Every NBA franchise that has landed the opportunity to pick first in a draft has hoped they’d be selecting a player that would lead them to the promised land. A player they could built their team around for the next decade, a player that would help them win it all. In the NBA the very pinnacle of “winning it all” for a player would be claiming NBA Finals MVP. Not only does it means that you’ve (probably) won an NBA Championship, but that YOU were the main reason your team was able to do it. So most number 1 draft picks would have won Finals MVP right? Nope.
How many number 1 draft picks have won NBA Finals MVP? There have been over 70 NBA Drafts, each with a player chosen at number 1. Of those 77 NBA first overall picks only 8 have gone on to win NBA Finals MVP. They are; Bill Walton (1), Hakeem Olajuwon (2), James Worthy (1), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2), LeBron James (4), Magic Johnson (3), Shaquille O’Neal (3) & Tim Duncan (3). Since the NBA Finals MVP was introduced in 1969, 19 of the 53 awards have gone to players drafted first overall.
Most of these names will stand out to you as some of the all-time greats of the game. Rightly so as well, players who were tipped for greatness as early as high school and managed to maintain that through Hall of Fame careers that saw them stand on top of the Basketball world. Success is far from guaranteed for even the most hotly tipped prospects.
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List of number 1 NBA Draft picks and years they won NBA Finals MVP
Since the introduction of the NBA Finals award in 1969 there have been 54 NBA Finals MVPs crowned with 33 players winning the award. Michael Jordan has won the most, with 6 NBA Finals MVPs to his name. Second is Lebron James with 4 and then we have Magic, Shaq and Duncan (each with 3) filling out the top 5. Jordan stands out as the only player in the top 5 that wasn’t an NBA Draft number 1 pick. Always exceptional.
The 19 times the NBA Finals MVP has been won by a former 1st overall draft pick are listed below.
|Player||Draft Year||Team Drafted by||NBA Finals MVP Year||NBA Finals MVP Team|
|Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||1969||Milwaukee Bucks||1970-71||Milwaukee Bucks|
|Bill Walton||1974||Portland Trail Blazers||1976-77||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Magic Johnson||1979||LA Lakers||1979-80||LA Lakers|
|Magic Johnson||1979||LA Lakers||1981-82||LA Lakers|
|Kareem Abdul-Jabbar||1969||Milwaukee Bucks||1984-85||LA Lakers|
|Magic Johnson||1979||LA Lakers||1986-87||LA Lakers|
|James Worthy||1982||LA Lakers||1987-88||LA Lakers|
|Hakeem Olajuwon||1984||Houston Rockets||1993-94||Houston Rockets|
|Hakeem Olajuwon||1984||Houston Rockets||1994-95||Houston Rockets|
|Tim Duncan||1997||San Antonio Spurs||1998-99||San Antonio Spurs|
|Shaquille O’Neal||1992||Orlando Magic||1999-00||LA Lakers|
|Shaquille O’Neal||1992||Orlando Magic||2000-01||LA Lakers|
|Shaquille O’Neal||1992||Orlando Magic||2001-02||LA Lakers|
|Tim Duncan||1997||San Antonio Spurs||2002-03||San Antonio Spurs|
|Tim Duncan||1997||San Antonio Spurs||2004-05||San Antonio Spurs|
|LeBron James||2003||Cleveland Cavaliers||2011-12||Miami Heat|
|LeBron James||2003||Cleveland Cavaliers||2012-13||Miami Heat|
|LeBron James||2003||Cleveland Cavaliers||2015-16||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|LeBron James||2003||Cleveland Cavaliers||2019-20||LA Lakers|
Of the 77 number 1 draft picks in NBA History, only 8 have gone on to win Finals MVP. That’s just 10.5% of number 1 overall picks. Of these 8 players, 5 of them have won Finals MVP while playing for the LA Lakers. If Anthony Davis goes on to win Finals MVP in 2023, then he will be 6/9 number 1 picks to win Finals MVP to have done it with the LA Lakers. Incredibly they only drafted 2 of them. Magic and Worthy.
