The NBA draft represents hope and optimism for all teams as they look to select franchise cornerstones. Some picks pan out and lead to championships and greatness. Others fizzle out as busts and set franchises back years. Let’s dive into some of the most famous hits and misses in NBA draft history.


Larry Bird, Boston Celtics, 1978

The Story: Larry Bird was taken with the sixth pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. It was a risk at the time because he had no intention of playing until 1979, because he wanted to finish his final year in college.

Impact: Bird helped the Celtics win three titles (1981, 1984, 1986) and his rivalry with Magic Johnson and the LA Lakers helped save the NBA in the 1980s.

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, 1979

The Story: With the number one pick in 1979, the Lakers chose Magic Johnson out of Michigan State. He made an immediate impact by winning Finals MVP as a rookie while starting at center in the clinching Game 6.

Impact: Magic ushered in the Showtime era in LA. He won 5 titles and 3 MVPs en route to Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest playmakers ever. The Lakers made the Finals 9 times in the 12 seasons where Johnson played at least 60 games.

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, 1984

The Story: The Bulls picked Michael Jordan third overall in 1984 after Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie went 1-2. MJ quickly established himself as a superstar, winning Rookie of the Year and making the first of 14 All-Star teams as a rookie.

Impact: Jordan developed into the greatest player of all time, winning 6 championships with 6 Finals MVPs. He spearheaded the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s that brought basketball to a global audience. Jordan is credited with significantly growing the popularity and marketing power of the NBA.


Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets, 1984

The Story: The same fabled 1984 draft saw the Rockets select Akeem (later changed to Hakeem) Olajuwon first overall out of the University of Houston. Olajuwon teamed with Ralph Sampson to form a formidable frontcourt duo in Houston.

Impact: The Dream is one of the most well-rounded centers ever, with career averages of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. His versatile inside-outside game powered the Rockets to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs, 1987

The Story: The Spurs drafted David Robinson first overall in 1987 after he fulfilled military service. Robinson quickly emerged as one of the NBA’s premier centers after finally debuting for San Antonio in 1989 at age 24.

Impact: The Admiral averaged 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3 blocks for his career. Robinson went on to win 2 NBA titles with the Spurs in 1999 and 2003, while winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. His arrival ushered in a period of consistent contention for the Spurs.

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls, 1987

The Story: After drafting Michael Jordan in 1984, the Bulls acquired Scottie Pippen in a draft day trade with Seattle in 1987. Pippen started as a raw prospect from Central Arkansas, but soon developed into a star.

Impact: Pippen’s do-it-all versatility on both ends of the floor made him the perfect complement to Jordan. Together, they dominated the NBA throughout the 1990s to capture 6 championships.

Kobe Bryant, Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Lakers, 1996

The Story: In one of the most fortuitous draft day trades ever, the Lakers acquired 17-year-old Kobe Bryant from Charlotte for center Vlade Divac. Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history at the time.

Impact: The Black Mamba emerged as one of the most prolific scorers ever and formed an unstoppable partnership with Shaq, winning 3 straight titles from 2000-2002. Kobe collected 5 rings and 2 Finals MVPs during his illustrious 20-year career spent entirely with the Lakers.

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, 1997

The Story: The Spurs drafted Tim Duncan #1 overall in 1997 after an injury-shortened season where they went 20-62. The prudent Spurs built steadily around Duncan’s fundamentals-based excellence on both ends.

Impact: Duncan delivered San Antonio 5 championships and never won fewer than 50 games in a season besides his rookie year. The model of consistency and brilliance, Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003

The Story: With the first pick in 2003, the Cavs drafted local high school phenom LeBron James. The Akron native took the NBA by storm, winning Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.9 points per game.

Impact: LeBron lived up to the unprecedented hype and developed into one of the most dominant players ever. He has delivered 4 championships so far, with 4 Finals MVPs and 4 regular season MVPs. James instantly turned the Cavs into contenders.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, 2013

The Story: The Bucks plucked a relatively unknown Greek prospect named Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th overall in 2013. The lanky teenager showed flashes of upside as he adapted to the NBA game.

Impact: The Greek Freak has blossomed into one of the most dominant forces in the league, winning back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020. He can impact the game on both ends at an elite level and already delivered Milwaukee an NBA title in 2021. Giannis developed into a true superstar.



Sam Bowie, Portland Trail Blazers, 1984

The Story: Portland infamously passed on Michael Jordan to select Sam Bowie 2nd overall in 1984. The Blazers already had Clyde Drexler and opted for Bowie’s size to fill a frontcourt need. Injuries derailed Bowie’s career early on.

The Fallout: Bowie posted career averages of just 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Jordan became the greatest player ever after being drafted right after Bowie. This remains one of the most notorious draft blunders in NBA history.

Darko Milicic, Detroit Pistons, 2003

The Story: Detroit shocked fans when they took relatively unknown 18-year-old Darko Milicic with the #2 pick in 2003 over consensus college studs like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Milicic rarely saw the floor as a rookie on the Pistons’ title team.

The Fallout: In retrospect, Milicic is considered one of the biggest draft busts ever. He averaged just 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds over his NBA career and was out of the league by 2012. The 2003 draft could have changed the league’s landscape if Detroit picked Wade, Bosh or Anthony instead.

Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers, 2007

The Story: Portland again picked a promising big man #1 overall when they selected Greg Oden in 2007. But Oden showed the injury woes that plagued his college career carried over to the NBA.

The Fallout: Oden played just 105 career NBA games while averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Chronic knee injuries derailed his career early on. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant went #2 and became an all-time great. Portland again missed out on a generational talent.

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2013

The Story: In 2013, the Cavs made Anthony Bennett the surprising first overall pick. The UNLV freshman was not considered a consensus top prospect after an up-and-down college season.

The Fallout: Bennett struggled mightily over just four NBA seasons, posting dismal averages of 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. He’s considered one of the most disappointing top picks ever. Other prospects like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert (taken 15th and 27th overall) blossomed into stardom.

Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards, 2001

The Story: Michael Jordan’s Wizards raised eyebrows when they made raw high schooler Kwame Brown the first overall pick in 2001. Washington saw potential in the athletic teenager.

The Fallout: Brown never came close to living up to the hype. He averaged just 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds over a journeyman 12-year career. In another disappointing 2001 first round, future MVPs Pau Gasol and Tony Parker were drafted at #3 and #28 overall.

Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats, 2006

The Story: The Bobcats picked Gonzaga scorer Adam Morrison third overall in 2006 after he led college basketball in scoring. Many envisioned Morrison becoming an elite wing scorer for Charlotte.

The Fallout: Morrison averaged just 7.5 points over 161 career games. A torn ACL in his rookie year derailed any momentum. He was traded after just two seasons and was out of the league by 2010. Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo were drafted shortly after Morrison.

Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies, 2009

The Story: The Grizzlies opted for towering UConn center Hasheem Thabeet with the second overall pick in 2009. His 7’3″ height and shot blocking potential intrigued Memphis.

The Fallout: Thabeet never made an impact, averaging just 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game over 224 appearances. He bounced around the league before departing in 2014. James Harden ended up