The 2023 NBA Draft is officially upon us and the San Antonio Spurs are set to select Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick. Given that Wembanyama is being hyped as the best NBA prospect since LeBron James, we decided to take a look back at the rest of the players selected No. 1 overall since 2000 and see how they fared.
Here is our ranking of the top overall NBA draft picks since the 21st century.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003)
This was pretty easy. LeBron James has been everything he was advertised as and more since entering the NBA. Possibly the greatest prospect of all-time turned into one of the two greatest players in the game's history.
James has won four NBA titles (with three different franchises), is a four-time MVP, a 19-time All-Star has been First Team All-NBA 13 times, plus three selections for both the second and third teams. He's also been on the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times and the second team once. He's also the league's all-time leading scorer, is fourth in assists, ninth in steals and ninth in 3-pointers made.
This was not a difficult selection.
2. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2004)
This is where things get a bit tricky, but Howard got the nod in our informal poll. The best big man of his generation -- and maybe the last great pure center -- Howard has racked up a ton of career accolades. He's a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
Howard won a title with the Lakers in 2020, was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA First Team five times, Second Team once and Third Team twice. He led the league in rebounding five times, is 10th all-time in rebounds (fourth in defensive rebounds), led the NBA in blocks twice, made the All-Defensive First Team four times, and second once, while being named an All-Star eight times and winning a dunk contest.
From 2007 through 2014, Howard was one of the NBA's best players. Injuries derailed that some and he became a useful role player. The Magic got a star with their pick, which is the best outcome possible.
3. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2002)
No one knew quite what to expect when the Rockets selected Yao Ming with the first pick back in 2002. There wasn't a great track record for 7-foot-6 players in the league. Not only did Yao set a new standard for players of his size, he became one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. He started his first NBA game at 22 years old after dominating the Chinese Basketball Association for three seasons. He quickly became a star for the Rockets.
Yao was named to eight All-Star teams and was selected for five All-NBA teams before his career was derailed by ankle and foot injuries. He retired from basketball in 2011 when he was only 31. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of fame in 2016.
For his career, Yao averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He peaked during the 2007-08 season when he averaged 22.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks in a career-best 37.2 minutes per game. The Rockets retired his No. 11 jersey in 2017.
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (2012)
If not for injuries, Anthony Davis would be widely considered one of the best players on the planet. Mostly because when he's healthy he's likely the best two-way guy going right now. A lock to be the first pick coming out of Kentucky in 2012, the New Orleans Hornets selected him over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal. It turned out to be the right call.
Davis is an eight-time All-Star, a four-time First Team All-NBA pick, has been on four All-Defensive teams, has led the NBA in blocks three times and led the Lakers to a title in 2020. For his career he's averaging 24.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals in 34.4 minutes per game.
Again, when he's been healthy, he's lived up to his lofty billing. The issue has been availability. He's played more than 70 games twice in his 11-year career. Had he been on the court more he'd likely be higher on this list.
5. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers (2011)
Love him or hate him, there's no denying Kyrie Irving's ability on a basketball court. The Cavaliers took him with the top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and he became a legit star in two seasons as a modern, scoring point guard. Irving in an eight-time All-Star, has been named to All-NBA teams three times, and helped the Cavs win a title in 2016, making the series-clinching shot.
At his best, Irving in an elite scorer and shot-maker, at his worst he's a chemistry destroyer as he's left three franchises in horrible fashion. During his 12-year career, Irving has averaged 23.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line. He's absolutely elite at putting the ball in the basket.
6. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2009)
Blake Griffin was an absolute sensation when the Clippers drafted him out of Oklahoma with the top pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. He sat out his first season due to a knee injury, but won Rookie of the Year during the 2010-11 campaign, while also making the All-Star team and winning the dunk contest. At 6-foot-9 and ridiculously athletic, Griffin is one of the best dunkers ever, which helped put butts in seats and turn the Clippers into a must-watch basketball team. Combining with Chris Pau, he did the impossible: made the Clippers cool.
A six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA pick, Griffin was a legit star for a decade. From 2010 to 2019 he averaged 21.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field. He's far on the backside of his career now, but in those early days he was an absolute blast to watch.
7. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (2008)
Derrick Rose had a quick ascent after the Bulls selected him with the top pick in 2008. In his third season he won an MVP in 2011 while averaging 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists in 37.4 minutes and making huge, clutch plays on a near-nightly basis. He never reached those heights again, but he was a three-time All-Star, and has earned a First Team All-NBA selection.
