The NBA Draft is the venue for the NBA’s worst teams to get the talent they need to take them to the next level.
The teams with the worst records in the league are given the priority to pick first in every NBA draft and since 1984, the order has been selected using a lottery between the teams with the worst record in the league.
Most of the NBA teams have had the privilege to pick first in the NBA draft but there are still six NBA franchises that have never owned the #1 pick in the draft in their history. Here they are:
The Indiana Pacers were established in 1967 and won three ABA titles for four years from 1970-73. They became a member of the NBA in 1976 as a result of the merger between the ABA and NBA. The Pacers have never won an NBA title and have advanced to the NBA Finals only once in 2000. Indiana has won six Central Division titles since 1995 but they have never picked first overall in the NBA draft and have never won the draft lottery.
In 1978, the Pacers picked 3rd overall and selected Rick Robey from the University of Kentucky. Five years later, they picked Steve Stipanovich 2nd overall in the 1983 NBA Draft. In 1985, Indiana picked 2nd again and they selected Wayman Tisdale. The Pacers also picked Rik Smits with the #2 pick in the 1988 draft but since then, they have not picked inside the Top 5.
That doesn’t mean that they have not picked good players though. Indiana picked franchise player Reggie Miller with the 11th pick in the 1987 draft. They also selected Paul George with the 10th pick in 2010 and even Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick in 2011. Current Pacers big man Myles Turner was also the 11th overall pick during the 2015 draft.
The Miami Heat is another NBA franchise that has not picked first in the NBA draft. You could understand the Heat though because they were an expansion team during the 1989 NBA season so they are still a relatively young franchise. Miami has missed the playoffs only 11 times during their 32-year stint in the NBA. They have won three NBA championships, 5 conference titles, and 13 division titles. Because of these successes, it’s easy to see why the Heat have not gotten the top pick in the NBA Draft.
The Heat have picked in the Top 5 only four times during their short history. Miami bagged sharpshooter Glen Rice with the 4th pick in the 1989 NBA draft. Two years later, they selected Steve Smith with the 5th pick in 1991. Miami then chose Dwyane Wade with the 5th pick in the fabled 2003 NBA draft. Wade became the first Heat superstar and he led them to their only three NBA titles. Their highest pick was Michael Beasley at #2 in 2008 but he never found his stride in the NBA.
The Heat have not picked inside the Top 10 since Beasley and their highest pick since 2008 was Justise Winslow in 2015 at #10. Winslow was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019. Current Heat key players Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro were picked 14th and 13th overall in 2017 and 2019, respectively by the Heat.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder is a new name but they were formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics who joined the NBA as an expansion team during the 1967-68 season. Despite their long history, neither the Sonics nor the Thunder have picked first overall in the NBA draft. This is a franchise that has won a total of 11 division titles, including 10 starting from 1994 and five as the OKC Thunder. The franchise has made four trips to the NBA Finals and was an NBA champion in 1979.
The Sonics drafted three-time NBA All-Star Bob Kauffman 3rd overall in 1968. The following season, Seattle picked Lucius Allen with the 3rd selection. Tom Burleson was also the 3rd pick in 1974 while Gary Payton was Seattle’s highest pick ever at #2 in 1990. As far as the Thunder are concerned, OKC picked Kevin Durant 2nd overall in 2007 and James Harden 3rd overall in 2009.
Seattle also drafted Russell Westbrook 4th overall in 2008. Westbrook, Durant, and Harden won three of the five NBA MVP awards from 2014-2018. These three played together at one point and led the Thunder to their only NBA Finals appearance ( 2011) since moving to Oklahoma City.
The Utah Jazz joined the NBA as the New Orleans Jazz, an expansion team during the 1974 season. They were one of the most successful teams in the league during their early years. Utah made the playoffs in year 10 of their existence in 1984 and never missed the postseason until 2004. Utah has won a total of 10 division titles and they made back to back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998.
Utah’s highest pick ever was #2 in 1980 when they selected Dr. Dunkenstein Darrell Griffith. That was the only time they had drafted second. The Jazz have three #3 picks in their history. These were Dominique Wilkins in 1982, Deron Williams in 2005, and Enes Kanter in 2011. Wilkins never played for Utah as he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks after being picked.
The last time Utah picked in the Top 5 was in 2014 when they chose Dante Exum of Australia. The best players in Jazz history were undoubtedly Karl Malone and John Stockton who led the team to the playoffs in every season they were in Salt Lake City Malone was Utah’s 13th overall pick in 1985 while Stockton was the 16th pick overall one year earlier.
The Denver Nuggets were known as the Denver Larks when they joined the league in 1967 as a charter franchise of the ABA. Denver was a successful franchise as it made the playoffs from 1967-76. After the ABA-NBA merger, they made 10 consecutive playoff appearances in the 80s and ten straight from 2004-2013. Because of these achievements, the Nuggets have never been able to pick first or even second in the NBA draft.
From their inception to 1989, the Nuggets only had one Top 5 pick and this was James Ray at #5 in 1980. The next highest pick they got was Chris Jackson at #3 in1990. The Nuggets selected Raef LaFrentz 3rd in 1998, and Carmelo Anthony 3rd overall in 2003. Dikembe Mutombo was the 4th overall pick in 1991.
The current Nuggets are led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray who are both draft picks by Denver. Jokic was the 41st overall pick in 2014 while Murray was a lottery pick at #7 in 2016. The Nuggets were also the team that drafted Donovan Mitchell with the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but he was traded to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick of the 2017 draft.
The Memphis Grizzlies were a team that joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1996. They were playing out of Vancouver then but moved to Memphis in 2001. This team is the youngest in our list and although they have never won a division, conference or NBA title, they have yet to pick first in the NBA draft.
The Grizzlies though have a long list of Top 5 picks although the one that stands out right now is Ja Morant, the 2nd overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. The other prominent Top 5 pick currently with the team is 4th pick Jaren Jackson of the 2018 draft. Jackson teamed up with Morant to help the Grizzlies surprise the league during the 2019-20 season as one of the Top 8 teams in the Western Conference.
Mike Bibby was the franchise’s first #2 overall pick in 1998 but he became a star only when he played for Sacramento. Steve Francis was the Grizzlies’ 2nd overall pick in 1999 but he too enjoyed success outside of Memphis in Houston. In 2000, they also picked second overall and they selected Stromile Swift. In 2009, the Grizzlies selected Hasheem Thabeet with the #2 pick in the draft.