Who are the highest rated NBA draft prospects ever? These aren’t the players who were NBA draft steals, but instead, the ones that were declared NBA superstars even before they heard their names called at the draft.
Highest rated NBA draft prospects ever
The players on this list created a buzz about the draft long before the previous season ended. They had fans glued to their seats at the draft lottery, hoping their team would be the ones to secure the first overall pick.
The most hyped NBA prospects were some of the best college basketball players of all-time, while others did not even attend college. Although their success at the NBA level was uncertain, every single team wanted these 10 can’t miss prospects at the time.
10. Allen Iverson
Iverson was a star at Georgetown, where he played for two seasons before entering the draft. He went from averaging 20.4 points per game in his first season, to 25 points per game in his second.
Although just six feet tall, Iverson’s incredible skill and ability to score at ease made him a lock for the number one spot. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers and went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.
9. Tim Duncan
One of the highest rated NBA draft prospects ever, Tim Duncan was receiving a lot of attention two years before entering the draft.
Had he left Wake Forest the year prior, he would have most likely been drafted first overall over Allen Iverson in 1996. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs lucked out big time and had the chance to draft a once-in-a-decade type prospect.
Duncan spent four years at Wake Forest and was named the Naismith and Wooden award winner in his final season. His 1570 rebounds are the second-most in NCAA history. Duncan would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in his first season with the Spurs.
8. Greg Oden
Oden spent one year at Ohio State before making the jump to the NBA. He averaged 15.7 points per game while shooting 61.6% from the field. He helped lead the Buckeyes to the National Championship Game.
At seven feet tall and averaging 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 steals a game, he was regarded as the next superstar big man in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers and Oden, injuries put a halt to his career as he was deemed one of the biggest draft busts.
7. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis only needed one season in college to make him one of the highest rated NBA draft prospects ever.
He was unstoppable in college, averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 4.7 blocks per game. As a freshman, Davis led the Kentucky Wildcats to a National Championship. Davis won the Naismith, Wooden, and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, along with being named the AP Player of the Year.
It was obvious that once the New Orleans Hornets won the lottery in 2012, Anthony Davis would be a member of the team.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon
Olajuwon played three seasons in college for Houston, averaging 13.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He improved dramatically in his final two seasons at Houston, which made NBA teams desperate for the number one pick.
In the end, the Houston Rockets won the opportunity to draft Olajuwon with the first overall pick. The Chicago Bulls, who had the third pick, drafted North Carolina star Michael Jordan. In his first season with the Rockets, Olajuwon was named an NBA All-Star.
5. Zion Williamson
There was so much hype around Zion Williamson throughout his entire season with Duke.
His size, along with his incredible athletic abilities, made him the easy choice for the number one pick in 2019. Williamson’s unbelievable dunks at Duke were all over social media after each game. He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils.
Many teams believed that Williamson would change their franchise’s future for the next 15 years. So, when the New Orleans Pelicans found out that they won the draft lottery, there were wild celebrations.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal was a dominant presence in college, making him one of the most hyped NBA prospects in history.
In his three seasons at LSU, O’Neal averaged 21.6 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game. His 13.5 rebounds are the most per game by an NCAA player ever. In 1991, O’Neal was named the AP Player of the Year and SEC Player of the Year. His size made him unguardable, as no one could stop him in the paint.
When it came time for the 1992 draft, everyone knew O’Neal was by far the best prospect. The Orlando Magic ended up drafting him first overall. He would go on to win Rookie of the Year and be named an All-Star in his first season.
3. Patrick Ewing
The addition of the draft lottery system in 1985 put even more hype around one of the highest rated NBA draft prospects ever.
With many teams having the opportunity to get that first overall pick, everyone had a close eye on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown. Ewing was spectacular all four years in college, which was very rare at the time, especially as a freshman. He averaged 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game throughout his collegiate career.
In a draft lottery that some believe to this day to have been rigged, the New York Knicks won the first overall pick. The league’s biggest market had its star for the next 15 years. Ewing would be named Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first year with New York.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
One of the best college basketball players of all-time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was by far the best prospect in the 1969 draft.
Abdul-Jabbar played three years at UCLA, where he would lead them to three National Championship titles. He averaged 26.4 points per game while shooting 63.9% from the field. Although there wasn’t much hype around basketball at the time, Abdul-Jabbar was the rare exception. He dominated college basketball, first with his dunks (before the NCAA banned dunks because of Abdul-Jabbar), and then with his famous “skyhook” shot.
Abdul-Jabbar chose the NBA over the ABA after college and was selected first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was named Rookie of the Year for the 1969-70 NBA season.
1. LeBron James
None of the other highest rated NBA draft prospects ever can compare to the attention LeBron James received well before the 2003 NBA Draft.
He was called “The Chosen One” and “The Next Big Thing,” as everyone believed he was a once-in-a-lifetime type prospect. While playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, James was so dominant that ESPN networks televised his games.
In the NBA, many teams were tanking for a chance at the greatest prospect in NBA history. The Cleveland Cavaliers would come out on top in the lottery and took LeBron with the number one pick in 2003. Even with all the hype James received, he has found a way to go above and beyond all the expectations.