The best NBA draft classes are an annual event in which the 30 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) select players who have declared themselves eligible for the draft or who have been auto-picked by the league.
The draft order is determined by a combination of the previous season’s record and a lottery, where the teams with the worst records receive the most favorable draft positions.
Ranking the Top 18 NBA Draft Classes of All Time
The 1962 draft featured seven players who scored more than 10,000 career points, including John Havlicek, Chet Walker, and Jerry Lucas, and was a significantly deeper class than the previous two years. Zelmo Beaty had a Hall of Fame career in both the NBA and the ABA. If the list had gone to 11, this would have been No. 11.
Abdul-Jabbar Kareem, Should we go on? Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about this class since Jo Jo White and Bob Dandridge are the only two players worth remembering.
When did wilt chamberlain get drafted? Wilt Chamberlain was a true legend. Bailey Howell was a six-time All-Star inducted into the Hall of Fame 26 years after his retirement. However, the remainder of this lesson leaves much to be desired.
Only six players from this draft played in the NBA for over five seasons, but three of them were Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Lenny Wilkens. Even though those three Hall of Famers were the only ones to participate in multiple All-Star Games, they were almost enough to place 1960 in the top NBA draft classes.
Highlights: Another best NBA draft class that is neglected since it comes after Michael Jordan’s and everyone is talking about whether the NBA manipulated the lottery for the Knicks.
Patrick Ewing, Xavier McDaniel, Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf, and Charles Oakley were among the top 18 picks in this greatest draft class of all time NBA. Utah selected Karl Malone 13th overall, while the Detroit Pistons selected Joe Dumars at 18.
Surprising picks: The Blazers selected Terry Porter with the 24th selection. There were plenty of late-round beauties when the NBA Draft ran seven rounds. In the third round, Sam Mitchell finished 54th. In the fourth round, Spud Webb finished 87th. Mario Elie was drafted in the sixth round.
The Clippers selected center Benoit Benjamin with the third overall selection. He was a capable player, but any of the abovementioned individuals would have better served the squad.
Only one player (George “Iceman” Gervin) earned 100 career win shares in his combined NBA/ABA career, even though a dozen players from this best draft NBA appeared in at least one All-Star Game.
1976, like 1960, lacked depth, although it did have three greats in Robert Parish, Adrian Dantley, and Alex English.
Most years, at least one dud is among the top five choices. Terry Driscoll and Larry Cannon went fourth and fifth in the previous round and combined for 4.8 career victory shares. The year following the draft, No. 4 selection Ken Durrett and No. 5 pick George Trapp combined for 9.0 career win shares.
However, in 1970, all five clubs at the top of the draft were delighted with their first-round selections, as Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, and Sam Lacey each played at least ten seasons, scored over 10,000 points, and contributed for at least 46.7 win shares.
However, the top player in this class was not selected until the eighth round. The Pistons drafted Dan Issel 122nd overall, but he signed with the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels instead. He ruled the league for six years until it was folded into the NBA. Issel has 82.3 NBA win shares, while Sports Reference has his combined total at 157.8—good for 23rd all-time.
This draft produced seven Hall of Famers, including Issel.
In that vein, how about another New York Knicks footnote? With the 17th overall selection, they selected Mike Price, a guard from Illinois. He only played 291 minutes for them before being released in 1973. Calvin Murphy and Tiny Archibald, both Hall of Fame guards, finished 18th and 19th, respectively.
Highlights: Yet another strong lottery class. This draft isn’t as well-known since there isn’t a single franchise-altering player, but it was deep, beginning with Elton Brand and Steve Francis as the first two choices and continuing with Baron Davis and Lamar Odom.
Richard Hamilton finished eighth. Andre Miller finished eighth, followed by Shawn Marion in ninth. That is an excellent top 18 list.
Surprises: Ron Artest at 16th was a bargain in hindsight. After drafting Andrei Kirilenko’s 24th overall, the Jazz got a lot out of him. The Spurs got the greatest draft steal when they selected Manu Ginobili in the 57th overall.
Busts: The Pacers took a chance on high schooler Jonathan Bender at number five, but it didn’t work out. The Cavaliers did the same, selecting collegiate star guard Trajan Langdon in the 11th round. Does anyone remember Aleksandar Radojevic, the Toronto Raptors’ 12th pick? Neither do I.
Over the last four decades, most drafts have been either clear gold mines or blatant flops. 2008 falls halfway in the middle since it is still too early to call it quits on their careers.
However, with Russell Westbrook leading a group of seven players with at least 50 win shares, there’s an argument to be made that this was one of the finest.
