The NBA Draft is a time of hope and optimism for NBA teams, especially those at the bottom of their respective conferences. Because the best college player (and in the past, high school player) often goes No. 1 in the draft.
Looking back at all the drafts in NBA history, certain players have made the biggest impact. By ranking all the best players in draft history by their career PPG averages, here are the top-10 greatest No.1 picks of all-time based on their scoring ability.
Hakeem Olajuwon – 21.8 PPG
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is one of the best big men ever, and he misses out on the list despite being one of the most talented No. 1 picks ever due to his scoring and defensive intangibles. The 2-time NBA title is also a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever do it.
David Thompson – 22.1 PPG
David Thompson was a scoring machine who once averaged 27.2 PPG during the 1978 season with the Denver Nuggets. Thompson was a dominant shooting guard who shot over 50% from the field over his career, and he just misses out on the top-10 list.
10. Karl-Anthony Towns – 22.8 PPG
Towns is a once-in-a-generation talent due to what he brings on both ends of the floor. Towns won the Rookie of the Year in 2016 and has made 2 All-Star Teams since then. Towns holds a career average of 22.8 PPG and he gets his points mainly through the paint and also with his outside shooting.
Towns is already a great player but he might take another jump as a superstar player. He is only 25 years old right now, and with the right team, we might be looking at a future MVP candidate. For now, he kicks off the list as one of the ten greatest No. 1 picks ever.
9. Kyrie Irving – 22.8 PPG
Kyrie Irving is the greatest ball-handler in NBA history. No player has the ball on a swivel like Kyrie, and he is on the list among the greatest offensive No. 1 picks in history. Irving won the Rookie of the Year in 2012 and since then has exploded up the ranks as a superstar point guard.
Kyrie holds a 22.6 career PPG average which ranks 28th all-time, and it was his clutch scoring that helped the Cleveland Cavaliers capture the NBA title in 2016. Kyrie is one of the best scorers ever at his position, and he is among the 10 best No. 1 picks ever.
8. Shaquille O’Neal – 23.7 PPG
The great Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant modern NBA superstar. The 7’1″ giant weighed 325 lbs and could not be handled by one or even two defenders in his prime. Shaq won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1993, and the rest is history.
O’Neal finished with 4 NBA titles and 3 Finals MVPs, to go along with a career scoring average that ranks 22nd all-time. O’Neal was a dominant force during his prime, and he finished with 15 All-Star Team selections over his Hall of Fame career.
7. Anthony Davis – 23.9 PPG
It is amazing how great Anthony Davis has been since his rookie season. Davis went from averaging 13.5 PPG in his first season as a 19-year old to averaging over 20 PPG for 8 straight seasons. Davis already has an NBA title and 8 All-Star appearances, so he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the making.
Davis has a mix of an inside and outside game, using his size and skill to his advantage. Very few players, if ever, stand 6’10” with guard skills and Davis is truly one of a kind in that regard.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 24.6 PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does not get his due, and many in the older generation regard him as the greatest player ever. Kareem averaged 24.6 PPG for his career which ranks 15th all-time, and his SkyHook was his greatest weapon.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an unstoppable offensive player into his 40’s because no player in history could properly contest or block his skyhook. Kareem is arguably the most accomplished No. 1 pick ever because he has 6 NBA titles and 6 MVPs over his illustrious career.
5. Zion Williamson – 25.0 PPG
Zion Williamson is already on the list of the greatest scoring No.1 picks in NBA history. Williamson averaged 22 t PPG in his rookie season as a 19-year old and followed that up with a 26.4 PPG in only his second season.
Zion stands 6’7″ but weighs a whopping 284 lbs, meaning he cannot be stopped when he wants to score in the paint. Zion also explodes above the rim at his size, and we might be looking at the new face of the NBA in due time.
4. Oscar Robertson – 25.7 PPG
Oscar Robertson, the original triple-double king, holds a career PPG average of 25.7 which ranks 10th all time. Robertson gets a ton of credit for his rebounding and playmaking as he averaged 7.5 RPG and 9.5 APG for his career as a point guard, but his scoring was arguably his greatest attribute.
Robertson averaged over 30 PPG for 4 straight seasons from 1964-1967. Robertson had size at 6’5″ and an incredible ability to attack and finish at the rim. He was completely unstoppable and his 1961 Rookie of the Year Award and 1964 MVP Award rank among his best individual achievements.
3. Allen Iverson – 26.7 PPG
The Answer, Allen Iverson, is pound for pound the greatest player who ever lived. Standing 6’0″ tall and weighing only 165 lbs, Iverson dominated the game as the smallest player on the court. Iverson entered the NBA in the 1996 Draft as a 21-year old, dropping 23.5 PPG in the process.
Iverson’s career average of 26.7 PPG ranks 7th all-time. Very few players had the impact of Iverson due to what he did on and off the court, and he retired as an 11-time All-Star and 2001 MVP with 4 scoring titles to his name.
2. LeBron James – 27.0 PPG
It is no surprise to see The King, LeBron James on this list. James is widely regarded as the greatest No.1 pick in NBA history thanks to his all-around game, and there hardly is a comparison considering his skills and talent.
James entered the NBA in the 2003 Draft as a 19-year old and managed to average 20.9 PPG and 5.9 APG in the process. 18 seasons at the top of the game results in a career average of 27.0 PPG which ranks 6th all-time.
1. Elgin Baylor – 27.4 PPG
Elgin Baylor was a walking bucket, from the moment he stepped into the league until the minute he left it. Baylor had a career average of 27.4 PPG, with his best seasons coming in 1961 where he averaged 34.8 PPG, and 1962 where he averaged 38.0 PPG.
Elgin Baylor finished his career as an 11-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA Team performer and also won the Rookie of the Year in 1959. Baylor is truly one of the greatest to have ever done and is the best scoring No. 1 pick in history.
Credit for the idea: ballrsnation