Being picked towards the top of the NBA Draft puts more pressure on them as a young player entering the league – sometimes they live up to their promise and sometimes it becomes too much to handle.
Unless the pick has been traded and/or has vaulted up the lottery, usually the player will be going to a bad team in need of a star. As a consequence they will then get more chance to showcase their skills than they would on a contending team. It suits both parties in that regard.
But sometimes teams can get the first pick badly wrong, as the Cleveland Cavaliers did in 2013 with Anthony Bennett. The Canadian big man ended up out of the league four years later and playing in Europe. Sometimes the scrutiny of being the No 1 pick, or one of the top draft picks, can be too much for a player.
Take an All-Access look at some of this year’s top prospects enjoying the culmination of lifelong dreams with their drafting into the NBA
2017 top pick Markelle Fultz of the Orlando Magic, is now working hard to rebuild his reputation after being ditched by the Philadelphia 76ers for a second round pick plus role player Jonathan Simmons. The man Philly selected first the year before that, Ben Simmons, still hasn’t developed a consistent shot from anywhere on the court entering his fifth year on an NBA roster.
But for every one of these players, you have many legends of the game who are picked in the top 5 in the NBA Draft and go on to join the Naismith Hall of Fame following the end of their careers.
So what about the top 5 in this year’s draft class? Who are they, and what can they potentially deliver for their franchise?
No 1 – Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham was top of just about every draft projection throughout most of last season, so it came as no surprise (even if you weren’t reading Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania’s spoilers on Twitter) when the Detroit Pistons selected him with the No 1 overall pick.
The 6ft 8in point guard averaged 20.1 points per game at Oklahoma State and is projected as the true generational talent in what is considered a slightly shallower-than-usual draft class.
Obviously his size and body type (he tips the scales at 220 points) are more akin to that of a forward but similarly to Luka Doncic, his skillset is that of a true floor general point guard.
Notable former No 1 draft picks
2012 Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets
2011 Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers
2008 Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls
2003 LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
2002 Yao Ming – Houston Rockets
1996 Allen Iverson – Philadelphia 76ers
1992 Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic
1985 Patrick Ewing – New York Knicks
1984 Hakeem Olajuwon – Houston Rockets
1979 Magic Johnson – L.A. Lakers
1969 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Milwaukee Bucks
1960 Oscar Robertson – Cincinnati Royals
1958 Elgin Baylor – Minneapolis Lakers
The 20-year-old is polished in just about every facet of his game. He runs the pick-and-roll like a veteran and can confidently score, whether it be off the dribble, charging to the rim or even pulling up for a step-back three.
He is also a superb passer and rebounds at an impressive rate for his position so can fill the box score on any given night.
As a three-level scorer with an automatic mismatch at his position at his size, expect him to be very good and to add immediately to a Pistons offense which only had one player averaging more than 15 points per game last season.
On the defensive side he is also active, and a legitimate two-way talent. Cunningham had 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks and has a seven-foot wingspan which means he will be able to guard multiple positions.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey has gone on record saying he’s sure Cunningham will be a success in the Motor City.
“One thing I know: Cade won’t be a bust. He’s not. That’s one thing, you can guarantee that,” Casey said.
But how he fits into the current Pistons roster setup will be interesting. In college, he was the one with the ball in his hands the majority of the time so it will be interesting to see how well he can fit in off the ball – especially given that Detroit has Frank Jackson, Cory Joseph and, last year’s No 7 pick, Killian Hayes, all vying for minutes in the point guard position.
Check out the best of Cade Cunningham’s summer league highlights and performances!
Almost undoubtedly though, it will be a case of making the pieces fit around Cunningham, rather than the other way around, given the fact he can do so many things and has a skillset which should be almost immediately transferrable to the NBA.
The Pistons are currently nursing Cunningham through a “very mild” sprained ankle picked up in training camp and taking their time with him, but it shouldn’t be long until we see him on an NBA floor.
There’s undoubted pressure being the new face of a franchise straight out of college and Cunningham said he looked into the history of No 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft and added: “I’m writing my own story.”
If the talent he has shown up to this point in his young career is anything to go by then it’s going to be fun to watch that story being written.
No 2 – Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Jalen Green shows off his skills with the Play of the Day during pre-season for the Rockets
Green was ranked as the No 1 high school prospect in ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2020 and took a different route into the NBA than the other top prospects by suiting up for the G-League Ignite development team.
The 6ft 6in guard averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 46.1 per cent from the field and 36.5 per cent from three-point range. He also ended his first pro season in style, going off for 30 points, seven assists, five boards and three steals in the Ignite’s only playoff game.
