The NBA’s Best Draft Class of All-Time Is…

Lebron James was selected first overall by the Cavaliers  in 2003.

Lebron James was selected first overall by the Cavaliers in 2003.

With the NBA Draft just over 24 hours away, teams are preparing to make selections that can forever change the fortunes of their franchise. With each selection a team faces the possibilities of landing a potential superstar who may one day bring the ultimate prize to their team, a solid contributor who may fill a role or a complete dud who will never pan out in the NBA.

Each pick carries its own risk and all 30 teams will have to face this reality on Thursday night. Over the years, certain drafts have been easier to navigate because the talent pool was incredibly deep. This fosters that argument of which draft class was the best of all-time.

There are three classes that stand above the rest but which one reigns supreme?

The top two picks in 1984 were centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie.

The top two picks in 1984 were centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie.

1984

The 1984 NBA draft makes a strong case for being the best of all-time. The draft was a different format at the time. The lottery system was not yet in place and teams selected based solely off of record. There were also 10 rounds instead of the current two.

The major reason that this draft has a chance to be the best of all-time is because the best player of all-time was in it. The Chicago Bulls selected North Carolina guard Michael Jordan with the third overall selection.

Jordan went on to win Rookie of the Year and highlight a class that consisted of quite a few more superstars including Hakeem Olajuwon (1st overall) of the Houston Rockets, Charles Barkley (4th overall) of the Philadelphia 76ers and John Stockton (16th overall) of the Utah Jazz.

All four of these players went on to make it into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Barkley and Stockton never went on to win NBA titles which was due mostly in part to Michael Jordan’s two three-peats with the Bulls.

Michael Jordan was the third overall pick in 1984.

Michael Jordan was the third overall pick in 1984.

What strengthens this class even more are the solid players that were taken and winded up playing long productive careers such as Sam Perkins, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe and Kevin Willis.

The major bust in this draft class was Sam Bowie (2nd overall) of the Portland Trailblazers. Bowie’s NBA career was constantly affected by injury and ultimately never panned out. He has forever had the sad distinction of being the player selected one pick ahead of Jordan.

1996

Allen Iverson was picked first overall in 1996.

Allen Iverson was picked first overall in 1996.

The NBA draft looked much different 12 years later in 1996. There were now six more NBA franchises and eight fewer rounds. The lottery was also in place which gave teams the opportunity to wind up with the first pick without having the worst record.

The team with the second highest probability that year was the Philadelphia 76ers. They were awarded the first selection and took Georgetown guard Allen Iverson. ‘The Answer’ went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and also later in his career an NBA MVP Award, 11 All-Star appearances and four scoring titles.

A number of other teams found ‘Answers’ of their own in that draft. The next five picks encompassed a number of players who went on to win numerous rings and accolades during their NBA careers.

This included Marcus Camby (2nd overall) of the Toronto Raptors, Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3rd overall) of the Vancouver Grizzlies, Stephon Marbury (4th overall) of the Milwaukee Bucks (traded to Minnesota), Ray Allen (5th overall) of the Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to Milwaukee) and Antoine Walker (6th overall) of the Boston Celtics.

Several members of the 1996 class including future MVP's Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Several members of the 1996 class including future MVP’s Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

The highest value pick in this draft came at number 13 when the Charlotte Hornets selected Lower Merion High School’s Kobe Bryant. The now five-time NBA Champion and two-time gold medalist was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. Bryant’s future Lakers teammate and two-time NBA MVP, Steve Nash, was selected 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns.

This draft also included Peja Stojakovic (14th overall) of the Sacramento Kings, Jermaine O’Neal (17th overall) of the Portland Trailblazers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th overall) of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derek Fisher (24th overall) of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Future NBA Champion and defensive stalwart, Ben Wallace, went undrafted that year.

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been linked ever since the 2003 draft.

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been linked ever since the 2003 draft.

2003

The most recent draft class to find its way into this discussion was the 2003 group. The draft class consisted of a number of future NBA champions and a strong group of solid contributors.

The talk of this draft was easily the top five selections. With the first pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected a hometown kid named LeBron James out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Although the two split and James unfortunately never brought his hometown team a title, he has entered the discussion of being the best player of all time. James is a two-time gold medalist, a two-time NBA champion and a four-time MVP. In nine NBA seasons, he has made the NBA First Team seven times and the NBA Second Team twice. He also has one scoring championship and nine all-star appearances. He was also that year’s Rookie of the Year.

The rest of the top five in that draft is what gives the draft such distinction. The Denver Nuggets selected Carmelo Anthony (3rd overall) out of Syracuse. Anthony helped to revitalize the Denver franchise before leaving for New York City. The Knicks have had somewhat of a resurgence under Anthony and he is regarded as one of the game’s best scorers.

The Toronto Raptors selected Chris Bosh (4th overall) out out Georgia Tech. Bosh, like Anthony, helped to lift his original franchise to new heights but later left for the Miami Heat. In South Beach, he teamed up with James and the fifth overall selection that season, Dwyane Wade out of Marquette.

Wade won a title in 2006 prior to the arrival of James and Bosh and has won two rings with the Big 3.

The bust of the top five was the Pistons’ selection of Darko Milicic (2nd overall) of Serbia and Montenegro.

The 2003 NBA Draft boasted a good mix of stars and solid contributors.

The 2003 NBA Draft boasted a good mix of stars and solid contributors.

This draft, like the others also possessed great depth: Chris Kaman (6th overall) of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kirk Hinrich (7th overall) of the Chicago Bulls, David West (18th overall) of the New Orleans Hornets, Boris Diaw (21st overall) of the Atlanta Hawks, Kendrick Perkins (27th overall) of the Memphis Grizzlies (traded to Boston), Leandro Barbosa (28th overall) of the San Antonio Spurs (traded to Phoenix) and Josh Howard (29th overall) of the Dallas Mavericks.

This draft also consisted of a number of solid second round picks.

The winner is…

2003: The 2003 NBA Draft wins mostly due to the prowess of four of the top five selections. The draft also consisted of impressive depth into the second round and even into the undrafted pool. This draft has had many implications on the NBA today in terms of who wins titles and how teams choose to structure themselves. Each player in the top five has won an NBA title with the exception of Anthony and three of them have multiple rings.

This draft class will be hard to top.

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