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1-30: The Best NBA Draft Picks Ever

So you’re a fan of an NBA team other than the Cavs or T-Wolves (thank God) and you’re worried that your squad won’t be able to land in impact player in Thursday’s draft. Word on the street is that this year’s draft class is uglier than Shawn Marion‘s jumper and conventional wisdom says that players drafted outside the lottery rarely pan out.

But if we take a journey through history, we will find that All-Star players have been snagged at every spot. With that, let’s look at the top players selected at overall picks 1-30 in NBA history.

No. 1: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969 by the Milwaukee Bucks
Kareem’s numbers speak for themselves: 38,387 points, 19 All-Star appearances, six rings, and six MVP awards. That’s enough to make him the best No. 1 overall pick of all-time.

No. 2: Bill Russell in 1956 by the St. Louis Hawks
You’ve got to feel a little bad for the Rochester Royals who passed on the ultimate champion for Sihugo Green in the 1956 NBA draft. Russell never looked back, going on to win 11 championships in 13 seasons with the Celtics

No. 3: Michael Jordan in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls
No explanation needed.

No. 4: Dolph Schayes in 1948 by the New York Knicks
The No. 4 pick in the 1948 draft, Schayes played in 12 All-Star games and posted 18,438 career points in 15 seasons with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers.

No. 5: Kevin Garnett in 1995 by the Minnesota Timberwolves
KG and fellow No. 5 overall pick Charles Barkley have put up similar career numbers. Both have notched 20,000+ points, 12,000+ rebounds, and have taken home one MVP award. But the Big Ticket separates himself from Barkley because of his ring with the Celtics in 2008.

No. 6: Larry Bird in 1978 by the Boston Celtics
The sixth pick of the 1978 draft, Larry Legend earns the top spot thanks to his 13 seasons averaging at least 19 points per game. Bird earned three titles and three MVP awards with the Celtics.

No. 7: John Havlicek in 1962 by the Boston Celtics
The fourth Celtic to make the list, Havlicek appeared in 13 All-Star games and won eight titles. The Hall of Famer averaged over 20 points per game throughout his career, putting him slightly ahead of fellow No. 7 picks Chris Mullin and Bernard King.

No. 8: Willis Reed in 1964 by the New York Knicks
Despite owning two fewer rings than Robert Parish (the No. 8 overall pick in the 1976 draft), Reed earns the top spot. Reed dropped 18.7 points per game throughout his career and earned the 1970 MVP award after averaging 22 and 14 for the Knicks.

No. 9: Dirk Nowitzki in 1998 by the Milwaukee Bucks
Dirk cemented his position as one of the greatest to ever play the game this month when he led the Mavs to their first championship in franchise history. The German import has been selected for the All-Star game 10 times and took home the 2007 NBA MVP award.

No. 10: Paul Pierce in 1998 by the Boston Celtics
Pierce earns the honor of the best No. 10 overall pick of all time over Paul Westphal primarily because I grew up watching The Truth drop buckets while the Celtics wallowed in mediocrity. (Part of me misses the days when I could sneak into the third row of the TD Garden to watch Tony Allen blow out his knee trying to dunk after the whistle or see Sebastian Telfair brick jumpers for just $10.) Pierce is also deserving because of his nine All-Star appearances and 2008 Finals MVP award.

No. 11: Reggie Miller in 1987 by the Indiana Pacers
He might not be your favorite commentator, but there’s no denying that Miller is the greatest ever to be picked at the 11 spot. The five-time All Star dropped 25,279 points in his career – good for 14th all time – and connected on 2,560 treys.

No. 12: Julius Erving in 1972 by the Milwaukee Bucks
One of the original high flyers, Dr. J has enough hardware to rival Lowe’s. After winning three MVP awards and two championships in the ABA, Erving transitioned to the NBA and picked up one more ring and one more MVP honor.

No. 13: Kobe Bryant in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets
When you get a player in the conversation for G.O.A.T at No. 13 overall, it’s safe to say it’s a steal. Since his arrival in the league in 1996, Bryant has amassed five championship trophies and been the NBA scoring leader twice. Major props should be given to fellow No. 13 pick Karl Malone, a two-time MVP who averaged 25 and 10 for his career. But Bryant still gets the top spot for being the NBA’s top player in recent history.

No. 14: Clyde Drexler in 1983 by the Portland Trail Blazers
A 10-time All Star, Drexler might have some MVP awards too if it wasn’t for his career overlapping with Michael Jordan’s. In 15 seasons with the Trail Blazers and Rockets, Drexler put up 20.4 points per game. His 22,195 career points puts him behind Ray Allen for 25th all-time.

No. 15: Steve Nash in 1996 by the Phoenix Suns
Most 6-3 Canadians don’t win NBA MVP awards. But Steve Nash has managed to do it twice while spearheading the Suns’ seven-seconds-or-less offense. In his 15-year career, Nash has led the NBA in assists five times and has shot above 42 percent from deep.

No. 16: John Stockton in 1984 by the Utah Jazz
Nash may have led the NBA in assists for five seasons, but Stockton is the league’s all-time leader in both total assists and steals. The point guard averaged double-digit assists for 10 consecutive seasons while also putting up at least 14 points per game. That’s enough to put Stockton way ahead of Ron Artest for the best player picked at No. 16 ever.

