The Value of the No. 1 Pick

Take out or delivery? Soup or salad? Blondes or brunettes? Shaken or stirred?

And now the latest of the great global debates...

Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?

But just how important is that No. 1 pick?

Is it the ultimate make-or-break it's said to be?

A quick look at the top five picks in each of the last 10 drafts suggests those sure-fire-can't-miss picks aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

2006

1. Toronto Raptors - Andrea Bargnani, F, Italy
2. Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Texas (traded to Portland)
3. Charlotte Bobcats - Adam Morrison, F, Gonzaga
4. Portland Trail Blazers - Tyrus Thomas, F, LSU (traded to Chicago)
5. Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams, F, Duke

Entirely too early to pass judgment on the Class of '06. Each have shown flashes and are essentially entirely interchangeable. Bargnani showed good promise down the stretch for the playoff-bound Raptors, but taking Shelden Williams first overall instead would have eliminated Toronto's postseason chances. We'll call it a wash for now, with a hunch that at least one of the rest of the guys in the top five turns out to be more valuable than Bargnani.

If they could do it over again — Minnesota wins best pick o' the first round with Brandon Roy at No. 6 — even though they promptly shipped him to Portland. When it's all said and done, Roy may prove to be the only game-changer from last year's first round.

2005

1. Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Bogut, C, Utah
2. Atlanta Hawks - Marvin Williams, F, North Carolina
3. Utah Jazz - Deron Williams, G, Illinois
4. New Orleans Hornets - Chris Paul, G, Wake Forest
5. Charlotte Bobcats - Raymond Felton, G, North Carolina

Think Milwaukee would like a do-over on the can't-miss Bogut for any of the guards that went No. 3-5? Yeah, me, too. Going into the draft, there was never any doubt the top pick would be the big Aussie from Utah. Yet, D-Will and C.P. are already top-tier players at their position after just their second year in the league, and even Felton has shown flashes of franchise potential.

As far as that coveted no-brainer top pick, some would argue David Lee (picked 30th by the Knicks) is, and will be, a better pro than Bogut. Ouch.

If they could do it over again — Before the playoffs started, Paul would've been the easy nominee for the man most deserving of being the top pick. Now given my choice, I'd have to flip a coin over the guys who went three and four. Take me to task and I'll go with Paul over the long haul.

2004

1. Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard, F, SW Atlanta Christian Academy
2. Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor, F/C, Connecticut
3. Chicago Bulls - Ben Gordon, G, Connecticut
4. L.A. Clippers - Shaun Livingston, G, Peoria Central HS (IL)
5. Washington Wizards - Devin Harris, G, Wisconsin (traded to DAL)

Can't argue against myself just to try and prove a point here. Hands down, Howard has proven to be the cream of the 2004 crop. Points and FG percentage have increased every year for the lean leaper, while averaging 11-plus boards a game in his three-year career. And forget Gerald Green. D-How was robbed in the dunk contest this year. After all, isn't that the true way to measure our superstars these days?

If they could do it over again — The slam dunking, sticker-on-the-glass-posting Mr. Howard. No doubt about it. Although the 16 teams who passed on the versatile Josh Smith have to be kicking themselves. But still, in this case study, Howard is our first undeniable example thus far of a legit and deserved top overall selection.

2003

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James, F, St. Vincent-St. Mary's HS
2. Detroit Pistons - Darko Milicic, F/C, Serbia and Montenegro
3. Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony, F, Syracuse
4. Toronto Raptors - Chris Bosh, F, Georgia Tech
5. Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, G, Marquette

We didn't know it at the time, but the 2003 draft could prove to be the stuff legends are made of (a la the NFL QB class of '83). You would be hard-pressed to find a top five equal to the level of talent we see here, perhaps in any sport at any time. The disappointing Darko aside (and because the kid can't get any playing time no matter where he goes, we still have no clue if he's really any good), four of the top five from '03 have already proven to be franchise players. Every single one of them.

But as far as that top pick goes, arguments still linger whether D-Wade was a better bargain at five than Bron Bron was at number one. Truthfully if not for injuries, I'm not so sure Wade isn't the easy pick here as Best in Show. The whole "LeBron is King," "I Am a Witness" thing is all good for selling shoes. But I'll take the guy who can score, rebound, pass, and play an all-star caliber level of defense night in and night out — and that's Wade.

For those of you who have already forgotten, Wade was the reason Miami won the title in 2006 — not Shaq. He led his team and made those around him better. LeBron needs to figure out how to do the latter before you can sell me he's the pick. Of course, I don't question Cleveland's pick for a second. Coming in, my grandmother's labradoodle knew James was the only choice at the top of the draft. I'm just saying, look at where we are now.

