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Ranking the best number 1 draft picks of all time

Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 19 Dec 2019, 18:48 IST

My previous article discussed about players who failed in living up to the tags that made them the number 1 overall picks. Also, the article taught us two specific things about the quintessential NBA draft. One, the Portland city franchise are perpetual troll blazers and two, a handful of centers/power forwards have been successful when picked as number 1. This article focuses on those players who capitalized on their numero uno tag and went onto enjoy storied careers.

There are five primary traits which I have looked for in a successful number 1 pick:

  1. Stats: PPG, APG and RPG/SPG for a guard/forward or PPG, RPG and BPG for a power forward/center.
  2. Number of years played in the NBA and number of championships won.
  3. Players drafted after the player and their performances.
  4. The franchise that selected the player and the impact made by the player such as marketability, leadership and game winning roles.
  5. Consistency in performances and matching up to expectations – a big let off with Pervis Ellison, LaRue Martin, Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown (the five biggest flops in article 1)

Honorable mention – David Robinson, Center, 1987 Draft

Teams played for – San Antonio Spurs

Stats – PPG: 21.1, RPG: 10.6 and BPG: 3.0

Numbers of championships won/ years played – 2/14

The Admiral as he was nicknamed by his Navy colleagues was an absolute beast in the NBA. Forging a deadly partnership in the paint with Tim Duncan, Robinson won a host of accolades during his star-studded career. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time NBA Champion, one-time MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and a spectacular 10-time All-Star selection. Mellowed down in popularity in an era that belonged to Jordan, Robinson fancied himself to beat anyone in the post including Olajuwon and Mutombo.

In Robinson’s earlier part of his career, he averaged nearly 26 points per game, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks a game. Imagine this – Robinson blocked an opponent at least 4 times in each game, a stat unheard of till then, which is why guards and forwards feared him. His immense dedication on the court often translated outside when he vehemently decided not to sign for any other team but the Spurs, irrespective of the money a franchise offered him.

David Robinson might easily have been the greatest player in San Antonio’s history hadn’t it been for the young man who he mentored during the later part of his career. Kudos to Robinson – a true genius in his own right!


5. Oscar Robertson, Point Guard, 1960 Draft

Teams played for – Cincinnati Royals, Milwaukee Bucks

Stats – PPG: 25.7, APG: 9.5 and SPG: 1.1

Number of championships won/ years played – 1/14

Dedication Gala For The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

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)

Robertson was part of one of the best draft classes of all time. Few could argue how he and number two pick, Jerry West, have revolutionized the NBA. Although Robertson won nothing as much as West’s rings collection nor was he a commercial superpower like the former Laker, the Cincinnati Bobcat did command a league of his own.

Robertson was a star from the word go. His rookie season has been unmatched for years and to add to that, he remains as one of the very select few rookies to make into the All-NBA team in their first year. What hurt the Tennessee local was the inability of his teammates to match his stellar play with the Royals never reaching their peak after the ’64 season. But Robertson didn’t stop – he was still the best point guard in the league despite his team underachieving.

To fulfill his thirst for a championship, Robertson moved to the Milwaukee Bucks. During his stint of four years in Wisconsin, he finally won his first NBA title with Abdul-Jabbar. On April 28, 1980, “The Big O” was inducted into the Hall of Fame having had his jersey already retired by his respective franchises.

Oscar Robertson, the first primo ball-handler of the NBA.

4. Tim Duncan, Power Forward, 1997 Draft

Teams played for – San Antonio Spurs

Stats – PPG: 20.3, RPG: 9.0 and BPG: 2.2

Number of championships won/ years played – 4/15

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Six

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – JUNE 06: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the hoop against Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 6, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

If one were to solely believe stats, Duncan doesn’t deserve a mention compared to his mentor, Robinson. The younger “Twin Tower” shot nowhere as well; neither did he put up insane numbers like The Admiral. However, Timothy Theodore Duncan has won 4 championships, lasted longer and played a more pivotal role in Greg Popovich’s Spurs team than Robinson ever managed.

Tim Duncan is your everyday boring, dull and unentertaining star. He doesn’t talk much, doesn’t appear as often as his counterparts do in ads and is known to be always around his family. Hard to envisage, isn’t it?

But Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. And here is why – he is the only NBA Player in history to be announced into the All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive teams for 13 years straight. Nobody since the league’s inception has achieved that. Count this too: he is a two time regular season MVP and three time finals MVP.

Also, Duncan’s PER is amongst the league’s best. He is renowned to bring the best out of his teammates and has exclusively carried the Spurs back-line for over a decade now (in which, they have won three rings). Importantly, Spurs have been perennial contenders in the Western Conference with teams boasting younger talents, in spite of which the Texan franchise has never failed to reach the playoffs as a top seed for years. Way to go, Timmy!

3. Shaquille O’Neal, Center, 1992 Draft

Teams played for – Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics

Stats – PPG: 23.7, RPG: 10.9 and BPG: 2.3

Number of championships won/ years played – 4/19

Shaquille O

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 15: Shaquille O

O’Neal was a household figure in the All-Star and All-NBA teams. Such was his effect on the league that he was barely guardable by any means and rules had to be changed thanks to his presence. A three-time All-Star game MVP, Shaq never ceased to dominate the opposition with teams sometimes putting three men, just to contain on him.

At 7’ 2” and 320 pounds, O’Neal used his size to massive advantage. A two-time scoring champion, the monster won three championships at LA before a final one with Dwayne Wade and Miami.

A future Hall of Famer, Shaq was one of the few success stories at Louisiana State where he was an All-American. Before he entered the NBA draft, the coverage aimed at Shaq was so much that his family had to open a visiting office with specific hours, for teams and media to talk to him.

Carrying his form from college, the center specialized in his “drop step” shot where he posted around a defender, turned around once or twice and manipulated his size as a weapon. Also, his slam dunks, “hook shot” and alley-hoops contributed to his domination in the league where teams generally fouled out two big men playing against him – a tactic known as “hack-a-Shaq”.

At retirement, Shaquille O’Neal had the second highest field goal percentage of all time which definitely boosts his credentials as one of the better big men to play the game of basketball.

2. Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr., Point Guard, 1979 Draft

Teams played for – Los Angeles Lakers

Stats – PPG: 19.5, APG: 11.2 and SPG: 1.9

Numbers of championships won/ years played – 5/13

Government And Business Leaders Speak At Urban Economic Forum In Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 22: Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises Earvin

Magic Johnson never stopped winning. His list of awards is second to none. During his years with the Lakers, he formed an unbeatable partnership with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and together they toyed with teams. In 2007, Magic Johnson was voted by ESPN as the greatest point guard to grace a basketball court. His assist totals remain invincible with him often totaling up 10 or more assists in numerous games.

Johnson’s success doesn’t end there – he is perhaps the only point guard to record triple-doubles at least once in a game for every one of the NBA Finals he made. Pat Riley, former Lakers coach, complimented Magic’s versatility by forcing him to slot into unfavorable positions such as power forward, shooting guard and small forward – something he accustomed to with ease.

A true source of inspiration for his teammates and a humble person off-court, Johnson was the superstar of the 80s. Even when he was declared HIV+, Magic taught us what he does best – fight, fight till the end. Doug Smith, an active sportswriter for over 30 years sums it up best. On his sports blog, he says, “There are those who want our athletes to use their power and their pedestal and their iconic status for the good of the greater cause. No one – well, very few that I can think of in the world of professional sports since I’ve been hanging around the games – has done it like Magic.”

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., Center, 1969 Draft

Teams played for – Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers

Stats – PPG: 24.6, RPG: 11.2 and BPG: 2.5

Number of championships won/ years played – 6/20

Jabbar’s achievements when he hung up his boots, most of which still stand today:

Hillary Clinton Meets With Cultural Ambassador Kareem Abdul Jabbar At State Dept.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 18: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Cultural Ambassador Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the State Department January 18, 2012 in Washington, DC. According to the State Department, Jabbar, a National Basketball Association superstar and hall of fame player,

Most All-Star appearances, NBA MVPs, points scored, games played, minutes played, field goals made and field goal attempts, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and total rebounds, most fast break points scored, and most games of 40 or more points made.

Nicknamed as “Cap” by his teammates and coach for his instrumental leadership prowess, Jabbar tortured any player up against him inside the arc. Not a physically gifted center, Jabbar made it up with his speed and reach. His vertical was listed at 13 feet – an unmatchable jump. Centers today copy his innovative “Sky-hook” or a hook shot where he would release the ball at the highest point after bending drastically in motion. On a humorous note, Jabbar’s opponent in the jump-off before the game began, quiet rarely attempted to actually jump and put in an effort knowing there was only one winner.

If football has Pele and cricket has Vivian Richards, basketball has its very own Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – an embodiment of invincibility.

Published 04 Aug 2012, 12:13 IST
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