The curse of No. 2 picks in NBA Draft: Can this year’s pick avoid fate of Darko Milicic, Hasheem Thabeet and other busts?

The NBA is a fickle place for rookies. There are always going to be growing pains for incoming players, particularly when they’re going to teams who are looking to build around them in the future.

Being picked at No. 2 is one such spot. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the incoming prospect, and some of them don’t work out. This has built a stigma around the second overall pick, with some saying it’s cursed.

Whether Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero go second in 2022, there will be some scrutiny around their names. But is it earned?

Shawn Bradley, a popular comparison for Holmgren, has perhaps the biggest stigma around being a No. 2 pick, but that was back in 1993. More recent history smiles more kindly upon those who leave NBA Draft night the bridesmaid rather than No. 1 overall.

NBA Draft No. 2 overall picks since 2000

MORE: 2022 NBA Mock Draft: Final edition

Year Player Team
2000 Stromile Swift Grizzlies
2001 Tyson Chandler Clippers
2002 Jay Williams Bulls
2003 Darko Milicic Pistons
2004 Emeka Okafor Bobcats
2005 Marvin Williams Hawks
2006 LaMarcus Aldridge Bulls
2007 Kevin Durant Supersonics
2008 Michael Beasley Heat
2009 Hasheem Thabeet Grizzlies
2010 Evan Turner 76ers
2011 Derrick Williams Timberwolves
2012 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Bobcats
2013 Victor Oladipo Magic
2014 Jabari Parker Bucks
2015 D’Angelo Russell Lakers
2016 Brandon Ingram Lakers
2017 Lonzo Ball Lakers
2018 Marvin Bagley III Kings
2019 Me Morant Grizzlies
2020 James Wiseman Warriors
2021 Jalen Green Rockets

While certainly an interesting amalgamation of players with plenty of busts peppered in, No. 2 only has slightly more bust potential than No. 1. The 2000-10 list has a few brutal names in there no doubt – Milicic and Williams (for massively different reasons) come to mind – but from 2013 on there are a quite a few contributors.

MORE: Who should the Thunder take with the No. 2 pick in 2022?

Here’s how these players shake out.

Tier 1: Hall of Famer

Kevin Durant

The Seattle Supersonics struck gold when they drafted Kevin Durant at No. 2 overall after Greg Oden. He’s one of the best pure scorers in NBA history, and he led the Oklahoma City Thunder (after Seattle moved) to the NBA Finals in the 2011-12 season. Despite Durant’s dramatic exit to Golden State, he was unequivocally a great pick at second.

Tier 2: Hall of Very Good

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge has been around the NBA for a long time. A seven-time All-Star, the curse of Aldridge is really that the team that drafted him never saw him play there. The Bulls dealt Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. Had the Bulls stayed pat here, they would have landed themselves an extremely talented player who was capable of scoring. As it was, they received Thomas.

Tier 3: On the way to greatness

Me Morant, Brandon Ingram

The Grizzlies and Pelicans have become two of the NBA’s most intriguing teams, thanks in no small part to their signature players: Ja Morant and Brandon Ingram. Ingram has averaged 20 points per game in each of his last three seasons with the Pelicans, while Morant is a firebrand and one of the faces of the NBA right now.

Both of these players is bringing something different, but they’re essential to the core of their teams. In the same vein as Aldridge, Ingram didn’t see his success transform until he was traded to New Orleans, as he was lost in the shuffle of a Lakers team in flux during his time there.

Tier 4: Good potential, but injury problems

Lonzo Ball, D’Angelo Russell, Victor Oladipo, Jay Williams

Jay Williams is by far the most famous example of this, with his NBA career ending before it started after a fateful motorcycle accident on the north side of Chicago. Since then, several other players have shown flashes of brilliance but been hindered by injury at various times in their careers.

Lonzo Ball put together some good seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Bulls, whereas D’Angelo Russell and Victor Oladipo have shown star potential at times but ultimately been sidelined with recurring or nagging injuries.

Tier 5: The jury is still out

Jalen Green, James Wiseman

It’s hard to pin down just how good Jalen Green and James Wiseman are going to be, given we’ve seen just a season of each. Wiseman was injured and missed this season during the Warriors’ championship run, whereas Green averaged over 17 points per game on a Rockets team that languished.

There’s still a lot of time to figure out where Green and Wiseman will stand in the NBA, but they’ve both provided solid foundations.

Tier 6: Lengthy journeyman career, contributed at times

Jabari Parker, Evan Turner, Michael Beasley, Marvin Williams, Tyson Chandler

These players all made an impact early in their careers, but ultimately couldn’t translate that into long-term success. They all bounced from team to team but couldn’t quite find a home for whatever reason. The one who perhaps doesn’t fit perfectly on this list is Chandler, who was able to settle down in a few places and provided different contributions than inconsistent scoring. While nowhere near a bust, he didn’t pan out to be the player the Bulls drafted him to be.

MORE: Big Board rankings on ceilings, best-case scenarios, player comps

Tier 7: Busts

Marvin Bagley III, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Emeka Okafor, Darko Milicic, Stromile Swift

When considering a bust, consider the context. Luka Doncic was drafted after Bagley, Kidd-Gilchrist was taken before Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, and Milicic needs no introduction. These players were, put simply, abjectly the wrong guys to take at No. 2. Whether teams were blinded by college production or athleticism, they should not have been taken where they were.

While Bagley can still turn into a decent role player with the right team, he should never have been taken above Doncic or Trae Young. The numbers have borne that out.

MORE: Chet Holmgren, Johnny Davis, Shaedon Sharpe headline riskiest picks in 2022

The No. 2 spot is a precarious position to pick. A lot of things can go wrong, and some teams just take the wrong guy. But it isn’t “cursed” – it just has a lot of variance.

While many of these players left the team they were drafted by to find success, there can be good players taken second overall. Teams just need to know what they’re looking for to draft successfully, as with any other pick in the draft.

Leave a Comment