With all the excitement over tonight’s NBA draft lottery, and the hubbub surrounding it as multiple teams spent all year trying to out-tank each other, it’s important to remember just how little success most of the lottery-winning teams actually have with the number 1 pick they've selected. Since the implementation of the draft lottery in 1985, only four first overall picks have won titles with the teams that drafted them: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving. And Robinson and Duncan were teammates, just like LeBron and Kyrie! Throw in the fact that Robinson never made the Finals until he was past his prime, LeBron left Cleveland, won titles, and then came back, and that Kyrie was the second option as a champion, and then got traded, and you’ve got exactly one example of a player-team combo winning a championship in their prime without any snags or departures. 1!
And don’t forget this; just because someone gets drafted number 1 doesn’t mean they’re going to be a great player. Or, very obviously, a champion. Or even make the Finals! If we throw out Duncan, Robinson, LeBron, and Kyrie, the only number 1 picks to play in the Finals in their primes were Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard, and Patrick Ewing. And that foursome played in just a combined FOUR NBA Finals with the teams that drafted them. Only Shaq won a title, and that was after he had moved onto LA and Miami.
Here are all the number one picks since 2005:
2005, Milwaukee: Andrew Bogut: Made NBA All Third Team once (2010), and won the 2015 championship with the Golden State Warriors. Was probably the fifth most important player on the team.
2006, Toronto: Andrea Bargnani: Never made an All NBA team or All Star team, averaged a career 14.3 points per game. Prototypical soft European.
2007, Portland: Greg Oden: Perhaps the biggest bust in NBA history outside of Sam Bowie, since Kevin Durant went immediately after him. I think we all should’ve known he was going to have injury problems, since one of his legs was longer than the other, he was less than 100% his entire time at Ohio State, and the fact that he was supposedly 19 but looked 45.
2008, Chicago: Derrick Rose: Won NBA MVP in 2011, led the Bulls to the best record in the NBA that season…. and then blew out his knees multiple times, which completely tanked his career. Really sad.
2009, LA Clippers: Blake Griffin: Half of the Lob City Clippers (along with Chris Paul). Made five NBA All Star teams and three Second Team All NBAs. One of the most exciting players in league history until he too was derailed by injuries. Never made it past the second round of the playoffs, and was a part of two of the most memorable collapses in NBA history (Game 5, OKC, 2014 and Game 6, Houston, 2015), losses that basically eliminated his teams from advancing further in the playoffs. He was shipped to Detroit this season, and is certainly on the back half of his career at this point. Dunked over the hood of a car once in a dunk contest, which is impressive for slow white guys like me, but not much for someone who might have springs in his legs like Griffin did.
2010, Wizards: John Wall: Made the conference semi-finals three times (2014, 2015, 2017). Eight years in and he still doesn’t have a consistent jump shot. Made five All Star teams. Hell of a dancer.
2011, Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving: The most successful career of this crop of dudes, though he’s been injured basically every year. Also, the two teams he played on the last two seasons, Boston and Cleveland, are meeting again in the conference finals, and arguably aren’t any worse without him. The Cavs won one fewer game without him this season, yet they’re still the favorites to win the East, and then go get annihilated in the Finals by the Warriors again. Boston defends better without him, and despite the fact that they haven't had him since March, they're still playing their best basketball of the season. Are we sure Kyrie is all that valuable? To his credit, he did hit one of the biggest shots in the history of the league when he made the Finals-winner over Steph Curry in Game 7 in 2016.
2012, Pelicans: Anthony Davis: For all the talk about how Davis is going to “take over the league”, he’s won exactly one playoff series. And he gagged against a Golden State team in this year’s playoffs that realistically didn’t have anyone who could guard him. We’re not talking about Hakeem Olajuwon here. Let’s slow up with the “second best power forward in league history” hot takes.
2013, Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett: An atrocious pick, considering most people who watch sports regularly either hadn’t ever heard of Bennett, or if they had, ever watched him play a single game. Sheesh. Selecting Bennett first overall was second greatest example of someone trying to outthink the room, following only the time when Tywin Lannister counseled Joffrey.
2014, Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins: He never played a single second for the Cavs, and instead was shipped off to Minnesota, where he has become the third best player on a borderline playoff team.
2015, Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns: Too early to say on Towns. Just made his first playoff appearance.
2016, Sixers: Ben Simmons: After a month of “HE’S THE NEXT MAGIC JOHNSON!!! HE’S THE BEST YOUNG PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE!!! KEEP HIM AWAY FROM THE LOOSE WOMEN AND DRUGS, HE’S THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN!!! OH MY GAHHHHHHHHHHHHDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!” hype, he was atrocious in the Celtics series, including a one point effort in Game 2. Again, it’s too early to make a call on him, but he ain’t taking over the league either if that’s all he’ll ever have in the playoffs.
2017, Sixers: Markelle Fultz: At this point, the odds of Fultz becoming a great player in this league looks like a long shot. And, yes, that’s pun intended, since he apparently has… forgotten how to shoot a basketball. It wasn’t great either that he literally made no impact in their playoff run the last few weeks. If I were them, I’d be trying to trade him for anything I could get. A rotation player? Sure, why not? New bench chairs? Are they sturdy? They are? Check. A coffee mug? Of course!
So no matter who wins the lottery tonight, just remember that the only thing less likely than the lottery winner capturing a championship with the player they draft is Kanye West saying he and Donald Trump are brothers because they’re both “dragon energy”….
Wait a second…
That happened? Crap. Well just think about how unlikely you thought that was before it happened. And I’ll try to do better with the pop culture analogies.