5 Best NBA Draft classes of all time
Since being founded in 1946, there have been 72 NBA drafts in history. The draft has produced countless legends and players in the NBA, keeping the league alive and booming. The lottery was introduced in 1985 to give bad teams an advantage and a chance to select the best players in the draft.
In this list, we are going to rank the five greatest NBA draft classes in history. Each draft class will be judged based on star power and depth, which will include notable role players. Even busts from the lottery and steals from the second round can affect the rankings.
But before we get to the top five greatest draft classes in NBA history, we’ll take a look at some honorable mentions.
1970 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Bob Lanier (1st), Rudy Tomjanovich (2nd), Pete Maravich (3rd), Dave Cowens (4th), Sam Lacey (5th), John Johnson (7th), Geoff Petrie (8th), Calvin Murphy (18th), Nate Archibald (19th), Charlie Scott (106th), Dan Issel (122nd), Randy Smith (205th)
A very underrated class, the 1970 NBA draft produced seven Hall of Famers – Lanier, Maravich, Cowens, Murphy, Archibald, Scott, and Issel. Lanier was a beast for the Pistons while “Pistol” Pete was captivating fans in Atlanta and New Orleans. Cowens is a Celtics legend, and Murphy and Archibald are two of the best point guards ever.
Issel, who was picked in the eighth round, spent six seasons in the ABA before making it to the NBA as part of the Nuggets. On the other hand, Tomjanovich, Lacey, Johnson, Petrie, and Smith were All-Stars during their careers, which makes the 1970 class a very strong draft. The 1970 NBA draft class also holds the record for the most number of selections with a whopping 239 players.
1987 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: David Robinson (1st), Scottie Pippen (5th), Kenny Smith (6th), Kevin Johnson (7th), Horace Grant (10th), Reggie Miller (11th), Muggsy Bogues (12th), Mark Jackson (18th), Reggie Lewis (22nd), Sarunas Marciulionis (127th)
The 1987 draft class has a good case of making the top five since they have star power in Robinson and Pippen. “The Admiral” was an MVP and Pippen helped Michael Jordan win six titles. Miller was a legend in Indiana while Johnson is the same in Phoenix. Smith, Grant, Bogues, and Lewis had good careers, and Jackson sits fourth in the all-time leader for career assists.
Marciulionis, who was selected 127th overall, did not play in the NBA until 1989 and he made an impact on the game. He is considered as one of the greatest international players ever and he is even a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame along with Robinson, Pippen, and Miller.
2011 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Kyrie Irving (1st), Enes Kanter (3rd), Jonas Valanciunas (5th), Kemba Walker (9th), Klay Thompson (11th), Kawhi Leonard (15th), Nikola Vucevic (16th), Tobias Harris (19th), Kenneth Faried (22nd), Nikola Mirotic (23rd), Jimmy Butler (30th), Chandler Parsons (38th), Isaiah Thomas (60th)
It might be too early to tell if the 2011 NBA draft class will make it into the top five but it has several good players who could be great. Irving is already a champion and he plays for a historic franchise like the Celtics. Walker is considered as the greatest Hornet of all time while Thompson could end his career as the second greatest shooter ever behind teammate Stephen Curry.
Leonard and Butler are two of the best two-way players in the NBA today with Leonard possibly becoming one of the best ever. The 2011 draft class was hurt by Kanter and Valanciunas not living up to their hype but got good value with Parsons, and Thomas, who was the last pick and became an All-Star.
#5 2009 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Blake Griffin (1st), James Harden (3rd), Tyreke Evans (4th), Ricky Rubio (5th), Stephen Curry (7th), DeMar DeRozan (9th), Brandon Jennings (10th), Jrue Holiday (17th), Ty Lawson (18th), Jeff Teague (19th), Taj Gibson (26th), Danny Green (46th), Patty Mills (55th)
Some people might not agree with this but the 2009 NBA draft class is one of the best ever. Griffin will go down as one of the best power forwards of his generation while Harden is going to make a case for the second greatest Rocket ever behind Hakeem Olajuwon. DeRozan is already the greatest Raptor ever and a lot of good role players like Evans, Rubio, Holiday, Teague, Gibson, Green, and Mills.
However, the cream of the crop is Stephen Curry, who is a two-time MVP and a three-time NBA champion. He is the greatest shooter in history and he has changed the game of basketball. He has inspired the evolution of the game, as well as the next generation of players with his elite shooting.
#4 1985 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Patrick Ewing (1st), Xavier McDaniel (3rd), Chris Mullin (7th), Detlef Schrempf (8th), Charles Oakley (9th), Karl Malone (13th), Joe Dumars (18th), A.C. Green (23rd), Terry Porter (24th), Michael Adams (66th), Avydas Sabonis (77th)
A controversial class, the 1985 draft was full of conspiracy theories with David Stern allegedly fixing the results of the lottery. Stern reportedly gave the Knicks the first overall selection because the big market team was struggling at that time.
The Knicks used that pick to select Ewing, who is one of the best centers to ever play the game. Malone was a steal at 13th since he is the second-best power forward in history and second in the all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Mullin, Dumars, and Sabonis are Hall of Famers while McDaniel, Schrempf, Oakley, Green, and Porter were All-Stars. A very solid draft class but not enough to make it into the top three.
#3 2003 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: LeBron James (1st), Carmelo Anthony (3rd), Chris Bosh (4th), Dwyane Wade (5th), Chris Kaman (6th), David West (18th), Boris Diaw (21st), Josh Howard (29th), Mo Williams (47th), Kyle Korver (51st), Jose Calderon (Undrafted)
The 2003 NBA draft class is the best since 2000 and one of the best ever. James is a four-time MVP and possibly the second G.O.A.T. Anthony, despite his current status, is a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest scorers of his generation. Bosh is a lock for the Hall of Fame even if his career was cut short while Wade is the third greatest shooting guard ever.
Kaman, West, Howard, Williams, and Korver were all All-Stars while Diaw was a key member of the championship winning 2014 Spurs team. Calderon has carved out a good career in the NBA even though he was undrafted.
However, names like Darko Milicic (2nd) and Michael Sweeney (9th) were poor selections by the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.
#2 1984 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Hakeem Olajuwon (1st), Michael Jordan (3rd), Charles Barkley (5th), Alvin Robertson (7th), Otis Thorpe (9th), Kevin Willis (11th), John Stockton (16th), Oscar Schmidt (131st)
The 1984 draft class could have gotten top spot with just Olajuwon and Jordan. Hakeem is one of the greatest big men to ever play the game while MJ is considered by many as the G.O.A.T. Barkley, despite being undersized, is one of the best power forwards in history while John Stockton is still the all-time assists leader.
Robertson was a four-time All-Star while Thorpe and Willis were all solid NBA players that contributed to a couple of NBA championship teams. Even the 131st overall selection, Oscar Schmidt, was an all-time great despite not playing in the NBA. The Brazilian is one of the greatest international players ever and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
The only reason why the 1984 draft class missed the top spot is that of Sam Bowie. The second overall pick was picked by the Trail Blazers and he was selected ahead of Jordan. Bowie is considered by many as one of the biggest busts in history despite having a nice 11-year career.
#1 1996 NBA Draft Class
Notable Members: Allen Iverson (1st), Marcus Camby (2nd), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3rd), Stephon Marbury (4th), Ray Allen (5th), Antoine Walker (6th), Kobe Bryant (13th), Peja Stojakovic (14th), Steve Nash (15th), Jermaine O’Neal (17th), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th), Ben Wallace (Undrafted)
This draft class had it all from superstar power to depth, lack of lottery busts, and one of the best-undrafted players ever. Iverson, Bryant, and Nash have four MVP trophies with Kobe and Iverson being generational talents. Those two players alone are enough to make this draft class in the top five because Kobe is one of ten greatest players ever while A.I. is the best little man to play in the history of the NBA.
Allen, on the other hand, is a perennial All-Star and one of the greatest shooters in history. Marbury, Stojakovic, O’Neal, and Wallace were all named to All-NBA teams in their careers while Abdur-Rahim, Walker, and Ilgauskas were All-Stars. Even Camby was a solid NBA player during his career, winning the Defensive Player of the Year once.
There were no real draft busts in the lottery from this class either despite Todd Fuller (12th) and Vitaly Potapenko (13th) not living up to their selections. They lasted five and eleven years in the NBA, respectively.