There are no guarantees in any NBA Draft, including the class that entered the Association in June 2018. Sure, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Deandre Ayton, among others, look like impact performers after their debut seasons, but plenty can change overnight in the league. Maybe, down the road, we'll be comparing the 2018 player-selection process to the group of individuals who began their pro careers in 2000 as members of arguably the worst class in modern history.
Meanwhile, the Zion Williamson hype train departed the station long before the night of June 20, 2019. As SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell wrote the week of this year's draft, both Williamson and Ja Morant (probably) knew their future league homes well before they booked flights to New York and chose which outfits to wear to the Barclays Center. Will either of them be remembered as the best pick of his draft, or will a sleeper selection rise up the ranks before such lists are updated six months ahead of 2030?
In January 2019, Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report wondered if Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic was enjoying a better debut season than LeBron James did back in 2003-04. While Trae Young did well to close the gap in the ROTY race during the second half of the campaign, no player is, as of June 2019, a better draft selection from 2018 than the third pick who led all rookies in points per game and also averaged six assists per contest. In April, Drew Packham of NBA.com named Doncic his Rookie of the Year while adding the following: "He led all rookies in scoring while becoming the only rookie to average 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961."
There may come a day when Jayson Tatum is a superior pick over Donovan Mitchell, but that day is not today. As Mychal Lowman of SLC Dunk explained, Mitchell responded well following a slow start to his sophomore NBA campaign by averaging "26.5 points on 21 shots a game" over the second half of the season. The 13th selection of the 2017 NBA Draft has been good for roughly 22 points a night his first two years in the Association.
If Pascal Siakam isn't the runaway winner for Most Improved Player for 2018-19, some people need to lose their voting privileges. The 27th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft evolved from an off-the-bench contributor to a starter for a championship club capable of averaging over nearly 17 points per game. As Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet explained, Spicy P refined multiple aspects of his game, including his three-point shooting. After converting 14.3 percent and 22 percent of his beyond-the-arc attempts his first two seasons, respectively, the 25-year-old drained roughly 37 percent of such attempts during Toronto's title-winning campaign.
D'Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis may have something to say about this five years from now, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the best and smartest decision as the first pick of the 2015 NBA Draft . Along with averaging a double-double every season of his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure, KAT made strides to improve his defense during the 2018-19 campaign. As Ben Beecken of Dunking with Wolves wrote, the two-time All-Star picked his game up after Feb. 1, 2019, suggesting his ceiling may be higher than some thought ahead of New Year's Day.
Is there anybody out there who still doesn't Trust the Process? Perhaps the biggest question hovering over Joel Embiid's career at the moment is which award he will win first. The third selection of the 2014 NBA Draft who averaged over 27 points a night in 2018-19 can contend for MVP, but he's also going to pursue Defensive Player of the Year honors sooner than later. As Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway pointed out, it was a surprise the 25-year-old wasn't a finalist for that award this spring.
The Milwaukee Bucks grabbing Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th overall in 2013 could, by 2029, go down as an all-time draft steal. At just 24 years old, the Greek Freak should edge out James Harden in the MVP race for the 2018-19 season, as Antetokounmpo is, no disrespect meant to Kawhi Leonard, the league's best two-way player. He could double as Defensive Player of the Year and MVP multiple times during his prime.
It's understood Draymond Green isn't everybody's cup of tea, but he deserves to be acknowledged as one of the best bargains in NBA history at the 35th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft . A pivotal member of the Golden State Warriors dynasty who played his best ball when it mattered most during those title campaigns, Green is a three-time champion who would probably have a fourth ring had he not gotten suspended for a contest during the 2016 NBA Finals and if Stephen Curry would've matched his performance in Game 7 of that series.
Instead of comparing Kawhi Leonard to Michael, Kobe or LeBron, maybe we should just enjoy him for what he is. Taken 15th in 2011, Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP who, according to Paul Pierce, just delivered one of the greatest postseason runs ever. Unfortunately for a league routinely down in TV ratings this past season, Leonard is also a walking advertisement for load management and for stars saving themselves for springtime play.
This past February, The Ringer's Dan Devine explained Paul George was playing the best basketball of his career. The 10th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft may not have been able to guide the Oklahoma City Thunder to a Finals appearance, but the 29-year-old performed like an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year for much of the 2018-19 season. We'll see if he can be the Association's best two-way player at the start of next decade if he remains healthy.
Six teams went in other directions before the Golden State Warriors acquired Stephen Curry in 2009. Sure, James Harden was a smart choice at No. 3, but he isn't a three-time champion named the league's first unanimous MVP who also happens to be the greatest three-point shooter anybody's seen. Curry's Hall of Fame status is already cemented. Will he add more rings to his personal trophy case now that the Golden State Warriors dynasty is apparently finished?
It doesn't feel like it was all that long ago when one-time MVP Derrick Rose would've been the choice here, but No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook has leapfrogged Rose in the figurative race. The MVP for the 2016-17 season tied for second in all-time triple-doubles is an eight-time All-NBA selection and two-time scoring champion. Granted, his shooting slumps often burn the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they don't erase his Hall of Fame statistics.
Kevin Durant isn't the greatest ever second overall pick (shout-out to 11-time champ Bill Russell), but K.D. nevertheless is one of the best to ever feature in the Association. The four-time scoring champion named regular-season MVP for the 2013-14 season who twice won Finals MVP will be 31 the next time we see him take the court off a ruptured Achilles. As Bleacher Report's Howard Beck put it, the Durant we knew at the start of 2019 may be gone for good.
Kyle Lowry is now an NBA champion, but the 21st selection of the 2006 NBA Draft still deserves the nod here. While Rajon Rondo is no longer the four-time All-Star and four-time All-Defensive player able to lead the league in assists per game as he's done on three occasions, he showed in March 2019 he's still capable of offering plenty for a postseason side when he became the second player to register a triple-double with five different clubs.
Chris Paul's legacy is that of one of the best ever two-way players who, unfortunately, has dealt with unlucky injury setbacks. A nine-time All-Star named to nine All-Defensive teams, the fourth pick of the 2005 NBA Draft sits seventh in career assists, and he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he calls time on his playing days. Perhaps he's considering making a move this summer in a final attempt to claim the ring that's eluded him for over a decade.
While Dwight Howard was a no-brainer for the first pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, Andre Iguodala's value at No. 9 shouldn't be undersold. Never the best player in the Association, Iggy merely turned into a three-time champion with two All-Defensive appearances who won MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals. As Khadrice Rollins of Sports Illustrated wrote, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr spoke of Iguodala's importance to the club's dynastic run following the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
You probably don't need us to tell you LeBron James was the best grab from the 2003 NBA Draft . The three-time champ with three NBA Finals MVP awards in his personal trophy case turns 35 years old before 2020, and Father Time is clearly in pursuit of his remaining gifts. Can he prove to be the Association's king one last time with the Los Angeles Lakers, or has his unofficial retirement tour already begun?
As Slam's Marcel Mutoni wrote, Yao Ming claimed in 2016 he didn't expect to be inducted into the Hall of Fame so soon after he retired. The first pick in 2002 earned that honor, as he was an eight-time All-Star with five All-NBA appearances. In September 2016, Tom Hawking of Rolling Stone referred to the 7-footer as "the most under-appreciated first-ballot Hall of Fame basketball player ever."
Has the last pick of any NBA first round performed better than Tony Parker? Taken 28th overall in 2001 , Parker was part of four San Antonio Spurs squads that won titles, and the six-time All-Star was named MVP of the 2007 NBA Finals. After he retired in the spring of 2019, Charles Curtis of For the Win called Parker "the greatest European guard ever to play in the NBA."
In 2015, Bleacher Report's Josh Martin referred to the 2000 NBA Draft class as "hauntingly terrible." Ben Leibowitz of Business 2 Community called that group of talent "historically awful." We have to pick somebody, per our rules, so we'll go with Jamal Crawford. While Crawford hasn't been an All-Star as a pro, the eighth selection in 2000 was, as Rowan Kavner of NBA.com explained, the first player to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award three times, something he accomplished in 2016. According to the league's official website, Crawford has accumulated more career points (19,414) than any other player never selected to an All-Star squad.
In August 2018, Fox Sports Southwest listed Manu Ginobili as the greatest draft steal in NBA history. Using the 57th pick of the 1999 draft, the San Antonio Spurs acquired a shooting guard who won four championships with the organization, earned All-NBA honors twice and was named Sixth Man of the Year for the 2007-08 season. As Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post wrote, Ginobili perfected the Eurostep unlike any player before him.
Little could the Milwaukee Bucks have guessed when they traded the rights to 1998 No. 9 draft pick Dirk Nowitzki that he'd become the greatest European player in NBA history. Nowitzki won 2011 NBA Finals MVP after the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat, and he made 14 All-Star appearances before retiring following the 2018-19 season. He's sixth all-time in career points and one of only six individuals to tally over 31,000 career points.
In a way, it's fitting Tim Duncan is an easy choice from the 1997 NBA Draft, as "The Big Fundamental" often made doing every little thing on the court appear effortless. The five-time champ was named to 15 All-Defensive Teams during his Hall of Fame career, and Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote Duncan was "the greatest two-way player in modern NBA history" after he retired. Any Mount Rushmore of greatest first-overall NBA draft selections must include Duncan's face.
Whenever you're battling some self-doubt regarding your career, remember Kobe Bryant fell all the way to No. 13 in the 1996 NBA Draft. Along with being a five-time champion and 18-time All-Star, Bryant made 12 All-Defensive appearances while completing his Hall of Fame tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. As Cork Gaines of Business Insider wrote, only four players won more trophies than Bryant as of his 2016 retirement.
Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace were all drafted ahead of Kevin Garnett in 1995 , making KG one of the best No. 5 picks in league history. Called the best all-around player to ever feature for the Boston Celtics by franchise great Cedric Maxwell in 2018, as Fred Katz of Mass Live wrote, Garnett won league MVP in 2004 and Defensive Player in 2008, the same year he helped Boston win a title as a member of the team's "Big Three" that included Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The 15-time All-Star, who made 12 All-Defensive and nine All-NBA appearances, is second in career defensive rebounds. As ESPN's Chris Forsberg wrote in 2018, Garnett will be part of a legendary Hall of Fame class come 2020.
Jason Kidd may not be the man you want running things from the sidelines or the front office, but he certainly was worth the second pick of the 1994 NBA Draft. One of the best passers in NBA history, Kidd was a 10-time All-Star named All-NBA six times and All-Defensive on nine occasions, and he led the Association in assists five different seasons. Per Dwain Price of Mavs.com, the one-time champion was third in all-time three-pointers drained when he retired in 2013. Kidd is still second all-time in steals behind only John Stockton.
Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn were three of the first four picks of the 1993 draft. Sam Cassell , meanwhile, fell to the Houston Rockets at selection No. 24. Along with being named All-NBA for the 2003-04 season, Cassell won three rings, in total, two with the Rockets and his last as a member of the Boston Celtics. During his prime, he was one of the game's best mid-range shooters.
We won't go so far to name Shaquille O'Neal the greatest player in history, but we will admit the 1992 draftee was the most physically dominant first-overall pick to play in the Association. The four-time champion who thrice won NBA Finals MVP terrorized opponents so much that the league amended and implemented rules in attempts to limit his supremacy. ESPN once named Shaq one of the 10 best players ever, and he retired seventh all time in points, per NBA.com. He's still 10th on the list even though he called time on his career after the 2010-11 season.
As much as gamers loved using Larry Johnson in titles that came out in the 1990s, Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo is the man who should've gone first in the 1991 NBA Draft . The eight-time All-Star led the league in blocked shots three seasons, and only Hakeem Olajuwon rejected more attempts over a career. Per Land of Basketball , Mutombo became the first player to win Defensive Player of the Year four times in 2001. Only Ben Wallace has matched that achievement.
