NBA Draft: Comparing the careers of each No. 1 pick

The 72nd NBA Draft takes place tomorrow and the Phoenix Suns have the top pick for the first time in franchise history. With the draft having always been an important time for teams to hopefully revitalize their franchises, let’s take a look back at the past careers that former No. 1 overall picks have had.

The two who never played in the NBA

Clifton McNeeley was the first player ever selected in the NBA (then known as the BAA) Draft by the Pittsburgh Ironmen in 1947. Just like his NFL counterpart, McNeeley never played in the NBA. He had no interest in playing for the team and Pittsburgh ended up folding before the season started.

In the 1951 NBA Draft, the Baltimore Bullets selected Gene Melchiorre with the No. 1 pick. However, he never played in the league as Melchiorre was barred for life from the league due to a point-shaving scandal he admitted to being involved in during his college years at Bradley.

 

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All-Star Appearances

The 71 players to have been selected with the 1st pick have made a combined 257 All-Star appearances between them. Out of the 71 No. 1 picks, 27 were never All-Stars, while 44 were at least once. Below is a pie chart showing how many times each of those 44 was an All-Star.

All-Star

The first player taken with the top pick to be an All-Star was Ray Felix, who did so his rookie season in 1953-54.

David Thompson is the only No. 1 pick to be an NBA All-Star (x4) and an ABA All-Star (x1). For the above pie chart, I did not count his ABA All-Star appearance.

Players selected 1st overall with the at least 10 All-Star appearances

Player All-Star App Career Length
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 19 1969-89
Shaquille O’Neal 15 1992-2011
Tim Duncan 15 1997-2016
LeBron James 14 2003-present
Oscar Robertson 12 1960-74
Elvin Hayes 12 1968-84
Magic Johnson 12 1979-91, 95-96
Hakeem Olajuwon 12 1984-2002
Elgin Baylor 11 1958-72
Patrick Ewing 11 1985-2002
Allen Iverson 11 1996-2010
David Robinson 10 1987-2003

All-NBA teams

Out of the 71 players taken with the top pick, 30 made at least one of the NBA’s three All-NBA teams. It is important to note that the All-NBA Third Team was not added until the 1988-89 season.

All-NBA

Elgin Baylor was the first No. 1 pick to make an All-NBA Team (and All-NBA First Team) in 1958-59, his rookie season. Oscar Robertson was the first to make the All-NBA Second Team in 1969-70. James Worthy and David Robinson were the first to make the All-NBA Third Team in 1989-90.

David Thompson is the only No. 1 pick to make an All-NBA Team (x2) and an All-ABA Team (x1). For the above pie chart, I did not count his All-ABA Team appearance.

Andrew Bogut is the only No. 1 overall pick to make an All-NBA Team but never be an All-Star.

Most All-NBA appearances by 1st overall picks 

Player All-NBA Teams First Team Second Team Third Team
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 15 10 5 Started his last season
Tim Duncan 15 10 3 2
Shaquille O’Neal 14 8 2 4
LeBron James 14 12 2 0
Hakeem Olajuwon 12 6 3 3
Oscar Robertson 11 9 2 Did not exist
Elgin Baylor 10 10 0 Did not exist
Magic Johnson 10 9 1 0
David Robinson 10 4 2 4

LeBron James has the most All-NBA First Teams by a No. 1 pick. Patrick Ewing (6) has the most All-NBA Second Team appearances. Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson have the most All-NBA Third Teams.

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ROY, DPOY, Sixth Man and MIP

Since the 1952-53 season, the NBA has given out the Rookie of the Year (ROY) to the player deemed the best rookie. Out of the 65* players drafted No. 1 overall, 22 (33.84%) have won the ROY award.

*Does not the first five No. 1 overall picks who played before the award started, as well as Ben Simmons since he is a finalist for the 2017-18 ROY Award.

Player ROY Year
Ray Felix 1953-54
Elgin Baylor 1958-59
Oscar Robertson 1960-61
Walt Bellamy 1961-62
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1969-70
David Thompson 1975-76 (ABA)
Ralph Sampson 1983-84
Patrick Ewing 1985-86
David Robinson 1989-90
Derrick Coleman 1990-91
Larry Johnson 1991-92
Shaquille O’Neal 1992-93
Chris Webber 1993-94
Allen Iverson 1996-97
Tim Duncan 1997-98
Elton Brand 1999-00
LeBron James 2003-04
Derrick Rose 2008-09
Blake Griffin 2010-11
Kyrie Irving 2011-12
Andrew Wiggins 2014-15
Karl-Anthony Towns 2015-16

Starting in the 1982-83 season, the NBA has given out the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) and the Sixth Man of the Year Awards. In 1985-86, they started giving out the award for Most Improved Player (MIP). Since the inception of these three awards, only six No. 1 overall picks have won one of them.

 Player Sixth Man MIP DPOY
Bill Walton 1 0 0
Danny Manning 1 0 0
Pervis Ellison 0 1 0
Hakeem Olajuwon 0 0 2
David Robinson 0 0 1
Dwight Howard 0 0 3


MVP

The NBA MVP award was first given out in the 1955-56 season. Oscar Robertson was the first No. 1 overall pick to win the award in 1963-64. In total, only 10 top picks have won the award.

*LeBron is one of three finalists for MVP this year and has a chance to win his fifth.

Player MVP (Years Won)
Kareem Abdul Jabbar 6 (1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1975-76, 1976-77, 1979-80)
LeBron James* 4 (2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13)
Magic Johnson 3 (1986-87, 1988-89, 1989-90)
Tim Duncan 2 (2001-02, 2002-03)
Oscar Robertson 1 (1963-64)
Bill Walton 1 (1977-78)
Hakeem Olajuwon 1 (1993-94)
Shaquille O’Neal 1 (1999-00)
Allen Iverson 1 (2000-01)
Derrick Rose 1 (2010-11)

Championships and Finals MVP

Out of the 71 players taken with the first pick in the NBA draft, 21* (29.57%) of them have won wither an NBA Championship or an ABA Championship*.

*Elgin Baylor played nine games in the 1971-72 season before retiring due to nagging knee problems which had limited him to only two games the prior season. That year the Lakers finally broke through and won the NBA championship, but Baylor was not an active player on the roster. The team did give him a ring but he is not listed as an NBA Champion on Pro-Basketball Reference so I did not count him.

*Art Heyman won an ABA Championship in 1967-68 with the Pittsburgh Pipers

No. 1 overall picks with multiple NBA Championships

Player Championships Teams
Kareem Abdul Jabbar 6 Lakers (5), Bucks (1)
Magic Johnson 5 Lakers (5)
Tim Duncan 5 Spurs (5)
Shaquille O’Neal 4 Lakers (3), Heat (1)
James Worthy 3 Lakers (3)
LeBron James 3 Heat (2), Cavs (1)
Bill Walton 2 Trail Blazers (1), Celtics (1)
Mychal Thompson 2 Lakers (2)
Mark Aguirre 2 Pistons (2)
Hakeem Olajuwon 2 Rockets (2)
David Robinson 2 Spurs (2)

Of course, the group of players gets even smaller when just looking who has won an NBA Finals MVP. Only eight players taken with the first overall pick have won the award.

Player Number of Finals MVPs
Magic Johnson 3
Shaquille O’Neal 3
Tim Duncan 3
LeBron James 3
Kareem Abdul Jabbar 2
Hakeem Olajuwon 2
Bill Walton 1
James Worthy 1

Hall of Fame

17 of the players who have been selected with the first pick in the NBA Draft have been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Player Year Drafted Year Inducted
Elgin Baylor 1958 1977
Oscar Robertson 1960 1980
Walt Bellamy 1961 1993
Elvin Hayes 1968 1990
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1969 1995
Bob Lanier 1970 1992
Bill Walton 1974 1993
David Thompson 1975 1996
Magic Johnson 1979 2002
James Worthy 1982 2003
Ralph Sampson 1983 2012
Hakeem Olajuwon 1984 2008
Patrick Ewing 1985 2008
David Robinson 1987 2009
Shaquille O’Neal 1992 2016
Allen Iverson 1996 2016
Yao Ming 2002 2016

*Retired No. 1 picks not yet eligible for HOF: Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, Kenyon Martin, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden

*No. 1 picks still playing in NBA: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Anthony Bennet (G-League),  Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz

*No. 1 picks playing overseas: Andrew Bogut

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Info and Notes:

Featured Image: “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1974” by Frank Bryan is a public domain image

https://www.basketball-reference.com/draft/ (used to take note of honors for each player taken with the 1st pick)

https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/hof.html (Find when players were inducted into Hall of Fame)

All charts and tables made using Google Spreadsheet

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