Injuries sent his career off-track. An ACL tear in 2012 ruined what had been a solid MVP follow-up season. He's never really been the same despite a really nice campaign for the Knicks in 2016-17 in which he averaged 18.0 points and 4.4 assists per game. At 34 he's officially in the journeyman stage of his career having now played for five franchises including two stints in New York. But no one will forget that magical MVP campaign.
8. John Wall, Washington Wizards (2010)
While he's now mostly known for having one of the worst contracts in NBA history, people forget John Wall could ball. One of the best point guards Kentucky has ever produced, Wall was the obvious No. 1 pick when the Wizards were on the clock. And, other than Paul George, he clearly had a better career than anyone else in his class.
Wall was an All-Star five times, and was named Third Team All-NBA in 2017. He made an All-Defensive team in 2015 and was the face of Washington's franchise for years. He had his best season in 2016-17, averaging career-highs in points (23.1), assists (10.7), steals (2.0) and field goal percentage (45.1). From 2013 to 2019, he was one of the best point guards in the NBA and averaged 19.8 points, 9.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals in that time. A ruptured Achilles tendon in 2019 basically ended his effectiveness and he's never been the same.
9. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (2015)
The big man known as KAT hasn't won much in his eight-year career to this point. He won Rookie of the Year and has two All-NBA selections, but has yet to advance to the second round of the playoffs. From a productivity standpoint, though, Towns deserves his flowers. He has a legit case to be named the best 3-point shooting big man of all-time from a volume and efficiency standpoint. After shooting very little from deep during his rookie year, he transformed his game. Since the 2016-17 season, Towns has averaged 39.7 percent from deep on 4.7 attempts per game. He's also averaged at least 20 points per game since then and is generally quite skilled at putting the ball in the bucket.
The defense leaves a lot to be desired and it is worth wondering if he is truly a winning player. But Towns has boasted production worthy of a No. 1 overall pick and has shown tremendous loyalty to the Timberwolves franchise through thick and thin. Not every top pick will be an all-time great, despite what everyone hopes. He's a good-to-great player on any given night and that's an impressive feat in the NBA.
10. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (2016)
Simmons' stock, obviously, took a dive into the Grand Canyon after the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2021 NBA playoffs. Already a reluctant scorer, something about that series scared Simmons from taking even the most wide-open of shots. Then he got into a war with the front office and his head coach, didn't play the following season due to injury, and eventually got traded for James Harden. He didn't do anything of note for the Brooklyn Nets this past season and the back injury that has plagued him in recent years eventually ended his season early.
But man, for a few seasons there, Simmons was a stud. After he took a redshirt rookie season to heal from a foot injury, the LSU product delivered on much of the hype surrounding him. Simmons boasted tremendous court vision and utilized his size on both ends of the court. He was a monster in transition and has earned two All-Defense selections in his career to go along with an All-NBA nomination in 2020, when he averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game. Simmons always left fans wanting more and is now nothing more than an overpaid role player, but he was absolutely good enough while on his rookie contract to warrant this high of a spot on lists such as these.
11. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (2020)
Anthony Edwards was the consensus best player in the 2020 NBA Draft and he's starting to realize that potential. A ridiculous athlete who is honing the finer skills of his game, Edwards was named to his first All-Star team in 2023. His third season in the league was the best of his career, he hit career-highs in points (24.6), rebounds (5.8), assists (4.4) steals (1.6) and minutes (36.0) per game. He also shot a career-best 36.9 percent from 3-point range.
Edwards is likely to jump up this list in the coming seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard is only 21 years old and has improved every season. There's no reason to believe that will change. Of his draft classmates, only LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton have shown star potential. This was the right pick by the Timberwolves.
12. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey Nets (2000)
The Nets took Kenyon Martin with the first pick in a historically weak draft back in 2000 and were likely happy with their selection. Martin was a first-team All-American and the National Player of the Year during his final season at Cincinnati. He broke his leg during the Bearcats' first postseason game, but was healed and ready by the time his rookie season rolled around. He had a lengthy and solid career but never became a star.
Martin was named to his only All-Star Game in 2004 when he averaged a career-best 16.7 points per game, plus 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. That was his best season. A 6-foot-9 power forward, Martin was an excellent lob threat and a lot to handle in the paint. During a 15-year NBA career spent with the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks, Martin averaged 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. But, again, he never really became a star.
13. Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers (2014)
The Cavs selected Wiggins with the No. 1 pick in 2014, but he never played for the franchise. He was shipped to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love trad before his rookie season. While he put up counting stats with the Timberwolves he struggled to make a true impact in parts of six seasons. In 2016-17, he averaged 23.6 points per game but only shot 45.2 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from 3-point range. Eventually he was traded to Golden State during the 2019-20 season and he found the right role.
As the Warriors' third or fourth option, Wiggins has been really good. His 3-point percentage has increased and he's leaned into becoming a lockdown defender. He was a big part of Golden State's NBA title run in 2022 and made his first All-Star team that season. This past season, the 28-year-old averaged 17.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting a career-best 39.6 percent from deep. He'll never be an alpha dog or make an All-NBA team but Wiggins will likely be a really good contributor for years. He's a 6-foot-7 wing who can shoot and defend. He's perfect for the Warriors.
14. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic (2022)
Banchero just completed his rookie season and as such is hard to measure up against the full careers of other guys on this list. But it can't be said that Banchero's first NBA season was anything other than stellar. The former Duke big man was a huge surprise when he went No. 1 overall as just about every draft analyst, pundit, and insider thought Jabari Smith Jr. was going to be the pick. But the Magic played their cards close to their chest, and it worked out pretty well, to say the least.
Banchero earned Rookie of the Year honors by averaging exactly 20 points per game along with 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists. His efficiency wasn't great (only 42.7 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from beyond the arc) but the man can get a bucket when the time calls for it. He uses his 6-foot-10, 249-pound frame to bully his way into the paint and has great touch around the basket. Banchero didn't impact winning to the degree one might hope but scoring as much as he did without a reliable 3-point jumper is still extremely impressive. He has a bright career ahead of him, and the early returns suggest he was deserving of the top overall pick relative to his draft classmates.
15. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons (2021)
As stated above, it's really hard to judge recent picks, but we're going to go ahead and try. Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley were the consensus top players in the 2021 draft and the Pistons went for the most versatile of the three. Cunningham is a 6-foot-7 guard who was an All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year in his lone collegiate season at Oklahoma State. It was a solid pick, but it's hard to tell how it will work out moving forward.
As a rookie, Cunningham averaged 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 32.6 minutes per game. Not bad, right? But he also only shot 31.4 percent from 3-point range, not great for a guard. He only played 12 games during the 2022-23 season (19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists) before undergoing season-ending surgery to fix a stress fracture in his left shin. Time will tell on this one.
16. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2005)
Andrew Bogut had the bad luck of being selected first in a draft that produced a lot of really good players. He wound up having a really nice career, but was overshadowed by Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger and others. He had a 14-year career, was named to an All-Defensive Second Team, won an NBA title and was All-NBA Third Team in 2010. He just never put up mind-boggling stats.
A classic, back to the basket 7-footer, Bogut's best season game during the 2009-10 when he averaged 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. During the 2014-15 season with the Warriors he won an NBA title while getting that Second Team All-Defense nod for being the team's rim protector. The Aussie left the NBA in 2019 and joined the NBL in his native country, winning MVP in his first season. He's now retired.
17. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (2018)
In 2018, Deandre Ayton was coming off an outstanding freshman season at Arizona, but looked like more of an old-school big man entering a changing NBA landscape. Still, the Suns took him at No. 1 overall, passing up on Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Whoops.
Ayton has been ... fine since entering the league. But he hasn't really fit with what the Suns want to do and he's not an elite rim protector despite being a 7-footer. While he's averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in 30.6 minutes per game in his five-year career, he's often off the floor in the game's biggest moments. And now he might be on the trade block. when you consider who the Suns passed on to select him, this pick doesn't look great, despite Ayton being a solid player.
18. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (2019)
Where to start with this one... Entering the 2019 draft, everyone knew Zion Williamson would be the first pick. But given his absurd athleticism, many worried about the excess weight he carried on his body. The fear was his body couldn't handle that kind of strain. Well, given Williamson's four injury-marred seasons it appears those predictions are correct.
Williamson only played 24 games as a rookie, 61 during the 2020-21 campaign, then missed all of the 2021-22 season before playing only 29 games this past season. When he's been on the court, Zion has been incredible. For his career he's averaging 25.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 32.0 minutes per game. He's also shooting 60.5 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from 3-point range.
