Who's the best NBA draft pick ever?

James Stibbs External Consultant - YouGov Sport
June 19, 2019, 8:46 PM GMT+0

The NBA is holding its draft Thursday evening and everyone is expecting Zion Williamson to go No. 1. Fifteen percent of Americans, and 30 percent of avowed NBA fans, plan to watch the event on ESPN on June 20th.

We asked who is the best No. 1 draft pick of the modern era, or since 1980 and the pick is in. LeBron James is considered far and away the best No. 1 draft pick in modern NBA history, according to new data from YouGov Sport.

King James, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, earned 22 percent of the vote from avowed NBA fans in YouGov’s survey about the best and worst ever picks.

James is followed by Shaquille O’Neal, who was selected first by the Orlando Magic in 1992, and Tim Duncan, who was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997. Shaq and Duncan tied with 6 percent of avowed NBA fans saying they’re best No. 1 ever. Rounding out the top five are Kyrie Irving (4%) who was drafted in 2011 by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Deandre Ayton (3%), who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2018.

The consensus best NBA player to not go No. 1 is Michael Jordan, according to respondents to YouGov’s survey.

When it comes to worst ever No. 1 NBA draft pick, it’s a little less clear. Greg Oden, who was drafted in 2007 by the Portland Trailblazers, takes the top spot with 4 percent of avowed NBA fans saying the big man was the biggest let down. But a five way tie exists for the second worst with 3% of the vote: Kwame Brown (2001 Washington Wizards), Markelle Fultz (2017 Philadelphia 76ers), Anthony Bennett (2013 Cleveland Cavaliers), John Wall (2010 Washington Wizards) and …. LeBbron James?

That’s right. Even though James is overwhelmingly considered the best No. 1 in modern draft history, quite a few people think he’s actually the worst.

YouGov data provides some context for what’s going on here. Nearly a fifth of NBA fans (19%) say they would think less of a talented player if that player were drafted by a rival team. That means, LeBbron’s appearance in the worst draft picks rankings could have something to do with sour grapes.

NBA fans’ feelings about draft picks are subject to emotional changes. For instance, 50 percent of NBA fans said they would be uncomfortable if their team drafted a player that had been accused of using drugs. Fewer (45%) would have an issue with an athlete that had a drug conviction.

More than half of NBA fans (53%) wouldn’t be comfortable with their team drafting someone who was accused of cheating on an exam.

In terms of taking a political position, about 34 percent of NBA fans would feel uncomfortable with their team drafting a player that spoke out against liberal political issues, and about 30% would be uncomfortable if a player spoke out against conservative political issues.