The NBA Draft is all about hope. For the prospects, it’s the hope of fulfilling their NBA dream and suddenly being paid for playing basketball. For the teams and fans, it’s the hope that their draft pick will develop into a player capable of taking the franchise to a new level of success.
The league and the teams themselves sell that hope. They point to the successes from all over the draft board. The idea that you can get a superstar that could make your franchise one of the league’s elite almost overnight. In a sense, that’s true. You can go down the list of first round selection spots and find at least one player that became a superstar, but there’s also the reality that the chances of that happening are very slim, even at some of the higher draft slots.
Lottery teams in particular sell the dream of their franchise’s fortune changing on draft night because it’s what many of them have built their season around, whether they admit it or not. However, a top 10 pick is far from a guarantee that you’ll get a starting caliber player, much less a star player for years to come. This is part of the reason first round picks are often overvalued as assets by fans, media, and sometimes teams themselves, because of the promise of the unknown that could be a generational star.
This year’s draft class is heralded as one of the deepest in years, at least at the top, where many have pointed out the tiers that go to about the 10th or 11th pick feel like they have some very good future players. But history dictates some of the players will overachieve and go on to greatness, but, for a variety of factors not always of their own fault, many will not live up to the expectations placed on them.
Those expectations are something I hope to temper a bit with this look at the top 10 picks over the last 18 years (since 2000). Below you’ll find the list of all 18 picks in that slot, as ranked by me, to provide context to what should constitute as a good to great, bad to terrible, and average pick for each of the spots in the top 10.
It’s important to note that not all draft classes are created the same — for example, the 2003 class was far deeper than, say, 2012 — and extenuating circumstances can lead to some of the outliers on either end of the spectrum. It’s also difficult to place many of the most recent picks in the draft, who still have plenty of potential to possibly be tapped into. Still, a look at 18 years of draft history does tell you some things about what should be reasonably expected success from players at each spot, or at the least in various tiers of picks.