If they could do it over again — LBJ was the right pick, although at this point, I'll gladly take Wade four picks later. Other than his inability beyond the arc (something LeBron ain't so great at it, either) I challenge you to find me a flaw in Flash's game. Look all you want, it's not there.

2002

1. Houston Rockets - Yao Ming, C, Shanghai Sharks
2 Chicago Bulls - Jay Williams, G, Duke
3 Golden State Warriors - Mike Dunleavy, G/F, Duke
4 Memphis Grizzlies - Drew Gooden, F, Kansas
5 Denver Nuggets - Nikoloz Tskitishvili, F, Italy

And at the complete opposite end of the talent spectrum from 2003, we proudly present the collective stink bomb known as the 2002 draft. Although to be fair, the athletic ineptitude extends far beyond the top five. A quick glance at the draft board reveals that only about 15 of the 58 players selected still hold NBA jobs. That's a worse success rate than Paris Hilton vs. the breathalyzer. Go Paris! But I digress. For the point of this argument, the top pick was well spent on Yao, in what was another year with little or no debate as to who would be the first player taken. And looking at the competition, it's hard to argue. I'll credit Houston with making the right pick by default.

If they could do it over again — Hopefully the eight GMs who passed on Amare Stoudemire had a career backup plan because their calling was clearly not in evaluating potential NBA talent. Hold the draft now and Amare walks up to meet David Stern holding that No. 1 jersey.

2001

1. Washington Wizards - Kwame Brown, F, Glynn Academy
2. L.A. Clippers - Tyson Chandler, F, Dominguez HS (traded to Chicago)
3. Atlanta - Pau Gasol, F, Barcelona (traded to Memphis)
4. Chicago - Eddy Curry, F/C, Thornwood (Ill.) H.S.
5. Golden State - Jason Richardson, G/F, Michigan State

Stop me if you've heard this one. A priest, a rabbi, and a pizza delivery man are on a boat. The priest turns to the rabbi and...

Oh, sorry, I drifted off there for a second. Um, what can I say about the top five in 2001 other than any of the four that went after the perennially cantankerous Kwame turned out to be much better picks. No matter how you slice it, the No. 1 pick was a waste in '01, yet at the time, Kwame was the consensus choice.

If they could do it over again — How about a 6'2" guard out of France named William Anthony Parker — also known as the reigning NBA Finals MVP and three-time champion Tony Parker — coming off the board with the very last pick in the first round? Not only was he the 28th player taken, but seven other guards went before him in Round 1 including juggernauts Raul Lopez, Jeryl Sasser, and Joe Forte.

2000

1. New Jersey Nets - Kenyon Martin, C, Cincinnati
2. Vancouver Grizzlies - Stromile Swift, F, Louisiana State
3. L.A. Clippers - Darius Miles, F, East Saint Louis HS (IL)
4. Chicago Bulls - Marcus Fizer, F, Iowa State
5. Magic - Mike Miller, F, Florida

If not for injuries, this might have actually been one of the drafts to illustrate what happens with a smart choice at number one. Sadly, that's not the case as injuries have absolutely decimated K-Mart's career. Meanwhile, Mike Miller has improved year after year and just turned in a stellar 2006 campaign, averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest.

On the flip side, Martin played just two games last year and his points and rebounds had declined in each of the three previous seasons prior to that. Put both guys up on the block and tell 10 GMs to pick one and you'll have 10 votes for the shaggy shooting Gator. Consider another top pick down the drain.

If they could do it over again — Surprisingly, it's Miller. Too bad it's not a Worst Dancer Contest or Mark Madsen is a runaway winner with the last pick of the first round.

1999

1. Chicago Bulls - Elton Brand, F, Duke
2. Vancouver Grizzlies - Steve Francis, G, Maryland
3. Charlotte Hornets - Baron Davis, G, UCLA
4 L.A. Clippers - Lamar Odom, F, Rhode Island
5. Toronto Raptors - Jonathan Bender, F, Picayune HS

Gotta love what the Baron of Westwood did with the Warriors in the postseason, but let's not get caught up in the moment here, people. Elton Brand has averaged 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game over this eight-year career. Some guys go their whole careers without averaging a double-double for a season, let alone a career.

Coming out of college, Francis, Davis, and Odom were definitely the sexier picks. Kudos to the Bulls for seeing past it and taking E.B. — even if they dumped him two years later. Still, Brand was the right pick then and he's the right pick now.

If they could do it over again — A lot of capable candidates here — Rip Hamilton at 7; Shawn Marion at 9; and of course, who can forget the New York Knicks astute scouting of French seven-footer and soon-to-be Vince Carter poster boy Frederic Weis at 15? Oh yeah, a guy named Ron Artest went one pick later. Nevertheless, the aforementioned Mr. Brand takes the cake as the right pick.

1998

1. L.A. Clippers - Michael Olowokandi, C, Pacific
2. Vancouver Grizzlies - Mike Bibby, PG, Arizona
3. Denver Nuggets - Raef LaFrentz, F, Kansas
4. Toronto Raptors - Antawn Jamison, F, North Carolina (traded to Golden State)
5. Golden State - Vince Carter, G, North Carolina (traded to Toronto)

If Portland takes a good look at the Class of '98, shear fright alone might ensure Kevin Durant gets the call at No. 1. The big difference is the Candy Man made his mark at the collegiate level against the likes of St. Mary's, Chico State, and UC Irvine, unlike Oden, who made his mettle against some of basketball's biggest powers — and much of it with a bum hand that is now healed.

Opponents aside, Olowokandi clearly proved himself to be anything but worthy of a top pick right from the start. Bibby, Jamison, and Carter are perennial all-stars and all went after the big man from Pacific was gone. You get the feeling the teams that lucked out are thankful they weren't in a position to make the same mistake at No. 1 — yet another wasted pick.

If they could do it over again — Ironically, this year's best pick goes hand-in-hand in what could go down as one of the worst trades in NBA history. We're talking Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen quality here. When Milwaukee handed their pick to the commish at No. 9, they had pegged a scrawny seven-foot European import as their pick. Unfortunately, they decided to deal him to Dallas in exchange for Robert "Tractor" Traylor. You might have heard of the Euro — he's current NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki.

1997

1. San Antonio - Tim Duncan, C, Wake Forest
2. Philadelphia - Keith Van Horn, F, Utah
3. Boston - Chauncey Billups, G, Colorado
4. Vancouver - Antonio Daniels, G, Bowling Green
5. Denver - Tony Battie, C, Texas Tech

Now this is how you spend a No. 1 pick. Talk about a heck of a time for the Spurs to go in the tank for a season — who knew when David Robinson went down with a back injury after only six games in 1996, it would position San Antonio as an NBA dynasty in the making? And I don't care how boring they are, when you win four titles in nine years, yes, you are a dynasty. End of discussion. But let's get back on track. Is there really anything more I need to say here — in '97, the top pick was absolutely vital to the future of a franchise. No ifs, ands, or buts.

If they could do it over again — Let's see. Four championship rings. Two NBA MVP awards. Three Finals MVP trophies. Nine All-NBA First Team. The list goes on and on. Duncan. Duncan. Duncan.

***

Okay, so if you've stuck with me this long, first off, thank you for your diligence. And since you're still here, let's do a quick recap of what all this fun shows us before we go.

The key stat: only four times in the last 10 years did the player who went No. 1 prove to be the right choice. For all you math majors out there, that's six times the player taken first turned out to be worse that a guy taken after him.

So, while a pick other than Oden would be an absolute mistake for Portland, perhaps Al Horford, Joakim Noah, or Mike Conley might prove to be this year's Chris Paul, Antawn Jamison, or Dwyane Wade in the making.

But if you ask me, Greg Oden is much more Elton Brand than he is Kwame Brown and he's gotta be the pick. While Kevin Durant (who in case you hadn't heard, failed to bench 185 pounds even once at pre-draft workouts) could very well be Marvin Williams, Part Deux.

As for the next Tim Duncan? Hey, let's not get carried away here. There's only one.

Eric Anderson is a freelance sports writer based in Los Angeles. For more admittedly biased musings from the world of sports, poker, and entertainment, visit That's What HE Said.

Comments and Conversation

July 4, 2007

Brandon:

I agree with almost everything you said. I know you said LeBron was the right choice for the Cavaliers but you “subtly” insulted him by calling him Bron Bron and then saying you’d take D-Wade over him. Bron Bron is the only reason the Cavs made it to the finals and he carried the team the whole year. LeBron has been carrying the Cavs without a “Shaq” caliber player for the past 4 years, so what if Wade it for a stretch during one season. LeBron single handedly took game 5 from Detroit with one of the best performances in post season NBA history. Apparently, you have some kind of bias against LeBron and/or toward D-Wade. Does his ad campaign really annoy you that much or did he ever have a chance with you? Maybe you don’t like the fact that the high school phenom has lived up to the hype?
If you were starting a franchise and had the #1 pick (and that pick had to come from the 2003 draft), outside of Miami, you may be the only person on the planet to start it with Wade over LeBron.

