The NBA Draft is a time of optimism in a team’s offseason because drafting the right player is absolutely essential to short-term and long-term success. The goal for every NBA franchise is to win championships, and that means focusing on building through the draft, making trades, or attracting stars in free agency to get there. While trades and free agency acquisitions are rare, the Draft happens every year, so it is so important because it gives teams the chance to take the players they need out of college. That is why we have seen an incredible mix of rookies coming into the NBA, most of them coming within the top 3 of a particular NBA Draft.
There is a very fine line between perfect selections among the top-3 in an NBA Draft and certified busts. A lot goes into a young man’s career at the beginning, from trust and playing time to overall capabilities and confidence. That is why it takes time for most players to reach their potential, although there are a very select few that hit the ground running. Unsurprisingly, those that did that ended up becoming one of the greatest players of their eras.
To revisit history over a decade of some of the greatest draft selections ever, it is time to uncover the players that have had the most impact on their teams and the original top-3 draft picks that actually occurred between 1991 and 2000. It is not easy for rookies to get acclimated to the NBA, but we have seen some excellent talents accomplish this in surprisingly great fashion. Without further ado, it is time to revisit a period of historical draft classes to remind ourselves which players were taken No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 overall from each draft class from 1991 to 2000.
1991 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Larry Johnson
No. 2 Overall Pick - Kenny Anderson
No. 3 Overall Pick - Billy Owens
The only No. 1 overall pick in Charlotte’s history, powerhouse Larry Johnson, was selected as the key man in the 1991 NBA Draft. Johnson ended up winning Rookie of the Year by averaging 19.2 PPG and 11.0 RPG on 49.0% from the field and 82.9% from the free-throw line. Clearly, they made the right decision because Johnson was immediately an impactful NBA player.
Johnson played 5 seasons with the Hornets, making 2 All-Star Teams with the franchise and also forming one of the best frontcourt duos in the NBA with Alonzo Mourning. Johnson was one of the key players behind one of the best rosters in Charlotte’s history, and he was certainly a talented player. Interestingly, Mourning was taken No. 2 overall the following year. Drafted No. 2 overall was Kenny Anderson, a 6’0” point guard that would end his career with 1 All-Star Team appearance.
A solid offensive player, Anderson had a decent career as his All-Star season came in his third season where he posted 18.8 PPG and 9.6 APG. But that would prove to be his best season, as his numbers would start dipping. Taken No. 3 overall was Bill Owens, a 6’8” forward who would average at least 13 PPG through the first 5 seasons. But no doubt, Owens should not have been selected over future Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo.
1992 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Shaquille O’Neal
No. 2 Overall Pick - Alonzo Mourning
No. 3 Overall Pick - Christian Laettner
Nobody had a problem with Shaquille O’Neal going No. 1 overall in the 1992 NBA Draft at the time, because his potential was off the charts. An extremely dominant center, Shaq was expected to become an immediate superstar and 20 PPG scorer for the majority of his career. That did end up happening, and the big man ended up having a first-ballot Hall of Fame career as a member of the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat among other teams. Considered the most physically dominant star since Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq ended up winning 4 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVPs and also made 15 All-Star Team selections. Clearly, the Orlando Magic knew who they were going to select as soon as they got the No. 1 overall pick.
Alonzo Mourning played in 15 seasons in his career, averaging a career 17.1 PPG and 8.5 RPG and having an excellent start to his career when he posted 21.0 PPG and 10.3 RPG in 78 games played. The center was a great talent and ended up making the All-Rookie Team because he showed the ability to be an efficient scorer and a strong rebounder. Alonzo would go on to make 7 All-Star Teams and 2 All-NBA selections over a long 15-year career, an impressive career for a 6’10” center out of Georgetown.
Christian Laettner ended up falling to the No. 3 overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. A solid offensive player, the 6’11” power forward ended up making the All-Rookie Team in his first season in the league. He was a capable scorer, using his skill and shooting to score the ball consistently. The player would go on to make 1 All-Star Team as a member of the Atlanta Hawks by posting 18.1 PPG and 8.8 RPG.
1993 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Chris Webber
No. 2 Overall Pick - Shawn Bradley
No. 3 Overall Pick - Penny Hardaway
Certainly one of the most unique big men in NBA history, Hall of Famer Chris Webber had a terrific career. The 6’10” power forward was certainly talented, averaging 17.5 PPG and 9.1 RPG with the Golden State Warriors franchise and earning the Rookie of the Year award for the team that took him No. 1 overall. Webber would go on to make 5 All-Star teams with the Washington Bullets and Sacramento Kings. At his size, Webber was a terrific athlete and a great all-around player who had ball-handling and playmaking ability, and the talent he showed over his career ultimately placed him in the Hall of Fame.
A 7’6” center with a decent ability to be a factor in the paint, Shawn Bradley was not a terrible player by any means although he should not have been taken No. 2 overall and was better suited to falling a bit more in the draft. The center averaged 10.3 PPG and 6.2 RPG in his rookie season, good enough for the All-Rookie Team. Bradley would go on to average at least 3 BPG for seven seasons in his career, and that would be the most impactful part of his game.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was an excellent selection by the Orlando Magic, especially since the 6’7” point guard helped Shaquille O’Neal lead the team to the NBA Finals in 1995. A talented offensive player with tremendous handles and passing ability, Penny had it all, which is why he made 4 total All-Star Team appearances by the end of his career. Of course, Hardaway would suffer career-altering injuries that took away from his stardom, which is why he is one of the biggest “what-if” stories in NBA history.
1994 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Glenn Robinson
No. 2 Overall Pick - Jason Kidd
No. 3 Overall Pick - Grant Hill
A strong scorer with 8 seasons of averaging at least 20 PPG in his career, Glenn Robinson made 2 All-Star Teams and won Rookie of the Year before retiring after the 2005 season. A solid shooter, Robinson shot 45.9% from the field and 34.0% from three over his career, solid numbers for scorers back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Robinson’s rookie season was particularly impressive, as he averaged 21.0 PPG and 6.4 RPG while nailing 45.1% of his field goals, 32.1% of his 3-point shots, and 79.6% of his foul shots. Even if it took 6 years for Glenn to make his first All-Star Team, he was a very solid selection with the No. 1 overall pick. Similarly, Jason Kidd was a terrific selection with the No. 2 overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks. Kidd would go on to win Rookie of the Year, posting 11.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 7.7 APG, and 1.9 SPG.
Kidd would go on to have one of the best careers in NBA history as a point guard, making 10 All-Star Teams, 9 All-Defensive Teams, 6 All-NBA Teams, and also led the league in assists 5 times. The point guard carried a solid but unspectacular Nets team to the NBA Finals twice, but he finally got over the hump as the starting-caliber point guard for the Dallas Mavericks team that won it all in 2011. As expected, Kidd would become a Hall of Famer and is one of the best leaders in NBA history.
Grant Hill has to be one of the biggest “what-if” stories because he was supposed to take the mantle after Michael Jordan, and was truly an exceptional talent as he made 7 All-Star Teams and 5 All-NBA Team selections. Hill would also win Rookie of the Year by posting 19.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 5.0 APG for the Detroit Pistons. As great as Hill’s resume looks as a Hall of Famer, he could have been even greater because he had top-10 player of all time talent if it wasn’t for the career-altering ankle injury.
1995 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Joe Smith
No. 2 Overall Pick - Antonio McDyess
No. 3 Overall Pick - Jerry Stackhouse
The Golden State Warriors have had four total No. 1 overall picks in franchise history, including Ernie Beck, Fred Hetzel, Joe Barry Carroll, and Joe Smith. Smith was the last player to get taken No. 1 overall by the Warriors, and he had an interesting career, to say the least. Smith ended up making the All-Rookie Team by averaging 15.3 PPG and 8.7 RPG on 45.8% shooting from the field.
Smith would end up getting traded into his third season with the Warriors, failing to replicate his outstanding college days in Maryland. The big man would suffer declines in his production after joining the Philadelphia 76ers and would end up getting involved in a bizarre sage with his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Taken No. 2 overall was Antonio McDyess, a 6’9” power forward who would make the All-Rookie Team and eventually made an All-Star Team and All-NBA appearance with the Denver Nuggets.