Highlights: Months before the 2011 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers gave up Baron Davis’ contract to the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers in return for a first-round choice. It turned out to be the first overall choice that year, and the Cavs selected point guard Kyrie Irving, who went on to score the greatest shot in team history in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
With the fourth overall choice, the Cavs grabbed Tristan Thompson, another key contributor on a championship squad. Other famous lottery picks who went on to have successful careers include Jonas Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, and Klay Thompson. Kawhi Leonard, the top player in the draft, was selected 15th overall.
Surprises: Jimmy Butler was selected 30th in this draft class, followed by Bojan Bogdanovic, who was selected 31st. Also, congratulations to Isaiah Thomas, who was selected as this round’s 60th and last pick.
Derrick Williams (2nd), Jan Vesley (6th), and Jimmer Fredette tie for second in busts (10th).
Highlights: The 2009 lottery choices were hit-or-miss, but the highs are difficult to overlook. After being drafted first overall, Blake Griffin became a franchise player for the Los Angeles Clippers for over a decade. James Harden selected third overall, and Steph Curry, selected seventh overall, are two of the league’s top players.
Surprises: The Philadelphia 76ers selected Jrue Holiday 17th overall. Patrick Beverley (42nd), Danny Green (46th), and Patty Mills are among the notable second-round picks (55th).
Busts: Now for the misses. With the second selection, the Grizzlies selected Hasheem Thabeet. Tyreke Evans finished fourth and earned Rookie of the Year. However, he is no longer in the league. Minnesota Timberwolves supporters surely don’t want to be reminded of Jonny Flynn being selected sixth overall, one selection ahead of Curry. The Knicks selected Jordan Hill shortly after the Warriors.
Even though the No. 1 selection in the 1998 draft was one of the greatest failures in league history, Michael Olowokandi couldn’t prevent this class from placing in the best draft class in NBA history.
Forty-eight players in the NBA and ABA have scored at least 20,000 points, and this draft provided four of them.
Dirk Nowitzki (31,187 and counting) is ranked sixth all-time. He’ll be passed by LeBron James next year, but with a healthy season, he might overtake Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) and Michael Jordan (32,292).
Because the 13-time All-Star has only won one championship, Nowitzki isn’t even an afterthought when discussing the best players of all time. Still, he’ll be a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever eligible.
After combining for 18 ASG appearances, Paul Pierce (26,397 points) and Vince Carter (24,868) will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later. Antawn Jamison (20,042 points) isn’t quite in the Hall of Fame debate, but 18.5 points per game during a 16-year career isn’t bad.
However, Jamison was never named to an All-NBA squad. Rashard Lewis, a two-time All-Star, wasn’t either. And the class’s sixth and seventh-best players (Mike Bibby and Cuttino Mobley) were never chosen All-Stars.
There would have been a good argument for 1998 as one of the three finest draft classes in the history of NBA draft if there had been one more star or a little more depth beyond Nowitzki, Pierce, and Carter.
Highlights include Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Antoine Walker, widely regarded as the finest draft class in history.
Their professional success varied, but all of them had an effect on the game and had long careers in the league, as well as a second career in China in the case of Marbury. That’s not even including Kobe Bryant (13th), Peja Stojakovic (14th), Steve Nash (15th), and Jermaine O’Neal (16th) (17th).
Surprises include Cavaliers veteran Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who finished 20th overall, and Derek Fisher, who finished 24th overall.
Busts: I’d like to introduce you to the quintet of Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller, and Vitaly Potapenko, who were chosen just before Bryant went 13th.
Highlights: Luka Doncic getting third overall is unquestionably the draft’s prize. Despite the upheaval in Dallas, the Mavericks have acquired a franchise player. The Hawks, who chose Doncic and traded him for Trae Young with the fifth selection, aren’t grumbling either.
The Phoenix Suns must be pleased with Ayton’s progress, particularly in these playoffs. When you include Jaren Jackson Jr. (4th), Collin Sexton (8th), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th), Miles Bridges (12th), and Michael Porter Jr. (14th), it’s easy to understand why Ayton is so optimistic about his draft class.
Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker, and Kevin Huerter were all selected in the mid-first round and have all surpassed their selection position. Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Mitchell Robinson, Gary Trent Jr., and Bruce Brown are among the second-round picks.
Busts: It’s still early, but the Sacramento Kings must be kicking themselves for selecting Marvin Bagley III at number two when Doncic and Young were available. The Knicks’ Kevin Knox at number nine also stands out.
