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How Often Have Teams Gotten the First Pick Right in NBA Draft?

Victor Wembanyama is already considered one of the best No.1 picks in recent memory.

It was last Sunday that the Atlanta Hawks won the draft lottery which gives them the first overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. It was a surprising result as they had just a 3% chance of winning the lottery. While the lottery hasn’t always been done in the same fashion, the first draft lottery took place in 1985. Let’s take a look at how often since then the team selecting first took the best overall player in that draft class.

The past drafts are listed below in four categories. First is those that definitely drafted the best player. Next comes those who may have drafted the best, but it can be debated. After is those who may not have selected the best, but they can’t be disappointed with their choice. Finally, it ends with those that were just flat-out misses. Of course, the drafts that have active players still in them could change over time.

How Often Have Teams Gotten the First Pick Right in the NBA Draft?

Definitely Got it Right

(Players listed in parentheses are who I consider to be the second-best in that year’s draft.)

The recent drafts on here are subject to change, although I don’t expect Edwards or Wembanyama to be surpassed. Additionally, Holmgren was excellent in his rookie season after missing his whole first year so that one could be in question at some point. It can be argued that Hardaway had a higher ceiling than Webber. The problem is that injuries piled up which caused his career to begin falling off before the age of 30.

Can Be Debated That Best Player was Selected First

(Players in parentheses also have a case to be considered the best of their draft class.)

Overall, the 2000 draft class has long been seen as one of the worst in NBA history. Both Martin and Redd were named to one All-Star team. Crawford’s lengthy career saw him score 19,419 points altogether.

Maybe Not the Best, but Team Probably Doesn’t Regret Choice

(Players listed in parentheses may be considered better all-time than the first overall pick, but the teams that selected first overall can’t be disappointed in their selection.)

It could be argued that Simmons could be listed in the swing and the miss category, and maybe he will be moved there if he doesn’t get his career going again. Nevertheless, he brought a ton of value to the Philadelphia 76ers to start his career by earning three All-Star nods and two All-Defensive Team honors over his first four seasons.

Swing and a Miss

(Players listed in parentheses have had/are having much better careers than the first overall pick.)

Coleman and Robinson belong in the previous category. The problem is they were selected over two of the best point guards in NBA history in both Payton and Kidd, thus why they are placed here.


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