No. 17: Shawn Kemp in 1989 by the Seattle Sonics
Bill Sharman and his eight All-Star appearances with the Celtics in the 1950s make a strong case for the top spot, but Shawn Kemp gets the nod as a belated Father’s Day gift. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, Kemp should be considered the best player ever drafted at No. 17 because of his six seasons with the Sonics averaging at least 15 points and 10 rebounds.

No. 18: Joe Dumars in 1985 by the Detroit Pistons
Although Calvin Murphy may have posted a higher career scoring average, Dumars gets the top spot for being a more complete player. Known for his stifling defense, Dumars teamed up with Isiah Thomas to win back-to-back championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990.

No. 19: Nate Archibald in 1970 by the Cincinnati Royals
Zach Randolph may disagree, but Archibald and his three appearances on the All-NBA First Team have this spot locked up. Archibald put up some absurd numbers early in his career, averaging 34 points and 11.4 assists per game during the 1972-73 season.

No. 20: Larry Nance in 1981 by the Phoenix Suns
Nance and fellow No. 20 pick Gus Williams put up similar offensive numbers, both averaging 17.1 points per game. But Nance was the more efficient shooter, connecting on 54.6 percent of his attempts from the field. The three-time All Star was also the first winner of the first NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984.

No. 21: Rajon Rondo in 2006 by the Phoenix Suns
Rondo has only played five seasons in the league but he has already established himself as the best player to get drafted with the 21st pick (apologies to Michael Finley, Boris Diaw, and Ricky Davis). Rondo has twice been named to the All-Defensive First Team and finished the 2010-11 season second in the league in assists per game with 11.2.

No. 22: George McGinnis in 1973 by the Philadelphia 76ers
Although already playing for the ABA’s Indiana Pacers at the time, McGinnis was drafted by the NBA’s 76ers in the 1973 draft. McGinnis spent two more seasons in the ABA – leading the league in scoring during the 1974-75 season – before joining Philadelphia. McGinnis finished his career with over 17,000 career points (including both ABA and NBA stats). Note: this spot might have gone to Reggie Lewis had his career not been tragically cut short by his death in 1993.

No. 23: Alex English in 1976 by the Milwaukee Bucks
A Hall of Famer, English poured in 25,613 points during his 15-year career – good for 13th all-time. The 6-7 forward was the NBA’s scoring champ in 1983 after averaging 28.3 points per game with the Nuggets and was selected as an All-Star on eight occasions.

No. 24: Latrell Sprewell in 1992 by the Golden State Warriors
The Thunder should be happy to learn that a surprisingly high number of successful players have come from the No. 24 spot, including Andrei Kirilenko, Sprewell, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Terry Porter, and Arvydas Sabonis. Of the group, Sprewell has not only proven to be the most abusive to coaches, but also the most successful individual player. The 6-5 guard out of the University of Alabama averaged 18.3 points per game throughout his career and made four All-Star appearances.

No. 25: Mark Price in 1986 by the Dallas Mavericks
The 25th pick has also been home to such solid players as Gerald Wallace, Tony Allen, Al Harrington, Bob Gross, Jeff Ruland, and John Drew. But Price is the best of the bunch having earned a place as one of the greatest shooters of all-time. The 6-0 guard out of Georgia Institute of Technology is tied with Steve Nash for the highest career free-throw percentage in history and hit threes at a .402 clip.

No. 26: Vlade Divac in 1989 by the Los Angeles Lakers
What do Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaq, Tim Duncan, and Divac have in common? They are the only six players in NBA history to record 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots. Needless to say, a steal for the Lakers at No. 26.

No. 27: Dennis Rodman in 1986 by the Detroit Pistons
The best draftee of all-time to go at 27 is a no-brainer. Dennis Rodman is the sort of guy you never want to match up with in pickup: he grabbed rebounds and played defense ferociously. When he retired from the NBA in 2000, Rodman had captured seven rebounding titles and had been named to the All-Defensive First Team seven times.

No. 28: Tony Parker in 2001 by the San Antonio Spurs
Despite Ian Mahinmi‘s demonstrated ability to knock down an open jumper in the Finals, I think I have to give the nod to Parker as the greatest player picked at No. 28. Parker played a crucial role in the Spurs’ three championships of this millennium and has averaged 15.8 points and 5.4 points throughout his career.

No. 29: Eddie Johnson in 1981 by the Kansas City Kings
Fun fact: Eddie Johnson has scored more career points than any other player never to have played in an NBA All-Star game. During his 17 seasons in the NBA, Johnson amassed 19,202 total points and 4,832 rebounds but was never selected for the East-West showdown. Shout outs to fellow No. 29 overall picks P.J. Brown, Toni Kukoc, Mark Madsen, John Long, and Josh Howard.

No. 30: Spencer Haywood (?) in 1971 by the Buffalo Braves
Haywood – a four-time NBA All-Star – was already playing with the Sonics when the Braves selected him with the 30th pick in 1971. Awkward. Haywood never joined the Braves so I’m not sure what to do with the 6-8 big who averaged over 30 points per game in his rookie season in the ABA. I guess we can give the honor of best guy picked at No. 30 to Gilbert Arenas instead who was drafted by the Warriors there in 2001. David Lee was also picked at 30.

What do you think?

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