Described as a “unicorn” by a former top pick in LeBron James, Wembanyama has extremely high expectations; pressure all of the best number 1 draft picks of all-time have had to shoulder. Anticipation is officially rising towards Wemby’s rookie season, a chance to see if the signs are there that he can meet the incredibly high expectations that have been set.
Headed to San Antonio, he is the franchise’s third first overall draft pick, after dual Hall Of Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan — big shoes to fill. Well, for the record, Wembanyama has size 20 shoes!
As is the structure of the draft system, every first overall pick is headed to a struggling team that is in desperate need of a generational talent that can lift their respective side back to relevance.
The first names that pop into people’s minds, of course, are LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neill, who all went to the NBA Finals with the team that drafted them.
But since 2000, there has been a spectrum from generational talent down to full blown busts; All-Star selections, multiple MVPs and championships right down to out of the league a few years later.
So who has been the best number 1 Draft pick since then? Here’s our list of the best number 1 draft picks since then, ranked 23 to one.
Best Number 1 Draft Picks Since 2000
You want the good news or the bad news first? Good idea — let’s get the negativity out of the way first, as we build towards the countdown to the best number 1 draft picks since 2000.
23. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers (2013)
Unfortunately for Bennett, the former Cavalier is widely considered one of the worst ever draft picks, averaging four points per game in his four-year career.
22. Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers (2007)
Greg Oden’s career looked promising at a young age, selected before Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft. However, injuries plagued his career, forcing the 7’0 center into an early retirement at the age of 26.
21. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards (2001)
Many might only remember Kwame Brown from ESPN presenter Stephen A. Smith’s animated rant about the Lakers trading him in mid-2000s. They flipped Brown for Pau Gasol and the rest is history; Gasol helped LA win two championships.
20. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers (2017)
After two injury riddled seasons, Philly had had enough of Fultz and it could’ve worked out for both parties with Fultz looking at home in Orlando coming off averaging a career high 14 points per game.
19. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons (2021)
For Cunningham, he’s only a couple years into his career and has had to deal with a serious injury but besides that he is shaping up to be a really strong player – just hasn’t played enough to rank higher.
18. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2005)
One of Australia’s best NBA players of all-time had an outstanding start to his career, until injuries saw him move to more of a role player. While he’s an annoying agitator online these days, at the end of the day Bogut is forever an NBA champion — Golden State in 2015.
17. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (2006)
An All-Rookie player in his debut season, Bargnani was an underrated scorer, averaging 14 points in his ten years in the association.
16. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey Nets (2000)
A total package in terms of scoring, rebounding, efficient shooting and defence. Kenyon Martin had a decent career and is one of the best number 1 draft picks out of New Jersey, considering he is one of only two ever for the franchise.
15. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (2016)
It’s been a rollercoaster of a career so far for Aussie Ben Simmons, from shaping up to be on of the best number 1 draft picks of the decade to a player no team truly values. Maybe the 2023/24 season is where we see Simmons return to his All-Star form again, but don’t get your hopes up.
14. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (2018)
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but Ayton has been a central part of the Suns’ success over the past few seasons and their appearance in the NBA Finals in 2021. Only five years in, Ayton averages a strong 16 points and ten rebounds.
13. Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers (2014)
Wiggins became just the second player in NBA history to be traded before stepping foot on an NBA court back in 2014, not including Draft night trades. Wiggins has since proven Cleveland wrong, winning a championship with Golden State.
12. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (2015)
No one’s a bigger fan of KAT than himself and it shows, with supreme confidence and leadership — two valuable qualities in the 2015/16 Rookie of the Year.
11. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic (2022)
Although Banchero has just finished his first season, the Rookie of the Year has shown he deserves to be high up on the best number 1 draft picks list averaging 20/7/4 splits for the year.
10. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (2008)
It’s one of the NBA community’s favourite past times to reminisce on MVP Rose (season 2010-11 MVP), who stole the league’s heart with his high flying athletic ability with the Bulls. But after that, an ACL injury sent his career on a downward spiral and he’s only been able to capture his best in tiny glimpses since.
9. John Wall, Washington Wizards (2010)
A bolt of electricity came into the NBA when Wall came into it for the Wizards back in 2010. A favourite son of the capital city; Wall has bounced around a few franchises since him and his huge contract were traded. Hopefully he’ll one day find his exciting form again, but time’s his enemy.
8. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (2020)
Anthony Edwards may only be three season into his career, but he has shown he is worthy of a top ten finish in our best number 1 draft picks since 2000. Edwards improved nearly all aspects of his game last season to earn his first All-Star selection.
7. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (2019)
Zion’s future going forward in New Orleans seems murky but there’s no denying his influence on an NBA court next to none as seen by the Pelicans dramatic drop off after his injury.
6. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2002)
Being the only inducted Hall of Famer on this list and coming in at six might seem rough, but Ming still had an incredible career in a short space of time, averaging 19 points in eight seasons — all of which were All-Star years.
5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2009)
Our first top five pick had to be the slam dunk king Blake Griffin, who was unbelievable during his time with Clippers. He made the All-Star team in all of his first five years, averaging between 18 to 24 points in that time.
4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2004)
Superman is in the building! Howard’s presence was always felt on the court, especially cleaning up off the glass; winning the rebounding title five times.
3. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers (2011)
Kicking off the top three best number 1 draft picks since 2000 is arguably one of the most skilful ball handlers of all-time in Kyrie Irving. An NBA champion, 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA and Rookie of the Year.
His three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, helping Cleveland secure a drought-breaking title, will go down in league folklore.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (2012)
Another NBA champion finds themselves inside the top three in ‘The Brow’ Anthony Davis. Selected as part of the illustrious NBA 75th Anniversary team, Davis is undoubtably one of the best number 1 draft picks since 2000 and arguably ever.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003)
And shockingly, The King, 4x NBA chmapion, 4x Finals MVP, 4x regular season MVP and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer LeBron James is the best number 1 draft pick since 2000 and definitely of all-time.
James has accomplished everything in the game and still at the age of 38 is breaking records and keeping his abilities at a high level – the perfect outcome for a first overall pick.