When you have an entire draft named in your honor, you’re likely considered a pretty big deal.
In the NBA lottery era, it all started with the Patrick Ewing Draft.
Then came the David Robinson Draft … followed by those featuring the likes of Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber and LeBron James.
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All were No. 1 picks, all were expected to change the course of the franchise that made them the chosen ones forever.
Other top overall selections were also labeled “can’t-miss” types, from Danny Manning to Yao Ming, to Greg Oden and Blake Griffin.
Interestingly, the best center in the game today, Dwight Howard, wasn’t necessarily everyone’s No. 1 back in 2004. There was actually some debate about whether Orlando should take Howard or Emeka Okafor.
Sounds kind of funny today, when you consider how Howard puts up astronomical numbers and dominates the paint – and how Okafor was just traded from New Orleans to Washington in a move that was mostly made to dump salary.
Of course, the Oden situation turned out even worse. Or better, if you’re Oklahoma City.
Back in 2007, Portland owned the top choice and had a tough call to make — Oden, or Kevin Durant. Oden was a center out of Ohio State, considered a Bill Russell-type with game-altering defense and promising skills on offense. Durant came out of Texas, where he gained a reputation as a silky smooth scoring forward, drawing comparisons to legendary point-producing machine George Gervin.
Eventually, the Trail Blazers settled on Oden, and we’ve all seen how that one’s worked out. Oden’s first four seasons have been an injury-plagued nightmare; Durant and the Thunder are this year’s Western Conference representative in the Finals.
But not all guarantees have come up short. In fact, more often than not, they’ve lived up t0 expectations.
Ewing led the Knicks to the Finals. Robinson won a title. O’Neal and Duncan won four apiece. Webber helped previously sad-sack franchises (Washington, Sacramento) become relevant. And we all know James’ story by now.
All he did was lift Cleveland to its first-ever appearance in the championship series — then, with the help of friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, reach two more with Miami.
Still, owning the No. 1 overall pick offers no guarantees. Manning and Yao spent the better part of their careers with bad knees or feet, or both. Their teams never went anywhere special.
Others just fail to develop, with Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown being the most recent examples.
Olowokandi, picked first by the L.A. Clippers in 1998, compiled career averages of just 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, the powerful build and superb athleticism displayed by Brown during individual workouts never amounted to much, as he’s mostly been suited for a backup role since Michael Jordan-run Washington took him with the first pick back in 2001.
This year, the hype surrounds Anthony Davis, a do-it-all forward from Kentucky who can block shots and race down the floor to finish with nifty drives and easy dunks. He’s dynamic, he’s smart, he’s coming off a national title in college. Clearly, this is the Anthony Davis Draft, as the only sure thing this summer is Davis will be selected No. 1 by New Orleans.
Will he immediately change the franchise’s fortunes?
Well, there is no definite answer. Not if you take a look at history. As Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant once noted, there’s no magic formula.
“You bring a (prospect) in for individual workouts and interviews, you do your homework — and then you cross your fingers,” Grant said.
It’s a strategy that worked OK for Grant, as the Cavs selected point guard Kyrie Irving with the top pick last summer, and Irving went on to win Rookie of the Year.
Bottom line: The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft doesn’t come with a warranty. You can’t take it back, you can’t receive a do-over, you can’t do anything beyond make your selection and hope for good health and prolonged happiness.
Sometimes, it actually works out that way. Other times, teams are wishing they could have said something you almost never hear proudly uttered in the world of sports: