No. 1: LeBron James, No. 1 pick in 2003 Draft
No other player belongs at the top of this list. LeBron James is the greatest player in the history of the NBA, a combination of the highest peak and an impossibly long prime; he is probably still a top-10 player entering his age-39 season, his 21st in the league. He has made 19 All-NBA teams, a staggering number; for all that Michael Jordan went “6-0” in the NBA Finals, he made just 11 All-NBA teams in his career.
James tops Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal as the great No. 1 pick in league history. He has been to nine NBA Finals, won four titles, and led the league in scoring one season and assists in another. He is the best player in franchise history even if you evaluate just one of his two stints in Cleveland, and no player has won Finals MVP for three different franchises.
There was never any doubt that the Cavaliers were going to take Akron’s own LeBron James in 2003, but the fact that the player taken directly after LeBron was one of the most recognizable busts in league history speaks to the peril. If the Cavs hadn’t won the Draft Lottery they could have been the team selecting Darko Milicic, and the Denver Nuggets or Vancouver Grizzlies could have been the ones with franchise-defining success.
Not every draft pick has worked out; the Cavaliers did take Anthony Bennet first overall, after all. Yet in these five instances they absolutely aced the task before them and drafted the perfect player, with each selection driving a certain era of Cavs basketball. Assuming Evan Mobley joins Darius Garland on this list, the future is incredibly bright because of their success in the draft.