It’s that time of the year again. Lottery night. Where the future of franchises rests on the bounce of a ball.
Winning the lottery doesn’t guarantee a bright future, as there have been plenty of #1 pick busts (maybe I’ll look at that in a future piece). But in some cases, the #1 pick results in a selection so influential that they shape the landscape of the NBA for decades.
Here are the top-5 #1 picks of all time.
#5.) Tim Duncan
While he could never be considered the “face of the NBA” like so many others on the list, Tim Duncan may very well be the most consistent.
Duncan remarkably went about his business, both in the regular and postseason. For as much as San Antonio’s system impedes on individual stats (don’t take that the wrong way), Duncan averaged at least an 18-point double-double for his first 13 seasons.
Despite the systematic way Duncan goes about his work, he still provided us with some of the most explosive Finals performances in at history. Exhibit A being the 2003 Finals, where he put up an astounding 24 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists a game.
And, oh yeah, he has five rings.
#4.) Shaquille O’Neal
For as under the radar as Tim Duncan was, Shaq was, and still is, the complete opposite. Already a budding superstar in Orlando, Shaq’s move to Los Angeles amplified his legacy both on and off the court.
It was there that he teamed up with Kobe Bryant, and put together the most dominant 3-year stretch in Finals history, and the led the Lakers to the league’s last 3-peat. 35.7 PPG and 15 RPG on 59% over three years resulted in three consecutive Finals MVPs in addition to the three rings.
The most dominant post player in the modern era, O’Neal’s off-court character is almost bigger than his on-court presence, making his legacy all the more remarkable.
#3.) Magic Johnson
The architect of the Showtime Lakers, Magic was the driving force behind one of the most successful periods for one of the league’s most successful franchises.
The most creative passer of all time inspired a generation of flashy passing and lightning quick fast breaks. A complete player in (almost) every sense of the word, Johnson only lacked a consistent jump shot. But that hasn’t damaged his legacy whatsoever.
Magic was the originator of the “floor general” (hence the nickname), and is regarded by most sane people as the greatest point guard ever.
#2.) Lew Alcindor
Drafted as Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a top-3 NBA player of all-time, not just a top-3 #1 pick.
Maybe it’s because he lacked the flash and iconic moments of other NBA greats, but in terms of accolades, Kareem is the greatest basketball player ever.
This chart comparing the accomplishments of KAJ and Michael Jordan really puts his career into perspective. Though obviously longevity plays a factor, it’s impressive nonetheless.
#1.) LeBron James
The player with by far the most hype in NBA history has somehow lived up to it, and dare I say surpassed it?
LeBron has been the pinnacle of excellence since he entered the league in 2003, and has been the (virtually) undisputed best player in the league since 2009, winning three titles along the way.
There’s still a few more chapters to be written in his illustrious career, but no matter what happens, we can be comfortable in calling him the greatest #1 pick ever.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hakeem Olajuwon