When Number One Picks Collide!


The Cleveland Cavaliers stand poised to have two number one picks on their starting roster. For those who believe the myths, getting the first pick in the draft is supposed to turn a team’s fortunes around (even though this is rarely the case). I was curious how often this has happened. To be more clear: how often have two number picks on their rookie contracts (first four seasons) played together? Looking at this from a Wins Produced eye, I stuck to 1978 or later. With that in mind, let’s take a look!

Magic Johnson and James Worthy (1982-1983)


Before teams were careful about putting lottery protection on their traded picks, the Lakers managed to luck into two #1 picks. How did these two players do together? Well, the Lakers won 58 games and lost in the finals. Of course, the season before this union, the Lakers won 57 games and won the finals. So it wasn’t really an upgrade. How about performance?

In 1982:

  • Magic Johnson: 25.0 Wins Produced, 5.4 Wins Produced in Playoffs

In 1983:

  • Magic Johnson: 25.0 Wins Produced, 4.7 Wins Produced in Playoffs
  • James Worthy: 4.8 Wins Produced, DNP in Playoffs

James Worthy certainly “helped”. That said, the Lakers’ duo of young #1 picks was rather one-sided.

Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-1987)


The original “Twin Towers”! They made the finals in 1986, and if it weren’t for Sampson’s knees, the might have stayed together much longer. Of course, how did this duo really look?

In 1985:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon: 13.5 Wins Produced, 1.0 Wins Produced in the playoffs
  • Ralph Sampson: 3.4 Wins Produced, 0.2 Wins Produced in the playoffs

In 1986:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon: 12.8 Wins Produced, 4.0 Wins Produced in the playoffs
  • Ralph Sampson: 4.5 Wins Produced, 2.9 Wins Produced in the Playoffs

In 1987:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon: 14.9 Wins Produced, 3.1 Wins Produced in the playoffs
  • Ralph Sampson: 1.1 Wins Produced, 0.3 Wins Produced in the Playoffs

Another case of an uneven duo. Hakeem played insanely well during his rookie contract, but Ralph Sampson was not on the same level. In 1986, Sampson had a good run in the playoffs. Sadly, he was never that great of a player for the Rockets — and that was before the injuries made him even worse.

Joe Smith and Allen Iverson (1998)


I hadn’t realized this happened. At the end of the 1997-1998 season, the Answer teamed up with Joe Smith. In the annals of #1 picks, both of these players qualify as a wastes of a good pick. They didn’t even play half a season together.

In 1998:

  • Allen Iverson: 8.4 Wins Produced, No Playoffs
  • Joe Smith: -0.8 Wins Produced (for 76ers), No Playoffs

Iverson pulled the same trick he did his whole career: he wasn’t that efficient on a per-minute basis, but he made up for it in volume, playing over 3000 minutes. In close to 700 minutes for the 76ers, Smith put up negative wins. The 76ers won 31 games, a 9 game increase from the season before. So, with the help of two #1 picks, the 76ers went from terrible to pretty bad.

Michael Olowokandi and Elton Brand (2001-2002)


Was the phrase “Kandi and Brandy” popular when this team up happened? Elton Brand was an excellent pickup for the Clippers. His support in the front court was a bit lacking though:

In 2002:

  • Elton Brand: 19.0 Wins Produced, No Playoffs
  • Michael Olowokandi: -2.2 Wins Produced, No Playoffs

Wow, just wow. The Clippers won 39 games. That year the cutoff for the playoffs was 44 games. Had the Clippers replaced the Kandi man with a player half as good as average, they’d have made it. Sadly, they gave major minutes to a terrible player. This was a common theme for the Clippers, which is why they only made the playoffs once in Brand’s six healthy and great seasons in Los Angeles.

Summing Up

Two of our four pairs made the finals in their time together. Of course, this was because Magic Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwon were amazing! In reality, we haven’t really seen a good team up of two number one picks. At this point, Kyrie Irving hasn’t really been that great (or healthy), and depending on who the Cavs pick, this could end up looking more like the Allen Iverson/Joe Smith experiment [Editor’s note: this post was written before the NBA Draft took place. The Cavs selected Canadian Anthony Bennett, who, despite his potential, is probably not going to be a star player]. It’ll certainly be fun to see though.







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