July 4, 2007

Chad:

1. Bargnani will be good - probably the 2nd best player in that draft. Maybe you haven’t watched enough Raptors games.

2. Lebron was the right pick, as you stated, and there is no way that anybody would pick Wade over Lebron even now. Lebron not only has the skills, but also more marketability. Wade is great, but you can’t try and hint that he should have been considered number one

3. You challenge me to find a flaw in Wade’s game??? 3 point shooting (25% for his career). Want another? TO’s (over 4 a game, and almost 6 in last years playoffs). There.

4. Okay, here is my problem with this article. It fails to recognize that there is a difference between “sure fire” number one’s and “consensus” number one’s. Tim Duncan was sure, Yao Ming was almost sure (some were skeptical), Lebron was sure, and Oden/Durant are both considered sure.

Kandi, Brand, K-Mart, Kwame, Howard, Bogut, and Bargnani weren’t ever considered “sure” picks. They were consensus, but not guaranteed.

While you can argue against number one’s all you want - they are always safer than any other position. You could do an article on any other pick in the draft and find more “bad picks” than you did in this article…the reason is that number 1 is by far the safest.

Sure, you can find gems later on - like Amare, Josh Smith, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Steve Nash, etc etc etc…however, nobody would have ever taken them number one at that time and if you’re going to be drafting entirely on potential then you’re going to have missed a lot of picks as well (example: Kwame).

You also fail to realize “team needs” play a role in the draft process. Bogut was chosen because the Bucks needed a center (with T.J. Ford being a young PG). If they needed a PG, then they would have obviously chosen Williams or Paul. Same with the Clippers - if they never needed a C so bad then they would have probably taken Jamison.

All I’m saying is that your article is quite biased and without substance enough to make me think anybody would prefer a later pick than first. First is the safest pick guaranteed - you get the best chance at having the best player.

By the way - I counted 6.5 out of 10 for the first pick (one of them was a tie).

September 15, 2007

George:

Since Eric has not responded, I felt it was important to bring this information to his followers. This may not be about the above writings, but it is fun to read….geo

It never fails one way or the other you all bad rap Sosa I say Give the guy a chance, He was 16 when he signed with Texes, he was skinny, now he is 38 and 225 pounds, whats the big deal? Did he do steroids? who knows? Only he knows? The reason some people make it an issue is becasue Sammy seems to be stuck on himself. If any thinking person studdies Sammy or any sports figure who is dominican, they will realize that in learning English, they use the word “I” alot. Well, for God sakes, that doesn’t mean he is Evil. And as for those who critisize Sammy for bringing an interpreter to Congress, come on man, he is not fluent in English, Remember, “Baseball Been Very Good To Me”. The way you people twist things that people say, I dont blame him for bringing an interpreter, could you imagine if he slipped and said one thing and meant another. Sports reporters are bad enough, political reporters would have chewed him up and spit him out, not that most of you havent already. The facts are, nothing has been proven with the steroid issue, he is guily by association, He played during the time of steroid use by pitchers and hitters.
Picture this, your working long hours at work and you get home late every night, and your spouse accuses you of cheating, she knows your cheating, You know your not, you have really been working, She tells you “Prove that your not Cheating” Can you prove it? Come on people, give this guy a break> Let him play the game he loves with out the stupid politics. If he tests positive for steroids, kick him off the team. If he does not, than shut up and let him play. Or keep up the accusations and let history decide in the end that all you Hypocrits are really the spouse who always accuses there spouse of cheating, even if there not. And that the only reason you do this is to hear your own voice or see your own words in print, because the truly arrogant ones are you. geomessler
Why put Sammy in the same catigory as Bonds who has paper trails and McMuscle, Comon man. go accuse your wife,idot…That means you Eric Anderson. Good riddance to you Eric, you are a lousy writer. You strike out every day you try to write. Have you ever done wrong? or you always the right one in your life of relationships. I don’t see sosa being arested like alot of superstars for intoxication or drugs, I see alot of accusations from people like you, I for one can forgive the guy for one or two mistakes, because I myself want to beforgiven in life, but people like you dont need to forgive because your never wrong you are always the accuser……George Messler

On April 14, 2007, George Messler said…

I’ll bet he finishes the season 250 avg. and 30 HR. and 89rbi. O yea and you still suck Eric.

On April 16, 2007, Eric Anderson said…

George. George. George. Where do I begin?

You my friend are the epitome of what is wrong with society these days — you don’t think before you speak. However, your epic post likening the act of adultery to a bunch of muscle heads hitting the juice provided a good laugh, so thank you for that.

The problem we have here is that you get your granny panties in a bunch as soon as you saw the word STEROIDS and you clearly didn’t finish reading the article (might I suggest upping the dosage on your ADHD meds).

We could argue ‘til the cows come home whether or not Sammy was indeed a card carrying member of the Steroids for Men Club, although anyone with 2 eyes and half a brain would say it’s a forgone conclusion he’s not just a member — he’s the president.

But if you read my article, you’ll see there are 3 reasons I have banished Sammy from my favor. Steroids aside, this is still a guy who quit on his team and who got caught with a corked bat. Although I’m sure you’ll say it was a sports writer like me who planted the cork is his bat.

So while you sit high atop your perch chastising us bad reporters for slamming a guy who is the poster boy for all that is wrong with baseball, I’ll be here waiting to call out the next chump who thinks they can pull one over on the rest of us and disgrace the game in the process.

By the way, next time you post on someone’s site, remember that spell check is your friend.

And if Sammy hits 30 home runs this year as you so boldly (and incorrectly) predict, I will personally bring you an autographed Sammy Sosa syringe for your collection.

Thanks for reading!

On May 4, 2007, George Messler said…

Eric, Eric, Eric, I must have struck a cord in you. You poor poor person, Accusing me of not reading your article, I covered everything you talked about that mattered. I too am a die hard cub fan. Regardless of spell check, my point was that you are still someone who can not forgive, which makes you the problem with society these days.

And Just as I said I am someone who can forgive.

Sammy is not getting arrested nor setting a bad example. He signs autographs, when other baseball players do not, the ones that would probably be part of a society that you ruled {with spell check}. I do not know what your religous background is but in mine I am taught we are not perfect, which in some cases allows one to see flaws in others better, such as I see in your point. Your point shows you built a wall which allows you to only see that wall with this issue, It took me about 2 weeks and I knocked the wall down, and I forgave sosa. As I said if it is proven he is doing steroids, than kick him out of the Majors and banish him from the hall of fame. Right now as of 5-03-07 Sosa is in the top 10 for Home Runs and RBI’s His batting average is 267 and his OBP is rising..He was hit in the head by a Yankee pitcher so this might throw his timeing off a little for a few games. By the way did you pay that Pitcher to hit him? Thats how much hate comes through from your article. I am not the only one who sees this, read other articles from reportes like your self who bash Sosa, 8 out of 10 people reading them are backing Sosa not persons such as your self… Also, when the season is over and I am proven right about sosa you can give me that autographed syringe. Just as a side note you seem to be like those little guys about 5’5” and 150-160 pounds who have that little guy complex. Also medical supplys can cost alot so that syringe will help with the injection of my ADHD medicine. And all of tthose people who have ADHD that read this article please for give the Little Big Man Eric Anderson he is just upset that what I wrote and what he wrote in response just proves my point about him and his kind, and regaurdless of my spelling he is still a arrogant person who has problems forgiving. Please for give my Ebonics, I tried to write so that Eric would understand….Thank you for your time, George Messler

O and Eric, You Still Suck Oops,, I just droped my needle


On May 11, 2007, George Messler said…

May 11th, Sammy Sosa Average 278,,,,Home Runs 8,,,,,,,RBI 26,,,,,,,,OPS,,,,,,,894,,,,

Just reminding you, I am looking forward to that syringe.

On September 10, 2007, George Messler said…

O Eric, Sammy is about 11 homers away from what I said,

He is hitting 254-19HR and 84 RBI’s, Now he may not hit 30 HR but that is because Texas does not want to pay him. In his contract he would get alot more money for 30HR and 100RBI’s and so many at bats…Eric Eric Eric, I wonder if you have stock in Texas, sure is fishy. He will def. hit his RBI total, I think thoug since he had limmited play due to Texas management, You should still pay up. I am really looking forward to that autographed Sammy Sosa syringe for my collection. Although since Sammy has never tested positive and has never been brought up in any legal forum and since he did infact through an interpriter testify that he never did steroids, I find it hard to believe that you will ever find a syringe. Maybe you can retire from writing and look full time for that syringe. Because I know you have no instincts in baseball players. Especially since you were so wrong about Sammys year…Eric, Here is anther Bet I’ll make you…If there is any team brave enough to look past people like you. And Sammy plays again next year, full time and healthy. I believe he will have his timing down and he will Hit 270 and 110 RBIs and 35 HR. I hope I get a chance for you to proove me wrong. NEXT TIME>…George Messler

On September 10, 2007, George Messler said…

Eric.
O forgive my spelling and grammer mistakes, I find it so hard to change from my Ebonic writing habbbbits….

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