History's 5 best at the 3rd pick

Sam counts down to the draft and looks back to the best to ever play at the 3rd pick
Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls looks on durng a NBA game. Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bull from 1981 through 1998.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Everybody always wants to be No. 1, but sometimes No. 3 is good enough. Could No. 3 set up like it did in 1984? That was when the player most regard as the best in NBA history was selected after the player everyone agreed should be the No. 1 pick and then after the team with the No. 2 pick had a duplication at that position. So Michael Jordan fell to the Bulls on the best day ever for the franchise. The consensus this year is Duke forward Zion Williamson will be the No. 1 selection. In 1984, it was agreed whoever got No. 1 would choose Akeem Olajuwon. The Houston Rockets did in a coin flip following a tanking stretch run that was so embarrassing and egregious that the NBA instituted the draft lottery the next season. Back then Portland with the No. 2 pick had All-Star shooting guard Jim Paxson and super prospect shooting guard Clyde Drexler. So they passed on Jordan for a center, leaving the Bulls at No. 3 to settle for Jordan. This year Williamson will go No. 1, but some wonder about his future with his size. And some of the top potential lottery teams like Atlanta and Cleveland have point guards. Maybe they pass on Murray State's Ja Morant, who falls to No. 3? Could he be that star? It's a long way from even suggesting that's possible. Though No. 3 has been good for many teams. Here's a look at the best players selected No. 3 in the NBA draft since the 1976 merger of the NBA and ABA.


Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1984. His accomplishments are numerous and familiar, six titles with the Bulls in the 1990s in one of the great dynasties in NBA history and six times Finals MVP, 10-time scoring champion, five times MVP, 14 times All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, nine times all-defense, three times steals leader and probably the most celebrated athlete in American sports history.

Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball against the Indiana Pacers during a game in 1998 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.


Dominique Wilkins, Utah Jazz, 1982. He was traded to Atlanta shortly after the draft and went on to become one of the most exciting players of the era, though denied considerable playoff success given the depth of talent in the conference at the time. His dunking and scoring duels with Michael Jordan were some of the best basketball shows of the era. He is a Hall of Famer and was a nine-time All-Star, seven times all-NBA, a scoring champion with a career average of about 25 per game over 15 seasons.

Dominique Wilkins #21 of the Atlanta Hawks dunks against Robert Parish #00 of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1988 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.


Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics, 1980. He was one of the stars and one of the most versatile and unselfish players on a dynasty Boston team of the 1980s. He was a seven-time All-Star and six-time all-defensive player who played for three championship teams with Larry Bird and Robert Parish and was twice Sixth Man of the Year and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics boxes out against the New York Knicks circa 1990 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.


Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons, 1994. With the 19-month retirement of Michael Jordan in 1993, Hill was considered the most likely next Jordan. He was a versatile seven-time All-Star and five-time all-NBA who was a ball handling forward and a three-time winner of the league's sportsmanship award. He sustained serious foot problems after a botched surgery, but came back to become an All-Star five years later in Phoenix and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Grant Hill #33 of the Detroit Pistons drives against the Sacramento Kings during a game played on February 26, 1996 at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.


James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder, 2009. The uncanny scorer has been a league MVP and seven-time All-Star, twice a league scoring champion and a Sixth Man of the Year. He's produced the highest season scoring average since Michael Jordan, though Harden has been known as a notoriously poor defender.

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets shoots over Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 08, 2019 in Oakland, California.

The No. 3 pick has proven a boon for many teams with top talents like Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Joel Embiid, Bradley Beal, Jerry Stackhouse, Marques Johnson, Buck Williams, Anfernee Hardaway, Chauncey Billups, Al Horford and recent draftees like Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic. In earlier NBA years, the No. 3 pick has produced Pete Maravich, Nate Thurmond, Zelmo Beaty, and Bob Cousy.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter