To (belatedly) complete our series on Draft History, Part VII will look at the Top Ten rated draft classes from my study as completed in 2010. For more detail, please see the first six parts of this series:
- Part I: Stat Rankings and Number Crunching
- Part II: Awards and Accolades
- Part III: First Year Impact
- Part IV: Validating AdjPR100 and the 5-Star System
- Part V: Ranking the Draft Classes – The 10 Worst
- Part VI: Ranking the Draft Classes – 11 to 20
In Parts V, VI and VII, I’m going to be ranking the 33 draft classes, from “worst” to first, using a the following point system based on the 5-Star ratings and the Peak Award levels:
10. Class of 1987: 23 Points (2 Star Points, 21 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs – 25.60
Highest-Rated Player: David Robinson (#1 San Antonio Spurs) – 25.60
Rookie of the Year: Mark Jackson (#18 New York Knicks)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 Most Valuable Player (David Robinson), 7 All NBA First Team (2 Players), 8 All NBA Second Team (3 Players), 10 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 1 Defensive Player of the Year (David Robinson), 12 All Defense First Team (3 Players), 12 All Defense Second Team (4 Players), 28 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Hall of Fame: David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller
The Indiana Pacers got a lot of mileage out of this class. Mark Jackson, Derrick McKey, and of course, Reggie Miller were all taken in the 1987 draft. Jackson and McKey were both key cogs in a Pacer team that contended from 1994 through 2000. Reggie Miller became the face of the NBA Pacers.
David Robinson was the #1 pick in the draft – despite a two-year commitment to the Navy – and proved well worth the wait. This class produced a mayor (Kevin Johnson), Charles Barkley’s sidekick (Kenny Smith), and arguably the finest defensive player in this entire study (Scottie Pippen). For me, however, this was the “Year of the Reggies.”
There were three guys named Reggie slated to be picked in the first round. It was a further coincidence that all three were relatively skinny 6-7 swingmen. We’ve touched on one – “our” Reggie. Reggie Williams from Georgetown, drafted fourth, was expected to be the best of the three, but his career can only be described as a disappointment. Reggie Lewis had blossomed into an All Star for the Celtics, when his life was cut short by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at the age of 27.
9. Class of 1977: 25 Points (5 Star Points, 20 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Kent Benson – Milwaukee Bucks – 8.92
Highest-Rated Player: Jack Sikma (#8 Seattle SuperSonics) – 20.07
Rookie of the Year: Walter Davis (#5 Phoenix Suns)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 All NBA First Team (2 Players), 6 All NBA Second Team (4 Players), 1 All NBA Third Team (1 Player), 2 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 7 All Defense Second Team (4 Players), 27 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (because Bernard King keeps getting screwed)
This class doesn’t have a lot of stars, but it does have a lot of really good players. Starting with the highest rated player from 1977 – Jack Sikma – there are so many guys that bring a smile to my face when I think of them. Walter Davis was so smooth for so many years in Phoenix, while Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell was one of my all time favorite players. Marques Johnson, Norm Nixon, Otis Birdsong, and James Edwards all shaped good NBA careers.
However, the best player from the 1977 Draft had to be Bernard King. His career was marred by the abuse of alcohol early, and a devastating knee injury at his peak, but he was some kind of scorer. His 22.5 points per game stands as 27th in the history of the NBA, and his 1984-85 season was truly special. Before blowing out his knee, he scored over 20 in 50 of his 55 games, over 40 13 times, and over 50 three times, including a 60-point Christmas day explosion.
B is the only member of this class with even a remote shot at making the Hall, but his bid is hampered by the fact he only played 874 games. Still, King was special, and there was a lot to like about this class.
8. Class of 1992: 26 Points (7 Star Points, 19 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic – 23.08
Highest-Rated Player: Shaquille O’Neal (#1 Orlando Magic) – 23.08
Rookie of the Year: Shaquille O’Neal (#1 Orlando Magic)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 MVP (1 Player), 10 All NBA First Team (3 Players), 3 All NBA Second Team (2 Players), 4 All NBA Third Team (1 Player), 3 All Defense First Team (2 Players), 10 All Defense Second Team (4 Players), 22 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (yet … Shaq)
(Superlative) (superlative) Shaquille O’Neal. (Superlative) Shaq (superlative) (superlative). (Superlative) (superlative) the Big Aristotle (superlative) (superlative), and, Kazaam notwithstanding, (really big superlative).
The actual draft order went (1) Shaq, (2) Alonzo Mourning, (3) Christian Laettner. That is more or less how the class went. Mourning was an amazing defensive player whose career numbers were badly hurt by his mid-career kidney transplant. After that, you end up with arguably Latrell Sprewell as the next best player. After that, there’s the role player supreme – Robert Horry, and a smattering of solid contributors.
7. Class of 1999: 32 Points (17 Star Points, 15 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Elton Brand – Chicago Bulls – 20.22
Highest-Rated Player: Shawn Marion (#9 Phoenix Suns) – 21.56
Rookie of the Year: Elton Brand (#1 Chicago Bulls) and Steve Francis (#2 Vancouver Grizzlies)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA Second Team (1 Player), 5 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 3 All Defense First Team (2 Players), 4 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 18 All Star Appearances (9 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (though Ginobili likely)
No real big stars in this class, but lots and lots of good players. With six 4- and 5-Star players (Marion, Brand, Andre Miller, Lamar Odom, Jason Terry, and Steve Francis), this class is only eclipsed by the 1996 class (with 7) and matched by the 1984 class. Add another six 3-Star ratings (including guys like Manu Ginobili, Andrei Kirilenko, and Ron Artest), and it has more 3-, 4-, and 5-Star players than any class except for the ’96 class (13) and the 2001 class.
However, this class is decidedly short on major awards. No MVPs, and Elton Brands 2nd Team All NBA selection is the high water mark for individual accolades. However, in terms of generating players who had long, productive careers, the class of ’99 was very, very good.
The Pacers had some mixed success with this class. Ron Artest had the best – and worst – years of his career here, but he was picked up in a later trade. Of the two players, they missed on one – the unqualified bust of Jonathan Bender at #5 – and hit on the other – Jeff Foster at #21.
6. Class of 1998: 34 Points (18 Star Points, 16 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Michael Olowokandi – Los Angeles Clippers – 8.14
Highest-Rated Player: Dirk Nowitzki (#9 Milwaukee Bucks for Dallas Mavericks) – 25.73
Rookie of the Year: Vince Carter (#5 Golden State Warriors for Toronto Raptors)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 MVP (1 Player), 4 All NBA First Team (1 Player), 6 All NBA Second Team (3 Players), 6 All NBA Third Team (3 Players), 1 All Defense First Team (1 Players), 28 All Star Appearances (5 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (yet … Dirk, Pierce)
Dirk Nowitzki. Paul Pierce. The non-depressing part of Vince Carter’s career. That is pretty much the glory for the class of ’98. After that are good pros that were never quite as good as you hoped, like Antawn Jamison, Mike Bibby and Rashard Lewis
Mostly, what strikes me about this class is the number of guys who were just good enough to get paid. Raef LaFrentz leaps to mind, but the poster child has to be Jerome James. Others include Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis, Rasho Nesterovic, Rafer Alston, Micheal Doleac, Pat Garrity, and Nazr Mohammed.
Other fun facts include Michael Olowokandi going first to the Clippers (gigglegigglesnort), and Milwaukee trading Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. Nowitzki was a little bit of an unknown at the time, so the trade and him going 9th is understandable. However, Paul Pierce lasting to #10 was just a case of GMs being too smart for their own good.
5. Class of 2001: 34 Points (21 Star Points, 13 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Kwame Brown – Washington Wizards – 6.90
Highest-Rated Player: Pau Gasol (#3 Atlanta Hawks for Memphis Grizzlies) – 21.73
Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol (#3 Atlanta Hawks for Memphis Grizzlies)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 All NBA Second Team (1 Player), 6 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 1 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 3 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 16 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (though Pau Gasol likely and Tony Parker perhaps)
Another class with a lot of good-to-very-good players. As noted above, 2001 produced more 3-, 4-, and 5-Star players than any other in the study – 13. No big individual honors (though Tyson Chandler did earn DPOY in 2012), but lots of production. Pau Gasol’s numbers are head and shoulders above everyone else’s in the class, and that’s probably a fair representation.
The #1 pick – Kwame Brown – was the second worst #1 pick in the study. Since the “worst” was Greg Oden, owing his failure almost entirely to injuries, I think it could be pretty safely argued that Kwame was actually the real “worst” #1 pick. I’d put him pretty comfortably below Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi, and Kent Benson.
However, ’01 more than made up for the swing-and-miss at #1 with some really quality late picks. Tony Parker (28), Zach Randolph (19), Gilbert Arenas (30), Gerald Wallace (25), and Mehmet Okur (37) were all great values for where they were taken…some just plain great values.
4. Class of 1985: 40 Points (12 Star Points, 28 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Patrick Ewing – New York Knicks – 21.52
Highest-Rated Player: Karl Malone (#13 Utah Jazz) – 27.83
Rookie of the Year: Patrick Ewing (#1 New York Knicks)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 MVP, 13 All NBA First Team (3 Players), 11 All NBA Second Team (4 Players), 5 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 8 All Defense First Team (3 Players), 8 All Defense Second Team (6 Players), 39 All Star Appearances (9 Players)
Hall of Fame: Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Joe Dumars, Chris Mullin
Pacer fans remember this draft most for being the one where they didn’t get Patrick Ewing, but this was quite a class. Four Hall of Famers, including Ewing, but led by Karl Malone. Malone’s 27.83 AdjPR100 rates as the second highest number in this study (#1 coming up). There’s even some comfort for Pacer fans, as Detlef Schrempf excelled in the Blue-and-Gold, while Chris Mullin was a meaningful contributor to arguably the best teams in franchise history.
