Cohen: Selecting Correctly at No. 1

By Josh Cohen
May 17, 2011

ORLANDO -- There are years it’s obvious who the No. 1 pick should be in the NBA Draft. Some examples include Lew Alcindor (1969), Magic Johnson (1979), Patrick Ewing (1985), Shaquille O’Neal (1992), LeBron James (2003) and Blake Griffin (2009).

There are also times when teams just simply make the wrong choice. Some instances include Pervis Ellison (1989), Michael Olowakandi (1998), Kwame Brown (2001) and Greg Oden (2007).

But then there are years when a relatively difficult decision evolves into the greatest result they could have possibly imagined.

Evaluating all of the top picks since the NBA Draft Lottery was implemented (1985), below are the players that were picked first overall despite there being some critics that at the time wondered if they were the correct choices.



The 1996 NBA Draft was, by and large, filled with first-rate prospects that generally transformed into All-Star level players at the professional level.

The Philadelphia 76ers, as a result, had an extremely difficult decision in determining which of the several players they should select with the No. 1 overall pick.

At the time, some critics proposed that the Sixers should have chosen Marcus Camby, who was the most reputable prospect after his splendid collegiate career at UMass, and others felt that Philly should have opted for one of the other elite guards that included Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen or Kerry Kittles.

But by selecting eventual league MVP (2001) and four-time scoring champion Allen Iverson, the 76ers reformed into an Eastern Conference powerhouse for a few years.

Josh Cohen

There really wasn’t much doubt who the best talent was in the 1997 NBA Draft, but considering San Antonio already had David Robinson on its roster (missed most of the previous season with injury), some felt the Spurs should steer in another direction.

Other possible options at the time included Keith Van Horn (No. 2 pick), Chauncey Billups (No. 3) and Tracy McGrady (No. 9).

Though some of those other players evolved into quality NBA players, indisputably, the Spurs made the right decision avoiding any temptations to select someone other than the eventual four-time NBA champion, two-time MVP and 13-time NBA All-Star.


Most people nationally, especially those who are devoted college basketball followers, thought Emeka Okafor deserved to be the unambiguous choice to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

Okafor had just won an NCAA Championship with UConn and many talking heads – most notably Dick Vitale – thought it was a foregone conclusion that he would transform into a perennial All-Star.

But the Orlando Magic, who had the first pick, saw a drastic difference when evaluating the well-recognized Okafor to that of the relatively unfamiliar Dwight Howard.

Now several years later since the Magic’s 2004 Draft day surprise, it’s almost laughable that many at the time believed Okafor deserved to be picked ahead of Howard.


It’s common at draft time for there to be a debate as to which of two players deserve to be chosen first overall (2002: Yao Ming vs. Jay Williams; 2004: Dwight Howard vs. Emeka Okafor; 2007: Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant).

In 2008, it was very similar as the most discussed storyline heading into the draft was whether the Chicago Bulls should select hometown favorite Derrick Rose or scoring sensation Michael Beasley.

In spite of Chicago already having a loaded backcourt (Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Larry Hughes), the Bulls realized that Rose’s potential was limitless and if they had not selected him they would have some serious regret.

While Beasley is just starting to discover his strengths in the NBA with the Timberwolves, Rose is already a league MVP and has his team in the conference finals.

Which selection do you think was most bold and turned out to be the best decision?
Which selection do you think was most bold and turned out to be the best decision?
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