It's that time of year, basketball heads. As we creep towards the edge of our seats while we watch the conference finals unfold, the NBA Draft sits comfortably in the back of our minds as we speculate in anticipation of the new wave of talent coming into the league next month.
Last night's 2015 NBA Draft Lottery awarded the Minnesota Timberwolves the first pick in this year's draft, with the Lakers and 76ers rounding out the top three selections. When you're coming off of a losing season and working with a position that high in the draft, you want somebody that can come in and make an impact to help turn your franchise around. Any time you land a high pick in the lottery, everybody is excited and expectations are high for the future of the team.
However, nothing is guaranteed. Every single draft position in NBA history has had its fair share of studs, duds, injury-riddled tragedies and some guys that maybe played a role in the league but never reached their expectations to develop into a star. A top pick doesn't necessarily always mean that you're getting a top-tier player, and there is always some degree of risk involved with these difficult draft night decisions.
Walk with me, hoop heads. Let's take a look at the last 20 years of the NBA Draft and break down the success of high lottery picks since 1995.
1ST OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #1 Overall Picks): 17.0 PPG - 7.6 RPG - 3.0 APG
All-Stars: 12 - Tim Duncan (15), LeBron James (11), Allen Iverson (11), Dwight Howard (8), Yao Ming (8), Blake Griffin (5), Derrick Rose (3) Kyrie Irving (3), Anthony Davis (2), Elton Brand (2), John Wall (2), Kenyon Martin (1)
The second any franchise is lucky enough to get their hands on the first pick in the draft, the expectation is to bring in a star player that is going to help you win games. For the most part, that seems to be the case over the course of the past two decades. Twelve of the last 20 number one overall picks have become All-Stars, some of them on their way to Hall of Fame careers.
With that said, not all is peachy at the top of the draft. Don't believe me? Just ask the general managers that pulled the trigger on Anthony Bennett, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden and Michael Olowokandi. Sometimes you'll even come away with a decent ballplayer, but he might not pan out to make as big of an impact as initially anticipated, such as Andrew Bogut, Joe Smith and even Kenyon Martin, who enjoyed one All-Star appearance (alongside Jason Kidd) but averaged just 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for his career. Andrea Bargnani had a couple of productive years on the offensive end of the floor for Toronto, but never lived up to the top selection in the draft. The big fella can shoot the rock, but he certainly was not the "next Dirk Nowitzki," to say the least.
The majority of the last 20 number one overall picks have put together quality pro careers, but you're far from guaranteed a superstar just because you're sitting pretty at number one.
2ND OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #2 Overall Picks): 12.8 PPG - 6.5 RPG - 2.2 APG
All-Stars: 5 - Kevin Durant (6), LaMarcus Aldridge (4), Steve Francis (3), Antonio McDyess (1), Tyson Chandler (1)
Remember that time Darko Milicic was drafted second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade? How about when all the Atlanta Hawks needed in 2005 was a point guard, and they went with Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul or Deron Williams?
In general, the second pick in the draft has not quite gotten the job done based on what everybody thought before they made the jump to the NBA. In fact, you could comfortably throw the "bust" tag on about half of the past 20 number two picks.
Hasheem Thabeet was out of the league almost immediately. Michael Beasley is Michael Beasley. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Stromile Swift, Evan Turner and Derrick Williams have roles in the league, but don't possess the qualities you'd like the second pick to have. Emeka Okafor was a double-double machine for the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, but the injury bug can't seem to leave him alone. Maybe the bug needed a new target after Jay Williams ruined his own career in a motorcycle accident just following his fairly promising rookie year.
There have been plenty of good ones along the way, as well. Kevin Durant is an absolute freak of nature, LaMarcus Aldridge is currently one of the best big men in the NBA, Steve Francis was one of the most productive guards in the league at one time, Antonio McDyess was a nightmare to deal with in his prime and Tyson Chandler is both a champion and Defensive Player of the Year winner. Mike Bibby and Keith Van Horn were never named All-Stars, but they each had terrific runs as quality players that produce at a high level. The jury is still out on last year's number two pick Jabari Parker, who is looking to rebound from a torn ACL, but Victor Oladipo is well on his way to a terrific career as well.
Since 1995, the second overall pick has been completely hit or miss.
3RD OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #3 Overall Picks): 15.6 PPG - 5.1 RPG - 3.5 APG
All-Stars: 9 - Carmelo Anthony (10), Chauncey Billups (7), Pau Gasol (5), Deron Williams (5), James Harden (3), Al Horford (3), Baron Davis (2), Jerry Stackhouse (2), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1)
Over the last 20 years, there is no doubt that teams picking third have generally made out better than teams that drafted second. Nine of them have become All-Stars, with Bradley Beal on the cusp of adding one more, and the majority of the second half of the list is filled with quality, productive rotation players.
Adam Morrison stands out as the biggest bust of the bunch, with Darius Miles and our old friend Raef LaFrentz not far behind, while O.J. Mayo peaked as a rookie and has since fallen off even further every year. Otto Porter is just finally becoming a consistent rotation wing and Joel Embiid has yet to take the floor, but a large portion of the last 20 third overall picks have turned out to be pretty good players.
Aside from the All-Stars listed above, Ben Gordon is a former Sixth Man of the Year who averaged 18.5 points per game in a five-year span with the Bulls while Mike Dunleavy Jr. has been a steady contributor on every team has has played for. Enes Kanter put up over 18 points and 11 boards per game in the second half of the season for Oklahoma City this year while his former Utah Jazz teammate Derrick Favors is also on the rise as a quality starter and a double-double machine.
