Sean Pendergast

NBA Draft Historical Second Overall Picks — Four Winners, Four Losers

Kevin Durant might be the best number two overall pick in NBA history.
Kevin Durant might be the best number two overall pick in NBA history. Screen grab from YouTube
For longtime Houston Rocket fans, the next month or so is going to be somewhat unfamiliar territory. For new Houston Rocket fans, those who've jumped on board in the last seven or eight years, the next month will be COMPLETELY foreign territory, for the Rockets are about to use a very high draft pick (second overall), barring a trade, on an exciting, young basketball player.

The Rockets had the worst record in the NBA over the course of the 2020-2021 season, but prior to that, in the 36 seasons of the "NBA Draft Lottery Era" in the NBA, the team had missed the playoffs just nine times. Over the last eight seasons, they've used picks in the first round of the draft just twice — selecting Clint Capela in 2014, and Sam Dekker in 2015.

Now, the Rockets have three picks in the first round next month — 2nd, 23rd, and 24th overall — and they will be one of the most relevant teams over the course of the next four weeks. In part, their relevance lies in the fact that they are making the first selection in the draft where there is heated debate over whom to take. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham first overall.

If the Rockets hold onto the second overall pick, and refrain from trading down or trading it for a veteran player, they will be using one of the spots where you're most likely to find a future All Star. No surprise there. However, the second overall pick is not without its busts, also. So with that in mind, let's look at players from both ends of the spectrum, four winners and four losers, from the second overall pick in the draft, going back to 1985, the first year the NBA invoked a draft lottery for non-playoff teams.

Here we go....

FOUR WINNERS

4. ALONZO MOURNING, Charlotte, 1992
Mourning came into Georgetown in 1988 as the No. 1 overall high school recruit in the nation. He left after four years as the second overall pick behind Shaquille O'Neal. Mourning became a seven time All Star, most of those with the Miami Heat after being traded for Glen Rice three seasons into his career.

3. GARY PAYTON, Seattle, 1990
Payton was the number two pick in the 1990 draft behind Derrick Coleman, and he would go on to become arguably the greatest player in the history of the Seattle era of the franchise that would become the OKC Thunder. The boisterous Payton would go to nine All Star Games and make the first team All-Defensive team nine times, as well.

2. JASON KIDD, Dallas, 1994
In 1994, the Dallas Mavericks already had two J's — Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. They rounded it out with a third J in Jason Kidd. While ultimately that trio would crumble under the weight of some off court drama (what up, Toni Braxton!), Kidd would go on to play 21 seasons in the league, make 10 All Star Games, and win a title in his second go round with the Mavericks in 2011.

1. KEVIN DURANT, Seattle, 2007
Of all the second overall picks, Durant is the one who has the strongest argument for being the best player in the NBA at some given time during his career. In fact, that's an argument that many are putting forth right now, even after Brooklyn lost in the second round of the playoffs. Durant was a monster this postseason. While you can criticize Durant for ganging up with a ready made title winner in Golden State, there is no denying his greatness as a scorer. Durant has won four string titles, made 11 All Star Games, and won the MVP in 2014. Add in the two rings in Golden State, and he's had the best career of any number two overall pick since 1985.

FOUR LOSERS

4. SHAWN BRADLEY, Philadelphia, 1993
In 1993, the Warriors and Magic swapped the first and third picks in the draft, and wound up with Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, respectively. In between, the Sixers took Bradley, a rail thin 7-foot-6 giant with some uncanny skills for a kid his size. Sadly, he would go on to average just 8.1 points per game over the course of a long, but disappointing career. Even more sad, in retirement, Bradley was recently paralyzed in a biking accident.

3. JAY WILLIAMS, Chicago, 2002
Williams was the No. 2 overall pick behind Yao Ming, and after a rookie year in which he averaged just under ten points per game, Williams crashed his motorcycle and never played in the NBA ever again. While his NBA career was cut way short, Williams has gone on to great success as a broadcaster and radio host at ESPN.

2. DARKO MILICIC, Detroit, 2003
What's it like to get drafted in between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, two players who have combined for 27 All Star Games, and average six points per game for six different teams over a decade or so? Ask Darko Milicic. That's what he did.

1. HASHEEM THABEET, Memphis, 2009
In a draft where James Harden and Steph Curry were both available for Memphis with the second overall pick, the Grizzlies chose Hasheem Thabeet out of UConn, who would play a total of five seasons before flunking out of the NBA.

(NOTE: The late Len Bias, who passed away just days after being drafted by the Celtics second overall in 1986, is obviously a tragic story, but it felt tacky to throw Bias in there under a "LOSERS" category, considering he died before he played a minute in the NBA. Just acknowledging Bias' sad story here.)

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast