NCAA: What Makes A #1 NBA Draft Pick?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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There’s nothing more prestigious for an aspiring professional basketball player than going number one overall in the NBA Draft. It’s an achievement that takes a lifetime of hard work and dedication. It forever etches you in history as the best prospect of that year and it makes you a big part of your team’s future. Oh yeah, some fat paychecks come with it as well.
It’s not all great, though, just ask Kwame Brown. Being the top overall pick in the draft comes with the burden of high expectations. And, forget about taking time to develop. Teams typically expect an instant impact from the player who they pick first. If you’re not a star by year three, get ready to be associated more with being a bust than an actual human being.
The top spot in the 2013 NBA Draft is currently wide open waiting for someone to firmly take it. The college basketball season is a couple of months old and while several players have climbed significantly, the most coveted spot has still yet to be firmly taken control of.
With that being the case, it seems as good of a time as ever to reflect on the last five top overall selections in the NBA Draft and see what exactly it was that made them the best to get an idea of what this year’s top prospects need to do with three months left in the season.
The past five top selections are really great cases to study because they were the clear choice and so far they have all proven to be worthy of the selection. Teams are always going to do their due diligence and explore all options, but their decisions were already pretty much made by their pick’s level of play.
Let’s start with Derrick Rose back in 2008. Then Kansas State forward Michael Beasley put up ridiculous numbers as a Wildcat, but point guard play was quickly taking over the league and Rose was by far the best point guard in the country. There were some other good lead guards in college basketball at the time like Darren Collison and D.J. Augustin, but none of them could come close to touching Rose. He was head and shoulders above his peers by the time the season came to an end. He had more than ideal size, blazing speed, ridiculous athleticism and craftiness. The only knock on him was his inability to shoot the three, but because nobody could stay in front of him it wasn’t that big of an issue.
In 2009 Blake Griffin was putting poor college kids on posters with vicious slams that topped what we were seeing in the NBA dunk contest. He was far more than just an athlete, though. He showed every skill you would want in a pro power forward. He was already built like a man with underrated post moves, ball handling skills, a decent jumper and toughness. He was oozing in upside; nobody knew how good he could be, but it was clear that nobody was a better bet to be a successful pro in that draft class.
John Wall was dynamic during his lone season at Kentucky and made it very easy to select him at number one in 2010. The Washington Wizards were going through a dark time and Wall was exactly what they needed. Not only did he bring high character, but at Kentucky he ran John Calipari’s offense at a high level and showed game-changing speed, ball handling ability and poise late in games that only the really great players possess. He grew tremendously throughout the season and possessed the same natural gifts that all the top-flight level point guards in the league had. In a league being taken over by point guard play, he looked like he belonged.
If you blinked in 2011, you missed Kyrie Irving’s freshman campaign at Duke. A big toe injury kept him out for all but 11 games. But, that’s all he needed to separate himself from the pack in a draft class similar to the 2013 class in the sense everyone classified it as weak from early on in the season before they even knew who was staying and who was going. That year was somewhat unique, though, because of the threat of the lockout.
Irving dazzled in his 11 games as a Blue Devil, showcasing lead guard skills that were impossible not to fall in love with. He was highly efficient and always seemed to be a play or two ahead. He wasn’t the explosive athlete that Rose and Wall were, but Irving wasn’t lacking athletically and had plenty of quickness. He had no weakness; he could do it all and with a clean bill of health nobody stood a chance of taking the top spot from him. Eleven games ended up being more than enough for him to prove he was the best investment.
In 2012 Anthony Davis skyrocketed to the top while barely touching the basketball. He wasn’t a big part of what the national champion Wildcats did offensively at all. He rarely would get a chance to work one-on-one and did the majority of his work off of offensive rebounds and alley oops. Where Davis shined was on the defensive end. He was a menace on that end of the floor, utilizing phenomenal shot-blocking instincts paired with good length, above average mobility and solid explosiveness. Few players have ever been able to impact the game without scoring like he has in league history. Combining that with the fact that he does have some skills offensively and could indeed by a force on that end as well made Davis a lock to go first from midway through the season.
The one common trait amongst these five players is that teams believe they could build around them. They thought they were getting the next face of their franchise, which they did.
That’s where this year’s draft class’ crop of players can’t stack up more than anything. There is definitely some depth to this draft class, but currently there isn’t a prospect in college basketball or overseas who like they’ll develop into a top option like the players listed above.
There’s plenty to like about everyone in discussion, from Indiana’s Cody Zeller to Kentucky’s Nerlens Neol and the other six or so players in the mix for the top spot. Some of them are even more productive statistically. But, nobody is looking at them as guys who can come in and be a centerpiece.
There’s plenty of time for them to change that perception. Conference play is just getting underway. By the time it’s midway through the top overall pick discussion could be going differently.