leader of the Fab Five at the University of Michigan, Chris Webber is the only player on this list who never played for the team that drafted him. He was taken by the Orlando Magic and immediately traded to the Golden State Warriors for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and three future first-round picks.
Webber took home Rookie of the Year honors in 1994 in what turned out to be his only season with the Warriors. Webber and Head Coach Don Nelson had their differences and this forced the Warriors to trade him to the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards). Webber spent the next three years in Washington before being traded again in 1998 to the Sacramento Kings.
Sacramento is where Webber played the best basketball of his career. He made the All-NBA Team five times as a member of the Kings and was the focal point of the only team that was really able to challenge the L.A. Lakers during their Shaq/Kobe three-peat era. In fact, many people believe the Kings were truly the best team in the league in 2002. They had the best record in the regular season, but lost to the Lakers in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Chris Webber’s career ended where it started in 2008 as he returned to the Golden State Warriors. Although he never won a championship, Webber would have to consider his career an extremely successful one. Who knows how things would have turned out for the Orlando Magic if they hadn’t traded Webber on draft day back in 1993?
5. Dwight Howard—2004
Career PPG: 18.2
Career RPG: 12.9
Career BPG: 2.2
Ladies and Gentlemen, Superman has arrived! Does anyone else remember when fans at Madison Square Garden chanted, “Kwame Junior!” when Dwight Howard walked across the stage as the first overall pick of the 2004 draft? They were, of course, suggesting that Howard would be another bust like Kwame Brown was, simply because they’re both large centers who were drafted first overall straight out of high school. Oh, how incredibly perceptive New Yorkers are!
Since that day, Howard has gone on to earn the label as one of the greatest defensive players ever in just seven seasons in the NBA. He is a freak of nature athletically, an insane jumper and a giant mass of muscle that strikes fear into any opposing player who dares to take the ball to the rim when he is on the floor.
Howard makes dunking and shot blocking look way too easy on a nightly basis in the NBA. He has won the Defensive Player of the Year award in each of the last three seasons, becoming the first player to ever win the award three consecutive times. He’s also a five-time All-Star and an Olympic Gold Medalist.
The only thing missing from D12’s resume is an NBA title. He was close in 2009, but his Orlando Magic lost to the L.A. Lakers in the finals. He still has plenty of time to get that ring though, even if it’s not with the Magic.
4. Allen Iverson—1996
Career PPG: 26.7
Career APG: 6.2 (yes, he passed)
The troubled but talented Allen Iverson overcame legal problems during his youth to be taken first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers and ended up being one of the best players in the rich history of the franchise.
With the Sixers, Iverson racked up four scoring titles, one league MVP award, one Rookie of the Year award and was named to either the first or second All-NBA Team six times! His most memorable season was, of course, his MVP season in 2000-2001 when he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals where they were defeated by the L.A. Lakers.
Believe it or not, Iverson played in Turkey this past season and appears to have just a little more juice in the tank left. However, no NBA team is willing to bring his ego into their locker room at this stage of his career. Regardless, the originally A.I. of the Philadelphia 76ers will definitely be in the Basketball Hall Of Fame one day.
3. Tim Duncan—1997
Career PPG: 20.6
Career RPG: 11.4
Career BPG: 2.3
Tim Duncan, also known as “The Big Fundamental”, isn’t even close to being the flashiest player on this list. However, he’s one of the most effective players in NBA history and, as a result, he has four championship rings.
Duncan has played his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs and he’ll likely end his career there. There’s no doubt that he’s been surrounded by some great players on his many championship teams, but he’s always been the focal point. Even in his first season, he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds per game and was the easy choice for Rookie of the Year.
Other personal accolades for Duncan include his two league MVP awards in 2002 and 2003, 13 All-Star game appearances and three NBA Finals MVP awards. His consistency has been remarkable, as he is the only player in NBA history to be selected to both the All-NBA Team and the All-Defensive Team is each of his first 13 seasons.
Tim Duncan is already considered one of the greatest power forwards in basketball history. But all he’s ever been after is championships and he’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank for a possible ring for his pinky finger before he retires.
2. LeBron James—2003
Career PPG: 27.7
Career APG: 7
Career RPG: 7.1
The most anticipated first overall draft pick in NBA history has taken his talents to number two on this list.
LeBron James was unquestionably the most hyped and publicised player ever when he entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 2003. Expectations have been ridiculously high for him ever since that draft day and, for the most part, he has lived up to those expectations.
He is widely regarded as either the best or the second best player (behind Kobe) in the game today and he has all the individual achievements to prove it. Two MVP awards, a scoring title, a Rookie of the Year award, an NBA All-Star seven times and a two-time winner of the NBA All-Star game MVP award.
The one thing missing from his collection of hardware is a championship ring and he has gained some critics because of it. Many of those critics stem from his infamous decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team he single-handedly took to the NBA Finals in 2007, to go to South Beach and play for the Miami Heat.
No one will ever question Lebron’s talent and athleticism. He is a physical specimen and can take a game over all by himself at almost any given time. But until he wins a championship he will never be the best of the best. He’ll never be the best player in NBA history and he’ll never be the best player on this list.
1. Shaquille O’Neal - 1992
Career PPG: 23.7
Career RPG: 10.9
Career BPG: 2.3
The larger-than-life character known as Shaq might just be the best big man in the history of the NBA. In his prime, he was literally impossible to stop in the low post because of his surprising agility and his massive frame.
Shaq was so good that he actually over-shadowed Kobe Bryant and was known as the more valuable of the two players when the L.A. Lakers won three straight championships from 2000 to 2002. Then in 2006, he teamed up with Dwayne Wade to win another title with the Miami Heat.
There’s not much more to say about the Big Aristotle. He’s not the player he used to be, but his personal and team achievements throughout his career speak volumes about his dominance. He’s a proven winner and has accomplished more than any other NBA first overall draft pick in the last 20 years. That’s why he is number one on this list of number ones!