Monday, April 1, 2013

Ranking the #1 Overall NBA Picks since 1984

Before we get too all into baseball, as we kind of already are as evidenced by last week's posts, let's take a step back and remember that basketball is starting to get real good. The playoffs will be starting soon, and it's gonna be a great year for the NBA. And to get your basketball juices flowing, I'm going to put together one of our grand lists that will be talked about for generations: the best #1 overall picks in the NBA draft since 1984.

1984 was arguably the best draft ever, fielding such greats as the GOAT, Hakeem, Barkley, Stockton, and many others. I also sort of think of it as the beginning of the modern NBA, when players and teams started playing the game we more or less see today. Starting a ranking of this sort in 1984 seems to make sense.

There are a few criteria for determining the value of a #1 overall pick. The first and most important criterion is the goodness of the player. How good was this player? Normal criteria for judging "goodness" apply, more or less as I outlined in my Duncan vs. Kobe extravaganza.

The next most important criterion is the relative goodness of players selected in that draft. For instance, Ralph Sampson may have been a fine first pick in the 1983 draft, but his value is lowered as a #1 pick because Clyde Drexler was the 14th pick. Generally speaking, however, the proximity of a better pick to the #1 pick matters. For instance, Mark Aguirre was a fine #1 pick in 1981, but because Isiah Thomas was chosen #2, that very much lowers Aguirre's value. In the Sampson/Drexler case, the fact that Drexler was the #14 pick means that teams really didn't have a way of knowing that Drexler would be so great, or else they would have picked him way earlier. So the closer a better pick is to #1, the more it negatively affects the #1 pick's value.

The final and by far least important criterion is the value that player had to the team that drafted him. Being a #1 pick usually means that the team who picks you expects a ton out of you. If you helped the team that drafted you to win a lot, that's super valuable. If the team that drafted you ended up trading you for people who ended up helping them to win, that's still a lot of value, though perhaps not as much.

So we're starting in 1984 (Akeem Olajuwon) and going until 2009 (Blake Griffin). The last 3 picks have not had nearly enough time to see if they've panned out, so we won't include them. Not that Blake Griffin has had enough time to prove that much either, but we gotta make the cutoff point somewhere.

Okay, ground rules set. LET'S DO THE DAMN THING.

26. Greg Oden. Poor Greg. Hasn't really played in the NBA, and Kevin GD Durant was picked right after him. Yikes.

25. Pervis Ellison. He sucked.

24. Kwame Brown. Yikes.

23. Michael Olowakandi. The Candy Man can't.

22. Derrick Coleman. Not a great player, and Gary Payton was taken 2nd overall.

21. Andrew Bogut. Constantly hurt, and this was the draft in which Deron Williams and Chris Paul went #3 and #4.

20. Joe Smith. A very meh player overall, and the next four players taken in that draft: Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and Kevin Garnett. Joe is BY FAR the worst of those 5.

19. Andrea Bargnani. Hasn't really panned out so much in the NBA. He's a big guy who "can shoot" but is an extremely inefficient scorer and can't rebound. LaMarcus Aldridge, a vastly better player, was taken 2nd overall. Andrea would be farther down on this list had the 2006 draft been any good (only other All-Star level players from 2006 were Brandon Roy and Rajon Rondo).

18. Danny Manning. An okay player, but definitely below average for a #1 overall pick. The 1988 draft wasn't great, with notable players selected being Rik Smits at #2, Mitch Richmond at #5 (probably best overall player in the draft), and Dan Majerle at #14.

17. Glenn Robinson. Big Dog was a very good player, but his value drops considerably when you learn that Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were taken #2 and #3. Even Juwan Howard (#5) and Eddie Jones (#10) are arguably better players than Glenn. This draft spawned some never-ending careers, geez.

16. Brad Daugherty. Brad was an excellent NBA player, but his career only spanned 8 years. He really benefits from having been picked in a VERY thin year for the NBA draft. This is partially due to Len Bias's tragic death, but this draft was nothing. The best player to come out of this draft was almost definitely Dennis Rodman, who was chosen 27th overall. Mark Price, Arvydas Sabonis, and Jeff Hornacek were all chosen #24-46, and they're the other best players from this draft. The best first-rounder other than Daugherty and Sabonis was probably Ron Harper at #8. Geez.

15. Larry Johnson. Weird to see Grandmama this low, but that just goes to show you that #1 overall picks are usually pretty good. LJ was a good player, and the draft was relatively weak, but #1 overall picks are pretty spectacular.

14. Yao Ming. Poor Yao's foot ended his career way too soon, but he was an awesome player for a good number of years. Yao is hurt a bit by the fact that Amar'e was taken at #9, but Yao is the best of picks #1-8 (Nene at #7 would be the second-best).

13. Elton Brand. Elton has had a very good career, and he is sort of a poster child for his draft. 1999 produced no superstars, but a good number of very good players, including Steve Francis at #2, Baron Davis at #3, Lamar Odom at #4, Wally Szczerbiak at #6, Rip Hamilton at #7, Andre Miller at #8, Shawn Marion at #9, Ron Artest at #16, Andre Kirilenko at #24, and Manu Ginobili at #57. A lot of those guys are sort of in the same category in terms of NBA greatness, and while Brand doesn't stand out, he definitely doesn't disappoint.