The issue is he's never healthy and the Pelicans knew that was a serious risk when they selected him. That said, Ja Morant (who has his own issues) and Darius Garland are the only other standouts from the 2019 class so far, saving New Orleans a little bit of shame for this selection.
19. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (2006)
While he never became a star, Bargnani wound up having a really nice NBA career. Before the 2006 draft, the Italian was viewed as a 7-footer who could stretch the floor and had an excellent basketball IQ. That largely came true, he just never reached the level of draft classmates LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry.
Bargnani played seven seasons in Toronto and peaked during the 2010-11 campaign when he averaged 21.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 35.7 minutes per game. He spent two seasons with the Knicks and a final year with the Nets before leaving the NBA in 2016. He averaged double figures in nine of his 10 NBA seasons and finished his career as a 35.4 percent 3-point shooter. You have to think he'd be better suited to today's NBA game than when he entered the league.
20. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers (2017)
Fultz was No. 1 pick coming out of Washington in 2017 and no one questioned the 76ers' selection when they took him off the board. Unfortunately, injuries that impacted his shot derailed Fultz's career. He's actually coming off his best season in 2022-23, but this ranking is more about who the Sixers passed up to take him.
Jayson Tatum (No. 3), De'Aaron Fox (No. 5), Lauri Markkanen (No. 7), Donovan Mitchell (No. 13), Bam Adebayo (No. 14), Jarrett Allen (No. 22), OG Anunoby (No. 23) and Kyle Kuzma (No. 27) all went in the first round in 2017 and all have had better careers. The Sixers passed on those guys to take Fultz, who only played 33 games over two seasons in Philly before being traded to the Orlando Magic.
Fultz's career is looking up. Last season he averaged career-highs in points (14.0), rebounds (3.9), assists (5.7), steals (1.5), 3-point percentage (31.0), field goal percentage (51.4) and minutes per game (29.6). He could jump up this list if he keeps doing that consistently.
21. Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers (2007)
Oden had been regarded as the top player in his class since early in his high school tenure. One dominant season at Ohio State proved to many that he was the NBA's next great center. Unfortunately, multiple leg injuries derailed what was likely to be a promising career. The Trail Blazers took him with the top pick in 2007, passing on Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Mike Conley, plus several other useful players like Joakim Noah. It's a selection they'd love to have back.
Oden missed his rookie season completely after having microfracture surgery on a chronically bad knee. He played 61 games in 2008-09, then in 2009-10 he only entered 21 games, averaging what would be career-bests in points (11.1, rebounds (8.5), blocks (2.3) and minutes (23.9) per game. More surgeries led him to miss the next three seasons before he played in 23 games with the Heat in 2013-14. That was his last NBA action. He played overseas for one season before retiring in 2016. It's a sad tale of what could have been.
He's currently director of basketball operations on Thad Matta's staff at Butler.
22. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards (2001)
Kwame Brown was the worst decision Michael Jordan ever made. Back when he was running the Wizards, His Airness selected Brown out of high school, while Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Eddy Curry, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph and Tony Parker went in the first round behind him. Brown wound up being on of the most disappointing players in NBA history.
The 6-foot-11 power forward had a ton of physical tools and a number of teams tried and failed to unlock them. His best season came in 2003-04 when he averaged career-highs in points (10.9), rebounds (7.4) and minutes (30.3) per game. He never hit double-digits in points again in his 12-year career. Given his raw talent, teams continued to give him chances. He played for the Lakers, Grizzlies, Pistons, Bobcats, Warriors and 76ers before finally calling it quits in 2013.
23. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers (2013)
After one season at UNLV, Bennett was the top pick in a historically weak draft. Victor Oladipo was the only All-Star selected in the top 10 and other than Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15) and Rudy Gobert (No. 27) the rest of the picks were role players at best. Bennett didn't even rise to that level.
He spent one lackluster season in Cleveland before being shipped to Minnesota in the Kevin Love trade. He similarly lasted one season with the Timberwolves, posting career-highs in points (5.2), rebounds (3.8), assists (0.8), steals (0.5), and blocks (0.3) in 15.7 minutes per game. He played sparingly in Toronto in 2015-16, and saw action in 23 games with the Nets in 2016-17 and was out of the NBA. He's still playing overseas and spent this past season in Taiwan. An NBA comeback doesn't appear in the cards.