Taken No. 3 overall was Jerry Stackhouse, a very capable perimeter scorer who was a terrific athlete earlier on in his career. A 6’6” shooting guard, Stackhouse made the All-Rookie Team by posting 19.2 PPG and would go on to make 2 All-Star Teams by the end of his career. His best season came in 2001 when he averaged a very impressive 29.8 PPG on 40.2% shooting from the field and 35.1% from the three-point line.
1996 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Allen Iverson
No. 2 Overall Pick - Marcus Camby
No. 3 Overall Pick - Shareef Abdur-Rahim
The 1996 NBA Draft yielded some very solid NBA players, and the No. 1 overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers ended up being Allen Iverson. The guard ended up being one of the pioneers of the modern era because of his on and off-court impact. Of course, Iverson would win the 2001 MVP with the 76ers and also guide the franchise to the Finals. The miniature guard ended up making the Hall of Fame and has to go down as one of the greatest scorers we have ever seen. A 4-time scoring champion, “The Answer” also changed the game off the court by his willingness to be himself and go against the norm to share his true character. Not to mention, Iverson has to be one of the most beloved superstars of all time.
Defensive specialist Marcus Camby was taken No. 2 overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, and he was a very solid selection. The center would go on to make the All-Rookie Team by posting 14.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG, and he would go on to have an excellent year as one of the best defenders of his generation. Camby would win the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, make 4 All-Defensive Teams, and lead the NBA in blocks 4 times. His best stints in the league came with the Denver Nuggets teams led by Carmelo Anthony.
At No. 3 overall, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was a talented 6’9” power forward who could score inside and also space the floor a little bit. The forward made All-Rookie by averaging 18.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG, and would eventually make an All-Star Team in the 2002 season as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Abdur-Rahim put up 21.2 PPG and 9.0 RPG on 46.1% shooting from the field, 30.0% from three, and 80.1% from the free-throw line.
1997 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Tim Duncan
No. 2 Overall Pick - Keith Van Horn
No. 3 Overall Pick - Chauncey Billups
The San Antonio Spurs franchise has made two No. 1 overall pick selections, the first being David Robinson and the second being Tim Duncan. Those were easy selections for the Spurs because both players were always going to go No. 1 overall no matter which team was in the position to draft them. Robinson became one of the greatest centers ever, making 10 All-Star Teams and winning 2 NBA championships with the franchise. But even Robinson was not as great as Tim Duncan.
Tim Duncan, one of the top 11 players of all time, is the greatest power forward of all time. The Big Fundamental won 5 NBA titles with the Spurs and is mainly responsible for one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Armed with an elite off-the-backboard shot and some of the best defensive intangibles, Duncan was a force in the post for 19 years. Adding in 3 Finals MVPs and 2 MVP awards, Duncan was truly a one-of-a-kind talent.
The 6’10” forward, Keith Van Horn, was a good yet unspectacular selection as the No. 2 overall pick. Van Horn made the All-Rookie Team by putting up 19.7 PPG and 6.6 RPG and would finish his career with averages of 16.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG. The forward was a solid scorer around the rim and could also make shots from the perimeter. Van Horn shot a decent 44.3% from the field over his career that lasted 9 seasons. The forward was not a star, but he was certainly productive on the court and helped the Jason Kidd-led Nets reach the NBA Finals. Van Horn’s scoring and versatility certainly helped the Nets on both ends of the court.
Chauncey Billups was taken No. 3 overall ahead of some very talented players, including Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady. T-Mac was clearly worthy of being a top-3 pick, although that should not take away from how good Chauncey Billups was in his career. A natural leader and excellent two-way point guard, Chauncey would make 5 All-Star Teams in his career, but his crowning achievement would come in the 2004 NBA Finals. Leading the underdog Pistons to battle against the goliath Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Billups averaged 21.0 PPG and 5.2 APG en route to winning the Finals MVP award.
1998 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Michael Olowokandi
No. 2 Overall Pick - Mike Bibby
No. 3 Overall Pick - Raef LaFrentz
Until this day, no one knows what the Clippers were thinking when they took Olowokandi over Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Mike Bibby. Each of these players became stars in the league, but the Clippers drafted an average 7-foot center out of Lagos, Nigeria. Olowokandi impressively played 9 years in the league, but he was certainly no Hakeem Olajuwon.
Olowokandi averaged double-digit points only twice in his career and that was because he played an average of 35 MPG over that span. Olowokandi didn't do much except clog the lane for his team and his sheer size was the only reason he held an NBA job for that long. Talented point guard Mike Bibby was taken No. 2 overall, and he was certainly an exciting player to watch. Standing 6’1” and armed with elite handles and shooting ability, Bibby made the All-Rookie Team and would go on to form a talented duo with the Sacramento Kings alongside Chris Webber.
Taken No. 3 overall was Raef LaFrentz, another big man with size but lacked the talent to be a bona fide starter for most of his career. The big man averaged 13.8 PPG and 7.6 RPG in his rookie season and would go on to put up 3 more seasons of at least 12 PPG and 7 RPG. But his production would start to dip, and he would suffer inconsistencies with health and playing time, although he lasted 10 seasons in the NBA.
1999 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Elton Brand
No. 2 Overall Pick - Steve Francis
No. 3 Overall Pick - Baron Davis
Elton Brand was a consistent double-double threat throughout his prime, and he had an excellent rookie campaign as well. The talented power forward put up 20.1 PPG and 10.0 RPG for the Chicago Bulls, winning Rookie of the Year and making the All-Rookie Team. Brand would make an All-Star Team in his third season in Chicago, posting 18.2 PPG and 11.6 RPG but his best season would come in 2006 with the Los Angeles Clippers when he averaged 24.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG. The big man never became a superstar player, but he was a decent choice with the No. 1 overall pick.
Steve Francis was taken No. 2 overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies, but he started his career with the Houston Rockets. The point guard was an exceptional athlete for his size and had the ability to score and create for others. Francis ended up winning Rookie of the Year with the Rockets, posting 18.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.6 APG, and 1.5 SPG. Francis would go on to make 3 All-Star Teams with the Rockets and is recognized as one of the most talented players in Houston’s history.
Finally, Baron Davis was taken No. 3 overall in the 1999 NBA Draft. The point guard was one of the most “NBA-ready” players coming out of the draft because he showed physicality, offensive intangibles, and basketball IQ from his very first game. Standing 6’3”, Davis was a force athletically as he would go on to make 2 All-Star Teams and the 2004 All-NBA Team. Of course, Davis is mainly remembered for being the leader of the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors, which would shock the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
2000 NBA Draft
No. 1 Overall Pick - Kenyon Martin
No. 2 Overall Pick - Stromile Swift
No. 3 Overall Pick - Darius Miles
The Nets have had two No. 1 overall picks in franchise history, Derrick Coleman in 1990 and Kenyon Martin in 2000. The New Jersey Nets went for a 6’9” power forward with athleticism and two-way ability, and it certainly worked since the team made the Finals twice with Martin as arguably the second-best player on the team behind Jason Kidd.
K-Mart was certainly a fan favorite for Nets fans because he was a very solid defender and could also score inside the paint with aggression. Martin was a tough big man who never backed down, and his presence was a major reason the Nets had great success with him. Martin lasted 4 seasons in New Jersey before joining the Denver Nuggets, and he made his only All-Star selection in 2004 when he posted 16.7 PPG and 9.5 RPG.
Stromile Swift was taken No. 2 overall in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies. In many ways, Swift was a talented player but never quite reached the heights expected of him. As a result, the 6’9” power forward was considered a bust at the time because he should not have gone anywhere near the top 3. Swift had his best season in 2002 with the Memphis Grizzlies when he posted 11.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG.
A solid scorer and strong athlete, 6’9” forward Darius Miles was taken No. 3 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. The forward would go on to make the All-Rookie Team by posting 9.4 PPG and 5.9 RPG and had some strong seasons, including the 2005 and 2006 seasons as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Miles put up 12.8 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 2005 and would go on to put up 14.0 PPG and 4.6 RPG the following year. Unfortunately, knee injuries would ultimately spell the end of the forward’s career shortly after.