NBA Draft Trends: The history of the No. 1 overall pick
How was fortune fared for those who've gone No. 1 -- and the teams that have taken them?
NBA Draft Memory Lane: Complete list of No. 1 picks
It was 67 years ago when Clifton McNeely was a spry young face from Texas Wesleyan. He was the first pick in what was the first NBA Draft, all the way back in 1947, and McNeely's rights went to, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Ironmen. But McNeely, a World War II vet who was coming off a senior season in which he led the country in scoring, wasn't interested in the upstart NBA.
He declined the Ironmen's offer, instead choosing to coach high school ball, which would lead to a 14-year career and four state titles. He became a famous coach high school hoops tutor in Texas.
The Ironmen, one of the original 11 members of the NBA, folded a year later.
Texas Wesleyan is now an NAIA school.
On Thursday night, a completely different pageant will be put on from what started 67 years ago in Detroit. The NBA, which wasn't even called "the NBA" in 1947, is so different from what it was even 15 years ago, let alone 50. The big headline will be who follows in McNeely's steps, 66 top picks removed, and gets taken (at least for now) by Cleveland at No. 1. But what should the expectation be of a No. 1 pick? And which teams -- NBA and college -- have dealt with this scenario most over the ages?
Let's look at what history hath wrought with those who've been lucky enough to get their names called first. First, the basic information. This is the historic baseline of expectations for getting called earliest on draft night.
• The No. 1 pick has career averages of 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
• According to Draft Express, the average No. 1 pick plays 606 career games, or 7.4 seasons. (Disclaimer: Data dates only to 1957, not 1947.)
• Forty-three of the 66 picks (65.2 percent) to go No. 1 have made an All-Star Game.
• The average All-Star Game appearances for a top pick is 3.7.
• 14 players picked No. 1 overall have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The most recent HOF entry is David Robinson. Pragmatically speaking, that number is guaranteed to be at least at 18 eventually (Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James) and has a few more candidates who could push it to 20.
So if Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins go on to have a nine-year career that includes four All-Star Games and a stat line that reads something to the effect of 16.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists and no Hall-of-Fame induction ceremony down the way ... that would pretty much be in line with what Cleveland should expect. Of course, modern media and current contracts dictate going No. 1 should bring to order multiple NBA titles, a career that extends at least a dozen years and should, mimimally, flirt with the notion of being a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
It's where empirical evidence and contemporary conjecture clashes, and it's why things like the notion of busts persist. Truth is, we're way too hard on these guys, and players like LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are to blame when Joe Barry Carroll, Kent Benson, Kwame Brown and Michael Olawakandi happen.
So who's been presented with this opportunity the most? Cleveland, you've been too bad to be this lucky.
The chart above also takes into account defunct franchises like the original Baltimore Bullets (three top picks) and the Providence Steamrollers (two). It also factors in the Chicago Zephyrs and Chicago Packers (as a Bears football fan, allow me to puke at that name), who were early incarnations of the Washington Wizards. Those teams had top picks in the '60s, so they count toward Washington's total.
No team's been helped like Cleveland, yet in 44 years it's made the NBA Finals only once -- thanks to drafting one of the 10 best players ever -- and has managed only three divisional titles. The franchise sits at at .454 winning percentage (1618-1942) in that time. Incredible.
And what about on the college end of things? By league, the ACC has been best. But in the 1940s, '50s, '60s and even into the '70s, a lot of the premier players were coming from teams that had no conference affiliation. It's going to take years before any conference leapfrogs independents in overall No. 1s.
What's amazing: The Southern Conference has birthed more No. 1 picks than all other leagues except the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12/10/8.
Now let's look at which specific schools have bred the best in the NBA Draft since 1947. Little old Duquesne not only has had two top picks, but they came in consecutive years, 1955 and '56. It's the only school to ever do that.
Duke's had three No. 1 guys. But if you're under 35 years old, can you name all three? Kyrie Irving is the no-brainer, and Elton Brand is easy enough. Art Heyman, back in '63 to the Knicks, is the other. It's a fairly even spread, though, and I was surprised by this. Forty-two teams in 66 years have produced No. 1 picks. If Jabari Parker does wind up going first Thursday, then Duke will have twice as many No. 1s as anyone else.
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