Curse of the No. 1 pick?

January 11, 2013

We’ve all been hurt? What’s up with that? (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

No prohibitive favorite has emerged as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, which is expected to be shallow in terms of depth and overall talent. But based on the mishaps of the previous top choices, Indiana center Cody Zeller, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, UCLA swingman Shabazz Muhammed or even Maryland center Alex Len, would probably prefer to go second or third.

Being the No. 1 overall pick has always been burdened with expectations to uplift a woebegone franchise, but through a strange coincidence, players taken first have had a hard time simply staying on the court in recent seasons because of some unfortunate breaks, sprains and tears.

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall missed the first 33 games before finally making his debut against Atlanta but Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Golden State Warriors Andrew Bogut have yet to play this season and Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani is currently sidelined with torn ligaments in his right elbow and a strained right wrist.  

The past two No. 1 picks, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans forward Anthony Davis, have already missed significant time this season. Davis missed two games from a mild concussion and another 11 because of a stress reaction in his left ankle. Irving has missed 11 games because of a hairline fracture in his left hand after being sidelined 15 games, mostly because of a sprained right shoulder, during his rookie of the year campaign last season.

Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic’s top choice in 2004, had been the model of durability, playing at least 78 games in each of his first seven seasons, until requiring back surgery and missing the final 11 games last season. Howard recently went down with a torn labrum, disrupting an already challenging first season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Since Bogut went first to Milwaukee in 2005, Rose was the only top choice not to miss at least 13 games because of injury or illness in one of his first two seasons. Blake Griffin and Greg Oden both missed the first full season after they were drafted after developing serious knee injuries; Griffin fractured his left patella before the 2009-10 regular season and Oden underwent a microfracture surgery on his right knee in September 2007.

Bogut hasn’t played more than 78 games in a season since his rookie year and has only appeared in four games with the Golden State Warriors since he was traded last March. He is currently out indefinitely after having a microfracture surgery to repair a fractured left ankle.

Bargnani missed 35 games last season after straining his left calf during the lockout-shortened campaign and recently acknowledged that he is “depressed” about dealing with injuries for the second season in a row.

Oden was once a sure-fire, can’t miss prospect expected to carry the mantle for big man when the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him ahead of Kevin Durant. But the 7-foot Oden hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009, when he was carried off the floor with a fractured left patella. He averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 82 career games.

Oden’s most recent comeback attempt was derailed when he signed a one-year, $8.9 million deal with Portland in 2011 but a setback in his recovery and needed a third microfracture surgery . But he is reportedly looking to make a return to the NBA next season and has attracted the attention of Miami and Dallas, among others.

I'm on my way back. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I’m on my way back. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Rose averaged 80 games in his first three seasons, but has encountered several hardships since becoming the NBA’s youngest ever most valuable player in 2011. He dealt with a sore foot, turf toe, a strained groin and back spasms and missed 27 games during the last regular season, then tore his anterior cruciate ligament while jumping during the Chicago Bulls’ first playoff game last April.

Now limited to “predictable contact” in controlled practice, Rose is slowly taking steps toward a return this season but the Bulls will use caution with a player in the first year of a $95 million extension.

Griffin, a two-time all-star, hasn’t missed any regular season games since making his delayed NBA debut, but he was forced to miss the 2012 Olympics after suffering a torn medial meniscus in his left knee.

Wall missed 13 games as a rookie because of a sore left foot and bone bruise in his right knee, but he survived the compressed, 66-game schedule unscathed. His debut was delayed because of stress injury that didn’t require any surgery but a lot of patience.

Of the past 10 No. 1 picks, LeBron James has been the most successful, winning three most valuable players awards and an NBA championship – and the healthiest, since he has never missed more than seven games in any NBA season.

The rest would settle for the latter at this stage.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Gene Wang | January 10, 2013