List of number 1 NBA Draft picks who have not won Finals MVP
The vast majority of players selected number 1 overall in the draft do not go on to lead their teams to glorious NBA Finals wins. This doesn’t mean they are total flops, just that many never become the number 1 player at the right time on a squad that has the depth to win it all with them as their leader.
|NBA Draft FIrst Overall Picks who have not won NBA Finals MVP|
|NBA Number 1 Pick||Draft Year||Team Drafted by||Nationality||Former Team|
|Clifton McNeely||1947||Pittsburgh Ironmen||United States||Texas Wesleyan|
|Andy Tonkovich||1948||Providence Steamrollers||United States||Marshall|
|Howie Shannon||1949||Providence Steamrollers||United States||Kansas State|
|Charlie Share||1950||Boston Celtics||United States||Bowling Green|
|Gene Melchiorre||1951||Baltimore Bullets||United States||Bradley|
|Mark Workman||1952||Milwaukee Hawks||United States||West Virginia|
|Ray Felix||1953||Baltimore Bullets||United States||Manchester British-Americans (ABL)|
|Frank Selvy||1954||Baltimore Bullets||United States||Furman|
|Dick Ricketts||1955||Milwaukee Hawks||United States||Duquesne|
|Sihugo Green||1956||Rochester Royals||United States||Duquesne|
|Rod Hundley||1957||Cincinnati Royals||United States||West Virginia|
|Elgin Baylor||1958||Minneapolis Lakers||United States||Seattle|
|Bob Boozer||1959||Cincinnati Royals||United States||Kansas State|
|Oscar Robertson||1960||Cincinnati Royals||United States||Cincinnati|
|Walt Bellamy||1961||Chicago Packers||United States||Indiana|
|Bill McGill||1962||Chicago Zephyrs||United States||Utah|
|Art Heyman||1963||New York Knicks||United States||Duke|
|Jim Barnes||1964||New York Knicks||United States||Texas Western|
|Fred Hetzel||1965||San Francisco Warriors||United States||Davidson|
|Cazzie Russell||1966||New York Knicks||United States||Michigan|
|Jimmy Walker||1967||Detroit Pistons||United States||Providence|
|Elvin Hayes||1968||San Diego Rockets||United States||Houston|
|Bob Lanier||1970||Detroit Pistons||United States||St. Bonaventure|
|Austin Carr||1971||Cleveland Cavaliers||United States||Notre Dame|
|LaRue Martin||1972||Portland Trail Blazers||United States||Loyola (Illinois)|
|Doug Collins||1973||Philadelphia 76ers||United States||Illinois State|
|Bill Walton||1974||Portland Trail Blazers||United States||UCLA|
|David Thompson||1975||Atlanta Hawks||United States||NC State|
|John Lucas||1976||Houston Rockets||United States||Maryland|
|Kent Benson||1977||Milwaukee Bucks||United States||Indiana|
|Mychal Thompson||1978||Portland Trail Blazers||Bahamas||Minnesota|
|Joe Barry Carroll||1980||Golden State Warriors||United States||Purdue|
|Mark Aguirre||1981||Dallas Mavericks||United States||DePaul|
|Ralph Sampson||1983||Houston Rockets||United States||Virginia|
|Patrick Ewing||1985||New York Knicks||United States[||Georgetown|
|Brad Daugherty||1986||Cleveland Cavaliers||United States||North Carolina|
|David Robinson||1987||San Antonio Spurs||United States||Navy|
|Danny Manning||1988||Los Angeles Clippers||United States||Kansas|
|Pervis Ellison||1989||Sacramento Kings||United States||Louisville|
|Derrick Coleman||1990||New Jersey Nets||United States||Syracuse|
|Larry Johnson||1991||Charlotte Hornets||United States||UNLV|
|Chris Webber||1993||Orlando Magic||United States||Michigan|
|Glenn Robinson||1994||Milwaukee Bucks||United States||Purdue|
|Joe Smith||1995||Golden State Warriors||United States||Maryland|
|Allen Iverson||1996||Philadelphia 76ers||United States||Georgetown|
|Michael Olowokandi||1998||Los Angeles Clippers||Nigeria||Pacific|
|Elton Brand||1999||Chicago Bulls||United States||Duke|
|Kenyon Martin||2000||New Jersey Nets||United States||Cincinnati|
|Kwame Brown||2001||Washington Wizards||United States||Glynn Academy HS (Brunswick, Georgia)|
