NBA Draft: The Best First-Round Pick in Each Franchise's History

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2011

NBA Draft: The Best First-Round Pick in Each Franchise's History

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    DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Larry Bird (R) and Earvin 'Magic' Johnson walk on the court to be honored for the 30th anniversary of their match up in 1979 NCAA Championship Game between Indiana State and Michigan State prior to the Michigan State Spartans playing
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The 2011 NBA Draft is just over 48 hours away, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers holding two picks in the top four, I'm obviously interested.

    However, there are so many other things that make the draft good besides waiting to see who your favorite team drafts.

    There are draft-day suits, 90-person entourages, David Stern desperately trying to get the newest draft pick to look at the camera when they are shaking his hand, the people of New York inevitably booing whoever it is that their team drafts, booing David Stern, yet cheering wildly for Adam Silver, and then there are my two favorite parts of the draft; crying moms and Stuart Scott confusing the pants off whichever international prospect he is interviewing.

    The little things that make the draft as entertaining as it is are by far the best part of the draft and what makes it the most underrated sports-related bit of entertainment all year long.

    However, the draft is about the players, and let's face it, the first round is where all the franchise players are drafted, and it's what we all tune in for.

    So I've gone through the history of each team and picked out the best first-round draft pick over the years for each current NBA team.

Atlanta Hawks, Bob Pettit

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    The Atlanta Hawks have had some good draft picks over the years, but they have only had one championship in their history, so I have to take the guy that led them to their first championship as their best draft pick.

    Bob Pettit averaged 26 points and 16 rebounds a game over his career, and when the St. Louis Hawks won the championship in 1958, Pettit averaged 24 points and 17 rebounds while leading them to the title.

Boston Celtics, Larry Bird

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    DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Larry Bird answers questions with Earvin 'Magic' Johnson (not pictured) during a news conference to relive their 1979 NCAA Championship Game between Indiana State and Michigan State before the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Nat
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Back in 1978, Red Auerbach took a risk that five other teams weren't willing to take, drafting Larry Bird even though he wouldn't play for the Celtics until 1979.

    His original college class was graduating, so he was eligible to be drafted, but he was going to be a fifth-year senior at Indiana State, and he was committed to returning, so drafting him would mean "wasting" a draft pick for the season.

    Auerbach took the chance on Bird, and he ended up with the greatest Celtic since a guy named Bill Russell who has more than enough rings for all 10 of his fingers.

Charlotte Bobcats, Emeka Okafor

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 16:  Emeka Okafor #50 of the Charlotte Bobcats takes a shot against Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 16, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The Bobcats have only been around since 2004, but they have made their fair share of bad draft picks.  Adam Morrison is the first guy that comes to mind, and then there was D.J Augustin, who most concluded would be a lifetime backup at the very best.

    However, they did take Emeka Okafor back in 2004, who many thought would end up being better than then No. 1 pick Dwight Howard (many were wrong).  Okafor had five solid seasons for the Bobcats before they traded him to New Orleans.

Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan

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    10 Jun 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls in action against Jeff Hornasek of the Utah Jazz during the NBA Finals Game 4 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls defeated the Jazz 86-82. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The best draft pick in Chicago Bulls history also happens to be the best player in the history of the game, so I'm pretty sure nobody's going to argue with me on this one.

    The Bulls picked Jordan third in 1984 after Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie in a draft that completely altered the history of the NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James

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    CLEVELAND - MAY 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on while playing the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 11, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. Boston won
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    See! I'm not bitter!

    Seriously though, it's damn near impossible to argue that LeBron James isn't the best first-rounder in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    LeBron James may have completely torn out the heart of every basketball fan in the city, but he did give the team seven transcendent years of basketball before he high-tailed it out of Cleveland for greener pastures.

Dallas Mavericks, Rolando Blackman

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    LOS ANGELES - 1987:  Rolando Blackman #22 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots a free throw during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, California in 1987. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    I wanted to pick Robert Traylor here considering they traded him later in that draft for Dirk Nowitzki, but that would open up an endless list of scenarios that would make me sift through hundreds of draft day trades, so I took another road.

    The 1981 draft say the Mavericks draft Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman.  Mark Aguirre was a great player for the Mavericks, but he made his real impact on the Pistons, but Rolando Blackman (not to be confused with the former Knicks draft pick Renaldo Balkman that was booed mercilessly) spent most of his career with the Mavericks and was a key component of their team for most of his career.

Denver Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets reacts as he takes his seat to watch the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at Staples Center on February 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Im
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The Denver Nuggets have been around since 1977, and they didn't make a really effective first round draft pick until 1991 when they drafted Dikembe Mutombo.  Otherwise, they picked up Jalen Rose and Brent Barry, so Carmelo Anthony is the logical pick.

    He may have held them hostage a bit this season, but at least he told them he wouldn't be returning the following season so they were able to get a ton in return.

Detroit Pistons, Isiah Thomas

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    Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    Isiah Thomas is responsible for two of the three championships in Detroit's history, and the Pistons drafting him in the first round back in 1981 is their best first-round draft pick ever.

    Thomas was the heart and soul (perhaps I should say the fists and elbows) of a Pistons team that pushed and shoved its way to two titles in 1989 and 1990.  Plus, they are the main reason the rules about hard fouls, so they couldn't maul Michael Jordan every time he forayed into the lane.

Golden State Warriors, Rick Barry

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 27:  Former professional NBA player Rick Barry and former olympian Bob Beamon attend the 25th Great Sports Legends Dinner to benefit The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis at The Waldorf=Astoria on September 27, 2010 in New York City.
    Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

    He may not have really wanted to be there, but Rick Barry was a huge part of the 1975 Warriors Championship team.

    Barry was drafted by the Warriors back in 1965 but jumped to the ABA for gobs of cash two years later.  A federal injunction later declared that he couldn't sign with any other team but the Warriors going into the 1972 season.

    Barry averaged 30 points, six assists and five rebounds for the '75 Warriors and was the biggest reason there is a championship banner hanging from their rafters right now.

Houston Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon

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    11 Jan 1997:  Center Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets leaps for control of the balll over the defense of guard Michael Jordan (center)  and forward Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls during a game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bull
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If it weren't for a certain greatest basketball player of all time, nobody but the Bulls would have won a title from 1991 to 1998, but his early retirement to play baseball created a power vacuum in the league.

    Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets filled that void and won two titles in a Michael Jordan-less NBA.

Indiana Pacers, Reggie Miller

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    TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 17:  Former NBA player Reggie Miller attends the game between the San Diego State Aztecs and the Northern Colorado Bears during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson,
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Up until a few months ago, Reggie Miller was the unquestioned greatest three-point shooter of all time, but Ray Allen broke his three-pointers made record, so I guess he is questioned right now.

    Reggie Miller was a victim of two of the three dynasties of the '90s and '00s, losing to Shaq's Lakers and Jordan's Bulls during his career.  It's possible that with better teammates, he would have ended up with a ring, but he'll just have to settle for the best first-round draft pick in Pacers history.

Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin

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    CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 04:  Professional Basketball player Blake Griffin arrives at Spike TV's 5th annual 2011 'Guys Choice' Awards at Sony Pictures Studios on June 4, 2011 in Culver City, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
    Jason Merritt/Getty Images

    Throughout the Clippers history, they have had some good draft picks, they just didn't hold onto the players they drafted for very long.

    The Clippers had Bob McAdoo for four-and-a-half years, Adrian Dantley for one, Tom Chambers for two, Terry Cummings for two and Danny Manning for five.

    Right now, Blake Griffin is doing more for the Clippers than any of those other guys did in hindsight.  He has made them relevant in the NBA and has started to make Clippers fans feel like they have some kind of future to root for.

Los Angeles Clippers, Magic Johnson

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    30 Jan 1996: Magic Johnson #32 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates on the court during his first game back as a Laker at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.   Mandatory Credit: Allsport  /Allsport
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    For as many great players as the Lakers have had throughout their history, they haven't drafted very many of them.

    When it comes down to it, the best players they drafted were Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson.

    Because Bill Russell's Celtics had to go and win every championship possible during West's career, Jerry only won one title with the Lakers, so I'm giving this title to Magic Johnson.

    Drafting Magic gave the Lakers another superstar to pair with Kareem Abdul-Jabar and got them on their way to five more titles in the '80s.

Memphis Grizzlies, Shane Battier

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    MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13:  Shane Battier #31 of the Memphis Grizzlies calls a defensive play against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 13, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Before Shane Battier, the Grizzlies had never made it to the playoffs. Three years after they drafted Shane Battier, they made three straight playoffs.

    Battier may not have the offensive numbers that many of the other players on this list has, but he brings a type of defensive swagger that is hard to instill in a team unless you have a player that brings it.

Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade

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    MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:   Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat answers questions from the media at a post game news conference after the Dallas Mavericks won 105-95 in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida.
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Dwyane Wade is four things for the Miami Heat. He is the reason they won the championship in 2006, he is a big part of the reason they convinced LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to Miami and he is the best player in Miami's history, making him the best draft pick in the history of the Heat.

    Wade has averaged 25 points, five rebounds and six assists over his career and has been one of the best defensive point guards in the league since he was drafted back in 2003.

Milwaukee Bucks, Lew Alcindor

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Former NBA player Kareem Abdul Jabbar arrives to the T-Mobile Magenta Carpet at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    Back in 1969, the newly formed Milwaukee Bucks, fresh off their first season in the league, drafted an afroed young man who changed the rules in the NCAA making it illegal for players to dunk. 

    A rule of thumb here is that anytime a player forces a governing body to make a ridiculous rule change, then you should definitely draft that guy.

    Drafting Alcindor led the Bucks to a championship in 1971, and even though he left the team after the 1974 season, he is still the best guy the Bucks ever drafted.

Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Garnett

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    LOS ANGELES - MARCH 15: Kevin Garnett #21 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at the Staples Center on March 15, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 92-89.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowled
    Harry How/Getty Images

    For a while there, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan had a nice battle going over who was the greatest power forward of their generation, and the winner would likely be considered the greatest power forward of all time.

    Well, Tim Duncan won that battle, but Garnett kept it going for as long as he possibly could.  He was the sole reason the Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in 1997, and for the second time in 1998, all the way up to the eighth time in 2004 when they made the Western Conference finals.

New Jersey Nets, Buck Williams

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    1989:  Buck Williams #52 of the New Jersey Nets stands on the court during an NBA game in 1989. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the G
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The New Jersey Nets have been in the league since the ABA-NBA merger in 1977, and they have made very few good draft picks in over three decades.

    Their first draft pick was Bernard King who the Nets only kept for two years before trading him, after that the best pick they made was Buck Williams.

    Williams spent eight years with New Jersey and averaged a double-double during his stay with the Nets and even when he was traded he helped the team, as he was traded for what would be the team's second best draft pick, Mookie Blaylock.

New Orleans Hornets, Chris Paul

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 28:  Guard Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets takes a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 28, 2011 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Lou
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Chris Paul was the second point guard taken in the 2005 draft, but he may very well be the best point guard in the NBA today.

    Paul wasn't able to lead the Hornets to the promised land (and he probably won't be doing that this year either), but he did treat the people to some extremely entertaining basketball over the past six years.

    Unfortunately, if and when Paul leaves it is probably going to cripple the franchise and end up with the Hornets moving away to another city.

New York Knicks, Walt Frazier

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    NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 25:  Former NBA player Walt Frazier attends the premiere of 'Black Magic' at The Apollo Theatre February 25, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

    The New York Knicks in the '70s was just about the pinnacle of basketball until the late '80s Celtics and the mid-'90s Bulls.

    New York was led by Walt Frazier, who was a huge part of both Knick Championship teams in 1970 and 1973 and averaged around 20 points, six rebounds and six assists throughout his tenure with the Knicks.

Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant

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    DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder runs back down court while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on Ma
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The only other player I really considered for the best draft pick in the history of the Thunder/Supersonics was Jack Sikma.

    Sikma was a big part of the 1979 Championship team, but I'm pretty convinced that many other big men could have stepped into his shoes and helped the Sonics win a title, but hey, I wasn't born until 1990.

    However, drafting Kevin Durant back in 2007 set up the basis for a team that is currently on the verge of being the class of the Western Conference and is in great shape to win a few championships over the next decade, so long as everything goes right.

Orlando Magic, Shaquille O'Neal

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    26 Mar 1996: Center Shaquille O''Neal of the Orlando Magic fights for a rebound with center Vlade Divac and forward Eldon Campbell of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florida. The Lakers won the game 113-91.
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    The two best draft picks in Magic history are dominant big men who both became the best center in the NBA and led the Magic to the NBA Finals, just coming up short for the title. 

    The only difference is that one left for the Lakers in free agency, and one is about to leave for the Lakers in free agency.

    When comparing them, Shaq was infinitely more dominant than Howard even though he spent only four years in Orlando compared to Dwight Howard's seven years.

Philadelphia 76ers, Allen Iverson

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    CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 20: Allen Iverson #3 of the Philadelphia 76ers moves against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 122-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    For the three championships in the 76ers history, they relied mostly on players acquired through free agency and trades over the draft. 

    In 1983, they had Moses Malone and Julius Erving, both of whom they got as free agents (although they did draft Andrew Toney).  In 1967, they had Wilt Chamberlain, who they traded for, and Hal Greer, who was a second-round pick.  In 1955, they did have Dolph Schayes, who they drafted, but I think Allen Iverson was more important, but hey, I'm just some punk young'un.

    Iverson was one of the five most important players of the 2000s who revolutionized the way guards in the NBA played.

Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 13:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center on April 13, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or usi
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Steve Nash only spent two years with the Suns originally before they traded him to the Mavericks before they knew what they had in him.

    Then six years later, while Mark Cuban was busy spending $4 trillion on Erick Dampier, the Suns signed Steven Nash, ushering in one of the most exciting offensive teams in years.

    I don't know if Nash would have signed with the Suns if they wouldn't have drafted him originally, as people were bidding for his services endlessly, and thank God they did because the Suns are still exciting to watch even though they are an extremely mediocre team.

Portland Trail Blazers, Bill Walton

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Former NBA player Bill Walton arrives to the T-Mobile Magenta Carpet at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    We all know that Bill Walton had more injury problems than Sam Bowie and Greg Oden combined, but without him, the Blazers would not have won a championship in 1977.

    Walton probably understood the game of basketball more than anyone else in the history of the game (although I would hear arguments for Bill Russell, Larry Bird and post-baseball Michael Jordan), giving the Blazers their only title in their history.

Sacramento Kings, Oscar Robertson

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    CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 22:  NBA Hall of Famer, Oscar Robertson, and wife Yvonne attend the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Gala  August 22, 2004 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)
    Mike Simons/Getty Images

    Oscar Robertson is one of the most important players in the history of the game, and the Cincinnati Royals almost had to take him, as he starred on the Cincinnati Bearcats basketball team.

    Robertson of course had the famed triple-double season in 1962 when he averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists a game for the Royals.

San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 27:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antionio Spurs looks on against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2011 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Tim Duncan is the best power forward in the history of the NBA, and I might even go so far as to say that he is the best basketball player since Michael Jordan.

    From the minute he stepped into the league, Duncan knew how to play as a part of a team that could win a title, something it took Kobe Bryant until a few years ago to learn. 

    Plus, Duncan was an amazing player at his height who could absolutely turn on the afterburners in the playoffs.  I mean, who could forget Duncan's Game 6 in the 2003 Finals when he scored 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks.

Toronto Raptors, Chris Bosh

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    TORONTO,ON - APRIL 24: Chris Bosh #4 of the Toronto Raptors goes around Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic in game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on April 24, 2008 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    If the Raptors wouldn't have traded Tracy McGrady, I could be writing about him instead of one of the most annoying pterodactyls in the history of the NBA.

    However, McGrady only played with the Raptors for two years, so Chris Bosh is kind of the best draft pick in Raptors history by default, as he did help them get to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.

Utah Jazz, Karl Malone

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    NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 17:  Basketball player Karl Malone attends at the 57th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 17, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
    Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

    I went back and forth between Karl Malone and John Stockton about 8,348 times in the past day, but ultimately, I had to go with Malone.

    Sure, John Stockton is the picture of longevity and the all-time leading assist man in the NBA, but Karl Malone was so much more.

    Malone has the second most points in the history of the game, he has the seventh most rebounds and 10th most steals all-time, but he also has the most turnovers in league history and committed the second most fouls. 

    He's kind of like the Cy Young of the NBA.

Washington Wizards, Wes Unseld

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    He has one of the most unusual looking afros of all time, but he is a very special player in the history of the NBA.

    Unseld spent his entire career with the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets and only averaged 10 points a game for his entire career, but he also pulled down nearly 14 boards a game and killed opposing big men on defense.


    For more 2011 NBA draft coverage, stay tuned to Bleacher Report for updated NBA mock draftsNBA draft rumors, NBA draft results and draft grades.