Can Wembanyama Join List of Most Productive NBA Top Picks?

Can Wembanyama Join List of Most Productive NBA Top Picks?
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

The San Antonio Spurs have high hopes they’ve altered their team’s future with the selection of French phenom Victor Wembanyama as the first pick in the NBA Draft. 

And since the 7-foot-4 power forward comes into the NBA as the most hyped pick since LeBron James in 2003, took a look at the most immediately impactful first overall picks in the years since James arrived. 

We utilized PER, or player efficiency rating, from to determine the most valuable seasons. PER is a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.

Additionally, we instituted a 41-game minimum, which excluded Zion Williamson (2019), Markelle Fultz (2017), Ben Simmons (2016), Blake Griffin (2009) and Greg Oden (2007).

Unfortunately for Spurs fans, there are no legal Texas sportsbooks. Efforts to pass legislation on the topic failed during the 2023 session.

Ranking No. 1 Picks Since 2003

Year Player Team PER Notable Stats
2015 Karl Anthony-TownsMinnesota22.582 G, 18.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG, .542 FG%
2012Anthony DavisNew Orleans21.764 G, 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .516 FG%
2021Kyrie IrvingCleveland21.451 G, 18.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG
2020Deandre AytonPhoenix20.571 G, 16.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 0.9 BPG, .585 FG%
2004Dwight HowardOrlando17.282 G, 13.2 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .520 FG%
2008Derrick RoseChicago16.081 G, 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG
2010John WallWashington15.869 G, 16.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG
2005Andrew BogutMilwaukee15.282 G, 9.4 PPG, 7 RPG, 0.8 BPG, .533 FG%
2022Paolo BancheroOrlando14.972 G, 20 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG
2020Anthony EdwardsMinnesota13.972 G, 19.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG
2014Andrew WigginsMinnesota13.982 G, 16.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1 SPG
2021Cade CunninghamDetroit13.164 G, 17.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.2 SPG
2006Andrea BargnaniToronto12.865 G, 11.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG, .427 FG%
2013Anthony BennettCleveland6.952 G, 4.2 PPG, 3 RPG, 0.3 APG, .356 FG%

Although there are no Texas betting apps, national operators list Wembanyama as the favorite for Rookie of the Year at -200.

Recent Rookies Top League Average

Eight of the remaining 14 players come in above that average of 15 and four put together seasons of 20 or more. For the sake of comparison, there have been 82 NBA/ABA players in history with current career PERs of 20 or higher, led by Michael Jordan at 27.91. The next three highest marks are current players Nikola Jokic (27.65), James (27.22) and Anthony Davis (27.22). 

Davis is No. 2 on this list of former top picks with a rookie PER of 21.7 in his first year with the New Orleans Hornets. (That was New Orleans’ final year as the Hornets before changing to the Pelicans.). Davis’ season only trails what Karl Anthony-Towns put together as a rookie for the Minnesota Timberwolves at 22.5.

Towns, who currently ranks 14th all-time in PER at 24.42, played in all 82 games that first season, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who still only finished 16-66 in 2015-16. Davis’ Hornets weren’t much better at 27-55 in the 2012-13 season.

Rookies Rarely Produce Winning Seasons

Odds are pretty good the Spurs won’t come close to a winning season in the first year with Wembanyama despite all of his hype. Although there is no BetMGM Sportsbook Texas, nationally the operator ranks the Spurs among the bottom eight teams in the league in terms of NBA championship odds.

Only two out of the 14 teams in the chart above finished at .500 or higher and just six won at least 34 games. Three made the playoffs and all three lost in the first round. The 2008-09 Bulls (41-41) with Derrick Rose lost in seven games to the Celtics. The 2006-07 Raptors (47-35) with Andrea Bargnani starting just two games lost in six games to the Nets. And the 2005-06 Bucks (40-42) with Andrew Bogut lost in five games to the Pistons. 

Bargnani ranks as one of the biggest reaches ever at No. 1 overall and his career PER shows that. He finished with a PER of 14.4 and only got above 15 in three seasons, with the highest being 17.9 in 2011-12. He was out of the league after the 2015-16 season. LaMarcus Aldridge, the No. 2 pick after Bargnani, recently retired with a career PER of 20.70. 

The victories may not happen yet for the Spurs and Wembanyama, but if he stays healthy and can average a double-double in points and rebounds, he’s a good bet to add his name near the top of this list of how No. 1 selections fared in their rookie seasons.



Douglas Pils has been a sports journalist for 30 years in Texas, Arkansas and New York having worked for the San Antonio Express-News, the Associated Press, The Dallas Morning News and Newsday. He most recently ran the Student Media Department at Texas A&M for eight years.

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