NBA Draft: 10 best No. 1 overall draft picks in NBA history

Feb 23, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics half at Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 114-112. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft: Expectations are always high for the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Upon hearing their name called, an unforgettable moment, fans immediately expect that player to carry the franchise for the next decade-plus.

Since the first NBA Draft was held in 1947, 73 players have been drafted with the No. 1 pick. Of that exclusive club NBA history, 11 of them went on to win the MVP award and 18 are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

As we launch into another decade of No. 1 overall picks, a new era of players will have an opportunity to be a part of some incredible company.

What does the future hold for Zion Williamson?

With the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke’s star Zion Williamson. Williamson had a considerable amount of hype entering the NBA, with everyone amazed by his insane athleticism and large frame.

After missing the first 44 games, Williamson made a splash in his debut against the San Antonio Spurs. He dropped 22 points, erupting for 17 in the fourth quarter and took the NBA by storm. Across 24 games in his rookie season, he averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Just as impressively, he shot 58.3% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc.

Zion’s NBA journey is just beginning and if he stays healthy, we could be looking at another basketball legend. For now, we’re looking back to the past and an incredible history for No. 1 overall picks.

Here are the 10 0 best No. 1 overall draft picks in NBA history

Honorable mentions: Allen Iverson, Elvin Hayes, Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, Chris Webber

Who are the best No. 1 picks in NBA Draft history?

10. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (2012)

NBA Draft: Best No. 1 picks, Anthony Davis
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Davis is staking his claim as not only the most unstoppable NBA star today, but also an all-time great at power forward. In eight NBA seasons, he is averaging 24.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals. Along the way, he played in seven All-Star games and made four All-NBA teams.

The blockbuster trade to the Los Angeles Lakers might be the pivotal moment in his career. Davis won his first NBA championship this past season and averaged 25.0 points on 57% shooting with 10.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals per night in the NBA Finals. As his legacy continues to grow, Anthony Davis could potentially stake his claim as a top-five all-time great No. 1 pick.

NBA rumors: Will Anthony Davis return to the Lakers?

9. Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers (1958)

Elgin Baylor is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. In his 14-year career, Baylor averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Of course, his incredible resume doesn’t end there. He played in 11 All-Star games, won All-Star Game MVP and made 10 All-NBA teams.

Baylor knew how to thrive in the clutch. He holds the NBA record for the most points in a single NBA Finals game (61), making him the only player to score 60 points in a regular-season game and an NBA Finals game. On top of that, Elgin Baylor has the third-highest scoring average in regular-season history, the 10th-highest rebound average and the 10th-highest scoring average in playoff history.

8. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals (1960)

Before Russell Westbrook ran rough shot with triple-doubles on a nightly basis, Oscar Robertson was doing it in the ’60s. In his first five NBA seasons, Robertson averaged 30.3 points, 10.6 assists and 10.4 rebounds. He became the first player to average a triple-double in a season, recording 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in the 1961-’62 campaign.

He remains the all-time leader in career triple-doubles (181) with 181. recording 10-plus in each of his first six seasons. In addition, he was selected to 12 All-Star games (winning three All-Star MVPs), 11 All-NBA teams, an NBA MVP and winning an NBA championship as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.

7. David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (1987)

David Robinson was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1987 NBA Draft. However, he didn’t play right away for the San Antonio Spurs. After finishing at the Naval Academy, Robinson fulfilled obligations with the naval service and then made his NBA debut in 1989.

He made an immediate impact as a rookie, improving the Spurs’ record from 21-61 to 56-26. While San Antonio fell one game short of the Western Conference Finals, everyone knew it was the start of something special. Robinson won NBA MVP in the 1994-’95 season, after earning the Defensive Player of the Year award in ’92. He also won two NBA championships, received 10 All-Star selections, made 10 All-NBA teams and eight All-Defensive teams. Just as impressive, Robinson is one of just four NBA players ever to record a quadruple-double.

6. Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers (1992)

Many fans identify Shaquille O’Neal as the most dominant star in the NBA’s modern era. In his first 11 seasons, he averaged 27.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.6 blocks. Across his first 13 years, O’Neal averaged 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds per game. O’Neal’s career accomplishments include four NBA Championships, three Finals MVPs, an NBA MVP, 15 All-Star appearances, 14 All-NBA appearances and three All-Defensive appearances. He is one of three NBA stars ever to win the All-Star MVP, regular season MVP and Finals MVP all in the same season.

NBA Draft: Top-five No. 1 picks of all-time

5. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (1984)

Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the greatest two-way stars the NBA has ever seen. He is the only person in NBA history to rank in the top 10 in career steals (ninth) and blocks (all-time leader). He is also the only person to win Defensive Player of the Year, MVP and Finals MVP all in the same season (1993-’94).

For his career, Olajuwon won two championships (won Finals MVP in both series’), made 12 All-Star appearances, 12 All-NBA appearances and nine All-Defensive appearances. Like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon also recorded a quadruple-double in a game and was one assist short of doing it twice.

4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (1997)

NBA Draft: Best No. 1 picks, Tim Duncan
Dec 14, 2019; Mexico City, MEX; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Tim Duncan looks on before the game against the Phoenix Suns at Mexico City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Duncan may have been quiet, but his play on the court did all the talking. Like Robinson, Duncan also led the Spurs to a huge turnaround in his rookie season (20 wins to 56). The Spurs went on to win 50-plus games in each of Duncan’s 19 NBA seasons. He is the only person in NBA history that has ever made 15 All-Star appearances, earned 15 All-NBA appearances and 15 All-Defensive appearances. Duncan also won five NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVPs, two NBA MVPs and an All-Star MVP. Yeah, we’d say the Spurs have great success in the NBA Draft.

3. Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers (1979)

Magic Johnson’s career began with a bang, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship and winning NBA Finals MVP in his rookie season. Johnson’s winning ways continued as his career unfolded, with five total NBA championships, three Finals MVPs, three NBA MVPs, two All-Star MVPs, 12 All-Star appearances and 10 All-NBA appearances.

Across 13 NBA seasons, Johnson led the Lakers to the NBA Finals nine times. He is the all-time leader in assists per game in the regular season and playoffs. He also leads the NBA in career playoff assists and is fifth in regular-season assists.

2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003)

There will always be a debate about who’s better between Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. What can’t be debated is LeBron’s success thus far in his 17-year career. LeBron has won four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, and three All-Star MVPs. Along the way, he played in 17 All-Star Games, made 16 All-NBA teams and six All-Defensive teams.

He is the only player that did not play for the Celtics in the 1960s to appear in eight straight NBA Finals. LeBron ranks in the top 10 all-time playoff points (leader), regular-season points (third), playoff assists (second), regular-season assists (eighth), playoff points per game (fifth) and regular-season points per game (fourth). On top of all that, a cherry on top of LeBron’s resume, he became the first non-guard to lead the NBA in assists per game this season. By the time he retires, LeBron could easily be the best No. 1 pick in NBA Draft history.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks (1969)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a winner at every level of his basketball life and the NBA is no exception. He ended his NBA career with six NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, six NBA MVPs, 19 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances and 11 All-Defensive appearances. Kareem averaged 20-plus points per game 17 straight seasons and averaged a double-double in 12 straight seasons.

In his first 12 seasons, he averaged 28.1 points, 14.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.4 blocks. Kareem is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in regular-season history and ranks third in playoff points, third in regular-season rebounds, fifth in playoff rebounds, third in regular-season blocks and second in playoff blocks.