Victor Wembanyama. What a dude, eh?
With the NBA draft in a few days, this giant kid is everywhere. He’s a lock for first overall in the lottery and he’s since been touring the U.S. like a rockstar. From mobs of people greeting him at the airport to a miffed first pitch at a Yankees game, Wembanyama – and the hype around him – is legit.
But where does the 7-foot-4 French basketball prodigy rank among the most anticipated NBA first-overall picks of all time? Let’s find out.
Here’s our list of the most hyped NBA draft prospects in league history.
5. Zion Williamson – Selected No. 1 By The Pelicans (2019)
Zion’s unique physical profile set a baseline for the spectacular hype. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, the Duke product possessed a violent force in the paint, which he combined with quickness and an incredible leaping ability. His shot wasn’t ever great, but, man, could he jam the basketball.
Four years ago this week, Zion Williamson exploded his shoe just 30 seconds into Duke-UNC 🤯 pic.twitter.com/2pBTv8ABSy— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 21, 2023
Williamson averaged 22.6 points in his lone season with the Blue Devils and won ACC Player of the Year. He also famously broke through his Nike shoe during the 2019 March Madness tournament. It takes a big explosive fella to do that. And Zion possessed the stature, style and sizzle to easily scoot into the No. 1 overall spot in the NBA Draft.
As Natasha Bedingfield once said, “the rest is still unwritten.” The ballad of Zion’s career isn’t yet finished, but it has certainly lost a lot of shine. Given his massive size, there will always be injury concerns for the North Carolina native, and he’s played just 114 NBA games over four seasons (including one full missed year in ’21-22). It’s tough to be a star when you don’t play.
When the 22-year-old is in the lineup, he’s dominant (25.8 PPG), but who knows how sustainable his physical style of play is? There’s still tons of hope Williamson can sort everything out. If he doesn’t, however, we’ll be talking about one of the biggest “what ifs” in NBA history.
4. Greg Oden – Selected No. 1 By The Trail Blazers (2007)
Oden, like Zion, was a physical beast in college, repping a rock-solid 7-foot frame and crushing any opposing player who ventured into the paint. While Oden’s Buckeyes couldn’t secure a National Championship in 2007, the center did more than enough to make a name for himself.
Ten years ago, the Trail Blazers took Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 28, 2017
Portland fans can't help but wonder "What if?" pic.twitter.com/jPctpdxzl9
While he was a more traditional power big man (like Shaquille O’Neal), Oden still drummed up heaps of draft hype. And surely his NBA career had a happy ending, right? Right?
Nope. Oden is considered the biggest draft bust in NBA history. Knee injuries dragged him down and the Blazers released him after four seasons, during which he played just 82 games. Oden played 26 games for the Miami Heat later in his career, but eventually departed to play overseas and fizzled into basketball obscurity.
3. Shaquille O’Neal – Selected No. 1 by the Magic (1992)
2/7/93 – In his first appearance in PHX, Shaquille O'Neal (20p/5r/6pf.) broke a backboard stand on a put-back slam only 2:27 into the 1Q. The nationally televised game was delayed 37min for repairs. #Suns scored 44p in the 4Q for a 121-105 win. Barkley 28p/19r. #WeAreTheValley pic.twitter.com/uAQ3OwvzOW— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) February 7, 2023
Like many others on this list, Shaq’s sheer force on the court rose him to fame. He was a monster at LSU and won the NCAA Player of the Year in 1991. O’Neal terrified smaller college players, guaranteeing his game would play at the next level and thus establishing himself as the bonafide first-overall selection in 1992.
As expected, the Magic selected O’Neal with the top pick in ’92 and he immediately won Rookie of the Year and put up 23.4 PPG and 3.5 BPG. And that was just the beginning for “The Big Aristotle.” Shaq dominated in Orlando but reached true stardom in Los Angeles, where his Lakers won three straight NBA titles from 2000-2003.
O’Neal had his share of feuds but walked away from the game as a Hall-of-Famer, a four-time champion, a 15-time All-Star and a one-time MVP. Enough said.
2. Tim Duncan – Selected No. 1 by the Spurs (1997)
Before he became known as “The Big Fundamental,” Duncan carved up the ACC for four years at Wake Forest. He was a perfectly normal dude in college, lacking the flash of a Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal, but he executed on the court. Very quickly, Duncan established himself as one of the most intelligent, NBA-ready draft prospects in the ’97 class.
Surprise, surprise, Duncan became one of the best players of all-time. He was wickedly consistent, earning 15 NBA All-Star appearances, and equally clutch, proving himself with three NBA Finals MVP awards. Under legendary coach Greg Popovich, Duncan’s Spurs became a dynasty, winning five titles during his 19-year career.
1. LeBron James – Selected No. 1 By the Cavs (2003)
The King was the King before he even stepped foot on NBA hardwood. LeBron was a high school phenom in Akron, Ohio, drawing international attention and posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated as an underclassman. On top of that, Nike signed James to a $90-million endorsement deal before he ever played a pro game.
LeBron was the golden child destined for great deeds. And he delivered.
We can go round and round on the LeBron vs Jordan debate, but there’s no denying James’ status among the greatest ever. Despite astronomical pressure, LBJ is a 19-time All-Star, four-time NBA champ, four-time MVP and is still producing at 38 years old.
The next goal in his storybook career? Playing with his son, Bronny Jr., who’s eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft.