The players selected in every NBA draft are theoretically selected according to talent. The higher the player is drafted, the better he should be. The best rookie of a particular NBA season is awarded the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award after the season.
Based on the two statements above, the top overall pick of the NBA draft should win the Rookie of the Year honors. But that hasn’t been the case every year because there are seasons where players drafted 2nd or lower have been able to win the award.
However, there have been a total of 21 top picks who won the NBA Rookie of the Year award since the league began handing out the award in 1952. Here are the most recent 10 #1 picks to win the Rookie of the Year award in the NBA:
Australian Ben Simmons was the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft after starring at LSU. The 6-10 guard was the third player born in Melbourne to be chosen first overall in the NBA Draft and is the second to be named Rookie of the Year. Simmons missed his true rookie season after he rolled his ankle during the Philadelphia Sixers’ final training camp scrimmage. After an X-ray and MRI, it was revealed that he suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot and was scheduled to miss three to four months. However, his injury took time to heal and he missed the entire 2016-17 season. Simmons debuted in the 2017-18 season and he helped the Sixers earn the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 56-26, their best record since 2001.
Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson to post a triple-double in the NBA playoffs, and the fifth rookie overall to do so. He was named as 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ #1 overall pick in the 2-15 NBA Draft after playing one season with the University of Kentucky Wildcats and winning SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 2015. The seven-foot Dominican-American player was often considered the second-best prospect in 2015 behind Duke center Jahlil Okafor but was eventually picked first overall by the T-Wolves. Towns and six other Kentucky teammates applied in the same NBA draft and only one of them went undrafted. He became the first player in Minnesota Timberwolves history to win Rookie of the Month honors for six consecutive months. At the end of the season, Towns became only the fifth unanimous Rookie of the Year winner in the history of the league. With his win, the Wolves became the first team since the 1973 Buffalo Braves to have back to back Rookie of the Year winners after Andrew Wiggins won the previous year.
Andrew Wiggins is the son of former Houston Rockets player Mitchell Wiggins. He played college ball for the Kansas Jayhawks after he was named as the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2013. In his lone season at Kansas, he was a semifinalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award. Wiggins was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the second Canadian to be picked #1 in the NBA draft. But he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love before he played his first NBA game. Wiggins won MVP honors in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge during the 2015 All-Star weekend. At the end of the season, he was named Rookie of the Year, the first-ever winner for the Minnesota franchise.
Kyrie Irving led the Duke Blue Devils to the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. He was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and was touted to be the Cavs’ next messiah after LeBron left for South Beach. Irving was as good as promoted. He was the MVP of the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge while playing for Team Chuck. Irving was named Rookie of the Year after getting 117 out of the total 120 first-place votes. He averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists while shooting 39.9% from behind the three-point area.
Blake Griffin played for his father Tommy and he won four high school state titles with Oklahoma Christian School. Griffin then played two seasons for the Oklahoma Sooners and he was one of the highest-rated and most sought after recruit in program history. He swept all six major National Player of the Year awards during his sophomore season and was the first player in school history to do so. Griffin was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 NBA Draft. He played for the Summer League and won MVP honors. However, he injured his kneecap while going for a dunk during the pre-season. His injury didn’t heal in time and he had surgery on his left kneecap that forced him to miss his true rookie season.
In 2003, he became the first rookie since Yao Ming to be named to an All-Star team. He won the Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend.
Derrick Rose led the Memphis Tigers to the best regular season in NCAA history, helping the team go 38-2 in 2007 and to their first #1 ranking in 25 years. Rose sent the Tigers to the 2007 NCAA title game where they lost to the Kansas Jayhawks in overtime. After the loss, Rose announced that he would turn pro. The Chicago Bulls selected him with the first overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft. He became the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to post double-digit scoring games during his first 10 NBA games and Rose also became the first rookie to win the NBA’s Skills Challenge competition during the All-Star break. He led the Bulls to the playoffs during his freshman NBA season and became the third player in franchise history after Michael Jordan and Elton Brand to be named Rookie of the Year. He was the first #1 pick to win top rookie honors since LeBron James.
LeBron James was the most highly touted high school player of all-time and some of his games at St. Mary’s-St. Vincent was televised on national TV. James went straight to the NBA from high school and he was drafted by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. From day one, James was special as he scored 25 points in his NBA debut, setting the scoring record for a prep-to-pro player. At the end of the season, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game to become only the third rookie in NBA history to post a 20-5-5 statline during his rookie year. Cleveland failed to make the playoffs by they won 18 more games during James maiden season. He would become the first player in the Cavs history to be named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Elton Brand was one of the top big men in college basketball during his time. He led the Duke Blue Devils to the NCAA title game in 1999 but they were upset by the UConn Huskies. He was named as College Player of the Year that season while joining William Avery, and Corey Maggette as the first three players from Coach K’s program to leave early for the NBA. Brand was then selected first overall in the 1999 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls and he was named as the MVP of the Rookie Challenge at the 2000 All-Star break. He finished the season averaging 20.1 points and 10 rebounds per game. He was named as 2000 co-Rookie of the Year with Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets.
Tim Duncan played four seasons for Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and in his senior year, he was named the Naismith College Player of the Year and USBWA College Player of the Year. He was drafted #1 in 1997 by the San Antonio Spurs where he joined David Robinson in forming a Twin Towers frontline combination. He averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks per game as a rookie. Duncan was named to the All-Star team during the All-Star break and after the season, he was included in the All-NBA First team and All-NBA Defensive Second Team.
Duncan was named as 1998 NBA Rookie of the Year as well and he would go on to play 19 seasons for the Spurs, helping them win five NBA titles.
Allen Iverson played two seasons for the Georgetown Hoyas where he set the school record for highest scoring average at 22.9 points per game. Despite being only 6-0, Iverson won back to back Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards and was the first player under coach John Thompson to leave school early. He was selected 1st overall in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and became the shortest player to be picked first overall at 1.83 m. The Sixers won just 22 games during Iverson’s rookie season but “The Answer” averaged 23.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game and was named as Rookie of the Year in 1997.