Every No. 1 NBA draft pick since the merger

On Thursday, the 2023 NBA draft will kick off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. It’s almost a foregone conclusion who the San Antonio Spurs will select with the first overall pick. Victor Wembanyama has had scouts raving for years now about his potential to be a franchise-altering player. The history of the coveted No. 1 pick is deep. From all-time greats such as Hakeem Olajuwon to one of the sport’s brightest young stars in Anthony Edwards, here’s every player who has gone first overall since the NBA/ABA merger 47 years ago.

John Lucas

Drafted by: Houston Rockets

Year: 1976

Lucas made an immediate impact in his rookie season, averaging 30 minutes a game for the Rockets and earning an all-rookie selection. He’d go on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, carving out roles with the Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Bullets, Spurs, and Seattle SuperSonics.

Kent Benson

Drafted by: Milwaukee Bucks

Year: 1977

The Indiana Hoosiers product played just over two years in Milwaukee before he was traded in the middle of the 1979-80 season to the Detroit Pistons. Benson would catch on with the Pistons, starting 231 games across seven years in the Motor City. He’d retire after brief stints with the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mychal Thompson

Drafted by: Portland Trail Blazers

Year: 1978

The first international player to be drafted first overall, Thompson, a native of the Bahamas, found quick success with the Trail Blazers. He averaged 14.7 points per game in his rookie season and would never average less than that over the next seven years he spent with the team. He retired as a two-time champ in 1991.

Magic Johnson

Drafted by: Los Angeles Lakers

Year: 1979

The first bona fide superstar to be taken with the first overall pick following the merger, the Lakers found a franchise legend and eventual Hall of Famer in Magic Johnson. The team’s accolades when Magic was on the floor — five rings in 13 seasons of play — were almost as impressive as Johnson’s individual achievements — 12 All-Star Game appearances, four-time assist champ, and 3 MVPs.

Joe Barry Carroll

Drafted by: Golden State Warriors

Year: 1980

Carroll’s career was far from ordinary — most notably including a one-year stint in Italy during his prime years. But the Purdue Boilermakers player would end his career with 533 NBA starts under his belt, as well as an All-Star Game appearance in his final season with the Warriors in 1987.

Drafted by: Dallas Mavericks

Year: 1981

While Aguirre was a consistent starter for the Mavericks who made three All-Star teams in his first seven years in the NBA, it took a trade to the Pistons for him to find success on the team level. Aguirre never averaged more than 15.5 points per game in Detroit, and never started more than 40 games in a season, but he did earn a pair of rings in 1989 and 1990.

Drafted by: Los Angeles Lakers

Year: 1982

Another Lakers selection who would spend the length of his NBA career in Los Angeles, Worthy became the first of four consecutive No. 1 overall picks to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. His resume boasts seven consecutive All-Star Game appearances from 1985-1991, two all-NBA teams, three rings, and a finals MVP in 1987-88.

Ralph Sampson

Drafted by: Houston Rockets

Year: 1983

Sampson entered the NBA draft with three NCAA Player of the Year awards under his belt and made an immediate impact. The 7-foot-4 center earned All-Star Game honors in each of his first four years in the league, averaging over 19 points and 10 rebounds per game in that span. He retired from the NBA in 1991, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Drafted by: Houston Rockets

Year: 1984

Nicknamed “the Dream,” Olajuwon rewarded the Rockets by playing 17 of his 18-year career in Houston. His span with the Rockets included leading the team to two championships (earning Finals MVP honors both times) and a league MVP in 1994. Olajuwon was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Patrick Ewing

Drafted by: New York Knicks

Year: 1985

Capping off a run of legendary bigs taken first overall, Ewing played more than a thousand games for the Knicks over the course of his 17 years in the league. He was named an All-Star in 11 of those seasons. At his peak Ewing averaged over 24 points and 11 rebounds per game, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Drafted by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Year: 1986

Though his career was cut short due to injury, Daugherty was plenty productive over the course of his eight seasons. Earning five All-Star selections in his final six years, the center was playing some of the best basketball of his career when recurring back troubles caused him to retire in 1996 after two seasons missed with injury.

Drafted by: San Antonio Spurs

Year: 1987

“The Admiral” didn’t play for two seasons after he was drafted due to his military service requirement, but the Navy alum made an immediate splash once he was able to play. Averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds per game, Robinson captured Rookie of the Year honors. He’d later add 10 all-NBA teams, eight all-defensive teams, and an MVP award to a resume that would land him in the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Danny Manning

Drafted by: LA Clippers

Year: 1988

Playing for seven different teams across a 16-year career, Manning occupied a number of different roles throughout his time in the NBA. Initially working as a rotational starter, the Kansas Jayhawks product eventually blossomed into an every-game starter for the Clippers in his fourth year in the league. He’d eventually segue into more of a bench option following a pair of All-Star years, later winning Sixth Man of the Year in 1998.

