Which NBA 1st Round Draft Slots Have Produced The Best Players?

Which NBA 1st Round Draft Slots Have Produced The Best Players?
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

The San Antonio Spurs know landing the first pick in the draft can alter a franchise’s future and produce championships. They’ve done it twice before with Hall of Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

They hope they are on the edge of another championship era with the first pick in the upcoming NBA Draft on June 22 at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, N.Y. That’s when the Spurs are expected to make 7-foot-4 Victor Wembanyama from France the No. 1 selection.

He will enter the NBA with as much promise as anyone since LeBron James went No. 1 overall in 2003 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, the Spurs are hoping Wembanyama can blend with a young core and develop into a champion like James, Duncan and Robinson.

But what can the rest of the NBA expect to find when they draft after the Spurs? And has the No. 1 spot produced the best players in recent years? 

With the NBA Draft just a few days away, BetTexas.com, home to coverage of Texas sports betting issues, decided to look at which spot in the draft has produced the best talent since the 2010 NBA Draft.

Utilizing Basketball-Reference.com, BetTexas.com gathered the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) of every NBA first round draft pick at each spot in the NBA Draft from 2010 through 2022. The VORP was combined to find the best draft spot (over replacement players) instead of averaged due to players being in the NBA for different lengths of time.

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Best Draft Slots Since 2010

Rank, Draft Slot Team in Slot in 2023 Draft Combined VORP Top Player Since 2010
1. 1st overall pick San Antonio Spurs 172.9 Anthony Davis (NO, 2012)
2. 3rd overall pick Portland Trail Blazers 146.3 Joel Embiid (PHI, 2014)
3. 15th overall pick Atlanta Hawks 96.8 Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL, 2013)
4. 6th overall pick Orlando Magic 85.0 Damian Lillard (POR, 2012)
5. 9th overall pick Utah Jazz 77.1 Kemba Walker (CHA, 2011)
6. 30th overall pick Los Angeles Clippers 73.9 Jimmy Butler (CHI, 2011)
7. 27th overall pick Charlotte Hornets69.5 Rudy Gobert (UTA, 2013)
8. 11th overall pick Orlando Magic 66.7 Domantas Sabonis (OKC, 2016)
9. 10th overall pick Dallas Mavericks 64.4 Paul George (IND, 2010)
10. 13th overall pick Toronto Raptors 63.9 Donovan Mitchell (UTA, 2017)

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No Place Like No. 1

It turns out that the No. 1 spot has produced the best players in the past 13 years when looking at the VORP.

Anthony Davis, who was selected by the New Orleans Hornets in 2012, has the best VORP of the top selections at 46.1. Kyrie Irving, who went No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011, is second at 37.6. Both players have won championships with James — Irving with the Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors in 2016 and Davis with the Lakers in 2020.

It’s not automatic that the top player has transformed his team. In 2013, the Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett, but his VORP is minus-1.3, and he only played four years in the league. In 2014, the Cavaliers selected Andrew Wiggins No. 1 overall before trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s had moments, winning a championship with the Warriors in 2022, but his VORP is 3.0, and he’s never been the go-to guy on his team. 

Wembanyama Expected to Be Immediate Star

Few expect that kind of career arc for Wembanyama. Even at 7-4, he’s a great ballhandler, can shoot 3-pointers, and he’s an elite defender. He had several teams dreaming they could land the No. 1 pick in the lottery, but once again fortune smiled on the Spurs. By comparison, Robinson’s career VORP was 81.9 and Duncan’s was 91.1.

Although there are no Texas sports betting apps, national operators see Wembanyama as such a can’t miss player his odds as the top pick are -10000.

However, what made the Spurs special was their ability to draft players with high VORPs lower in the draft. Hall of Fame guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have VORPs of 30.1 and 47.6, and they were selected with the 28th and 57th overall selections, respectively.

Since 2010, the No. 3 pick has the second-best overall VORP, and Portland holds that pick this year. Joel Embiid, the third selection by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014, has the best rating for a No. 3 pick at 26.9. But the best choice overall in the past 13 drafts came at No. 41 in 2014 when new NBA champions Denver Nuggets brought NBA Finals MVP and two-time league MVP Nikola Jokić to town. His VORP is 52.8.

The best first-round values in that time frame have been at No. 15. That’s where the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013 and the Spurs got Kawhi Leonard in 2011 after a trade with the Indiana Pacers on draft night. Antetokounmpo leads the way with a VORP of 48.6 and Leonard’s is 43.9.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the NBA title in 2022, while Leonard helped the Spurs win their last title in 2014 before guiding the Toronto Raptors to a championship in 2019. 

So while the Spurs will make the biggest splash on June 22 by taking Wembanyama, chances are pretty good other teams will be selecting players who one day will lead them to an NBA title. They just have to choose wisely.

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Author

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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