The 1987 NBA draft featured many good players, and the coaches and general managers at the top of the draft did an excellent job of assessing their potential.
Ten of the top 12 selections would have at least 46-lifetime victory shares. Only No. 3 selection Dennis Hopson (7.1) and No. 4 pick Reggie Williams fell short of that goal (26.0).
This was the only draft in the 1980s in which the club with the first choice chose the best player. The San Antonio Spurs selected “The Admiral” David Robinson, who was nominated to an All-NBA team in ten of his 14 seasons and earned the NBA MVP title in 1995. Robinson, one of the finest shot-blockers of all time, led the Spurs to two NBA championships.
Not far behind Robinson in terms of value provided, No. 11 selection Reggie Miller also played every game for the team that picked him. It’s just a matter of time until Stephen Curry passes Miller on the record of three-pointers made, but he’s presently No. 2 with 2,560 in his 18-year career with Indiana.
This draft class also provided the supporting cast for Michael Jordan’s first three titles. Horace Grant was taken 10th overall by Chicago, while Scottie Pippen was acquired from Seattle hours later. They each had three rings within six years.
Outside of the top 12, two more standout choices were No. 18 Mark Jackson and No. 22, Reggie Lewis. The former is just five players in history to have at least 10,000 career assists. The latter averaged more than 20 points per game in consecutive seasons before passing away on a practice court at 27.
There isn’t much depth here like there was in the 2003 draft. Only seven players from this class appeared in an All-Star Game, and two of them—No. 9 selection Otis Thorpe and No. 11 pick Kevin Willis—appeared in only one.
However, the star power at the top of this class is unparalleled.
Twenty players in the history of the NBA have attained at least 160 win shares, with four (20 percent) picked in 1984: Michael Jordan, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Only two previous classes (1960 and 1987) had numerous members of this club, with 1984 having at least three.
Jordan, Stockton, Barkley, and Olajuwon have 47 All-Star Games, 45 All-NBA teams, 23 All-Defensive teams, ten scoring titles, nine assist titles, five steal titles, and three rebound titles, three block titles, eight NBA championships, and seven MVPs amongst them.
Stockton has the most assists and thefts in his career, Olajuwon has the most blocks, and MJ is third in steals and fourth in points.
Every draft class has left its imprint on the pages of NBA history, but 1984 virtually wrote them.
In terms of depth, 2003 pales compared to our top three drafts. Charles Oakley was the seventh-best player chosen in 1985. (89.7 career win shares). Kevin Willis did it in 1984. (81.8).
And that was Stephon Marbury in 1996. (77.5). Here’s Kirk Hinrich, who was never selected an All-Star and had at least 25 fewer win shares than Oakley, Willis, and Marbury combined.
It doesn’t get much better from there, with just ten players having more than 40 career win shares, and only five have been All-Stars many times. Furthermore, the No. 2 choice in this class (Darko Milicic) was one of the worst draft failures in history.
However, 2003 compensated for the lack of depth by giving NBA fans four of the finest players of the previous two decades.
No. 1 selection No. 3 selection LeBron James Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were named to a total of 47 All-Star Games and 29 All-NBA teams. Three of the four (James, Wade, and Bosh) won the championships in 2012 and 2013. All four could/should be first-ballot Hall of Famers when they become eligible.
Which draft class has the most Hall of Famers NBA?
NBA Draft in 1970
It has the most Hall of Famers of any draft class. It includes Bob Lanier (first overall), Pete Maravich (third overall), Dave Cowens (fourth overall), Calvin Murphy (18th overall), Nate “Tiny” Archibald (19th overall), and a slew of other all-stars.
Which NBA draft produced the most all-stars?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most All-Star team selections, with 19.
How many NBA MVPs are not in the Hall of Fame?
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has inducted 26 of the 34 MVP winners. The only people who haven’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame are either still alive or aren’t eligible yet (Dirk Nowitzki).
Is the 1996 NBA Draft the best?
Most observers consider it one of the finest drafts in history, along with the 1984 and 2003 past NBA drafts. Sports Illustrated ranked it second best, behind only the 1984 draft class, which contained Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton.
Is KD a Hall of Famer?
Durant has been named All-Star Game MVP, but it does not guarantee induction into the Hall of Fame; five guys have won it, been retired long enough, and not been inducted.
The class of 2003 appears to be the best in recent memory. With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade leading the way, it’s hard to argue with that assertion.
The class of 1996 also produced some all-time greats, including Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. But, overall, the 2003 class looks like the best of the bunch. Thanks for reading. You can read more about: Best NBA Throwback Jerseys