|Yao Ming||2002||Houston Rockets||China||Shanghai Sharks (China)|
|Dwight Howard||2004||Orlando Magic||United States||SACA (Atlanta)|
|Andrew Bogut||2005||Milwaukee Bucks||Australia||Utah|
|Andrea Bargnani||2006||Toronto Raptors||Italy||Benetton Treviso (Italy)|
|Greg Oden||2007||Portland Trail Blazers||United States||Ohio State|
|Derrick Rose||2008||Chicago Bulls||United States||Memphis|
|Blake Griffin||2009||Los Angeles Clippers||United States||Oklahoma|
|John Wall||2010||Washington Wizards||United States||Kentucky|
|Kyrie Irving||2011||Cleveland Cavaliers||United States||Duke|
|Anthony Davis||2012||New Orleans Hornets||United States||Kentucky|
|Anthony Bennett||2013||Cleveland Cavaliers||Canada||UNLV|
|Andrew Wiggins||2014||Cleveland Cavaliers||Canada||Kansas|
|Karl-Anthony Towns||2015||Minnesota Timberwolves||Dominican Republic||Kentucky|
|Ben Simmons||2016||Philadelphia 76ers||Australia||LSU|
|Markelle Fultz||2017||Philadelphia 76ers||United States||Washington|
|Deandre Ayton||2018||Phoenix Suns||Bahamas||Arizona|
|Zion Williamson||2019||New Orleans Pelicans||United States||Duke|
|Anthony Edwards||2020||Minnesota Timberwolves||United States||Georgia|
|Cade Cunningham||2021||Detroit Pistons||United States||Oklahoma State|
|Paolo Banchero||2022||Orlando Magic||United States||Duke|
Of course not all of these 69 number 1 first picks have had an equal chance to win Finals MVP. Some retired before the award was introduced and some have many quality years in the League ahead of them to try and reach the pinnacle of the basketball world.
From 1956 – 1969 when the award was introduced the NBA was dominated by Bill Russell who would probably have won the majority of the 13 Finals MVPs had they been available. Russell, despite winning 11 NBA Championships, was not in fact a number 1 pick. In 1956 the Rochester Royals needed a shooting guard, and so drafted Sihugo Green, with Russell going second to the Celtics. Bill Russell who played in, and won, the 1969 Finals that saw the NBA Finals MVP trophy introduced was not awarded Finals MVP. That award instead went to Jerry West of the Lakers, who were defeated by Russell’s Celtics. West himself was also not a number 1 overall draft pick, having been taken second, behind Oscar Robertson in 1960.
Dwight Howard came close to joining the list in 2009 when his Magic team lost 4-1 to Kobe’s Lakers with Kobe claiming Finals MVP. David Robinson (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavs) and Andrew Wiggins ( Warriors) are all number 1 overall picks who have won the title as a significant contributor, having a decent case for Finals MVP, but losing out. Robinson to Duncan in 1999, Kyrie to Lebron in 2016 and Wiggins to Curry in 2022.
Kareem was the first number 1 overall pick to win Finals MVP
Kareem became the first number 1 overall pick to win Finals MVP when he won the title with the Bucks in 1972. Beating fellow number 1 overall pick Oscar Robertson to the honor. Kareem would go on to win it again for the Lakers in 1985 becoming the first number 1 overall pick to win Finals MVP for multiple teams.
Magic won Finals MVP in his rookie season
Maybe the most impressive feat in NBA Finals history was Magic Johnson in his 1980 rookie season. The controversial number 1 pick was seen as more flash than product coming out of college. He helped ignite a Lakers team that had looked sluggish and old the previous year. They tore their way to the finals where they faced Dr J and the 76ers. Lakers leading scorer and defensive rock Kareem went down hurt in game 5. The Lakers traveled to Philadelphia without him where Rookie Point Guard Magic Johnson moved to center for game 6 with the Lakers 3-2 up. Everyone expected defeat and the hope that Kareem would be fit for game 7 back in LA.