Arguably the greatest defensive guard in league history entered the NBA via the second pick of the 1990 NBA Draft. Known as "The Glove," Gary Payton made nine All-Star, nine All-NBA and nine All-Defensive appearances, and he was named Defensive Player of the Year for the 1995-96 campaign, the same season he accumulated more steals than any other player. Per ESPN, the one-time champion is still the only point guard to ever win DPOY.
Those running the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989 probably didn't immediately realize they landed a Hall of Famer with the 26th pick of that draft class. Vlade Divac never won a ring as a player, but the big man was an All-Star who, as ESPN's Marc Stein explained, retired as one of only four men who totaled at least 13,000 career points, 9,000 career rebounds, 3,000 career assists and 1,500 career blocked shots. He may have been the league's all-time best passing big man until Nikola Jokic grabbed that distinction.
In August 2014, ESPN's Israel Gutierrez chronicled Mitch Richmond's "validation" when the fifth pick of the 1988 NBA Draft was welcomed into the Hall of Fame. After winning Rookie of the Year honors, Richmond made six All-Star teams and five All-NBA appearances, and he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers side that won the title in 2002. As Gutierrez wrote, Richmond often didn't receive the respect he earned, largely because he routinely played for bad teams.
As Batman needed his Robin, Michael Jordan never won a ring without Scottie Pippen in the Chicago Bulls lineup. The fifth pick of the 1987 NBA Draft, Pippen, a six-time champion named to 10 All-Defensive teams, was referred to as the "NBA's greatest secondary player" by ESPN's J.A. Adande in 2010. In 2016, Chris Bosh told ESPN he views Pippen as the most underrated player ever: "It's a little personal for me, because I understand filling a role and doing your job and it's very difficult to do that. You have to be really, really good to win a championship. As good as Michael was, you can't win a championship by yourself. You need someone who's your equal or pretty close. It hits close to home, but I don't know what it's like to win three in a row. He's pretty, pretty, pretty good [Larry David voice]."
Dennis Rodman continues to make headlines for off-the-court comments, appearances and alleged incidents, but let's all take a moment to remember him as the Association's greatest-ever rebounder. Taken 27th overall in 1986 , Rodman won five rings playing with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, and the eight-time All-Defensive star was twice named Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged over 13 boards per game during his career and won seven rebounding titles.
Why is it that so many underrate Karl Malone? Second on the all-time scoring list, the 13th pick of the 1985 NBA Draft twice won league MVP, was named All-NBA 14 times and was first-team All-Defensive for three seasons. "The Mailman" is, at the very least, the greatest player to never win a title, and he may be the Association's best-ever power forward.
The Portland Trailblazers taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984 will likely always be seen as the biggest draft miscue in the history of North American professional sports. His Airness won six rings and 10 scoring titles and retired with the highest points per game average in history, a mark that likely won't ever be topped. NBA.com lists M.J.'s career accomplishments and records which are far too many to be mentioned here. Don't forget he also saved the planet from the Monstars.
The greatest player to ever feature for the Portland Trail Blazers went 14th overall in 1983. A holder of multiple franchise records, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler made 10 All-Star teams and five All-NBA appearances, but it wasn't until after he completed the switch to the Houston Rockets that he won a title, in 1995. Granted, Michael Jordan playing baseball for a couple of years opened this opportunity for Drexler, but he and the Rockets did well to walk through the door and claim the championship.
One couldn't go wrong with Dominique Wilkins here, but James Worthy, the first pick in 1982, was one of the best big-game players of his generation. A three-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Worthy was a seven-time All-Star named MVP of the 1988 NBA Finals. His triple-double in the final game of that series remains one of the best closeout performances in league history.
