2019 first overall pick Zion Williamson, who is averaging 23.7 points and 6.8 rebounds this season with the New Orleans Pelicans. Photo credits: Bleacher Report

Grading Every NBA First Overall Draft Pick of The Last Decade

Ah, the NBA draft.  The beginning of so many dreams and careers.  Every young hooper hopes to be picked first overall and create a legacy for themselves.  Some, like LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Tim Duncan, do just that.  Others, not so much.  In this post, I’m going to be grading every first overall draft pick from the 2010s on an A+ to F scale and evaluate their performances and whether they lived up to the hype that so often comes with being the most sought-after prospect in the draft.

2010: John Wall

Picked by: Washington Wizards

Rating: A

Coming out of a STACKED Kentucky team with DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Patrick Patterson, John Wall went first overall to the Washington Wizards, who were coming off a poor 19-win season.  Although he hasn’t been able to lead his team into a deep enough playoff run yet, Wall is a five-time All-Star, averages 19 points per game (with a career high of 23 in 2016-17), and was a key piece of the Wizards’ rebuilding process, which resulted in them making the postseason four times after drafting Wall.  Taking a great point guard like Wall was an absolute bullseye for a team like the Wizards, and Wall gets an A.

2011: Kyrie Irving

Picked by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Rating: A+

Irving was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with their first selection in 2011.  Arguably one of the best ball handlers in the league today, Irving won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and has since become a six-time All-Star and won an NBA championship in 2016, which basketball historians and analysts highly debate being due to Irving’s clutch performance in Game 7 of that series against the Golden State Warriors.  Without Irving, it’s debatable whether LeBron James would have been able to beat the 73-9 record-setting Warriors that year in the Finals and bring Cleveland a ring after decades of disappointment with other teams.  This is an easy A+ for Irving.

2012: Anthony Davis

Picked by: New Orleans Hornets (later known as New Orleans Pelicans)

Rating: A+

That’s right, we’ve got three extremely high grades in a row for the first three years.  Anthony Davis was one of the best prospects in the NBA draft, having led his Kentucky team to a national championship that year.  Since then, he was the New Orleans Pelicans’ franchise player and was a top three MVP candidate in 2018.  He has averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks per game, as well as being the cornerstone of the L.A. Lakers’ resurgence to being one of the top teams in the league along with LeBron James.  He definitely would have gone first overall in a redraft, and this is again another easy A+.

2013: Anthony Bennett

Picked by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Rating: F

This is where the exceptional first overall picks end for now.  Bennett was a very surprising choice by the Cavaliers, and he was a bust right off the bat.  He left the Cavaliers after one season and was thrown around by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets, and Toronto Raptors.  He wasn’t able to make shots and be the “risky but successful power forward” the Cavaliers were looking for, averaging only four points, three rebounds, and not even a full assist!  The fact that stars like Victor Oladipo (#2), CJ McCollum (#10), Giannis Antetokounmpo (#15), and Rudy Gobert (#27) were all taken after Bennett makes this pick even worse.  One of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, who even spent the last three years in the G League (not really where a first overall pick plys his trade) definitely gets an F.

2014: Andrew Wiggins

Picked by: Cleveland Cavaliers

Rating: B

This wasn’t really a surprise pick.  Although not as successful (yet) as Joel Embiid, who went third to the Philadelphia 76ers, Wiggins is a solid player, even if the Cavaliers traded him to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love in a three-team trade before the 2014-15 season.  Currently with the rebuilding Golden State Warriors, Wiggins has averaged about 20 points a game, making him one of the more consistent scorers in the NBA.  But we all thought he’d be much, much better (for example, being a franchise player) and he’s not at that level yet, although he very well could be in the near future, so this pick gets a B.