42 points, 7 assists and 15 rebounds later the Magic had won the game, the title and Finals MVP. Not bad for a rookie. The former number 1 overall pick would go on to win 2 more Finals MVPs in his career.
Lebron has won the most Finals MVPs as a number 1 pick
Lebron James was drafted 1st in 2003. He has won 4 Finals MVPs for 3 different teams. A master of evolution James has played a different style of basketball in each of his runs at the title. Young and athletic for his 2 with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. Powerful and precise with the Cavs in 2016 and able to defer to his dominant sidekick Anthony Davis when he won the Bubble title in 2020 with the Lakers.
What number 1 Draft picks might still win Finals MVP?
Of all number one NBA Draft picks, the following players are still active in the NBA and have not yet won Finals MVP.
- Derrick Rose
- Blake Griffin
- John Wall
- Kyrie Irving
- Anthony Davis
- Anthony Bennett
- Andrew Wiggins
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Ben Simmons
- Markelle Fultz
- Deandre Ayton
- Zion Williamson
- Anthony Edwards
- Cade Cunningham
- Victor Wembanyama
We’ve also included french sensation Victor Wembanyama who looks odds on to be drafted with the 2023 first overall pick to the San Antonio Spurs before the 2023-24 season begins.
From that list we can eliminate several players who are either too old or have failed to meet the required talent level in the NBA to be a serious threat to win Finals MVP.
- Derrick Rose – age/injuries
- Blake Griffin – age/injuries
- John Wall – age
- Anthony Bennett – talent
- Markelle Fultz – talent
- Deandre Ayton – skill set
This leaves us a tantalizing list of players that have a real chance of being the best player on a team that wins an NBA Championship.
- Kyrie Irving
- Anthony Davis
- Andrew Wiggins
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Ben Simmons
- Zion Williamson
- Anthony Edwards
- Cade Cunningham
- Victor Wembanyama
The top two, Davis and Kyrie are the vets, who have plenty of time left in their primes. Both have already won championships alongside Lebron James and had a decent claim to be Finals MVP in those series. Davis is currently (May 2023) tearing through the Playoffs as the standout player on a rejuvenated Lakers roster. AD looks most likely as Kyrie teamed up with Luka Doncic in Dallas and sparked a level of failure that saw them fall from chasing home court advantage to ending up in the lottery.
Andrew Wiggins is younger than AD and Kyrie and is also a Champion. He also staked a great claim for Finals MVP in 2022 when he helped the Warriors to their 4th title in the Steph Curry era. That Finals MVP trophy was always earmarked for Curry, though. If the Warriors make it back again, maybe Wiggins’ defense and shot making will be enough for him to gain the honors in the future.
Towns, SImmons and Zion sit in a little group of players who should be making a bigger impact than they currently are. Zion has always been dominant when he’s played. But less than 100 games in 4 years has held both him and his Pelicans team back. Should he stay fit for an entire season and playoff run, it would be easy to see him lifting the Bill Russell trophy for Finals MVP.
Towns has so far failed to spark into life in Minnesota. He has the talent and now the help from Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards (more on him in a moment). A poor showing this year as they failed to gel as a team set his reputation back. If the Tomberwolves can get it together, then there is no reason that Town’s talent couldn’t see him and Edwards duking it out for Finals MVP one day. Simmons has a long way back, but man, when he plays he’s so so good.
Finally we have the kids. Town’s running mate, Edwards is a beast of a guard who keeps adding to his game. Perfect for this modern NBA he could be unstoppable once he’s worked out all the kinks. Cade Cunningham showed excellent poise and playmaking skill in his first year with Detroit. Unfortunately and injury hit second season saw him sidelined as they “tanked for Wemby”. Alas that was not to be as Detroit finished with the 5th overall pick. Still, with a young talented roster around him, Cunningham could fulfill his potential and lead them to a title.
Finally we have Victor Wembanyama, the 7 foot 4 French basketball alien. Billed as a center, showcasing the skills of a guard. The ceiling for Wembanyama is limitless. If he takes the Spurs to a title in his rookie season no one would be truly surprised. However most likely he spends 5 years developing under Coach Pops before moving to LA and winning a title for the Lakers. It is NBA tradition after all.