What jumps out at you about his game is that Green is supremely athletic and lightning-quick. He has fantastic jumping ability and great speed moving with the ball which will ensure that he makes a few highlight-reel plays this season attacking the basket. He also can use that ability to finish in transition and makes nice cuts off the ball.
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He is confident handling the ball and can create a shot in any given situation. Like Cunningham, he can run the pick-and-roll well and score from all three levels. His shooting can be streaky though, particularly from three-point range and lacked consistency at times in the G-League bubble.
Where he doesn’t quite have the same chops as Cunningham is as a playmaker and there’s definite room for development there. Likewise, with his work off the ball, where he is getting better at taking up good shooting positions for team-mates to find him.
With John Wall also on the roster, that makes for an ideal player to learn from given the similarities in their skillsets. Prior to his injuries, Wall was a blur on the basketball court at all times, and no doubt will have some good lessons to dish out to the youngster.
Notable former No 2 draft picks
2019 Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies
2007 Kevin Durant – Seattle Supersonics
2006 LaMarcus Aldridge – Chicago Bulls (Draft rights traded to Portland Trail Blazers)
1999 Steve Francis – Vancouver Grizzlies
1994 Jason Kidd – Dallas Mavericks
1992 Alonzo Mourning – Charlotte Hornets
1990 Gary Payton – Seattle Supersonics
1988 Rik Smits – Indiana Pacers
1981 Isiah Thomas – Detroit Pistons
1972 Bob McAdoo – Buffalo Braves
1970 Rudy Tomjanovich – San Diego Rockets
1968 Wes Unseld – Baltimore Bullets
1965 Rick Barry – San Francisco Warriors
1960 Jerry West – Minneapolis Lakers
1956 Bill Russell – St Louis Hawks
1954 Bob Pettit – Milwaukee Hawks
Green puts himself across very confidently and has already stated that he hopes to become a true superstar in Houston but to do that he will no doubt need to build on his slender 178lb frame and show much more appetite on the defensive side of the floor. He has the speed to get in passing lanes for steals but needs to become more active and focused on that end.
The Rockets have begun amassing a decent amount of young talent with the likes of Kevin Porter Jr and Alperen Sengun (a big man who had amazing numbers for Besiktas and slid all the way down to 16 in the draft) as well as Christian Wood and the veteran Wall on the books. Green will no doubt get the chance to impress but there are definitely a few key areas for improvement if he is to fulfil his potential with the Texas franchise.
No 3 – Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite the abundant talent of the top two players drafted, it may come as a surprise that in the league’s recent GM survey, Mobley was the player voted as the one they expected to be the best from this class in five years’ time.
And the main reason for that is he might just be an NBA big unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, as handles like the ones below demonstrate – something which is remarkably routine for him.
But before we even consider that, look at the sheer mass of honours he accumulated in his single season at USC.
He won Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honours while also being named First Team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All-Defensive First Team and a Consensus All-American. You can’t get better than that.
He did so with averages of 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.9 blocks per game which suggests he could be an elite two-way big man in the NBA before too long.
He’s quick and nimble and mobile on his feet which means he’s very adept at defending smaller players in a mismatch and also seems to instinctually know where to be to make key defensive stops time and again. Couple that with a 7ft 4in wingspan and you get a player whose 2.9 blocks per game led the Pac-12 and his 95 total blocks were second-most in the entire NCAA.
Notable former No 3 draft picks
2018 Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
2017 Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics
2014 Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
2012 Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
2009 James Harden – Oklahoma City Thunder
2003 Carmelo Anthony – Denver Nuggets
2001 Pau Gasol – Atlanta Hawks
1997 Chauncey Billups – Boston Celtics
1995 Jerry Stackhouse – Philadelphia 76ers
1994 Grant Hill – Detroit Pistons
1993 Anfernee Hardaway – Golden State Warriors
1984 Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls
1982 Dominique Wilkins – Utah Jazz
1980 Kevin McHale – Boston Celtics
1978 Rick Robey – Indiana Pacers
1970 Pete Maravich – Atlanta Hawks
1961 Larry Siegfried – Cincinnati Royals
1950 Bob Cousy – Tri-Cites Hawks
He’s not the complete offensive big man yet but can drive to the rim, pop up and shoot mid-range jumpers and clever uses his mobility and agility to get around stodgier big men for easy buckets. Where he does lack is in terms of his repertoire of post-moves, which is pretty limited and he can’t shoot the three yet. That is the major weakness in his arsenal, but it’s an easily fixable one for a lot of players so the Cavs will just have to hope he is one of the quicker learners.
His coordination and ability with the ball in his hands are a true differentiator though and if he can (maybe we’re being greedy now) even add some passing to that then you have the perfect archetype of a modern big man who can do anything.
No 4 – Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Scottie Barnes in action for Florida State
This selection was the first big surprise of draft night as everyone expected the Raptors to take Jalen Suggs at four.
On the face of it, it was a very bold move by the Raptors: passing up on a player many thought both better equipped for the NBA right now and with a higher ceiling in Suggs.
But the Raptors, who have such a healthy and strong culture of player development under head coach Nick Nurse, overseen by team president Masai Ujiri, trusted their instincts and went for a player in Barnes who has a fascinating cross-section of skills. At 6ft 7in and 225lbs with a 7ft 3in wingspan, he’s a massive forward whose main attributes are his ballhandling and playmaking skills as well as having very savvy instincts for a rookie and a great feel for the game on both sides of the ball.
Notable former No 4 draft picks
2008 Russell Westbrook – Seattle Supersonics
2007 Mike Conley Jr – Memphis Grizzlies
2005 Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets
2004 Shaun Livingston – L.A. Clippers
2003 Chris Bosh – Toronto Raptors
2002 Drew Gooden – Memphis Grizzlies
1999 Lamar Odom – L.A. Clippers
1996 Stephon Marbury – Washington Bullets
1991 Dikembe Mutombo – Denver Nuggets
1990 Dennis Scott – Orlando Magic
1989 Glen Rice – Miami Heat
1986 Chuck Person – Indiana Pacers
1983 Byron Scott – San Diego Clippers
1965 Jerry Sloan – Baltimore Bullets
He has elite playmaking ability and is a versatile defender who makes good reads leading to stops. His shooting leaves a lot to be desired but that can be honed and although it may never be of a top-standard there is more than enough for Toronto to work with in Barnes.
He will enter the league as a high-calibre defender (a must, really, on a Nick Nurse team) and with four players who can shoot and defend around him in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr and OG Anunoby, it could be that the Raptors have absolutely got it spot-on in terms of the right development piece who is the right complementary fit.
If not, then it’s a call they will have got badly wrong.
No 5 – Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic selected Jalen Suggs with the fifth overall pick, the crew break down his game and fit in Orlando
But even if the Raptors have managed to get that selection right, it says everything that fans at the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center erupted when the fourth pick of Barnes was announced to the watching crowd. The fans knew that meant they were about to be able to draft a franchise star the ball club has been waiting for, taking into account a few other botched attempts with top five picks (Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon), since they lost Dwight Howard.
In basketball, where cycles can come and go quite quickly, that is quite simply an eternity. When team chiefs Jeff Weltman and John Hammond decided to flip Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon at last season’s trade deadline – three cornerstones which were never destined to lift the team above mediocrity – they made a statement: we are looking to the future.
Notable former No 5 draft picks
2018 Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks
2010 Demarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings
2009 Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves
2008 Kevin Love – Memphis Grizzlies
2003 Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat
1998 Vince Carter – Golden State Warriors
1996 Ray Allen – Minnesota Timberwolves
1995 Kevin Garnett – Minnesota Timberwolves
1987 Scottie Pippen – Seattle Supersonics
1984 Charles Barkley – Philadelphia 76ers
1979 Sidney Moncrief – Milwaukee Bucks
1967 Walt Frazier – New York Knicks
1950 Larry Foust – Chicago Stags
Then, at the draft lottery, the Magic’s curse with the ping pong balls continued as they dropped two places to fifth and outside the tier (or tiers, if you consider Cunningham a class apart) considered to have the best star talent.
The Magic have been missing someone who has true star quality and could be the future of the franchise. Suggs showed in his hugely impressive NCAA tournament run that he has the mettle for the big moments when he drained a half-court buzzer-beater to send his team to the championship game.
He is a great passer, a solid shooter who will improve and a tenacious and active defender, which he has shown throughout Summer League and pre-season.
He is an unselfish, team-first player but also capable of stepping up when needed individually as his heroics for Gonzaga showed. He was also a star quarterback in high school, which perhaps explains why he can play any type of pass quickly, accurately and for a team-mate to receive in rhythm.
It’s too early to say if the Magic have found the franchise star they’ve been craving and there will undoubtedly be growing pains, but no question Suggs is the most naturally gifted offensive talent Orlando have drafted in a long, long time.
And surrounded by an energetic, positive young group containing Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton, as well as a vastly-improved looking Mo Bamba – not to mention having Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Chuma Okeke to return from injury – it looks like Suggs has a talented young crew alongside which he can cut his teeth during his rookie year.