Is the #3 NBA Draft pick the most successful in NBA history

When it comes to the NBA draft, what do the numbers 3, 43, and 57 all have to do with a little bit of magic? Well, if history has told us anything it’s that these numbers show that that you can get an All Star quality player out of the NBA draft.

That’s if you can pinpoint the magic player through what is essentially a lottery of talent where you are handed your lucky numbers. Let’s look a little deeper into this:

Of course, not every number 3 pick is going to be the next Michael Jordan, and not every number 57 pick is going to end up playing an All Star game and winning championships like Manu Ginobili did after being drafted at number 57 (second to last) in the 1999 draft. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t a certain mystique surrounding numbers that players are drafted in. Here’s a list of players drafted #3 since 1980

Draft Player College Drafted by All Star
2017 Jayson Tatum Duke Boston Celtics N/A
2016 Jaylen Brown California Boston Celtics N/A
2015 Jahlil Okafor Duke Philadelphia 76ers N
2014 Joel Embiid Kansas Philadelphia 76ers Y
2013 Otto Porter Georgetown Washington Wizards N
2012 Bradley Beal Florida Washington Wizards Y
2011 Enes Kanter Kentucky Utah Jazz N
2010 Derrick Favors Georgia Tech New Jersey Nets N
2009 James Harden Arizona State Oklahoma City Thunder Y
2008 O.J. Mayo USC Minnesota Timberwolves N
2007 Al Horford Florida Atlanta Hawks Y
2006 Adam Morrison Gonzaga Charlotte Bobcats N
2005 Deron Williams Illinois Utah Jazz Y
2004 Ben Gordon Connecticut Chicago Bulls N
2003 Carmelo Anthony Syracuse Denver Nuggets Y
2002 Mike Dunleavy Duke Golden State Warriors N
2001 Pau Gasol Spain Atlanta Hawks Y
2000 Darius Miles East St. Louis HS (Mo.) L.A. Clippers N
1999 Baron Davis UCLA Charlotte Hornets Y
1998 Raef LaFrentz Kansas Denver Nuggets N
1997 Chauncey Billups Colorado Boston Celtics Y
1996 Shareef Abdur-Rahim California Vancouver Grizzlies Y
1995 Jerry Stackhouse North Carolina Philadelphia 76ers Y
1994 Grant Hill Duke Detroit Pistons Y
1993 Anfernee Hardaway Memphis Golden State Warriors Y
1992 Christian Laettner Duke Minnesota Timberwolves Y
1991 Billy Owens Syracuse Sacramento Kings N
1990 Chris Jackson Louisiana State Denver Nuggets N
1989 Sean Elliott Arizona San Antonio Spurs Y
1988 Charles Smith Pittsburgh Philadelphia 76ers N
1987 Dennis Hopson Ohio State New Jersey Nets N
1986 Chris Washburn North Carolina State Golden State Warriors N
1985 Benoit Benjamin Creighton L.A. Clippers N
1984 Michael Jordan North Carolina Chicago Bulls Y
1983 Rodney McCray Louisville Houston Rockets N
1982 Dominique Wilkins Georgia Utah Jazz Y
1981 Buck Williams Maryland New Jersey Nets Y
1980 Kevin McHale Minnesota Boston Celtics Y

So out of the possible 36 players, a little over half (19) have played in at least one all-star game. Since it’s too early to tell about Jayson Tatum (2017) and Jaylen Brown (2018), we didn’t include them in our calculations.

And only a handful of number three picks have turned into complete busts or flame outs that didn’t have a lasting career. From this list, the players that didn’t play more than 5 years of NBA were really only former March Madness standouts Adam Morrison, Chris Washburn and Dennis Hopson.

The Midas Pick

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the draft pick is the nature of luck involved in the actual drafting of players. Not only does the NBA draft lottery involve a lot of behind the scenes work, but it also requires just about the same amount of luck as it takes to win an actual lottery. Indeed, a recent article about picking lottery numbers suggested that the odds of winning a lottery jackpot (in this case the Irish Lottery) are 1 in 10.7 million. The easy comparison to make here with the NBA draft lottery is the level of luck needed for the odds to go in your favor, as they did when the Chicago Bulls ended up drafting Michael Jordan as a number 3 draft pick.

With all lotteries, including the NBA draft, requiring luck to hit the jackpot, there are elements that can be controlled more than others when it comes to not solely relying on chance. Doing your homework to try to reduce the odds as far as possible is a case in point when it comes to the NBA; just look at what the Charlotte Hornets did in 1996 when they ended up with a certain Kobe Bryant using the 13th pick in the first round of the draft. With more traditional lotteries, researching ones with the highest jackpots to go for can be a wise move, as can looking for ones where the number of prizes is proportionally higher than other similar ones.

Don’t Forget the Magic

Research aside, let’s not forget the touch of magic that goes along with any of these lotteries. With the NBA, it comes in the form of the structure of the draft lottery. For those not familiar with the NBA draft lottery, it is a way of helping to ensure that those who have failed to reach the playoffs in the previous season have a chance of future success, with the worst performing teams getting the best chance of “winning the lottery” with the first pick. In this sense, teams shouldn’t be able to be left behind by the bigger teams, especially if they end up getting the number one draft pick.

However, while Magic Johnson showed that a number one pick can produce great results, that doesn’t always mean that this sense of “magic” doesn’t have a role to play; after all, some of the “lesser” picks go on to outshine the number one picks – take the Cavaliers from 2013 as an example. They picked Anthony Bennett, who some regard as the worst first pick in NBA draft history.

Luck, that little bit of magic, and as much research and wise picking as is possible all play their part in lotteries of all kinds, whether those are real-life lotteries we can all take part in or sporting lotteries like the NBA draft.

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