Drafted by: Sacramento Kings

Year: 1989

Ellison only played one year with the Kings before being dealt to the Washington Bullets, where he’d enjoy the most productive years of his career. He’d average 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to winning Most Improved Player in 1991-92, but injuries would continue to plague his career until his retirement in 2001.

Drafted by: New Jersey Nets

Year: 1990

Averaging a double-double in his first season, Coleman captured Rookie of the Year honors in his first year with the Nets. He’d earn All-Star honors in 1993-94, before being dealt to the 76ers two years later. His final years saw him play for three different teams, including a second stint in Philadelphia as well as time in Charlotte and Detroit.

Larry Johnson

Drafted by: Charlotte Hornets

Year: 1991

A two-time All-Star, Johnson spent 10 years in the NBA split evenly between the Hornets and the Knicks. In just his second season, Johnson averaged a league-leading 40.5 minutes per game for Charlotte, along with 22 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Shaquille O’Neil

Drafted by: Orlando Magic

Year: 1992

One of the best to ever play the center position, O’Neil’s resume is about as stacked as they come. He made 15 All-NBA teams, and won four championships and three NBA finals MVP awards, defining a career that landed him in the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Drafted by: Orlando Magic, immediately traded to Golden State Warriors

Year: 1993

Webber may have started and ended his career with the Warriors, but he played over 700 games for four other teams in between. The 2021 Hall of Fame inductee made five All-NBA teams in his 15 seasons in the league, with four consecutive All-Star Game selections from 1999-2003.

Glenn Robinson

Drafted by: Milwaukee Bucks

Year: 1994

Averaging over 20 points per game in eight out of his 11 NBA seasons, Robinson was a staple for the Bucks throughout the 90s, earning All-Star honors twice along the way. He then would play for the Hawks, 76ers, and Spurs before his retirement in 2005.

Drafted by: Golden State Warriors

Year: 1995

Smith enjoyed a career that saw him play in over a thousand NBA games, for 12 different franchises. He was never with a team for more than four years in total, and was with seven teams for just a single season.

Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers

Year: 1996

An icon at the point guard position, Iverson led the NBA in scoring four times as part of a Hall of Fame career. “The Answer” led the league in both points and steals per game as part of his 2000-01 MVP season and was an 11-time All-Star.

Tim Duncan

Drafted by: San Antonio Spurs

Year: 1997

Duncan, also known as “The Big Fundamental,” was a hallmark of consistency across nearly two decades in San Antonio. Playing until age 39, Duncan started over 1,000 games for the Spurs, winning five titles and a pair of MVPs along the way. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020.

Drafted by: Los Angeles Clippers

Year: 1998

Playing in exactly 500 NBA games, Olowokandi spent a decade in the NBA spread out across three teams. His most productive years came where he was drafted, as he averaged 9.9 points and 8 rebounds per game in his five years in Los Angeles.

Elton Brand

Drafted by: Chicago Bulls

Year: 1999

Brand won Rookie of the Year honors in his first season, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Bulls. That rookie season marked one of six times in Brand’s first seven seasons in the league where he’d average a double-double. Brand retired in 2016 after 17 seasons in the NBA.

Kenyon Martin

Drafted by: New Jersey Nets

Year: 2000

Playing four seasons in New Jersey before heading to Denver on the back of an All-Star 2003-04 season, Martin became a staple of the Nuggets’ rotation. Martin was a regular in Denver for seven years before moving to a bench role with the Clippers, Knicks, and Bucks in his final four seasons.

Kwame Brown

Drafted by: Washington Wizards

Year: 2001

One of the most infamous picks in NBA draft history, Brown was the first high schooler to ever be selected No. 1 overall. Brown never became a star in the NBA, however, averaging more than 10 points per game just once across a 12 year career.

Drafted by: Houston Rockets

Year: 2002

Earning All-Star honors in each of the eight seasons he played, the 7-foot-6 Ming became a staple in Houston, where he spent his entire NBA career. Retiring in 2011 after injuries began to plague the back end of his career, Ming was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Drafted by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Year: 2003

Coming off his 20th season in the league, James has lived up to every inch of the colossal hype he was touted with entering the draft. With four titles, 19 (and counting) All-Star selections, and four MVPs under his belt, James now has his eyes set on teaming up with his son (incoming USC freshman Bronny James) to close out his storied career.

Dwight Howard

Drafted by: Orlando Magic

Year: 2004

Earning the nickname “Superman” for his ability in the air around the rim, Howard only recently left the NBA to play overseas after nearly two decades in the league. A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time rebounding champ, and eight-time All-Star, Howard seems set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in due time.

Andrew Bogut

Drafted by: Milwaukee Bucks

Year: 2005

The first Australian player drafted first overall, Bogut started over 600 games across a 14-year career in the NBA. The towering center led the league in blocks in 2011, and helped the Warriors win their first title of what would become a dynasty in 2015.

Andrea Bargnani

Drafted by: Toronto Raptors

Year: 2006

Selected first overall out of the European League, Bargnani earned all-rookie honors in his first season in the league. He’d average double-digit points on a per-game basis for nine of his 10 seasons with the Raptors, Knicks, and Nets before leaving the NBA to play in Spain in 2016.

Greg Oden

Drafted by: Portland Trail Blazers

Year: 2007

Infamously selected one pick ahead of Kevin Durant, Oden struggled to stay on the court in his brief NBA career. A battery of knee ailments consistently kept the center on the injury list, and he’d end his career with just 66 starts across seven seasons.

Drafted by: Chicago Bulls

Year: 2008

One of the biggest “what-ifs” in NBA history, Rose saw an electric start to his career derailed by an ACL injury in his fourth season. In the four seasons he played before the ACL, Rose added a Rookie of the Year, MVP, and three All-Star selections to his resume. Injuries would continue to hamper Rose for the rest of his career, though he’s carved out several rotational roles over the last decade.

Drafted by: Los Angeles Clippers

Year: 2009

Perhaps most famous for his dunk contest-winning leap over a Kia in 2011, Griffin also has five All-NBA selections to his name. After averaging over 20 points per game in nine out of his first 11 seasons, Griffin has settled into more of a bench role over the last several years as his impressive career comes to a close.

John Wall

Drafted by: Washington Wizards

Year: 2010

The highly touted Kentucky Wildcats product has five All-Star Game selections to his name as he currently navigates free agency. Wall averaged nearly 20 points and 10 assists per game across All-Star seasons.

Drafted by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Year: 2011

A perennial All-Star, Kyrie’s clutch three-point shot helped the Cavaliers capture their first title in franchise history — and Kyrie’s only title — in 2016. Irving has averaged 26 points or more per game in each of his last six seasons.

Drafted by: New Orleans Hornets

Year: 2012

One of the best defensive big men in the NBA, Davis has led the league in blocks three times and is a four time all-defensive team honoree. The eight-time All-Star captured his first ring in 2020 after a trade to the Lakers teamed him up with LeBron James.

Drafted by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Year: 2013

Bennett played just four seasons in the NBA, each with a different franchise. Starting just four games in that stretch, Bennett consistently struggled to catch on in his adjustment from college to professional ball.

Drafted by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Year: 2014

Traded to Minnesota before he could start a game in Cleveland, Wiggins got off to a fast start with the Timberwolves. The Kansas product won Rookie of the Year in 2015, as well as MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge. After a productive stint in Minnesota, Wiggins was dealt to Golden State where he made his first All-Star Game as part of the Warriors’ 2022 title-winning team.

Drafted by: Minnesota Timberwolves

Year: 2015

A three-time All-Star selection, Towns has scored more than 20 points per game each of his last seven seasons in the NBA. A cornerstone of the Timberwolves franchise, at age 27, Towns is entering the prime of his career with a young squad emerging around him.

Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers

Year: 2016

Simmons’ career arc has been a strange one, including a chaotic exit from Philadelphia, but the LSU alum still has three All-Stars and two all-defensive teams to his name at age 26. His trade to Brooklyn, however, hasn’t reignited his career like many had hoped.

Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers

Year: 2017

Another product of Philadelphia’s famous “process,” Fultz didn’t fully find his footing in the league until a move to Orlando ahead of his third year in the league. There, the guard saw a noticeable jump in his per-game averages in points (8.2 to 12.1) and assists (3.1 to 5.1). Still just 25, Fultz is coming off his best year yet, averaging 14 points per game in 2022-23.

Drafted by: Phoenix Suns

Year: 2018

A steady presence down low for the Suns, Ayton has averaged a double-double in each of his five seasons in the league. Still in Phoenix, Ayton could be a key piece in the Suns’ re-tooled lineup now featuring Bradley Beal.

Drafted by: New Orleans Pelicans

Year: 2019

The Zion hype was real, from high school, to college, to the NBA. However, injuries have kept Williamson from reaching his potential in the league. Williamson has started more than 30 games just once in his four years in the NBA, but the returns when he’s been able to stay on the court have been strong — averaging 27 points per game in 2020-21 when he played 61 games.

Anthony Edwards

Drafted by: Minnesota Timberwolves

Year: 2020

Blossoming into one of the most exciting players in the NBA, Edwards has continually shown growth over his first three seasons in the league. The Georgia product earned his first All-Star Game invite this season as he notched new career highs on the season in points, assists, and rebounds per-game.

Drafted by: Detroit Pistons

Year: 2021

After a promising start to his second season which saw him average nearly 20 points and 6 assists per game, Cunningham’s year ended early due to surgery on his shin. New Detroit coach Monty Williams will hope Cunningham continues to grow in his third year as the Pistons continue to rebuild.

Drafted by: Orlando Magic

Year: 2022

Banchero’s rookie campaign went about as well as it could have gone, as he averaged 20 points per game en route to league Rookie of the Year honors. He’ll look to build off his stellar first campaign with a young and improving Magic squad in 2024.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing emma@ustimespost.com.

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