When the NBA Draft comes around, fans often look to see who is selected with the No. 1 overall pick. The No. 1 overall pick has the association tag with a player being a star. For the bottom teams in the league, these players play a major role in turning the franchise around, potentially becoming the new face of the team.
Over the last 20 years, we have seen most of the No. 1 overall picks turn out to be All-Star caliber players, but there have been some pretty noteworthy busts too. Let’s rank the No. 1 overall picks over the last two decades.
20. Anthony Bennett – 2013
Career stats: 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
Bennett was so bad that he was able to take the seat of the worst draft pick in the last 20 years, and perhaps the entire NBA history of drafting. Compared to the likes of Kwame Brown and Hasheem Thabeet, Bennett was the biggest bust when he was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When drafted, the reaction of former ESPN writer Bill Simmons went viral because he was shocked that the Cavaliers used this pick on the former UNLV standout. All mock drafts had Bennett in the top-10 but nowhere near the top-5. In a draft that featured Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Cavaliers struck out hard.
19. Greg Oden – 2007
Career Stats: 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.2 blocks
The Portland Trail Blazers had to choose between Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. When looking back on history, this will forever live as a disappointment among the franchise. Landing Durant could have likely put the Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals in the last decade but instead, they drafted the former standout from Ohio State, who played just two seasons.
Oden played only 82 games with the Trail Blazers before suffering multiple season-ending injuries. After a four-year hiatus, he played 23 games for the Miami Heat in 2013 and played in 9.2 minutes per game. Oden was a great player during his one season at OSU, but couldn’t stay healthy enough to play on the biggest stage.
18. Kwame Brown – 2001
Career Stats: 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.6 blocks
Before Bennett, Brown was considered the biggest NBA bust of all time. Brown was taken out of high school and was considered to be the next big-time player for the Washington Wizards. Instead, he never lived up to expectations, scoring in double-digits just one time in his 12-year career.
Brown’s numbers were respectable in terms of backup standards. The problem is what the Wizards didn’t want a backup. They wanted a franchise-changing player. Brown was out of the league by the age of 30 years old.
17. Markelle Fultz – 2017
Career Stats: 10.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
The last two years have helped Fultz transform from major bust to just bust. Fultz luckily has time to change the narrative but right now his NBA legacy is stuck on being a bust. Fultz was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with comparisons drawn to being the next Russell Westbrook.
Instead, Fultz played a combined 33 games for the 76ers and was shipped to the Orlando Magic after two years. In 2019, Fultz averaged 12.1 points and 5.1 assists, which landed him a generous contract extension from the team. Before tearing his ACL, Fultz averaged 12.9 points and 5.4 assists. His future could be bright, but for now, he is one of the worst No. 1 overall picks ever.
16. Anthony Edwards – 2020
Career Stats: 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks
Edwards is only here based on youth and inexperience. In no way shape or form is Edwards considered a bust right now. His rookie numbers are respectable in terms of points and rebounds. All in all, the 2020 NBA Draft was considered one of the weaker drafts as of late and he is producing at a marginal level.
It’s only fair that we give Edwards some time to develop and revisit this conversation. With that said, even with just half a season under his belt, he has produced more than four other No. 1 overall picks, so the future is looking up for him.
15. Andrea Bargnani – 2006
Career Stats: 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 steals 0.9 blocks
When you think of Bargnani, what is your initial reaction to his career? Do you just shrug your shoulder and say “meh?” That’s what it feels like when it comes to the former Toronto Raptor. He was just very okay.
He had starter-worth numbers but nothing screamed dominant. He left the league at age 30, which is hard to believe to see that he remains only 35 years old. His game was very one-sided, he couldn’t shoot from deep, and didn’t rebound the best. Overall, he was your fourth or fifth-best player on the floor.
14. Deandre Ayton – 2018
Career Stats: 16.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
The jury is still out on Ayton, but we could see a stretch of All-Star selections if he continues to develop. Ayton is only 22 years old and is a foundational piece of the Phoenix Suns future. He is one of four No. 1 overall picks to average a double-double, as well as have at least 1.0 blocks per game.
Ayton will need to develop as a defender if he wants to rise through this list. Ayton’s numbers are similar to DeAndre Jordan’s prime years, so it would be great to see him take it to the level of a Karl-Anthony Towns or Dwight Howard.
13. Andrew Wiggins – 2014
Career Stats: 19.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks
Wiggins gets a lot of criticism because we see his offensive numbers and we think he should be scoring more than he does. This year, Wiggins has proved that he is more than an offensive player, as he has played solid defense since joining the Warriors. In his career, Wiggins has nearly averaged 20 points, so what more do you want?
The easy answer to that question is that Wiggins has never been the No. 1 overall pick that can take over a game. For a contending team, he is their third-best player. If Wiggins can take his game one step closer to the likes of Klay Thompson, not only will he move up on this list, but he will finally get a taste of what winning feels like. Despite joining the Warriors, Wiggins comes from the Timberwolves where he made the playoffs just one time.
12. Andrew Bogut – 2005
Career Stats: 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.5 blocks
Ayton, Wiggins, and Bogut’s place on the list could be changed, but Bogut gets the nod for one easy reason. Bogut owns an NBA championship and was a starter for that team. Bogut never became the dominant offensive center in the NBA, but he balanced it out on the defensive end. During that season, Bogut made the All-Defensive Second Team.
Bogut made the All-NBA Third-Team in 2010 and led the league in blocks in 2011. Both the Milwaukee Bucks and Warriors have touted his leadership in the locker room. His personal accolades may not dazzle, but make no mistake, he truly did influence games at times.
11. Zion Williamson – 2019
Career Stats: 25.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks
The face of the New Orleans Pelicans is in the midst of his second season, so he is another product of needing time to write his legacy. The 20-year old recently became the fourth-youngest All-Star starter after qualifying for his first season. It’s fair to say that in the limited interactions we have seen Williamson, he is going to be a star of this league.
Williamson could be the better version of Blake Griffin by the time his career ends, assuming he stays healthy. Both players are incredible dunkers, tough rebounders, and can move the ball around. While No. 11 doesn’t sound flashy right now, Williamson’s sophomore season has him on the cusp of top-10.
10. Karl-Anthony Towns – 2015
Career Stats: 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks
After Towns qualified for the second straight season in 2018, many thought that was the turning point for Towns and the Timberwolves. The team was coming off a playoff appearance for the first time in 2004. Instead, Towns and Jimmy Butler didn’t get along and Butler was eventually traded. Flash forward to 2021, the Timberwolves are fresh off using the No. 1 overall pick and could be on pace for another top selection.
It says a lot about a franchise when you have three No. 1 overall picks in the last two decades (Edwards and Wiggins) and still can’t win. Towns have put up great numbers but he has been stuck on many losing teams. Many compared Towns to Tim Duncan out of the draft. It’s fair to say that he is the great value version of Mr. Fundamental.
9. Ben Simmons – 2016
Career Stats: 16.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks
Simmons has the potential to be a top-5 member of this list. He has the potential to go out and record a triple-double on any given night and guard the team’s toughest assignment. At 6-foot-10, he is a unicorn among point guards. There are not many point guards that can score in the paint, rebound, and move the ball.
Simmons is second in the league in steals this season and is averaging 16 points despite a career average of 15% from the three-point range. Simmons may never develop an outside shot, which could haunt his game from making the next step. However, if he continues to pile up multiple statistical categories, it may not matter.
8. Yao Ming – 2002
Career Stats: 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.9 blocks
In eight seasons, Ming accomplished more than most players selected from this spot. If it wasn’t for constant foot injuries, Ming could have been one of the best centers of all time. The Hall of Famer is an international icon, who was also a pretty good basketball player.
Ming, paired with Tracy McGrady, made the Houston Rockets one of the most beloved teams in the world. He is the only player ever outside the United States to lead All-Star voting. Still, eight All-Star selections in eight seasons are pretty impressive.
7. John Wall – 2012
Career Stats: 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks
Primetime John Wall was unstoppable. The player that you have seen the last two years is not the same player that wore the Washington Wizards jersey. Wall was so popular at the time that a song was even made about him. How many guards in the past 20 years can you think of that averaged a double-double in points and assists? The list is not that big.
Wall, paired with Bradley Beal, nearly led the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017. The Atlantic Division title was their first since 1979. Wall is a five-time All-Star, former NBA Slam Dunk champion, and has made an appearance on the All-Defensive Team. Who knows what he would be if he didn’t rupture his Achilles.
6. Blake Griffin – 2009
Career Stats: 21.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks
Speaking of former Slam Dunk Contest champions, Griffin rose to fame during his “rookie season.” His actual rookie season was lost due to an injury. When he came back, Griffin was an integral part of “Lob City” during the successful Los Angeles Clippers run. Despite being moved to the Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets, he will always remain a beloved player in L.A.
Griffin is a six-time All-Star and has made All-NBA five times. Griffin’s best years are likely behind him but he can still contribute at a high level at the age of 32. This year, he will look to finally win that elusive NBA championship.
5. Derrick Rose – 2008
Career Stats: 18.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
Have you noticed a common trend? Some of the best players ever to play have been affected by gruesome injuries. Before Rose tore his ACL during the 2011 NBA playoffs and has never been the same. The youngest MVP ever was going to lead the Chicago Bulls to their first post-Michael Jordan NBA championship. Instead, the city of Chicago has been left wondering “what if?”
Rose has sustained four major surgeries and is averaging close to 18 points per game the last two seasons. While his role has transitioned to a swing scorer, he was one of the most explosive players on the floor in his prime. While his personal accolades are short due to injury, his MVP season is enough proof to show you what kind of player he once was.
4. Dwight Howard – 2004
Career Stats: 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.9 blocks
Howard hasn’t made an All-Star appearance since 2014 but you best believe that prime time Dwight Howard was going to out the muscle you on the court. When Howard led the Orlando Magic, he was a top-5 player in the league. From 2007 to 2014, Howard recorded eight straight All-Star appearances, won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year three times, and made All-NBA First-Team five straight seasons.
In 2009, Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals before bolting for the Lakers in 2012. Ever since the Magic have struggled to remain relevant and a lot of that has to do with “Superman.”
3. Kyrie Irving – 2011
Career Stats: 22.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks
Irving has been dubbed the greatest dribbler of all time and he hasn’t even played a single season in his 30s. Without Irving, the Cavaliers would not have won their NBA championship in 2016. Irving is a seven-time All-Star, a former All-Star Game MVP, and the 2012 Rookie of the Year.
You can say what you want about his attitude, but Irving is a winner. We are currently witnessing his prime years right now. If Irving can help lead Brooklyn to an NBA championship, he will have one of the best all-time legacies.
2. Anthony Davis – 2012
Career Stats: 23.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.4 blocks
Davis was a self-made man in New Orleans from 2012 to 2019. He has qualified for the All-Star Game eight consecutive seasons, made four All-NBA First Team selections, make the All-Defensive Team five times, and has led the league in blocks three times.
If Davis never came to the Lakers last season, the Lakers would not have won an NBA championship. He was the perfect complement to LeBron James. His numbers speak for themselves as he has averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in six seasons. If the Pelicans played better as a team during his tenure, he would have cemented an MVP trophy by now.
1. LeBron James – 2003
Career Stats: 27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks
The second-best player of all time is hands down the best No. 1 overall pick in the last 20 years, potentially ever. LeBron is a four-time NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, and regular-season MVP. Before he sustained an injury last week, he was on pace to win his fifth MVP and become the oldest MVP ever at age 36.
He is a 17-time All-Star, 13-time All-NBA First-Team selection, and five-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team selection. He has led the Heat, Cavaliers, and Lakers to NBA championships. Notice how three of the top four No. 1 overall picks own NBA titles while playing with LeBron? That is no coincidence.