We have had some excellent number one picks in the history of the NBA, and the odds of them reaching these types of numbers and accomplishments are very slim. You have to say the bigs dominate the best number one draft picks of all-time, as Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal all crack the list here. There were a few that just seemed like easy calls, but to put up 15+ years of quality basketball is what sets them apart from the rest.
1. LeBron James
Coming out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, LeBron James was an easy pick for the 2003 draft class. He went to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and played with them from the ages of 19-to-25, and then from 30-to-33. James brought Cleveland that championship they were so desperate for. Looking back at his rookie season, he averaged 20 points per game, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. He also averaged 1.6 steals. James was an easy Rookie of the Year winner, and this was only the beginning. James has won three NBA championships, and has been to 15 all-star games and counting. In his NBA Final appearances, he won the Finals MVP three times. Averaging over 25 points per game in his career, and contributing across the board, James rivals Michael Jordan as the best of all-time.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the most lethal centers in the game. He finished as a two-time Finals MVP, and won six NBA titles. To add onto these numbers, Kareem finished with six league MVP awards. He played his ball out at UCLA, and went to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA draft. Like some others, he would move to a bigger market team that brought big market success. As you would expect, Kareem won the 1969-70 Rookie of the Year award. He averaged 28.8 points per game. It wasn’t until the 1972-73 season when they started counting blocks. He averaged over three blocks per game for seven straight seasons. It was obvious Kareem would land in the Hall of Fame with the career he had, averaging 24 and 11.
3. Tim Duncan
Drafted out of Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Tim Duncan landed with the San Antonio Spurs. Talk about a match made in heaven as David Robinson was there to take him under his wing. Duncan played his entire career with San Antonio, which it is rare to see players stick around with one organization for nearly 20 years. Duncan was another Rookie of the Year winner in 1997-98. He would also go onto win five NBA titles, and three of them he won the Finals MVP. Duncan not only had terrific numbers on a consistent basis, he was one of most durable bigs. He stood out defensively, being named to 15 All-Defensive teams and also 15 All-NBA teams. Averaging 19 and 10 in his career, Duncan is not only a future Hall of Famer, but a top five first overall draft pick.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
If you can get past the rap career and acting in Shazam, Shaquille O’Neal dominated everywhere he went. He was drafted by the Orlando Magic, and then you also had Alonzo Mourning going number two in the same year. O’Neal was the Rookie of the Year in that 1992-93 season, dropping an average of 23 points and 13 rebounds. He also tacked on 3.5 blocks per game. O’Neal only played four seasons in Orlando, averaging 27 and 12. He then went onto Los Angeles where his recognition skyrocketed and so did his championships. Shaq went onto win four NBA titles and was the Finals MVP in three of them. O’Neal was also a two-time scoring champ, and was the 1999-00 League MVP.
5. Magic Johnson
It was a coin flip with Shaq and Magic Johnson, but Johnson was another dominant Laker, but Johnson started out there. Likely the most famous Michigan State Spartan, he was drafted first overall in the 1979 draft. Johnson would go onto play 13 years, and missed four years due to HIV. His career was cut short, but it didn’t stop him from being one of the more decorative point guards. He won the League MVP award three times, and was also a three-time Finals MVP. Johnson racked up assists like nobody’s business, averaging 11.2 in his career. We also get to the first name who didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, despite averaging 18-7-7. It was his long time rival, Larry Bird, who had been drafted the year before, but failed to play due to contract negotiations.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon
In the 1984 draft, Hakeem Olajuwon went number one overall to the Houston Rockets. This draft featured Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton to name a few Hall of Famers. Jordan ended up beating out Olajuwon for the Rookie of the Year. That didn’t stop Olajuwon from going onto having a terrific career. He won two NBA titles, and was the Finals MVP in both of them. Olajuwon also went onto win the 1993-94 League MVP award. He was a nine-time All-Defensive member, and made the All-NBA 12 times. Olajuwon would finish with 21.8 points per game in his career, and 11.1 rebounds. He played 17 seasons with Houston, and ended his last year with Toronto. But, Houston got the most bang for their buck when it came to the number one overall pick. That wasn’t the case for some others.
7. David Robinson
Coming out of the Naval Academy, The Admiral landed in San Antonio. Talk about a stretch getting David Robinson first overall, and then Tim Duncan. He was in the 1987 draft class, which featured Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson, Kenny Smith, Mark Jackson, and Horace Grant. Just a loaded class overall. Robinson came out averaging 24 and 12 in his rookie season, with 3.9 blocks per game. He had a career high 4.5 blocks per game in the 1991-92 season. Robinson finished with an average of 21 points per game, and 10.6 boards. He also finished with 3.0 blocks per game. Robinson was a two-time NBA Champion, and won the 1994-95 League MVP. Robinson was one of the better defensive players, racking up eight All-Defensive team appearances.
8. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson and Jerry West went one-two in the 1960 draft. Both would go onto play 14 years in the NBA. He played with the Cincinnati Royals, and would later go onto Milwaukee to win a Championship there late in his career. Robertson finished his career averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists per game. Ridiculous numbers from the one they called Big O and Mr. Triple-Double. He was the 1960-61 Rookie of the Year, averaging 30.5 points, 9.7 assists, and 10.1 rebounds per game. As good of a passer that he was, he shot 49% from the field in his career. Robertson was a complete player, who was an 11-time All-NBA player. He also won the 1963-64 MVP.
9. Elgin Baylor
We are going back to the 1958 draft, when the Minneapolis Lakers selected Elgin Baylor. He would go onto play his entire career with the Lakers, even after they moved to Los Angeles. He averaged 27 points per game in his career, and 13.5 rebounds. Baylor won the 1958-59 Rookie of the Year award, averaging 24 and 15. He went onto make 11 All-Star teams and was named to 10 All-NBA teams. However, Baylor didn’t go onto win any championships, which was unusual for Lakers draft picks. Baylor went onto be inducted in the Hall of Fame back in 1977.
10. Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing was a monster at Georgetown, and it translated to him going number one overall in the 1985 draft. Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Joe Dumars, and Detlef Schrempf were also in this class, so another solid overall draft class. Ewing went onto win the 1985-86 Rookie of the Year award, averaging 20 and 9 in that rookie season. This was about on par with his career norm when all was said and done. He finished with 21 points per game and 9 rebounds per game. Ewing didn’t get the NBA title like some of the others, but he was a seven-time All-NBA player. He also went to 11 All-Star games, and three All-Defensive teams.