The Value of the No. 1 Pick
July 3, 2007 by Eric Anderson • Print Story •
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.