If you're the Philadelphia 76ers right now, holding the rights to the third overall pick in June's draft, you've got to feel pretty good. The success rate is high at number three.
4th OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #4 Overall Picks): 14.1 PPG - 5.4 RPG - 3.6 APG
All-Stars: 6 - Chris Bosh (10), Chris Paul (8), Rasheed Wallace (4), Russell Westbrook (4), Antawn Jamison (2), Stephon Marbury (2)
Much like the last 20 second overall picks, the number four spot has been pretty much hit or miss.
You need two hands to count all of the fourth overall picks that didn't reach expectations, headlined by Eddy Curry, Marcus Fizer and Tyrus Thomas. The last five years in a row have been shaky at number four, as Tristan Thompson is the only one who has made a big impact. Wesley Johnson, Dion Waiters and Cody Zeller are all bench-level players looking to come into their own while Aaron Gordon just spent most of his rookie season trying to get healthy. If you look back a little bit further you'll find some decent role players that didn't quite pan out based on where they were drafted, such as Drew Gooden, Antonio Daniels and - due to a devastating injury - Shaun Livingston.
With that said, there's plenty to write home about. In addition to the six All-Stars produced by the fourth overall pick throughout the last two decades, guys like Mike Conley and Tyreke Evans are outstanding ballplayers while Lamar Odom never made an All-Star squad either, but produced at a high level and won two championships with the Lakers.
Looking at it on paper, you might say the last 20 picks at number four exceed the careers of those taken second overall on the whole.
5th OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #5 Overall Picks): 14.7 PPG - 5.4 RPG - 3.2 APG
All-Stars: 7 - Kevin Garnett (15), Dwyane Wade (11), Ray Allen (10), Vince Carter (10), Kevin Love (3), DeMarcus Cousins (1), Devin Harris (1)
Like any position in the draft, the number five spot has plenty of slip-ups and decisions that certain executives wish they could do over. For examples, see Jonathan Bender, Nikoloz Tsitishvili and Thomas Robinson along with former Celtics Tony Battie and Shelden Williams.
However, the fifth pick has also produced its fair share of superstar talent. Between Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade you have 46 All-Star appearances and six championships, while DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love are amongst the biggest frontcourt names in this new wave of NBA stars. Guys like Jason Richardson and Mike Miller were never what you would call a superstar, but they put together terrific pro careers and had their own respective moments to shine.
Jeff Green, Ricky Rubio and Jonas Valanciunas are youngsters that may not have peaked just yet - alright, maybe Green has peaked - and stand as quality rotation players. As for the last two number five picks Dante Exum and Alex Len, the jury is still out. All I know is that a lot of franchises have absolutely swung for the fences with the fifth pick in the draft and while some have struck out hard, others have come across Hall of Fame level talent.
6th OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #6 Overall Picks): 11.3 PPG - 4.7 RPG - 2.0 APG
All-Stars: 5 - Antoine Walker (3), Brandon Roy (3), Damian Lillard (2), Chris Kaman (1), Wally Szczerbiak (1)
Antoine Walker, "Big Country" Bryant Reeves, Ron Mercer (rounding out the dream backcourt), Wally Szczerbiak, Yi Jianlian (vs. a chair), Robert "Tractor" Traylor..... yeah, this one is fun for everyone.
The sixth spot in the draft is usually where it starts to get very interesting. Everyone comes into the draft with their proejcted top five guys and once they are off the board, boy, it's difficult to scramble for the next best prospect when the naked eye talent is so close to the same level. As a result, this is where we're going to start stumbling across more busts versus guys that maybe "slipped" out of the top five.
Jianlian, Mercer and Traylor join DerMarr Johnson, Jonny Flynn, Ekpe Udoh, Jan Vesely, Dajuan Wagner and Martell Webster on the list of number six picks that never lived up to expectations. Guys like Shane Battier, Josh Childress and Danilo Gallinari have played key roles, but were never elite level difference makers on the floor (well, maybe Childress was in Greece).
There have been a few gems at six, with Damian Lillard as the most recent example, but history shows that the average number six pick is very unlikely to be a key ingredient to your next opportunity at a championship.
(Side note - Brandon Roy recently tore his Achilles tendon playing pickup basketball. Come on, man...)
7th OVERALL PICK
Accumulative Stats (Last 20 #7 Overall Picks): 12.3 PPG - 4.4 RPG - 2.9 APG
All-Stars: 3 - Rip Hamilton (3), Stephen Curry (2), Luol Deng (2)
When you look at the list of the last 20 seventh overall picks in the NBA Draft, a word that comes to mind is "steady." Eddie Griffin (R.I.P.), Chris Mihm and Charlie Villanueva headline the major busts of the group, and Bismack Biyombo is about one or two years away from joining them, but the majority of them have carved out solid careers as quality starters, if not serviceable rotation players.
MVP Stephen Curry acts as the head of the snake with Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton as guys who have broken the barrier to reach All-Star status, but there are about 10 others behind them that made a big impact for their team. Damon Stoudamire, Nene, Eric Gordon, Greg Monroe and Jason Williams have all been longtime starters while Kirk Hinrich, Corey Brewer, Harrison Barnes, Tim Thomas and Lorenzen Wright have all played key roles on playoff teams.
Generally, teams have had a difficult time finding stars with the seventh pick but most general managers end up walking away with a player that can help them at the end of the day.
Keep your eyes peeled tomorrow for part two, where we'll round out the remainder of the lottery and take a look at the last 20 years of draft positions 8-14.