Over the last 20 years, the most dominant draft hasn’t been the No. 1 or No. 2 overall picks. The No. 3 overall pick has been sacred in terms of production. Out of the last 20 No. 3 overall picks, 14 picks remain in the league, while two are playing overseas after productive NBA careers. Only two players can ever be considered “busts” at this position, which makes this one of the most productive draft selections in recent years.
What is even more impressive is that six of these picks were in this year’s All-Star Game, while one is competing for his second MVP award. Let’s try to sort out the best of the best at No. 3 over the last 20 drafts.
20. Adam Morrison - 2006
7.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.2 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Morrison is considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Morrison played just 161 games in a career that lasted from 2006 to 2009. After leading the league in scoring at Gonzaga, the Charlotte Hornets believed that they would get that same type of production. Instead, Morrison averaged 7.5 points per game in just 20 minutes per game.
After joining the Lakers in 2008, Morrison won a championship as a member of the 2009 team but predominantly sat the bench. Then again, if it wasn’t for the help of another former No. 3 overall pick, then Morrison would have nothing from his NBA career.
19. Jahlil Okafor - 2014
10.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
In Okafor’s first season, he averaged 17.5 points per game in 53 contests. After that, Okafor’s dropoff was significant. Okafor has now been castaway as a bench player and has bounced around the Nets, Pelicans, and Pistons in recent years.
Okafor currently averages 4.4 points in 11.4 minutes of action for the last place Pistons. Okafor could be on the verge of exiting the league very soon.
18. OJ Mayo - 2008
13.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Mayo enjoyed success in the league from 2008 to 2015. Mayo averaged 18.5 and 17.5 points in his first two seasons for the Grizzlies. After that, he enjoyed two more productive seasons with the Grizzlies before joining the Mavericks for one year and the Bucks for three seasons.
Today, Mayo plays in China, where he was most recently named an All-Star in the SPL in 2019. He won the Three-Point Shootout contest that very same season.
17. Otto Porter Jr. - 2013
10.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG
After a stellar 2016-2017 season with the Wizards, where he averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and shot 51.6% from the field, Porter was rewarded with a four-year, $106 million contract. That’s a lot of money for a player that averages 11.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in his career.
Since then, Porter has moved around with the Bulls and Magic. He is a free agent this upcoming season and will make a fraction of that last contract.
16. Mike Dunleavy Jr. - 2002
11.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
From 2002 to 2016, Dunleavy enjoyed a long, productive career in the NBA. Dunleavy’s best season came in 2007 when he averaged 19.2 points per game for the Indiana Pacers. Outside of that season, he was viewed as a three-point specialist that could start or come off the bench.
Ranked 16th overall in our rankings, that should show you how deep the No. 3 overall pick has been in recent years. Dunleavy was a solid veteran in the league and is near the bottom. With no disrespect to Dunleavy, there are just more productive players at this position.
15. Derrick Favors - 2010
10.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Favors was once named Naismith Prep Basketball Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball USA in 2009 before joining Georgia Tech for one season. Favors hasn’t lived up to the hype in college, nor in the league, but he is a solid starting power forward for the Utah Jazz.
Averaging 10.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in his career, he has made a name for himself as a role player. Favors contribute defensively at his position and have been extremely durable. This season is the first time that Favors hasn’t started a single game for the first time in his career, but his role off the bench has helped with the Jazz contending for the No. 1 overall seed. They lost against the Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
14. RJ Barrett - 2019
16.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Barrett is a product of being young because Year 3 might be an All-Star year for the Knicks. In his second season, Barrett is averaging 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and shooting nearly 40% from the three-point range.
This is head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season with the Knicks and we have already seen a progression from Barrett. We saw that Jimmy Butler did with the help of Thibs in his early years. If we see the same type of transformation, Barrett could have a ceiling as high as being another Jimmy Butler.
13. Enes Kanter - 2011
11.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Kanter has been a productive center in the league for every team he has played on. In the last two years of playing for the Jazz, Kanter averaged close to 12 points and seven rebounds. He then enjoyed an 18.7 point, 11.0 rebound season with the Thunder. After two more productive seasons with the Thunder, he averaged a double-double for the Knicks in two years.
Kanter was a big contributor during Portland’s run to the Western Conference Finals two years ago, as well as Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Averaging a double-double with the Trail Blazers this year, he looks to sign a long-term contract this summer.
12. LaMelo Ball - 2020
15.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Ball is going to be an All-Star down the road. We saw a glimpse of what he could do when he became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double. The Rookie of the Year shows everyone that he is ready for the NBA.
It was a productive rookie season for Ball, where he averaged 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. In about two years, we could see one of the best guards in the league.
11. Ben Gordon - 2004
14.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG
The 2005 Sixth Man of the Year was a consistent scoring threat for the Chicago Bulls in his early years. In three years, Gordon averaged point totals of 21.4, 18.6, and 20.7 points per game. Had he not chased the money in Detroit, he might have helped the Bulls make a championship run as a member of the “Bench Mob.”
