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Who Was The Best #1 Pick? Kareem vs. Shaq vs. Timmy vs. LeBron

This is a good one posed by the Book of Basketball 2.0. The criteria for this make it interesting.

Is this the best #1 pick for their franchise? If so, it has to be Duncan in a wash.

Is it the best player among these four players who were all #1 picks? In that case, it feels like Kareem or Bron pretty easily.

The most dominant? Gotta be Shaq Diesel.

I'm going to look at this as if all four of these players were in the same draft and I have the #1 pick. There's no trading down or getting cute here, like trading down to pick #4 to get whoever is still on the board and getting future assets so don't even try it, bitch. 

To be fair, I feel like we have to look at only what we had on these guys going into their respective drafts. I'm not considering anyone to be a "flight risk", seeing as 75% of the people here eventually left the team that drafted them. Some risk. I'm looking at this as I get to draft this person #1 and drop them into the 2020-21 NBA season. I get their rookie contract (four years) and first RFA deal (these range from 3+1 deals to 5-year deals. Let's split the difference and call it four) so eight years of control from the time I draft them.

GM Whiskers Draft Board

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar C, UCLA. 22 years old, 7'2" 225 lbs (reported 7'5" wingspan)

Then, he was known as Lew Alcindor. You talk about two dynamite names. If I get the first eight years of control and we're going off of the hype that a guy has coming into their respective draft, the pick has to be Kareem. He averaged a 26/16 over 90 games in three varsity seasons at UCLA. He went 88-2 in those games, won three National Titles, Most Outstanding Players, and College Player of the Year Awards. He was so dominant after his sophomore season the NCAA banned the dunk to slow him down. It didn't work.

When he was draft-eligible, the NBA and the ABA both selected him number one overall. One league knew they were going to whiff entirely on the number one overall pick and the draft and the risk was still very much worth it. This is him at 43 years of age working a 21-year-old Vlade Divac like a child:

Vlade was a first-round pick and the most sought after Euro big since Pop Sabonis. And a retired KAJ is stonewalling him. Imagine the kind of quickness and strength he had when he was 21. For his size, athleticism, durability, all-around skill, accolades, two-way ability, and dominant move, I think Abdul-Jabaar has to be the pick here.

2. Shaquille O'Neal C, LSU. 20 years old, 7'1" 303 lbs

Check this from Draft Express on Shaq coming into the 1992 Draft:

On the subject of freaks of nature, I have to bring up Shaq. In 1992, Shaq measured 7'1" without shoes, weighed 303 pounds, recorded a 35 inch vertical and had his wingspan measured at 7'7". To put that in perspective, from the minute he entered the league and for the next 10 years Shaq was the strongest player, the most athletic big man, one of the tallest players, one of the longest players and one of the quickest big men. His body fat was measured at a surprisingly low 12.2% too.

He wasn't just a workout warrior either. He put his athleticism to work on the court. Often.

He averaged a 22/14 over three seasons at LSU. In three years, Shaq never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament or the SEC Tournament. That's rough no matter who else was on the roster. That's pretty much the only knock here. He has 80 lbs on Kareem and boy would I like to see those pre-draft workouts between these two. Going into today's league, give me the spry Kareem for the longterm and the way the league is trending.

3. Tim Duncan C- Wake Forest, 21 years old, 6'10 248 lbs (Reported 7'3" wingspan)

Timmy D played four years of school and was still just 21 as a rookie. He also never made the Final Four which is absurd. He did win a National College PoTY, two ACC PoTY, and three All-Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards. College Kareem and Shaq were before my time but I remember what a problem Timmy was:

He played the same way in the NBA that he played in college, only in much better uniforms. Duncan didn't have the dominant peak of a Shaq or average double-digit points for 20 straight years like Kareem, but you could argue he mastered just about everything in between. Seeing him listed third here has me kicking myself like I'm not the one that wrote it smh. He didn't have the athletic gifts that Shaq/Kareem have and that didn't matter for him on the court. It does here, sadly. 

4. LeBron James SF- SVSM, 6'8" 240 lbs (7'0" wingspan)

Bron fourth?? After Bowie/Jordan? Bagley/Doncic?!?

Yes. And it hurts me as much to write is as it does for you to read it. Because Bron got all the hype of the three before him and then some because of the era he was born into:

Now, we'd have Draft Express numbers on every three-pointer Lebron had taken since middle school. We'd know how many free throws he's hit since the day he was born. And there'd be highlight tape after highlight tape of him whipping no no-look passes to unsuspecting teammates in the corner. And still, he goes fourth.

Because even today, a dominant two-way big can still dictate the game. Don't let Giannis being listed as forward and handling the ball like a guard or AD wanting to be called a power forward fool you, they're both dominant two-way bigs like Kareem or Timmy were…it just looks different than theirs did, and it should. With respect to Kevin Love and CPF Chris Bosh, Bron won without a dominant two-way big and that's part of his greatness. He made due with what he had but as soon as he could get one, he traded the entire Lakers future for AD and it was the right call. Bowie over Jordan is laughed at but Hakeem over Jordan isn't. You go with the dominant two-way big, or at least I do, despite how small the league continues to trend.

How do you rank them?