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The Best NBA Draft Lottery Picks Ever

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire

The results and aftermath of the NBA Draft lottery are no different than those of Powerball or Megamillions. Some teams invest their winnings and stay on top for years, while others squander them. The draft in every sport is a gamble, and maybe that's why it makes for such compelling television. It's more fun to watch people lose their money than it is to lose our own.

The lottery consists of 14 picks, and in today's article, we will look at the best player of all time taken with each of those picks. Only the 1998 NBA Draft appears twice on this list, as great players can come from any era. The greatest player in NBA history was taken before the draft ever started.

14. Clyde Drexler, Portland Trailblazers (1983)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
14th Pick Clyde Drexler - Portland Trailblazers

Shooting guard Clyde Drexler played college basketball for Houston, aka Phi Slamma Jamma. He averaged 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in three seasons. He was a consensus All-American and the Southwestern Conference Player of the Year. In the 1983 NBA Draft, he was selected with the 14th overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers.

Drexler played 16 seasons in the NBA. He averaged 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. He was a ten-time all-star and went to the finals three times, winning his only ring with the Houston Rockets in 1995. In 2004, Drexler was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Drexler was on the list when the NBA named its top 75 players of all time in 2021.

13. Kobe Bryant, Charlotte Hornets (1996)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
13th Pick Kobe Bryant - Charlotte Hornets

Kobe Bryant was a Parade and a McDonald's high school all-American. He played basketball at Lower Merion, where he broke Wilt Chamberlains Pennsylvania high school scoring record (2,883 points). The Charlotte Hornets selected Bryant with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and then traded his rights to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.

Kobe played his entire NBA career (1,346 games) with the Lakers, going to seven NBA Finals and winning five championships. His career averages are 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. He was an 18-time all-star, 15-time All-NBA, 12-time All-Defense, and won the league MVP in 2007-2008. He is one of the NBA's 75 greatest players, and in 2020, he was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

12. Julius Erving, Milwaukee Bucks (1972)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
12th Pick Julius Erving - Milwaukee Bucks

Julis Erving played two seasons at the University of Massachusetts. He averaged 26.3 points, 20.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while there. The NBA had a rule that players could not enter their draft until they were four years removed from their graduating high school class. The ABA instituted a "hardship" rule that allowed college players to leave early, and after his junior year, Erving signed a four-year contract with the Virginia Squires worth $500,000.

Erving became eligible for the NBA Draft in 1972 and was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson (can you imagine?). However, he never played for the Bucks, staying in the ABA until they merged with the NBA in 1976. He finished his career averaging 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. He was a four-time league MVP and 16-time all-star, and in 1993, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

11. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers (1987)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
11th Pick Reggie Miller - Indiana Pacers (1987)

While playing college basketball at UCLA, Reggie Miller was better known as Cheryl Miller's little brother. After four years, Miller's career college stats were 17.2 points per game (he averaged 25.9 as a junior and 22.3 as a senior), 4.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He was all-conference twice, and in the 1987 NBA Draft, he was the 11th overall pick by the Indiana Pacers.

Miller played his entire 18-year career with the Pacers, averaging 18.2 points (averaging over 20 points per game six times), 3.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He is a five-time all-star and is considered one of the best shooters in league history. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 and made the league's top-75 players list in 2021.

10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (1998)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
10th Pick Paul Pierce - Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce played 108 games at Kansas, averaging 16.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. He was the Big 12 tournament MVP two years in a row. He was a Consensus all-American as a senior, and in the 1998 NBA Draft, he was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 10th overall pick.

Pierce played 15 seasons with the Boston Celtics, averaging 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, before finishing his career with the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. He was a 10-time all-star and went to the finals twice, winning the title and the Finals MVP in 2008. In 2021, Pierce was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and included on the list of the league's top 75 players of all time. In 2018, his number 34 jersey was retired by the most storied franchise in league history.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Milwaukee Bucks (1998)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
9th Pick Dirk Nowitzki - Milwaukee Bucks

Dirk Nowitzki played his entire career on the Dallas Mavericks, but the Milwaukee Bucks originally selected him as the 9th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. He was then traded, along with Pat Garrity, in exchange for the Mavericks' 6th overall pick, Robert "Tractor" Traylor, out of Michigan.

In 1,522 games for the Mavericks, Nowitzki averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He was a 14-time NBA all-star. Nowitzki won his only league MVP award in 2007 and his only title in 2011. He is among the league's top 75 players of all time, and in 2023, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

8. Sam Jones, Boston Celtics (1957)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
8th Pick Sam Jones - Boston Celtics

Nicknamed "The Shooter," Sam Jones played college basketball at North Carolina Central University (then called North Carolina College), where he scored 1,745 career points and was named All-CIAA three times. During his college career, he also served in the US Army for two years. In 1957, the Boston Celtics drafted him with the 8th overall pick.

Jones won ten NBA Championships in twelve years with the Celtics. He was a five-time NBA all-star and finished his career with averages of 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. In 1984, Jones was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 1969, the Celtics retired his number 24.

7. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors (2009)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
7th Pick Steph Curry - Golden State Warriors

In three years at Davidson, Steph Curry averaged 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He shot 46.7% from the field, including 41.2% behind the arc. He was a two-time Consensus All-American, and when he entered the draft, his selection was not without some head-scratching. This was because point guards Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio were taken ahead of him.

After being selected with the seventh overall pick, Curry led the Warriors to four NBA Championships, winning the finals MVP once. His current career averages are 24.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. He led the NBA in scoring two times, is a ten-time all-star, and is a two-time league MVP. He is already on the NBA top-75 team and will undoubtedly be elected into the Hall of Fame.

6. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (1978)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
6th Pick Larry Bird - Boston Celtics

Larry Bird played three seasons at Indianan State. In his freshman year, he averaged 32.8 points and 13.3 rebounds. After his sophomore season, where he averaged 30.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, he was selected by the Boston Celtics as the sixth pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. Instead of playing professionally, he returned to college to lead the Sycamores to a 33-1 record, with their only loss coming against Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the National Championship game.

Bird played 13 seasons for the Celtics and was an all-star in 12 of those. He won three consecutive MVP awards from 1984-1986 and finished second four more times. He won three NBA titles and a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics and retired with career numbers of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. The Celtics retired Bird's number 33 in 1992, and in 1998, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

5. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (1995)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
5th Pick Kevin Garnett - Minnesota Timberwolves

In 1995, Kevin Garnett became the first high school player drafted into the NBA in 20 years. After an All-American campaign at Farragut Academy in Chicago, the Timberwolves selected Garnett with the fifth overall pick. He played 14 seasons in Minnesota, 6 for the Boston Celtics, and 2 for the Brooklyn Nets.

Garnett finished his career averaging 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He was a 15-time all-star, won the league MVP in 2004, and won his only title and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Garnett was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020 and was part of the NBA's 75th anniversary team in 2021.

4. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets (2005)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
4th Pick Chris Paul - New Orleans Hornets

Chris Paul played two seasons at Wake Forest before entering the NBA Draft. He was a consensus All-American and two-time All-ACC player. He finished his college career with averages of 15.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Paul was drafted fourth overall in 2005 by the New Orleans Hornets (now the New Orleans Pelicans).

Paul has averaged 17.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in his NBA career. He is a 12-time all-star, six-time steals champion, and five-time assists champion of the league. CP3 has been all-NBA 11 times and all-defense nine times, and in 2021, he made the NBA 75th anniversary team. He is destined to be enshrined in Springfield, MA.

3. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1984)

3rd Pick Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan burst onto the scene when he hit the game-winning shot in the National Championship game as a freshman at North Carolina. He was the National Player of the Year and helped Team USA win a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics before watching Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie get picked ahead of him in the NBA Draft.

Jordan went to the NBA Finals six times, winning all six and the Finals MVP. His career averages are 30.1 points (the highest in NBA history), 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. He won the league MVP four times and finished second three times. He made the All-NBA team 11 times and All-Defense nine times, and in 2009, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

2. Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (1956)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
2nd Pick Bill Russell - Boston Celtics

Bill Russell averaged 20.7 points and 20.3 rebounds in three years at San Francisco. He won back-to-back National Championships and a gold medal before the Boston Celtics took him with the second overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft. Russell had a 13-year NBA career and won nine championships as a player and two more as a player-coach.

He averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Even though he never averaged 20 points per game, he was a 12-time all-star. He won the league's Most Valuable Player five times. Russell was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, and his number 6 jersey was retired by every team in the league in 2022.

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
1st Pick LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James became a household name after appearing on the Sports Illustrated cover in February of 2002. The star of the Mount Saint Vincent-Saint Mary's football and basketball team became a national celebrity, and his high school games had to be played in a college arena to satisfy ticket demand. Considered the best draft prospect since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

James has career averages of 27.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. Last season, at the age of 39, he averaged 25.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. He has led his teams to 10 NBA Finals appearances and won four NBA Championships, and He is a 20-time all-star, 19-time All-NBA, and 6-time All-Defense. He's won the league MVP four times. He is a member of the NBA's 75th-anniversary team and will be a first-ball Hall of Famer.

0. Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (1959)

NBA Draft, Lottery, Wayne Gregoire
0 Pick Wilt Chamberlain - Philadelphia Warriors

It's only fitting that the greatest player of all time was drafted before the first pick. Before Bob Boozer was selected with the first pick in the 1959 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia Warriors used their territorial selection to take Wilt Chamberlain from the Harlem Globetrotters by way of the Kansas Jayhawks.

In Chamberlain's rookie season, he took home the Rookie of the Year award and the league MVP. He was a 13-time all-star and was elected to the Hall of Fame. His facts and stats sound like "Chuck Norris facts," except these are true. Wilt has five of the six highest-scoring averages for a season (50.4, 44.8, 38.4, 37.6, 36.9). He has the most career 50-point games with 118 (Michael Jordan is second with 31). He has the most career 30/30 games with 124 (Bill Russell is second with 3). He averaged 48.5 minutes per game in 1961-62; for his career (1,045 games), he never once fouled out of a game.


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