12. Blake Griffin. In only his fourth year playing, time will tell in terms of how good Blake ends up being. The fact is that he was drafted 5 years ago and he has missed one full year. But he's a great player who blows the #2 overall pick, Hasheem Thabeet, out of the water. James Harden was #3, but so far Griffin has had a better career than Harden.

11. Kenyon Martin. Kenyon's had a very solid and long career, helping teams with rebounding, inside presence, and a little scoring wherever he's been. He was also by far the best player in his draft. The 2000 draft sucked. The only other truly notable player was Michael Redd, taken at #43. I guess Jamaal Magloire was an All-Star once, and he was taken 19th. Kenyon Martin is the shining star of this draft by far. Like Jamal Crawford and (#8) and Mike Miller (#5) round out the top 5 players from this draft. Boy oh boy.

10. Allen Iverson. Great scorer, MVP, led the 76ers to a Finals appearance. The problem is that Iverson was taken in one of the top 3 drafts since 1984. The best player from this draft is Kobe Bryant (#13), and guys like Steve Nash (#15) and Ray Allen (#5) would have been the best players in most of these other drafts. Just look up this draft on Wikipedia. It was friggin' stacked.

9. David Robinson. David is a Hall of Fame player, but this draft had great talent. 1987 gave us Scottie Pippen at #5, Reggie Miller at #11, and Mark Jackson at #18. Robinson is probably the second- or third-best player from this draft. He is, however, BY FAR the best of the top 4 picks, which helps his case a bit.

8. Chris Webber. Chris Webber is an interesting case because he never played for the team that drafted him (the Orlando Magic). The Magic already had Shaq, so they didn't want another big guy. They ended up trading Webber for Penny Hardaway (#3 in this draft) and some draft picks that turned into Mike Miller, Todd Fuller, and Vince Carter. Not a bad trade overall. He was also the best player in a moderately good draft, which helps.

7. Derrick Rose. He was the MVP in his third season. He didn't deserve it, but this recognition shows just how good of a player he is. He, like Blake, has missed a full year, one of his 6. But he's led his Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference, and is a really awesome player. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love were taken 4th and 5th in this draft, so it was a pretty good draft overall, but Rose does stand out as the best.

6. Dwight Howard. He led his team to the Finals one year, and has been the best center in the league for a WHILE. He also very much stands out as the best player from the 2004 draft, with Luol Deng at #7 and Andre Iguodala at #9 coming the closest to him. Still pretty surprisingly high on this list.

5. Patrick Ewing. Led his team to the Finals and is a Hall of Famer. Famously, he never won a championship, and a few guys on this list have. He was also only maybe the best player from his draft, with Karl Malone going 13th. Still, he's by far the best of #1-12, the closest being Chris Mullin at #7.

4. Akeem Olajuwon. (H)Akeem is my favorite non-Celtic ever, and he led his team to 2 championships. An absolute rock star of a draft pick. The elephant in the room, however, is that the 1984 draft was probably the best draft ever, and the Greatest of All Time, Michael Jordan, was taken at #3. The fact that Hakeem is the 2nd-best player in this draft is a testament to his greatness, because not only was MJ in this draft, but Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and other All-Stars and All-NBAers were taken in 1984. That's what drops Hakeem to #4.

3. LeBron James. When all things are said and done, it's hard to envision a world in which LeBron James isn't considered a top-5 player of all time. He's led his team to one championship so far, and he led the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to a Finals all by himself. He was the best player in the 2003 draft, but that draft was absolutely stacked. Dwyane Wade, taken 5th overall, led his team to a championship. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh were also in this draft. So as for value of a #1 overall pick, LeBron is the closest to the best you can get without actually being the best. And that's what drops him to #3.

2. Shaquille O'Neal. He led teams to 4 championships, and he led the Magic, who drafted him, to the Finals. He is on the upper echelon of all-time great players. He also was lucky in that his draft was not a very strong one. Alonzo Mourning was taken at #2, but after that it's a real pu pu platter. Christian Laettner at #3, Tom Gugliotta at #6, Latrell Sprewell at #24; this was not exactly 1996. But he didn't do everything he did for the team that drafted him, which prevents him from beating out...

1. Tim Duncan. Timmy absolutely fulfills every criterion to its fullest possible level. He has led his team to 4 championships and is the greatest power forward ever. He is a top-10 player, and anyone who doesn't think so isn't thinking hard enough. The 1997 draft was absolutely below average, with Chauncey Billups (#3) and Tracy McGrady (#9) being the only ones who made so much as an All-Star team. And Duncan has done all of this for the team that drafted him. The San Antonio Spurs have received more benefit from that pick than any team from any #1 since 1984.

So there you have it. The list. DISCUSS. DEBATE. Brad Daugherty before Glenn Robinson?! Whaaaat?!

And by the way, my pick for best #1 overall pick ever, even before 1984: Earvin Johnson, 1979, Los Angeles Lakers. Y'know, for the record.

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