Fortune smiled upon the Detroit Pistons in 1981 when the Dallas Mavericks drafted Mark Aguirre and allowed Isiah Thomas to fall to the second overall spot. One of the best guards in league history, Thomas became a key figure of the "Bad Boys" Pistons that won the NBA Finals in 1989 and 1990. The 12-time All-Star was named the MVP of the '90 championship series. In April 2017, Bill Dow of the Detroit Free Press referred to Thomas as the greatest Pistons player ever.
In July 2016, Professor Parquet of Celtics Blog offered 21 reasons for why he believes Kevin McHale was better than Tim Duncan. We're not so sure about that, but the third pick of the 1980 NBA Draft was an all-time great in his own right. McHale won three rings with the Boston Celtics, and the seven-time All-Star was named to six All-Defensive teams. An iconic sixth man of his era, McHale owns the Boston franchise record for blocks per game (1.7).
The Los Angeles Lakers got it spot-on when the franchise grabbed Magic Johnson first overall in 1979. In 2018, Slam Magazine called Johnson, a five-time champion named NBA Finals MVP on three occasions, the third greatest player in history back in 2018. Per ESPN , Pat Riley once went even further by praising Magic, who played every position during his tenure with the Lakers, as "the greatest player of all time."
It's not a stretch to say there will never be a better No. 6 draft pick than Larry Bird. The 12-time All-Star won three rings and was named NBA Finals MVP twice. Larry Legend was one of the game's purest shooters and passers, not to mention a genius defender. In June 2015, Greg Doyel of the Indy Star explained why he feels not even Stephen Curry can match Bird as it pertains to getting buckets.
Bernard King began his career as the seventh pick of the 1977 NBA Draft, and the four-time All-Star went on to achieve Hall of Fame greatness. Also a four-time All-NBA selection, King won the scoring title for the 1984-85 season, and he's 50th in career points. ESPN once named King the fifth-greatest Knick in franchise history.
As the No. 29 pick back in 1976, Dennis Johnson remains one of the best values in draft history. The MVP for the 1979 NBA Finals won two more rings with the Boston Celtics, and the five-time All-Star converted a historic and crucial layup in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. He was also an All-Defensive selection nine times.
Bill Walton went first overall in 1974, but Jamaal Wilkes was an excellent value grab with the 11th selection. Along with winning Rookie of the Year, Wilkes was a three-time All-Star named All-Defensive twice, and he was part of four different championship rosters. In 2012, the Los Angeles Lakers retired his jersey.
Injuries prevented Doug Collins from reaching what appeared to be a high ceiling when he entered the league in 1973. The first pick from that draft, Collins was an All-Star every year from 1975 through 1979. As ESPN's Michael Wilbon wrote, a brutal left knee tear Collins suffered in 1980 altered his career trajectory. He retired after the 1980-81 season.
Julius Erving spent the first portion of his career in the ABA, but nobody selected in the 1972 NBA Draft deserves more recognition. A 16-time All-Star named All-League on 12 occasions, Dr. J won MVP for four seasons, and he's widely considered one of the sport's best in-game dunkers of the ball. NBA.com named the three-time champion "the main catalyst for the ABA-NBA merger in 1976."
Drafted after only Austin Carr in 1971, Sidney Wicks won Rookie of the Year honors, and he was named an All-Star in each of his first four seasons in the league. While his points per game average fell every year following his debut campaign, he nevertheless notched over 22 points a night during five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. He still holds the franchise record in minutes per game.
Eighteen players went off the board before the Cincinnati Royals grabbed Nate "Tiny" Archibald in 1970. The six-time All-Star named All-NBA on five occasions produced a Hall of Fame career, and he made history during the 1972-73 season when, per NBA.com, he became the first player to lead the Association in points and assists per game. Archibald won his lone title with the Boston Celtics in 1981.
When you're gifted with the opportunity to draft the Association's all-time leading scorer first overall, you don't get the decision wrong. Per The New York Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar elected to avoid a bidding war and sign with the Milwaukee Bucks after the club selected him in the 1969 NBA Draft, and he went on to become the greatest pro basketball player ever. Among his numerous achievements, Kareem won MVP more times (six) than any other individual.
Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink.