Victor Wembanyama mania will be coming to the NBA this fall when the skinny 7-foot-4 French teenager makes his debut for the San Antonio Spurs and shows everyone whether he hit the weight room over the summer under the direction of coach Gregg Popovich, who just signed the richest coaching contract in NBA history.

This kid is described as a generational talent, but there have been flameouts at No. 1 before, as any Cleveland fan will tell you about Anthony Bennett and any Phoenix fan will say about LaRue Martin.

Being picked first overall caries significant expectations, and Wemby will be joining a Spurs team with a fan base that expects him to become the next David Robinson or Tim Duncan – the type of player who turns a team’s fortunes around.

No question that Pop is the right coach for this kid, but he looked lost in his first Las Vegas Summer League appearance, and he will soon learn that NBA ball is played harder than what he became accustomed to in the French A League.

How this kid pans out might not be known for years, but he will most definitely open as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year, with Chet Holmgren of Oklahoma City the second choice even though one is from the draft class of 2023 and one is from the previous class but was injured all of last season.

If you like a different player, the time to make that wager is prior to the preseason when the odds will be significantly higher than they would be if your choice has a big first month.

But the start of the NBA season is a long ways away, and that gives us some time to consider the greatest No. 1 draft picks in NBA history. Also, before you ask: Wilt Chamberlain is not on this list because he was a territorial pick before the NBA abolished that procedure.

Ranking the Top 10 Best No. 1 Overall NBA Draft Picks of all time

  1. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets, 1984

“The Dream” was known as Akeem when he was selected No. 1 overall by the Rockets out of the University of Houston. The Rockets reached the NBA Finals in the center’s second season and won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Olajuwon won the Finals MVP award for both championships, adding to a list of accomplishments that featured 12 All-Star selections, 12 All-NBA selections, nine NBA All-Defensive Team selections, two NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and the 1993-94 MVP award. He also played for the “Dream Team” at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

  1. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals, 1960

Until Russell Westbrook came along, nobody ever thought someone could even come close to averaging a triple-double over the course of a season. Robertson did it in his first five seasons and was a part of the Milwaukee Bucks team that won a title in 1971. With 12 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA selections, an MVP award, a scoring title, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an NBA championship, Robertson became one of the first great point guards in league history.

  1. Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers, 1958

Little-known fact: Elgin Baylor was drafted by the Lakers in the 14th round in 1956 when he was still playing AAU ball in the season after he transferred from the University of Idaho to Seattle University. Baylor averaged 24.9 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in his first NBA season, earning the 1958-59 Rookie of the Year Award. He was also named an All-Star, kicking off a stretch of 11 All-Star selections in his first 12 seasons. Over the same stretch, he was a 10-time All-NBA selection. He remains one of the best players to finish their playing careers without a championship.

  1. Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks, 1985

David Stern went to his grave insisting that the 1985 draft lottery was not fixed, but the “cold envelope” and “bent envelope” conspiracy theories live on. Whatever the case, the arrival of Ewing rejuvenated a Knicks fan base that had been beaten down after so many failures following the 1973 title. Ewing had the misfortune of going against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs too many times, but he played 17 years and amassed 11 All-Star, seven All-NBA, and three NBA All-Defensive Team selections as well as an Olympic gold medal.

  1. David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs, 1987

The Spurs knew they would have to wait two years for “The Admiral” to serve out a military commitment after he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, but it was worth the wait. One of the most popular players ever to play any sport in the state of Texas, Robinson earned 10 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA selections, eight NBA All-Defensive Team selections, a Defensive Player of the Year Award, an MVP award, and a scoring title to go along with two NBA championships.

  1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, 1997

The big, reclusive kid from Wake Forest was a quiet type who was raised on the island of St. Croix, and going to the small-market Spurs was a personality fit because he shied away from the spotlight so much that a mega-market might have turned him into a different type of person. The Spurs had never won a championship until Duncan arrived. The organization proceeded to win the 1999 NBA Finals in Duncan’s second season and added four more titles throughout his 19-year career. He collected 15 All-Star selections, 15 All-NBA selections, 15 NBA All-Defensive Team selections (the most in NBA history), two MVPs, three NBA Finals MVPs, and won the 1997-98 NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

  1. Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic, 1992

The monstrous center from Louisiana State was coveted by everyone who had seen him dominate at the college level with his brute strength and low-post rebounding and scoring prowess. He also had an outsized personality that would end up serving him well in a league where levity can be a locker-room asset when there are too many head cases making the head coach’s life difficult. O’Neal led Orlando to the NBA Finals in his third season before taking the Lakers to three championships and the Heat to his fourth title. He played 19 seasons and was a 15-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, and Olympic gold medalist.

  1. Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, 1979

The first oversized point guard the league had ever seen (if you consider 6-foot-5, Oscar Robinson’s height, to be undersized), Magic Johnson averaged 11.2 assists per game and led the Showtime Lakers to five titles between 1980 and 1988. His resume also includes 12 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA selections, three MVPs, three Finals MVPs, and membership on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks, 1969

The ironic thing about this pick, which few people realize, is that the ABA and NBA were in a competitive war at the time trying to get the best players to join their leagues, and the ABA commissioner did a psychological profile on the player then known as Lew Alcindor. The commissioner learned the UCLA star didn’t like to play games when it came to negotiations. Despite being advised to “make your best offer” right away, the ABA’s New York Nets low-balled him, and he chose the Bucks instead. Kareem went on to win six NBA titles.

  1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003

Last season, LeBron James broke the career scoring record for a Los Angeles Lakers team that made it to the NBA’s final four before coming up short against the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. The guy is about to enter his 21st season and remains capable of averaging 30 points per game, which is an astonishing thing to say about a 38-year-old. James has won four NBA championships and three Olympic gold medals, and he is as charismatic as they come.

Parameters of Ranking

This was not an easy list to compile, because franchise-altering players have been selected many, many times in NBA drafts. What made it easier was the fact that the NBA had a territorial draft until 1966, giving teams the right to select players from nearby schools. What we looked for here were varying degrees of greatness, if that makes any sense. All of these guys transformed their teams and achieved astonishing levels of success, so we used longevity as a differentiator in putting certain guys ahead of others.


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