However, Gordon’s career was cut short in 2014, while his final six seasons in the league were lackluster. Gordon is a candidate to move down in the rankings within the next two years.
10. Deron Williams - 2005
16.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 8.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
After helping lead the Illinois Fighting Illini to the NCAA Championship Game in 2005, the Jazz took Williams with the third overall pick. Williams enjoyed two All-Star appearances in 2010 and 2011. He then joined the Brooklyn Nets and made his third All-Star appearance in 2012. In 2008 and 2010, Williams was a member of the All-NBA Second Team.
Altogether, the Jazz had a formidable duo with Williams and Carlos Boozer. The playoff success never came together, but the Jazz was ultimately competitive.
9. Al Horford - 2007
13.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Horford can go to any Hawks or Celtics games in the future and be beloved by fans. During his time with those teams, he enjoyed five All-Star appearances and was a well-respected player in the locker room. Horford enjoyed his best season in 2015, helping the Hawks qualify for their first Eastern Conference Finals.
Horford has also been a member of the All-NBA Second Team, Rookie Team, and All-Defensive Team. A two-time NCAA champion, Horford is hoping to make one final run towards contending for an NBA championship.
8. Jaylen Brown - 2016
15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Brown made his first All-Star this season in a year where he is nearly averaging 25 points per game. At just 24 years old, Brown is entering the prime of his career and will finish this season averaging over 20 points per game for the second consecutive season.
When selected at No. 3 overall, fans were confused due to his low ranking on the mock draft. Instead, Brown has been an integral part of the Celtics making the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons.
7. Bradley Beal - 2012
22.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG
A three-time All-Star, Beal is fighting with Steph Curry this season for the NBA scoring title. Beal gave Washington fans plenty of thrills when paired with John Wall during the mid-2010s. Since Wall’s departure, the Wizards have been a doormat, but Beal has single-handedly kept the team in games.
Heading into this offseason, Beal is going to cost a team a fortune in a trade. One thing is for sure when Beal shoots, we all assume that the ball is going to go in the hoop.
6. Jayson Tatum - 2017
19.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG
After dropping 60 points and leading the Celtics back from a 32-point deficit, Tatum has earned the respect of everyone in the league if he didn’t have it before. Tatum, along with Brown, has been the key piece in leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four years.
In Tatum’s first season, he became the first Celtics rookie to score 20 points in five straight playoff games, breaking Larry Bird’s record of four. By the end of his playoff run, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only rookies in playoff history to record 10 games of 20 or more points in their first playoff runs.
5. Joel Embiid - 2014
24.9 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Embiid is the No. 1 contender for the MVP trophy this year and would have been in a tighter race had he not missed over 10 games this season. Either way, Embiid is playing some of the best basketball in his career, and he is one of the best big men in the league.
A four-time All-Star, Embiid has evolved his game to inside and out. He is a productive player on the defensive end. If Embiid can lead the 76ers to a Finals appearance, his stock will shoot straight up in these rankings.
4. Luka Doncic - 2018
25.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
We have never seen a player like Doncic before and he is only 22 years old. At his young age, Doncic is already the career-leader in triple-doubles in Mavericks franchise history. In his career, Doncic is averaging 25.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. It’s only a matter of time before Doncic averages a triple-double in a season.
Doncic has not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in his two seasons, but due to his stats, he is clearly a top-5 player taken at No. 3 overall. If Doncic’s career path keeps trending this way, he could make his way to top-3 or top-2.
3. Pau Gasol - 2001
17.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG
After making six All-Star teams, four All-NBA squads, and winning two championships, Gasol has earned the right to be ranked above the likes of Tatum, Embiid, and Doncic. Gasol was a big-time player for the Lakers during their back-to-back championship seasons and could be considered a Hall of Famer when he is eligible.
Gasol recently retired but is playing international for FC Barcelona at the age of 40 years old. Gasol averaged 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds in his career.
2. Carmelo Anthony - 2003
23.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG
It doesn't get much better than this at the top. Anthony owns 10 All-Star appearances, six All-NBA selections, and was the 2013 NBA scoring leader. Anthony owns a career scoring average of 23.6 points, including averaging over 28.0 points per game twice in his career.
Anthony will always take flack for the way he left the Denver Nuggets, as well as spurning the Bulls to chase money instead of titles. At the end of the day, Anthony has a Hall of Fame career and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
1. James Harden - 2009
25.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Harden is the only player in the rankings to win an MVP, so it’s a surefire saying that Harden reigns supreme out of all the No. 3 overall picks. Harden is the reigning scoring champion, an award he has earned three straight seasons. Had Harden not missed time this season, he would have had a chance to win his second MVP after being traded by the Rockets at the beginning of the season.
Like Anthony, Doncic, and Embiid, his legacy will be harmed without the elusive NBA title. Harden has a chance to win this year after teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. If Harden can’t win a title this or next season, then Harden will be classified with Charles Barkley as “best players ever to never own a championship.”