Few things seem to be as certain as the abilities of the latest crop of professional basketball players on draft night. But trips to the green room and golden ticket contracts just as easily can lead to red faces and end-of-the-bench blues, and those feelings are only amplified by the NBA Draft’s lottery phase.
Although the lottery was instituted in 1985, this list of best and worst picks at each draft slot only goes back to 1995 — when the NBA added franchises in Toronto and Vancouver and the lottery stretched to the 13th pick (it is now at 14 with the addition of Charlotte Version 2.0).
The criteria for best picks is pretty simple. As for the worst picks, lack of production without any cause trumps other problems, such as injuries or illness (this absolves a player like Shawn Respert, the No. 8 pick in 1995 whose career was derailed by stomach cancer). Of course, a team selecting a player with pre-existing problems (ahem, Eddie Griffin) is not off the hook.
No. 1 pick overall
Best: Tim Duncan, San Antonio (1997). While the Witnesses might disagree, it is impossible to quibble with his accomplishments. Duncan has averaged a double-double every season and has impressive career averages in points (21.8), rebounds (11.9) and blocks (2.5). Oh, and then there’s those four titles in 10 seasons.
Also considered: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia (1996); LeBron James, Cleveland (2003)
Worst: Kwame Brown, Washington (2001): Perhaps this is a provincial decision, but things couldn’t have worked out much worse for Brown in Washington. It hasn’t gotten any better in two seasons as an even lesser option with the Lakers. It seems like he has been around forever, but Brown is only 25. Yet he has a long way to go to shed the label of arguably the worst No. 1 pick in the last 30 years.
Dishonorable mention: Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers (1998)
Best: Emeka Okafor, Charlotte (2004): It really won’t take that much for Kevin Durant to climb this list. The rugged Okafor has averaged 14.5 points and 10.9 rebounds in three seasons with the Bobcats, and there’s no reason he won’t turn in a reputable career as a steady big man. He is also one of only two No. 2 picks since 2000 to possess a double-digit career scoring average (Marvin Williams is the other).
Also considered: Steve Francis, Houston via Vancouver (1999)
Worst: Darko Milicic, Detroit (2003): No one on either list had a more fateful draft night than Milicic, whose future immediately was intertwined with the mercurial whims of Larry Brown. He has shown progress since a trade to Orlando last year, and he just turned 22 last week. He will have plenty of chances to move past the likes of Stromile Swift, though stardom doesn’t look likely either.
Dishonorable mention: Stromile Swift, Vancouver (2000); Jay Williams, Chicago (2002)
Best: Carmelo Anthony, Denver (2003). When he hasn’t been getting into fights with below-average Eastern Conference teams or tacitly warning urban residents to stop snitching, Anthony has blossomed into a formidable forward. He tossed up 28.9 points a night last season to separate himself from a sturdy pack of No. 3 selections in the last decade.