LeBron James and the greatest No. 1 overall picks Victor Wembanyama has to compete with

Detroit Free Press

Victor Wembanyama is one of the greatest basketball prospects of all time, and the Detroit Pistons have a chance to select him.

It all comes down to Tuesday night at 8 p.m. when the league will announce the winner of the 2023 NBA draft lottery. The Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets each have a 14% chance of landing the top choice.

The No. 1 overall pick is always valuable in the NBA, a league where one player can change the fortunes of a franchise overnight. But not every first choice is created the same.

Because of the nature of basketball and the importance of height, a lot of times you know who the prospects are at a really young age, sometimes as young as 14 or 15. They don’t always develop into NBA stars — remember when Emoni Bates was supposed to be the nation’s top player? — but seemingly more than any other American sport, they do.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Victor Wembanyama is big prize, but whomever lands him faces long odds of winning big

OMARI SANKOFA II: If Pistons lose chance to get Victor Wembanyama, it’s not the end of the world. Here’s why

Wembanyama certainly finds himself in an elite class of the top basketball prospects of all time, alongside LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing and other can’t-miss stars. But even if “Wemby” pans out as expected, he still has a lot of work to be considered among the greatest first picks of all time.

So before the lottery tonight, let’s take a look at the ten greatest No. 1 overall picks of the lottery era, which started with the selection of Ewing in 1985 (with our apologies to Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc.).

No. 1: LeBron James, 2003

As the years go on and LeBron James continues to dominate, this choice keeps getting easier and easier.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer is a four-time NBA champion, a four-time MVP, and opening the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night in his 20th season. James is either the greatest or second-greatest player of all time, and considering Michael Jordan wasn’t taken No. 1 overall, that makes James an easy choice here.

With career averages of 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, James has perfected the Swiss Army knife role on the court and has proved to be the greatest “one-man rebuild” in the league’s history, bringing championships to three different franchises.

FREEP FLASHBACK: Inside LeBron James’ five greatest regular-season games against the Pistons

No. 2: Tim Duncan, 1997

Where to start with “The Big Fundamental”?

Tim Duncan accomplished pretty much everything possible as the cornerstone of a franchise: Five NBA titles, two MVPs, 15 All-Star and All-NBA nods and so many other achievements — all with the San Antonio Spurs.

His low-maintenance mentality and consistent approach helped the Spurs be the model NBA franchise for almost 20 years. He gets the nod at No. 2 because he did it all with the team who selected him. Could you argue that his selection was the most valuable ever made by a franchise? Sure. But he’s just not better than LeBron.

No. 3: Shaquille O’Neal, 1992

Perhaps the most physically dominant basketball player in history, Shaquille O’Neal slides in at No. 3.

He took over the league as soon as he stepped foot on an NBA floor and averaged 29.3 points and 13.2 rebounds in his second year in the league.

Over an impressive 20-season run, O’Neal made 15 All-Star teams, 14 All-NBA teams, won four championships, and was the MVP in 2000.

O’Neal won three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and one with the Miami Heat. He averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for his career.

No. 4: David Robinson, 1987

What a career “The Admiral” had.

Robinson missed the first two years of his career completing his military service requirement with the U.S. Navy. That’s how good Robinson was. The Spurs knew that and still picked him first.

Although he’s not in the same class as Duncan or O’Neal, Robinson’s accolades are definitely impressive: two NBA titles, 10 All-Star teams, 10 All-NBA nods and the 1995 MVP.

Robinson helped shape the Spurs franchise and was as consistent as it gets, averaging at least 23.2 points per game in each of his first seven seasons in the league (before an injury cost him almost all of a season and led to the Spurs being in position to draft Duncan).

The Admiral signed off his career by winning an championship in 2003 alongside Duncan.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: Pistons almost got Allen Iverson in his prime. How different would history be?

No. 5 : Allen Iverson, 1996

Allen Iverson … Detroit Pistons legend! Just kidding of course: Iverson spent just 54 games on the Pistons’ roster during the 2008-09 season. But he’s definitely still a legend.

One of the most popular players of all time, Iverson was a walking bucket — he led the league in scoring four times. He also seemingly never got tired, leading the league in minutes in seven seasons; for his career, he averaged 41.1 minutes per game over 914 games. In the age of “load management,” we may never see that again. For comparison, the NBA’s 2022-23 minutes leader was Pascal Siakam, at 37.4 per game.

Iverson’s nasty crossover and simultaneously herky-jerky but silky-smooth style made him a pleasure to watch.

He averaged 26.7 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game while racking up 11 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA nots and winning the 2001 MVP award — the season he led his Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals before losing to O’Neal’s Lakers in a sweep. Other than that run, Iverson often struggled in the playoffs, which is why he’s not higher on this list.

No. 6: Patrick Ewing, 1985

If you want a reminder of just how highly touted and rated Patrick Ewing was coming out of Georgetown, watch the ESPN documentary “Requiem for the Big East,” showing just how feared Ewing was before he even came into the league.

Ewing’s arrival with the Knicks launched a million conspiracy theories when the storied franchise landed the No. 1 pick in the inaugural NBA draft lottery era. He was a dominant defensive player who was also a force to be reckoned with on offense. He averaged 21 points a game over his career, but got as high as 28.6 points per game (in 1989-90, when he finished fifth in MVP voting); combined with his elite defense, that touch made him one of the top players in the league.

He never won an NBA championship but racked up 11 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA nods and was on the All-Defense team three times.

No. 7: Anthony Davis, 2012

This is where we are starting to split hairs.

Anthony Davis barely tops the person who was drafted No. 1 the year prior. It might be surprising to see him up this high, but the résumé doesn’t lie: The former New Orleans Pelican is an eight-time All-Star, a four-time member of the All-NBA team, and plays elite defense, perhaps more than anyone else on this list.

Despite never winning Defensive Player of the Year, he has made the All-Defense team four times and has led the league in blocks three times. His elite rim protection — stopping Ja Morant, Stephen Curry and others from scoring in the paint — is a big reason his Lakers are in the West finals.

While he can be a bit of a floater sometimes on offense, his size and skill alone allow him to score well over 20 points a game. In his career, he has averaged 24 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks.

Plus, he won the 2020 NBA championship alongside James during the NBA’s bubble playoffs in Orlando, Florida. If he can stay healthy — the biggest knock on his career, by far — he can continue to move up this list.

No. 8: Kyrie Irving, 2011

Kyrie Irving is perhaps the most gifted pure scorer on this list.

His finishing around the rim through traffic is second to none, and when he gets going, he has that rare microwave ability. His career high is 60 points in a game, but he has also scored 54, 55 and 57 points, plus 50 on two occasions. And in the playoffs, he had a 41-point game in the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

Much like Davis, the knocks on Irving largely have nothing to do with his on-court skill. Over his 11-year career, he has only topped 60 games six times. Plus, Irving has created more than a few controversies with his anti-vaccine stance, comments on the Holocaust and general locker room difficulties.

Still, with a career average of 23.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, eight All-Star selections, three All-NBA teams and a 2016 championship, Irving is one of the all-time greats.

No. 9: Dwight Howard, 2004

In all likelihood, Dwight Howard will one day be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Howard dominated the paint on both offense and defense for roughly a decade. Drafted by Orlando when he was just 19, Howard quickly became a physical force.

He was at the center of Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando Magic squads that revolutionized the league with their “3-and-D” approach; their furthest run was a loss to the Lakers and Kobe Bryant in the 2009 NBA Finals.

Howard made eight straight All-Star and All-NBA teams teams, won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and won the 2020 championship alongside Davis and James.

MITCH ALBOM: Chris Webber finally gets the gold star, but remains a mercurial figure

No. 10: Chris Webber, 1993

This spot was a tough one to pick, but we’re giving the nod to the Detroit native and Birmingham Detroit Country Day star.

Chris Webber had an outstanding pro career. He is a Hall of Famer, five-time All-Star and All-NBA selection and helped turn the Sacramento Kings into one of the Western Conference’s toughest teams in the early 2000s.

After dominating at Michigan as part of the Fab Five, Webber starred as a rookie, averaging 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Webber played 15 seasons in the NBA and averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, a sign of his underrated passing abilities.

Toward the end of his career, Webber signed on with his hometown Pistons and was part of their next-to-last Eastern Conference finals appearance.

Articles You May Like

Detroit Pistons Player Grades: Pistons’ young core showed flashes but mostly didn’t measure up
Should the Detroit Pistons go star hunting this offseason?
The Pindown: Searching for New Leadership

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *