With Zion Williamson as the first overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, he will join the company of one of sports’ most prestigious honors. Being the first overall selection in any draft is an incredible feat and a testament to hard work and years of sustained success. With being the first overall pick comes high expectations, which some live up to, while others falter.
In ranking the top first-overall picks in the last 15 years of the NBA Draft, we based our rankings on a combination of comparative expectations coming out of college and production in the NBA.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the last 15 first-overall picks in the NBA Draft.
15. Anthony Bennett
The 2013 NBA Draft was one of the most unpredictable drafts in recent memory. Considered one of the weakest draft classes of all time, it was uncertain who the Cleveland Cavaliers would select with the first overall pick. In shocking fashion, the Cavaliers took UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. Although a top-tier prospect in the draft, Bennett was projected to be selected in the five-ten range of the draft. With the pick, Bennett was immediately thrust into the spotlight, and expectations were at an all-time high for a player who wasn’t worthy of the first overall selection. Although he was pretty good in college, Bennett was an incredibly young and undeveloped prospect, which the Cavaliers soon found out the hard way. In his rookie season, Bennett struggled immensely, averaging 4.2 points and 3 rebounds per game while shooting a miserable 35.6% from the field.
After just one season with the Cavaliers, the team decided they had seen enough. Bennett was traded alongside 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love, who would be paired with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to create Cleveland’s new Big Three. Since being traded to the T-Wolves, Bennett has jumped around the league as a bench player before fitting in the G League in 2017. This past season as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, Bennett averaged 12.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Although it remains possible that Bennett will return to the NBA one day, it will likely be nothing more than a bench role, making him one of the biggest first overall selection busts in NBA history.
14. Markelle Fultz
Markelle Fultz is a sad story still in the making. After dominating during his freshman season at Washington, Fultz looked like the next sure-fire franchise point guard of the NBA. He was such an enticing prospect, the Philadelphia 76ers traded up with the Boston Celtics to receive the number one overall pick, sending them the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder. Fultz looked like the finishing touch of the Philadelphia 76ers new Big Three, joining rising stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
From the get-go, Fultz struggled immensely with his shot. Fultz was shooting 33% from the field and refused to attempt shots from beyond the arc. At the free throw line, it was evident that something was off with Fultz when he displayed one of the ugliest shooting forms of all-time.
Fultz was shut down for the remainder of his rookie season with a specular muscle imbalance in his shoulder. Fultz began the 2018-19 season as the starting shooting guard before losing his position to newly acquired Jimmy Butler. In November of 2018, Fultz was again shut down with shoulder discomfort and diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affects the nerves between the neck and shoulder, ultimately limiting Fultz’ shooting range. In February of 2019, the 76ers traded Fultz to the Orlando Magic, where he has yet to make an appearance.
At the moment, Fultz’ injury remains one of the most mysterious ones in sports history. Many have claimed that the effects of the injury have taken a mental toll on him, which might be more responsible for his poor play than the injury itself. On the plus side, he’s only 21 and still has a chance to get out of this funk. However, based on his play in the league so far and questionable future, Fultz has the makings to be an all-time NBA bust.
13. Greg Oden
During his lone season at Ohio State, Greg Oden was a menace down low. He averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game and looked like the next dominant big in the NBA. Oden was so impressive, that he became the census first overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft over a certain Kevin Durant. With such high expectations and success in college, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Oden with the first overall pick, and Durant went second to the Seattle Supersonics. In September of his rookie season, Oden underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee, which kept him out for the entirety of the 2007-2008 NBA campaign. Making his debut in 2008, Oden struggled in his first game against the Los Angeles Lakers, before leaving just thirteen minutes in with a foot injury. This was just the beginning of a long and injury-filled career, which resulted in Oden only playing in 105 career games. Oden was released by the Trail Blazers in 2012 and played one year with the Miami Heat in 2013-2014 before his NBA career came to an end. Although he’s attempted a few comebacks, staying healthy has continued to remain a problem for Oden.
With expectations through the roof, and Durant going on to be one of the greatest players in NBA history, Oden will forever be known as one of the biggest busts in NBA history. It’s a shame that such a highly touted player could never stay healthy enough to make an impact in the league. Much of Oden’s problems were out of his control, and have the NBA community still pondering what could have been.
12. Andrea Bargnani
To think that Andrea Bargnani was the first-overall selection in the 2006 NBA Draft is pretty remarkable. In 2006, the Raptors made the Italian forward the first overall selection in the draft. Throughout his career in Toronto, Bargnani enjoyed some impressive individual statistical seasons, yet never lived up to the hype of being a No. 1 overall pick. His best individual year came during the 2010-2011 season when he averaged 21.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. In the years following, Bargnani struggled to stay on the court and saw the quality of his play take a deep dive. After being traded to the Knicks in 2013, Bargnani played just three more seasons in the NBA before being waived by the Brooklyn Nets in 2016, ending his basketball career.
A solid scoring big, Bargnani was a liability in almost every other aspect of the game. At 7’0″ tall, Bargnani was not a great rebounder and was often beat on the defensive side of the ball. He carved out a role with decent offensive production, but he never became a franchise player or came anywhere close to living up to the expectations of being the first pick. To make matters worse, theTrail Blazers selected LaMarcus Aldridge with the second overall pick, who has developed into one of the premier power forwards of the past decade and is still playing at a high level in the NBA.
11. Andrew Wiggins
In 2014, Andrew Wiggins was the consensus first overall pick in the NBA Draft. The Canadian-born shooting guard played one season at Kansas, before being drafted by the Cavaliers first overall. The hype for Wiggins was through the roof, but the Cavaliers ended up dealing him to Minnesota with the aforementioned Bennett before he stepped foot on the court. Since joining the Timberwolves in 2014, Wiggins has flashed talent on the offensive side of the ball, averaging nearly 20 points per game throughout his five-year career.
As good as Wiggins’ counting statistics are, he consistently underperforms in almost every other aspect of the game, and even his scoring efficiency is quite poor. In 2017, the T-Wolves signed Wiggins to a five-year, $148 million extension. Just two years later, it’s widely considered one of the worst contracts in the NBA.
Although he’s still only 24-years old and has shown flashes of potential, Wiggins needs to improve many aspects of his game in order to be a more complete player. Throughout his five-year career, not only has Wiggins shown little to no improvement, he appears to have gotten worse over the past two seasons. Until Wiggins shows vast improvements in his game, he fails to live up to the expectations of being the No. 1 pick.