2015: Karl-Anthony Towns

Picked by: Minnesota Timberwolves

Rating: A+

When you’re a struggling franchise and have been so for years, like the Timberwolves, one of the best places to start your rebuild is an All-Star center.  Karl-Anthony Towns is just that.  He’s averaged 22.7 points and a whopping 11.8 rebounds in his career and, as desired by the Wolves, is a cornerstone of their rebuild and, for now, their franchise player.  Until the suspension of the season, he was having a career year, averaging over 26 points per game!  While the “franchise player” title could be challenged with the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, one of Towns’ best friends, from the Warriors, the duo as well as the rest of the Wolves team have an extremely bright future and could slowly start soaring back into playoff contention after so many years.  But the key is that Towns is the center (both literally and figuratively) of all of that, and he gets an A+.

2016: Ben Simmons

Picked by: Philadelphia 76ers

Rating: A+

Simmons was always the top prospect in this draft for good reason.  Coming out of LSU, the Australian was described as quick and athletic as well as an elite passer.  All of these attributes have carried into his NBA game; not to mention, he is one of the league’s elite defenders.  When you have a 6’10” point guard who can pass well, muscle his way into scoring and do the dirty work on the defensive end of the ball, you can’t not be happy if you’re a coach, GM, or fan of a team.  With all the busts that the Sixers took in the draft during “The (Eventually Pretty Successful) Process”, Simmons along with Joel Embiid have been the few superstars to emerge and carry the Sixers back into winning fashion (although it may have taken longer than necessary).  All he needs is to get a solid jumpshot and shooting three-pointers more often, and he could be one of the greatest of all time.  Definitely an A+, no question about it.

2017: Markelle Fultz

Picked by: Philadelphia 76ers

Rating: F

When you’re a rebuilding team, sometimes you make good decisions and sometimes you make bad ones.  Drafting Ben Simmons was a good idea for Philadelphia.  Trading for Markelle Fultz?  Not so much.  Just like Embiid and Simmons, Fultz got injured in his first year with the team, but unlike the other two, Fultz didn’t get any better with time.  You can’t blame the 76ers for drafting him, but when you look back on the fact that they traded their third overall pick (which just so happened to be Jayson Tatum, an All-Star and one of the league’s rising stars) to get Fultz from the Boston Celtics, you can’t help but put your hand on your head.  Fultz has produced nothing for the team and didn’t even play for the 76ers for two whole seasons, being traded to his current team, the Orlando Magic, for Jonathan Simmons and two draft picks.  Although he’s started to slowly pick it up, averaging 12 points per game with the Magic as well as now scoring 47% from field goal range compared to 40% in his rookie year, you probably wouldn’t pick him first overall in a redraft, so purely off his draft position, just like how I’m grading the rest of these players, Fultz gets an F, although he certainly has time to make a name for himself in a positive way.

2018: Deandre Ayton

Picked by: Phoenix Suns

Rating: B+

Ayton isn’t a household name yet, but the Suns picked up a pretty solid center.  We haven’t been able to see more than we’d like from him because of his 25-game drug suspension, but in his rookie year he averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds, as well as coming in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting. He’s not an A just yet, but with the Suns rebuilding with Ayton, Booker, and other young pieces, you could see him potentially becoming an All-Star.  For now though, Ayton gets a solid B.

2019: Zion Williamson

Picked by: New Orleans Pelicans

Rating: A

One of the most hyped draft prospects in recent memory, there was no doubt that Zion Williamson would go first overall; the draft lottery was essentially the Zion Williamson sweepstakes.  Everyone thought he would be a bust after getting injured (yes, another injured first overall pick), but he quickly erased all notion of that with 22 points and seven rebounds in his only \-18-minute debut against the San Antonio Spurs, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.  It’s likely he’ll be beaten by Ja Morant, the second overall pick who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, in the race for the Rookie of the Year award because Williamson debuted only a few months ago, but when he’s scoring as well as he is (23.6 points per game) and playing with the immense athleticism his body gives him, he’s already basically a star in this league and can only go upward.  Once we see enough of him, he’ll get the highest grade, but for now, it’s safe to say he’s a solid A.

Comment or let us know if we’ve missed anything!


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