The NBA Draft is a wonderful time of year for each of the 30 NBA teams. It gives each franchise a chance to acquire young and talented prospects with hopes that they can turn into impact players in the future. Front offices that choose near the top are hoping for a little more than just a rotational piece. Instead, they are hopeful they can find a franchise-altering talent capable of leading them to multiple championships down the line.
In the past, drafting No. 1 doesn’t always mean that you get what you want. We have seen championship players to busts in the history of the draft. We have even seen players drafted at No. 60 (last pick) become an All-Star in this league.
With that said, some players have brought multiple championships to the franchise. They solidified their greatness with their jersey hanging in the rafters, where they will always be remembered in its history. For those reasons, these are the greatest draft picks that each franchise has ever selected.
Atlanta Hawks - Bob Pettit
(No. 2 Pick, 1954 NBA Draft)
You have to go back to when the franchise was based in Milwaukee. In 1954, Pettit was selected with the No. 2 overall picks and he became the key face of the franchise after the Hawks moved to St. Louis. From 1954-1965, Pettit became the best player to ever throw on a Hawks uniform.
Had NBA Finals MVP trophies been awarded back then, Pettit would have likely been given the award, especially after scoring 50 points in the Hawks’ 110-109 series-clinching victory in Game 6 in 1958. The championship is the last championship won by Atlanta. Among other awards, Pettit owns two regular-season MVPs (1956, 1959), 11 All-Star appearances, and 10 All-NBA First Team selections.
Boston Celtics - Larry Bird
(No. 6 Pick, 1978 NBA Draft)
When you first look at Bird’s unathletic body, you wouldn’t think he was one of the greatest to ever play. That is exactly what Larry Legend left behind. In 12 years in Boston, Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals. He is the last player to ever win three straight MVP trophies (1984-1986).
Bird was also a three-time champion, winning two NBA Finals MVPs. No opposing team wanted Bird to have the ball in his hand with the game on the line. While some might have considered his attitude arrogant, Bird worked his way from having a reputation for making the toughest shots from anywhere on the court.
Brooklyn Nets - Buck Williams
(No. 3 Pick, 1981 NBA Draft)
Williams was selected No. 3 overall in the 1981 NBA Draft behind two Olympic teammates. Williams enjoyed a successful career from 1981 to 1989 and eventually left the franchise as the all-time leader in points, which was broken by Brook Lopez by just four points. Williams remains the franchise leader in games played and total rebounds.
At power forward, Williams established himself as one of the best players in his eight seasons in New Jersey. He recorded three All-Star appearances and four All-Defensive teams. Six of his eight seasons, he was ranked among top-3 in rebounds in the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets - Kemba Walker
(No. 9 Pick, 2011 NBA Draft)
Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues are solid contenders, but the award has to go to Kemba Walker. For now, Walker is the best shooter the Hornets have ever seen with the franchise. When Walker left the team at the age of 29, he was the all-time leader in points scorer. He also ranks first in field goals and three-point field goals. In assists, he ranks second overall and third in steals.
In his final season, Walker made the All-NBA Third Team, while recording three straight All-Star appearances from 2017-2019. Walker should have offered a max contract, but the Hornets elected to go a different path. Had Walker stayed for another five years, he would have put together some records that likely would have never been broken.
Chicago Bulls - Michael Jordan
(No. 3 Pick, 1984 NBA Draft)
When Jordan was drafted No. 3 overall, he felt like he had something to prove. While Hakeem Olajuwon remains a solid pick at No. 1 in 1984, Jordan isn’t just the greatest to ever be drafted by the Bulls, but the best player to ever play the game. From scoring titles to iconic plays, the GOAT remains a fixture in the land of basketball.
In terms of resume, Jordan owns six championships, a perfect 6-0 mark in the NBA Finals, as well as six NBA FInals MVPs. It doesn’t get much better than recording two three-peats either. Apologies to Scottie Pippen, Artis Gilmore, and Derrick Rose.
Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
(No. 1 Pick, 2003 NBA Draft)
LeBron owns every major record outside of blocks in Cleveland, but the hometown kid will always be loved for leading the Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA championship, which was the first-ever title for the organization. When LeBron was drafted in 2003, he immediately took the Cavaliers from laughing stock to title contender. When he left in 2010, those four years were the lowest of lows before he came back.
When he came back, he gifted the team with four straight trips to the NBA Finals. Overall, the Cavaliers were blessed with five trips to the NBA Finals in his overall tenure. There are still teams looking to even qualify for the NBA Finals for the first time, but LeBron made sure it happened in his home state on multiple occasions.
Dallas Mavericks - Jason Kidd
(No. 2 Pick, 1994 NBA Draft)
Technically, the Mavericks never drafted Dirk Nowitzki. In 1998, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Nowitzki and then traded him alongside Steve Nash to the Mavericks. With that said, we can’t select Nowitzki since he wasn’t an original draft pick. If Luka Doncic plays another 10 years in Dallas, this spot will be all his, but for the time being another great guard gets the recognition in Jason Kidd.
Kidd finished his career with 10 All-Star nods and was a part of the 2011 NBA championship team when he came back as a role player. From 2008-2012, Kidd was in the latter stages of his career and was an effective backup guard. In his prime, he led the league in assists five times and made nine All-Defensive teams.
Denver Nuggets - Nikola Jokic
(No. 41 Pick, 2014 NBA Draft)
Alex English and Dan Issel remain the two greatest players to ever play for the Nuggets, but they came to Denver in their later years after being drafted by different teams. One could make the case for Carmelo Anthony, but he led the team to just one Conference Finals appearance. If we are going off playoff success and regular-season success, then Nikola Jokic is easily the best draft pick the Nuggets have ever had.
Jokic is also the greatest steal in NBA history after being drafted in the second round. Jokic was the league’s recipient for the MVP this year. He is regarded as the greatest passing center of all time. He also had led the Nuggets to a Conference Finals appearance as well. Give it time, but we could be talking about Jokic and the Nuggets in the NBA Finals one day.
Detroit Pistons - Isiah Thomas
(No. 2 Pick, 1981)
There is a good case for Ben Wallace or Joe Dumars, but in the end, it has to go to Thomas. Drafted No. 2 overall in 1981, Thomas was one of the focal members of the “Bad Boys” in the 1980s. He led the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. He remains the all-time leader in points, assists, and steals.
While Thomas is the best Pistons player ever, he also spent his entire career with the team. Listed 6-foot-1, he will also go down as one of the best shorter players to ever play professional basketball.
Golden State Warriors - Wilt Chamberlain
(Territorial Pick, 1959)
If we want to be technical, the Warriors technically drafted Chamberlain with a territorial pick. A territorial pick was a type of special draft choice used in the Basketball Association of America in 1949 and then continued in 1950 when the league changed its name to the National Basketball Association. In the draft, NBA teams took turns selecting college basketball players. At the time, the league was trying to gain popularity, and this helped teams select popular players in their surrounding area and add them to their team.
At the time, the Warriors were still based in Philadelphia but were able to select Chamberlain out of the University of Kansas. Chamberlain’s career in the league is well-documented. He is the best rebounder of all time and owns several NBA records that will likely never be broken. If we wanted to base this off real draft picks, which weren’t implemented until 1966, the easy answer to this would be Steph Curry.
Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon
(No. 1 Pick, 1984 NBA Draft)
Olajuwon played all but one season with the Houston Rockets. When it comes to career accomplishments, you name it and he has done it. He led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. He was a two-time Finals MVP, regular-season MVP, and 12-time All-Star.
Olajuwon owns the franchise record for points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. Some people may say that the best Rocket to play was James Harden or Moses Malone. While they are great players, they were never drafted by the Rockets.
Indiana Pacers - Reggie Miller
(No. 11 Pick, 1987 NBA Draft)
After being drafted No. 11 overall in the 1987 NBA Draft, Miller played from his first season to 2005. Miller left the game of basketball as the all-time leader in three-point field goals. Before we saw the likes of Ray Allen and Steph Curry, there was Reggie Miller, who was the pioneer to what has become three-point specialists.
Miller was a five-time All-Star, but that number feels like it should be more. He helped lead the Indiana Pacers to the Conference Finals in the 1990s but couldn’t get past Michael Jordan. Either way, he is one of the best players to ever be selected outside the top-10.
Los Angeles Clippers - Blake Griffin
(No. 1 Pick, 2009 NBA Draft)
After missing his first season in the league after being drafted No. 1 overall, he would go on to win Rookie of the Year. Griffin recorded five All-Star appearances and is second in franchise history in scoring. He is just one of two players to ever record over 10,000 career points, while also ranking top-5 in rebounds and steals.
Known for his days participating in “Lob City,” Griffin won the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest. His powerful dunks made basketball fun for the fans and gave media attention to the other team in the Los Angeles area.
Los Angeles Lakers - Magic Johnson
(No. 1 Pick, 1979 NBA Draft)
No matter what, somebody is going to be unhappy here. For starters, it should be mentioned that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquill O’Neal were not drafted by the Lakers. Despite what many think, neither was Kobe Bryant, who was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, so based on the technicality we can’t use him either.
That leaves a true remaining draft pick in Magic Johnson, who won five championships in the 1980s, as well as three Finals MVPs. Johnson’s career was also cut short due to being diagnosed with HIV. Had he not been sick, who knows if Johnson could have taken away a few championships from Michael Jordan.
Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley
(No. 4 Pick, 2007 NBA Draft)
The two greatest players to play in Memphis are Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol. The problem with this award is that Gasol was not technically drafted by the Grizzlies. He was drafted by the Lakers, who traded his rights the following year to the Grizzlies for his brother Pau Gasol. That means that Conley, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, is deserving of being the best draft pick in team history.
Conley is also the all-time leader in assists, steals, and three-point field goals. Even though Conley never recorded an All-Star appearance, he was rewarded with a five-year, $153 million extension in 2017 that was the greatest contract in total value in NBA history at the time. Conley is in the midst of title-chasing now, but could maybe retire as a member of the Griz down the line.
Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade
(No. 5 Pick, 2003 NBA Draft)
There isn’t a lot to talk about when it comes to this conversation. Players like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Shaquille O’Neal rank high among the franchise records but were either signed or traded. Wade was the original GOAT drafted in 2003, No. 5 behind his buddies James and Bosh.
Wade produced at the highest level possible. He won the 2006 NBA Finals MVP. Then, he helped recruit James and Bosh to town, where the Heat made four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning the title in 2012 and 2013. He took a new role with James, but all Wade wanted to do was win. He took less money, competed like a Hall of Famer, and should be considered the greatest Heat player of all time.
Milwaukee Bucks - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
(No. 1 Pick, 1969 NBA Draft)
This is a tough discussion with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis won back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020. He won the Defensive Player of the Year. He led the team to the Conference Finals a few years back. He could have left and been paid just as much money with a major market. Instead, he stayed, unlike Kareem. He delivered on his promise to the city. His 50-point game makes him just one of seven players to ever record a performance like that in the NBA Finals, while his Finals MVP will cement his legacy in Milwaukee sports history.
With that said, despite a short tenure, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to their first NBA championship in 1971. He finished his career with six championships after joining the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar also won three regular-season MVPs and is the all-time scoring champion. If Giannis can lead Milwaukee to another championship, it would be enough to move him up.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Kevin Garnett
(No. 5 Pick, 1995 NBA Draft)
There is no debate with this one. The only other player we have seen make Minnesota relevant in the last 20 years outside of Garnett is Kevin Love. When Garnett played in Minnesota, the team made a run towards qualifying for the playoffs each season. After leaving in 2007, the team has made just one playoff appearance since 2004.
