The best and worst drafts in NBA history, draft classes, 1984 draft, 1996 draft, 2003 draft, Michael Jordan draft, LeBron James draft

The best & worst drafts in NBA history

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With two sure-fire stars in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, lots of pundits have labeled the 2007 NBA Draft as "deep," "talented," and "the best since 2003" (a.k.a. “The LeBron draft”), and based on my own observations, I agree. But it made me wonder, historically speaking, which draft turned out to be the best? And which one turned out to be the worst?

In an effort to answer these questions, I looked at every draft since 1984 and graded each player as a superstar, star or starter, using the same criteria I used for a previous piece about draftees coming straight out of high school and how they fared in the NBA. I chose the 1984 draft because that's the year Michael Jordan entered the league, which also represents the start of the modern era of the NBA.

In order to have some sort of objective comparison, I put together a point system that applies six points for each superstar, three points for each star and one point for each starter. The point system values superstars twice as much as stars (and six times as much as a starter), but still allows for drafts with a lot of starter depth to be recognized as productive drafts. A serviceable or fringe player didn't count toward the point total.

So here they are, the five best (and the five worst) NBA drafts in the last 21 years.

Note: The 2005 and 2006 drafts were excluded because it’s tough to grade a draft inside of three years since the players haven’t had enough time to properly develop.


Kobe Bryant#1: 1996 (44 points)
Superstars (5): Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Jermaine O’Neal, Ray Allen
Stars (3): Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Peja Stojakovic
Starters (5): Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Lorenzen Wright, Kerry Kittles, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Those five superstars have already combined for 35 All-Star appearances, 26 All-NBA awards, three MVPs and three NBA titles, and each player still has at least a few good years left. What’s amazing about the ’96 draft is that Bryant (right), Nash and O’Neal were taken #13, #15, #17, respectively. It’s not often that three future superstars are available that late in the draft. Bryant and O’Neal were underrated because they were high schoolers, while Nash was underrated because (and let’s be honest here) he’s short, white and looks like Tom Petty.

#2: 1984 (40)
Superstars (4): Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton
Stars (4): Sam Perkins, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis
Starters (4): Jay Humphres, Michael Cage, Vern Fleming, Jerome Kersey
What a draft! Those four superstars – Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton – combined for 47 All-Star appearances, 45 All-NBA awards, seven MVPs and eight NBA titles. Barkley is already in the Hall of Fame, and the other three will follow as soon as they are eligible.

#3: 2003 (37)
Superstars (4): LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh
Stars (2): Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard
Starters (7): Chris Kaman, T.J. Ford, David West, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Luke Walton, Mo Williams
Although it tied in points with the next draft on the list, the 2003 draft gets the third place nod because it had four superstars, while the next one just had two. Sure, I’m projecting a little bit with Bosh, but I see him as an All-Star regular for the rest of his career. It’s tough to grade some of these guys since they’ve just been in the league for four years, but if a couple of these starters turn into stars, the '03 draft could jump a spot (or two) on this list.

Richard Hamilton#4: 1999 (37)
Superstars (2): Elton Brand, Shawn Marion
Stars (7): Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Jason Terry, Ron Artest, Manu Ginobili
Starters (4): Wally Szczerbiak, Andre Miller, Corey Maggette, Andrei Kirilenko
This draft didn’t have the (super)star power of some of the other drafts on this list, but when combined, there were nine stars and superstars in the 1999 draft, so it was incredibly deep. Of the 13 players listed, only Ginobili and Hamilton (right) have broken through to win a title. This draft has probably topped out at #4 since most of these players are approaching the end of their prime.

#5: 1985 (36)
Superstars (3): Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin
Stars (3): Detlef Schrempf, Joe Dumars, Terry Porter
Starters (9): Wayman Tisdale, Benoit Benjamin, Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, Terry Catledge, A.C. Green, Tyrone Corbin, John Williams, Gerald Wilkins
I call this the “Workman’s Draft.” What it lacks in style, it more than makes up for in substance. None of the superstars or stars were particularly dynamic, but they were all solid, fundamental players. That even translates to the starters – Green, Oakley and Corbin were well known for doing the dirty work for their teams. Every championship team needs a “glue guy,” and this draft had a bunch. When paired with the 1984 draft, the two are the best back-to-back drafts in NBA history (by a wide margin, I might add).


#17: 1990 (21)
Superstars (1): Gary Payton
Stars (2): Derrick Coleman, Toni Kukoc
Starters (9): Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dennis Scott, Kendall Gill, Lionel Simmons, Tyrone Hill, Dee Brown, Elden Campbell, Antonio Davis, Cedric Ceballos
Calling Toni Kukoc a “star” might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m convinced that had he been on a team without both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin, he would have played in three or four All-Star games. However, he has to be happy with how things turned out. He played a vital role and helped the Bulls win three titles during his stint in Chicago. “The Glove” was the only superstar, so the draft was certainly thin in that department, but a good number of role players went on to have solid careers.

Tim Duncan#18: 1997 (19)
Superstars (2): Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady
Stars (1): Chauncey Billups
Starters (4): Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas, Brevin Knight, Stephen Jackson
Despite the presence of Duncan (right), McGrady and Billups, this draft was pretty thin on talent. Van Horn and Thomas hit the wall earlier than expected, and Knight is a marginal starter at best. Jackson made some strides towards becoming a star this season, but he’s right at that age where players start to decline, so other than a couple more titles from Duncan, we’re not getting much more out of this group.

#19: 1995 (19)
Superstars (1): Kevin Garnett
Stars (3): Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Finley
Starters (4): Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Damon Stoudamire, Kurt Thomas
You have to hand it to Kevin McHale. He had the balls to pick a high school kid (Garnett) with the #5 pick, and he’s been riding it ever since. Stackhouse and Finley were each great players in their primes, but they were never able to lead take their teams to the promised land. (For that matter, neither has Garnett, and it’s getting really, really sad.)

#20: 1991 (17)
Superstars (1): Dikembe Mutombo
Stars (1): Larry Johnson
Starters (8): Kenny Anderson, Billy Owens, Steve Smith, Terrell Brandon, Dale Davis, Chris Gatling, Rick Fox, Bobby Phills
I wasn’t so sure that Mutombo was a superstar, but he had a really nice run with Denver and Atlanta, appearing in eight All-Star games and earning All-NBA honors three times. But what puts him over the top is the four Defensive Player of the Year awards he won over the span of seven seasons. As I look at the rest of the list, all that comes to mind is...blah.

Michael Redd#21: 2000 (13 points)
Superstars (0):
Stars (2): Michael Redd, Kenyon Martin
Starters (7): Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu, Desmond Mason, Quentin Richardson, Jamaal Magloire, Morris Peterson
This draft is so sad that its best player – Michael Redd (right) – was a second round pick! Throw in the four busts in the top six, and you’ve got yourself a draft that’s pretty devoid of talent. What’s worse is that just about everybody listed has topped out. Only Redd, Miller, Crawford and Turkoglu are playing solid ball right now.

So where will this year’s draft fall on this list? Considering that there were a number of high school players that had to wait a season, combined with the Gators finally deciding to go pro, this year’s crop of prospects should be one of the best. I wouldn’t be surprised if it landed at #3 or #4 when it’s all said and done. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait at least three years to find out!