So much attention is paid to which player will be taken with the first overall pick that it’s easy to forget just how many great players are chosen every year with those other 29 first-round selections. The second overall pick, for example, has been loaded historically with really good players—sometimes even better than the players who were chosen ahead of them. Here’s a complete list of the No. 2 picks in history.
And here’s a look at the best No. 2 picks of all-time:
Alonzo Mourning, 1992, Charlotte Hornets – Orlando made the right decision in taking Shaquille O’Neal first overall, obviously, but Charlotte got a lot out of selecting Alonzo Mourning right behind him. Over the course of his career, ‘Zo won Defensive Player of the Year twice, made the All-Star team seven times and finished among the top three in MVP voting twice. That doesn’t put him on par with O’Neal, but it definitely makes him a strong second overall draft pick.
Gary Payton, 1990, Seattle SuperSonics – Derrick Coleman, the top overall pick in 1990, had a decent career, but Payton was a former Defensive Player of the Year who made nine All-Defensive teams and nine All-Star teams. He also made the Finals four times with three different teams and finally won a ring with Miami in 2006. Coleman had nowhere near as prolific a career.
Bob McAdoo, 1972, Buffalo Braves – McAdoo won the MVP in 1975 and averaged 22.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG for his career, which makes it incredibly egregious that he was selected after LaRue Martin, one of the worst No. 1 picks in league history.
Jason Kidd, 1994, Dallas Mavericks – Easily one of the league’s best-ever point guards, Kidd made 10 All-Star teams and four All-Defensive teams, finishing among the top 10 in MVP voting five different times in his career. His lone title with Dallas in 2011 pulled him equal to 1994 top selection Glenn Robinson, who won one with San Antonio in 2005, but Kidd played a much bigger role in getting his ring and had a much better career.
#5 – Isiah Thomas, 1981, Detroit Pistons – Mark Aguirre, chosen No. 1 that year by the Dallas Mavericks, didn’t have a bad career, but he also didn’t have a career anywhere near as successful as that of Isiah Thomas, a two-time champion who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000. Thomas made 12 straight All-Star teams in the ‘80s and ‘90s was named Finals MVP in 1990. He also was the MVP of two All-Star games and is the Detroit Pistons’ all-time leading scorer. Aguire ended up a teammate of Thomas’ and helped him win his two titles, but he ended up a three-time All-Star, whereas Thomas ended up an NBA legend.
#4 – Kevin Durant, 2007, Seattle SuperSonics – While Durant’s career numbers aren’t quite up to snuff with some of the other No. 2 picks that came before him, he’s one of only four guys on this list with an MVP trophy to his name, and that certainly counts for something. What also counts for something are his four scoring titles, his six All-Star selections, his five All-NBA First Team selections and his Rookie of the Year trophy. That’s an impressive resume for any player, but Durant is still only 26 years old and does still need a ring to be considered truly elite. Assuming he stays healthy, he could end up being one of the game’s all-time great players, and he was chosen one selection behind Greg Oden, who hasn’t been relevant in the league for half a decade.
#3 – Bob Pettit, 1954, Milwaukee Hawks – If Bill Russell had never existed, Pettit would have been looked back upon as the most dominant player of his era. Having averaged 26.4 PPG and 16.2 RPG for his career, it’s easy to understand how Pettit could have won Rookie of the Year in 1955 and MVP in 1959. He did win a title with the Hawks in 1958, but he also lost three more Finals to Russell’s Celtics, two of them in seven games. Considering the No. 1 pick in 1954 was Frank Selvy, a man who scored 100 points in a college game once but who averaged only 10.8 PPG and 3.7 PRG as a pro, the Pettit selection at two is all the more impressive.
#2 – Jerry West, 1960, L.A. Lakers – While West was never a league MVP, he did finish among the top five in MVP voting eight different times in his career, all while being voted to 14 All-Star teams and winning a title with L.A. in 1972. He was one of the league’s first truly great scorers, having averaged 27 PPG for his career and was so good, in fact, that the NBA designed their logo after the man. While no one can fault the Cincinnati Royals for taking Oscar Robertson with the top overall pick in 1960, L.A. getting West at pick No. 2 was a pretty nice consolation prize.
#1 – Bill Russell, 1956, St. Louis Hawks (traded to Boston) – Obviously this was a long time ago, before advanced metrics and scouting departments big enough to fill a city bus, but to misjudge a talent as massive as Bill Russell’s was something that obviously changed the fate of the Boston Celtics and may also have changed the history of the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings), who drafted Sihugo Green with the top overall pick in that year’s draft. Russell has more championship rings than he does fingers, but he also made 12 consecutive All-Star teams and was named the league MVP five times. Russell’s career numbers are great (15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG), but his competitiveness helped push those dominant Celtics teams to unbelievable heights in the ‘50s and ‘60s. If a team can get a guy that good at pick No. 2, then there’s absolutely no reason not to be happy earning either of the top two picks in any given draft.
Maybe someday we’ll be talking about recent No. 2 overall selections Victor Oladipo and Jabari Parker – or perhaps even this year’s No. 2 pick who joins the Los Angeles Lakers – with the same reverence we do some of the other guys on this list. They continue to prove that landing the second pick in the draft isn’t always the bummer some teams make it out to be. A lot can be salvaged in in making a second choice.
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