NBA

The Best NBA Player From Each Draft Slot

While we are at least a year away from being able to judge the 2017 NBA Draft class, we are more than happy to judge previous draft classes. Here are the best players in NBA History for each draft slot in the first round…




1. LeBron James (2003)

Now that folks are starting to open their eyes to the fact that LeBron very well may have already usurped M.J. as the best basketball player of all time (not more accomplished than Jordan, but better at basketball), his place as the best No. 1 overall pick in NBA history is irrefutable. There have been countless NBA legends drafted first in their class – from Shaq to Hakeem to Magic to Kareem to A.I. to Duncan – but nobody’s arguing that any of those guys are the single best ever to lace ’em up. After what we saw from LeBron in this year’s NBA playoffs, there’s a very good chance that he is…

Runner Up: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar




2. Bill Russell (1956)

11 Championship rings and 5 MVPs over a 13-year career speak in a way that no other laundry list of accomplishments ever could. Curious as to who went before Russell in the ’56 draft? A guy by the name of Sihugo Green who, based on about four minutes of research, did most of his damage at Duquesne University before going on to average nine points a game in an 11-year pro career. Despite the contrarians who will argue over the legitimacy of his era compared to the modern NBA, Bill Russell will live on as one of the most dominant players in NBA history, and the winningest of all time…

Runner Up: Kevin Durant




3. Michael Jordan (1984)

Not a whole lot to be said here, other than what stands out more than anything else on Jordan’s list of achievements: six for six in the Finals, with six Finals MVPs. Houston drafting Hakeem No. 1 overall worked out just fine for them, but the Blazers taking Sam Bowie over MJ at No. 2 is a blunder that the city of Portland will never live down…

Runner Up: Kevin McHale

4. Russell Westbrook (2008)

Sorry to piss off all the Chris Paul fans out there, but we’re going to set the bar at just a somewhat respectable level here and give this spot to a guy who has actually made it past the conference semis a few times in his young career. And even though the 2017 MVP award will be utterly meaningless, at least Westbrook will have one of those in his trophy case, too. Did we mention he might be the most explosive athlete alive right now? Here’s to watching Russ put up another 31-10-10 year in 2018…

Runner Up: Chris Paul




5. Dwyane Wade (2003)

Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley make compelling cases, but this spot belongs to Dwyane Wade. Remember the ’06 Finals when he averaged 34 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals and was the best player in the world? We haven’t forgotten, either. So let us all tip our hats to Father Prime himself, and may the shooting guards of tomorrow follow the example he laid before them…

Runner Up: Kevin Garnett




6. Larry Bird (1978)

Quick question: Is there a single meaningful feat in the NBA that Bird didn’t accomplish? Just to recap, Larry Legend amassed the following: three Championships, 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 2x 50-40-90 club member, 12x All-Star, and Rookie of the Year. The Blazers drafting Mychal Thompson at No. 1 in 1978 makes sense, but the fact that four other teams were able to rationalize passing on Bird — a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year —  is pretty fascinating….

Runner Up: Kenny Smith

7. Stephen Curry (2009)

Before anyone gets too bent out of shape because we’re not giving the nod to John Havlicek here, keep in mind that Steph Curry’s place as the greatest shooter ever is all but written in stone at this point, and at just 29 years old with two Championships and two MVPs to his name, are we sure we’re not talking about someone who could end his career as a top-20 player of all time with more rings than LeBron? Maybe even Jordan? Are we positive? Also, the fact that Minnesota passed on him at 5 and 6 by drafting Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn back-to-back is downright comical, unless you’re a Timberwolves fan, in which case it’s just incredibly sad…

Runner Up: John Havlicek




8. Willis Reed (1964)

Willis Reed may have only played 11 years in the Association, but he made his moments count. Reed led the Knicks to two Championship seasons in ’70 and ’73, and his determination as a competitor left a permanent impact on every irrational Knicks fan who was there to pay witness. Another pretty badass thing Reed did in 1970 was becoming the first player ever to be named MVP for the regular season, All-Star Game, and Finals in the same year.  MJ and Shaq are the only two players to achieve a “Triple MVP” since…

Runner Up: Robert Parish




9. Dirk Nowitzki (1998)

The Mavs’ 2011 Championship validated Dirk’s storied career in the eyes of some, but his spot on this list would be safe even if the Heat hadn’t blown that 2-0 lead six years ago. Widely regarded as the best foreign player ever, Dirk’s high-arcing fadeaway carved out its place in NBA lore as one of the least guardable shots in the history of the sport…

Runner Up: Tracy McGrady

10. Paul Pierce (1998)

What can you say for Paul Pierce that his career accomplishments haven’t already said for him? 15 years in a row averaging more than 16 points a game isn’t exactly something to scoff at. Sure, the whole wheel-chair fiasco in the 2008 Finals was kinda weird, but he ended up winning the Championship, so you can’t really hate. And yes, a lot of us were growing tired of seeing Doc Rivers roll Pierce out on the court for the failing Clippers these past two years, but the NBA is going to be a whole lot different in 2018 now that The Truth has traded in his jersey for an ESPN gig…

Runner Up: Paul George




11. Klay Thompson (2011)

Remember how we were saying Steph is the best shooter the NBA’s ever had? Well, Klay ain’t too far off, which is scary, given the fact that they currently share the same backcourt. You have to think the ten GMs who passed on Thompson back in 2011 (with the exception of the Cavs, who took Kyrie Irving) are ready to throw themselves off a cliff now that he’s proven his ability to fill it up from literally anywhere on the court…

Runner Up: Reggie Miller




12. Julius Erving (1972)

Critics will point to the fact that Dr. J’s NBA career never lived up to what he accomplished before the merger (29 & 12 career average in the ABA), but there’s no question that Doc was one of the most groundbreaking and influential players the game has ever seen…

Runner Up: Greg Anthony




13. Kobe Bryant (1996)

The jury is still out on what’s more reprehensible: the fact that 12 teams passed on Kobe in the ’96 draft, or that the team that finally drafted him at No. 13 traded him away for Vlade Divac. Sure, Kobe was only 17 years old at the time, but Charlotte basically gave away a guy who went on to win five Championships and become a top ten player of all time. For that, Laker Nation will forever laugh and point in the general direction of Hornets fans everywhere…

Runner Up: Karl Malone




14. Clyde Drexler (1983)

Although The Glide was too often a runner up in his own right (’92 MVP, ’90 and ’92 Finals), a career average of 20-6-6 and being a key member of the ’95 Rockets Championship team were plenty to land him in the Hall of Fame…

Runner Up: Tim Hardaway

15. Kawhi Leonard (2011)

At only 25 years old and already an NBA Champion, Finals MVP, and 2x Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard is well on his way to multiple ‘Chips and a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame…

Runner Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo

16. John Stockton (1984)

Forever a ’90s-white-guy-in-short-shorts icon, Stockton averaged between 14-17 points and 12-15 assists for seven years from 1988 to 1995. His style of play might not have stood out in the way some flashier floor generals have since, but he put together one of the most consistently great 19-year careers we’ll ever see…

Runner Up: Ron Artest




17. Shawn Kemp (1989)

Say what you will about his eventual off-court issues, but “The Reign Man” was one of the most athletically gifted players we’ve ever gotten to witness, and helped set the tone for those making the transition from high school glory to NBA stardom…

Runner Up: Jermaine O’Neal

18. Joe Dumars (1985)

Mark Jackson might be fourth on the all-time assists list, but we’re giving the edge to Joe Dumars and his two Championships with the Bad Boy Pistons. We’d also bet our bottom dollar that the ’89 Finals MVP would be exponentially more tolerable as a color commentator than Jackson has proven to be so far…

Runner Up: Mark Jackson

19. Nate “Tiny” Archibald (1970)

One of the most complete all-around point guards ever to play the game, Tiny became the only player to lead the league in scoring and assists, averaging 34 and 11 for the Bucks in ’73. Archibald? More like ArchiBALLED…

Runner Up: Avery Bradley




20. Larry Nance Sr. (1981)

The Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. didn’t just become a freak athlete by accident — he got his bounce from his daddy, who won the NBA’s inaugural Dunk Contest in 1984 and went on to average 17 points, eight boards, and two blocks a game for his career…

Runner Up: Jameer Nelson

21. Rajon Rondo (2006)

21 is a pretty weak spot in the history of the NBA Draft, but gotta give credit where it’s due. Rajon’s performance in the 2008 NBA Finals was a sight to behold, and despite his negative off-court reputation, Rondo will go down in history as one of the craftiest passers and floor generals we’ve ever seen…

Runner Up: Boris Diaw

22. Norm Nixon (1977)

Quite possibly one of the least memorable Lakers in the early ’80s, Nixon shared the backcourt with Magic on the ’80 and ’82 Championship squads, the latter of which he led in postseason scoring by averaging almost 18 points a game…

Runner Up: Courtney Lee

23. Tayshaun Prince (2002)

A 14-year veteran and key member of the Pistons’ 2004 Championship roster, Prince’s length and versatility on the defensive end of the floor help legitimize the argument that the 2004 Pistons are one of the only teams in NBA history that could defend the 2017 Warriors…

Runner Up: A.C. Green




24. Terry Porter (1985)

During his ten year tenure (see what we did there?) in the 503, Porter helped lead the Blazers to the Finals in ’90 and ’93, and still holds the franchise record for career assists…

Runner Up: Derek Fisher

25. Tony Allen (2004)

You could put Gerald Wallace or Nic Batum in this spot, but we’d advise against it. Tony Allen’s defensive prowess is, quite simply, some of the best the NBA has ever seen. He’s won three All-NBA First Team honors, as well as a Championship ring to back it up….

Runner Up: Nic Batum

26. Vlade Divac (1989)

Serving as the pride and joy of Yugoslavia, Vlade averaged 15 and 11 for two straight years in the mid-nineties trying to keep the Lakers in contention for a ‘Chip. After a respectable second half of his career spent on the Kings, Divac continues to ring-chase in Sacramento as the front office head honcho on one of the most thoroughly flawed franchises in all of sports…

Runner Up: Taj Gibson




27. Dennis Rodman (1986)

The five total Championship rings are probably plenty to warrant Rodman’s place on this list, but a career average of 13 rebounds per game (and 18.7 on the ’92 Pistons) doesn’t hurt his claim…

Runner Up: Rudy Gobert

28. Tony Parker (2001)

Unless Skal Labissiere’s career in Sacramento suddenly takes off over the next decade, we’re going to have to wait a very long time for another 28th overall pick to rack up four NBA Championships and a Finals MVP…

Runner Up: Leandro Barbosa




29. Dennis Johnson (1976)

A 3x NBA Champion (’79 Sonics, ’84 and ’86 Celtics) and First Team All-Defense member each year from 1979 to 1987, it’s safe to say DJ was one of the best defensive guards of all time, and likely one of the only players on this list you’ve never heard of…

Runner Up: Toni Kukoc

30. Jimmy Butler (2011)

It’s slim pickings at the 30 spot, but thankfully Jimmy Buckets was passed on by 29 teams and is therefore available to fill this void. We watched Butler blossom into a top-15 player in 2017, so here’s hoping he can continue the upward trend…

Runner Up: David Lee

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