Garnett is the current record holder in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He led the team to their first and last Conference Finals appearance in 2004, the same season he won the regular season MVP. No player has ever talked trash, nor played the game like Garnett in a Minnesota uniform.
New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis
(No. 1 Pick, 2012 NBA Draft)
Had DeMarcus Cousins never gotten hurt in 2018, the Pelicans were rising through the Western Conference standings and had the potential to earn the No. 2 overall seed. Had the Pelicans made a deep playoff run, Davis might still be in New Orleans today. Even without that happening, Davis gave the city of New Orleans everything he had.
While Chris Paul and David West are solid runner-ups, Davis eventually won an NBA championship in 2020. Outside of that, Davis is the franchise leader in points, rebounds, and blocks. He left the team when he was 26 years old. That is real talent right there.
New York Knicks - Patrick Ewing
(No. 1 Pick, 1985 NBA Draft)
In 15 seasons, Ewing averaged 22.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. Those numbers are pure domination. He was the Knicks’ go-to option in the post in an age where centers were the way of the offense. Along with individual success, his years were the best years of the Knicks organization outside of their title-winning seasons in the 1970s.
After two playoff-less basketball, the Knicks made the playoffs 13 consecutive years. Since the mid-2000s, the Knicks have made the playoffs twice. In 1994, the Knicks were one game away from a championship. In 1999, the team made the NBA Finals again. A big part of that success was thanks to their big man in the middle.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant
(No. 2 Pick, 2007 NBA Draft)
Do you go with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or James Harden? If we go back to the Seattle days, we could talk about Gary Payton. Instead, the honor goes to Durant, who helped make OKC basketball relevant after the team moved from Seattle.
Durant won a scoring title, a regular-season MVP, and helped the Thunder make the 2012 NBA Finals after the team was stationed for just four years. While Westbrook averaged a triple-double and won an MVP in 2017, and Harden won three scoring titles, Durant eventually won two championships and two Finals MVPs. The others are still waiting for their first ring.
Orlando Magic - Shaquille O’Neal
(No. 1 Pick, 1992 NBA Draft)
While Dwight Howard did lead the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, Shaq is by far the better overall player when we look at careers. Shaq led the Magic to their first-ever NBA Finals appearance in 1995 in a season that saw him average 25.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. When comparing the two center accolades, Shaq did just as much for Orlando as Howard.
What we also forget about the Finals appearance is that Shaq was just 22 years old at the time. In the end, Shaq won four championships between the Lakers and Heat, but he took a young expansion franchise and made the team relevant during the Michael Jordan era.
Philadelphia 76ers - Allen Iverson
(No. 1 Pick, 1996 NBA Draft)
Based on a technicality that the 76ers never drafted Dolph Schayes, we can’t go with the current franchise leader in rebounds, who also owns over 18,000 career points. Hal Greer scored 21,586 points in a career that lasted from 1958-1973. He led the 76ers to a championship in 1967 and eventually had his jersey retired by the team.
Despite these two great players, the greatest pick ever drafted by Philly is Allen Iverson. After going No. 1 overall in 1996, Iverson became the No. 2 career scorer, won an MVP in 2001, and led the team to their last NBA Finals appearance. The four-time scoring champion was instant offense despite being listed at 6-foot-0.
Phoenix Suns - Steve Nash
(No. 15 Pick, 1996 NBA Draft)
Nash was selected with the No. 15 overall pick in 1996 and became a Suns legend over time. After playing with the Suns from 1996-1998, he enjoyed a six-year stint with the Dallas Mavericks. However, he returned, won back-to-back MVPs in 2004 and 2005, and led the Suns to contention and a Conference Finals appearance.
Before Chris Paul and Devin Booker, fans in the Phoenix area clung to those memories of the high octane offense in the 2000s. The head of the offense was Nash, who led the league in assists five times in his career, all with the Suns.
Portland Trail Blazers - Clyde Drexler
(No. 14 Pick, 1983 NBA Draft)
We will give Bill Walton credit as he led Portland to their first and only championship in 1977, where he was named Finals MVP for averaging 18.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 3.2 blocks. However, over time, the honor should go to Drexler, who was taken No. 14 overall in 1983.
Drexler is the all-time leader in points and steals. He was formally the all-time leader in rebounds until LaMarcus Aldridge broke that record. Drexler eventually went on to win an NBA championship but as a member of the Rockets. In a few years, we could be talking about Damian Lillard in this spot.
Sacramento Kings - Oscar Robertson
(Territorial Pick, 1960)
As previously mentioned about territorial picks, Robertson was another territorial draft selection when the Kings were formally known as the Cincinnati Royals. Robertson attended school at the University of Cincinnati, which made him an ideal selection. In the NBA, Robertson became a superstar, where he won an NBA championship with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.
In 1961, Robertson averaged a triple-double for the regular season for the Royals. He remained as the only player to ever accomplish that feat until Russell Westbrook in 2017. Robertson played for Cincinnati from 1960 to 1970, where he amassed All-Star appearances from 1961 to 1970, as well as three All-Star Game MVPs.
San Antonio Spurs - Tim Duncan
(No. 1 Pick, 1997 NBA Draft)
The Spurs should go down as the most talked-about team when it comes to this topic. The team drafted David Robinson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. However, when it comes to the greatest draft pick of all time, it should be given to Tim Duncan.
Duncan won five championships as a member of the Spurs from 1997 to 2016. Duncan won three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections, and two regular-season MVPs. He was the heart and soul of San Antonio for 20 years, where he made a small market team the talk of all NBA analysts.
Toronto Raptors - DeMar DeRozan
(No. 9 Pick, 2009 NBA Draft)
From 2013 to 2018, DeMar DeRozan was the main contributor in elevating the Raptors towards the top of the Eastern Conference. That span included five consecutive trips to the postseason, a franchise record, as well as their first-ever appearance in the Conference Finals before their championship run in 2019.
DeRozan played 9 seasons with the Raptors, averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He never won a championship with them, but he will be remembered as the greatest player that was drafted by Toronto.
Utah Jazz - Karl Malone
(No. 13 Pick, 1985 NBA Draft)
Despite never winning a championship with the Jazz, he did lead the team to two consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 before falling to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Malone did all he could in the NBA Finals, averaging 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. In his 19-year career, he averaged 25.0 points per game on 51.6% shooting, which helped him finish No. 2 on the all-time scoring list.
John Stockton, runner-up in this category, paired with Malone to make one formidable duo. Malone was the main catalyst though, winning two MVPs (1997 and 1999) and 14 All-Star appearances. While his championship shortcomings are tough to swallow as a Jazz fan, it does not discard everything he accomplished in his career.
Washington Wizards - Wes Unseld
(No. 2 Pick, 1968 NBA Draft)
Think of all the recent potential Washington has had in recent years. Gilbert Arenas had loads of potential. John Wall was seen as an MVP candidate. Bradley Beal nearly won a scoring title. However, all of these players have come up short in the postseason, where Washington hasn’t sniffed an NBA Finals since the great days of Wes Unseld Sr.
Unseld was not your traditional big-time superstar, averaging 10.8 points per game in 13 years. With that said, he contributed in other ways, averaging 14.0 rebounds per game. In his first five seasons in the NBA, his lowest season total was 15.9. Standing at 6-foot-7, Unseld went onto win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season in 1968-1969, averaging 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds for the Baltimore Bullets. Once the Bullets relocated to Washington, he helped the team win their lone championship in 1979, where he won Finals MVP.