This was the first year of the lottery, with the order of the 7 non-playoff teams being determined by a blind draw – each team with one chance (and envelope in this case) in seven. I can pretty much remember knowing who the seven lottery picks would be, and to this day, I still have trouble recognizing any pick after # 7 as a lottery pick.
Besides the Hall of Famers listed above, this class had some really quality contributors. Charles Oakley bullied the Pacers during the height of the Hicks vs. Knicks rivalry. Terry Porter, Xavier McDaniel, A.C. Green, and Hot Rod Williams all had long productive careers.
Well, at least Wayman Tisdale had a really nice smile.
3. Class of 2003: 43 Points (22 Star Points, 21 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers – 29.57
Highest-Rated Player: LeBron James (#1 Cleveland Cavaliers) – 29.57
Rookie of the Year: LeBron James (#1 Cleveland Cavaliers)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 1 MVP, 6 All NBA First Team (2 Players), 6 All NBA Second Team (4 Players), 4 All NBA Third Team (2 Players), 2 All Defense First Team (1 Player), 4 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 23 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (yet … LeBron, Wade and maybe Carmelo and Bosh)
If this class were a radio single, it would be #3 with a bullet. It is certain to pass up the #2-ranked class – 1984 – in this study, and the only question remains is whether it can catch #1.
The top 5 picks in this draft were arguably the best top 5 in this study. They rank second only to 1984 in average AdjPR100, despite the presence of the unmitigated bust of Darko Milicic. (To be fair, 1984’s # 2 pick was also problematic…more later.) LeBron James is the highest rated player in this study – by a significant margin. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are all in the top 5% in the league and have had wildly successful careers.
And if Darko doesn’t look bad enough lumped in with that group (and ahead of most), it doesn’t help that the class produced several other quality players. David West is the best and most consistent of the rest, but plenty of others have had far more productive careers than the #2 pick. Among them are Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman, Nick Collison, Boris Diaw, Mo Williams, T.J. Ford, and Kendrick Perkins.
Just an outstanding class. If you don’t believe me, ask the city of Miami.
2. Class of 1984: 44 Points (13 Star Points, 31 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Hakeem Olajuwon – Houston Rockets – 24.10
Highest-Rated Player: Michael Jordan (#3 Chicago Bulls) – 27.09
Rookie of the Year: Michael Jordan (#3 Chicago Bulls)
4 3 MVPs, 3 DPOYs, 23 All NBA First Team (4 Players), 16 All NBA Second Team (5 Players), 8 All NBA Third Team (4 Players), 16 All Defense First Team (3 Player), 13 All Defense Second Team (3 Players), 50 All Star Appearances (7 Players)
Hall of Fame: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton
The first truly great class in this study and one of the most decorated. Michael Jordan is clearly the face of this group of players. Many believe him to be the “greatest player of all time”, and he finished third in this study. (Those last two years in Washington cost him about a point-and-a-half.)
In addition to the truly great players – Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton – there were plenty of really good players. Alvin Robertson was one of the most tenacious defenders of his generation. Mav, Laker, and Pacer fans I’m sure will have fond memories of Big Smooth – Sam Perkins. Others with long, productive careers include Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis, Michael Cage, Vern Fleming, and Jay Humphries.
Their 50 All Star appearances was second most in the study, and their 23 1st Team All NBA appearances and 47 total All NBA appearances (1st, 2nd, and 3rd team) are far higher than any other class over the 33 included here.
I mentioned above that the #2 pick was problematic. I was speaking of Sam Bowie, of course. Portland (using Indiana’s pick grumblegrumblegrumble) passed on Michael Jordan in favor of the slender 7-footer from Kentucky. The reasoning at the time was that the Blazers already had Clyde Drexler. Unfortunately, Bowie suffered an injury-plagued and shortened career. Sam was nowhere near the disaster that Darko Milicic was, but the fact that it was MJ that was passed over makes the selection hurt that much more.
1. Class of 1996: 55 Points (19 Star Points, 36 Peak Points)
#1 Draft Pick: Allen Iverson – Philadelphia 76ers – 18.45
Highest-Rated Player: Kobe Bryant (#13 Charlotte Hornets for Los Angeles Lakers) – 22.30
Rookie of the Year: Allen Iverson (#1 Philadelphia 76ers)
Awards (Non-Rookie): 3 MVPs, 1 DPOY, 14 All NBA First Team (3 Players), 10 All NBA Second Team (6 Players), 10 All NBA Third Team (6 Players), 10 All Defense First Team (2 Players), 4 All Defense Second Team (2 Players), 51 All Star Appearances (10 Players)
Hall of Fame: None (yet … Kobe, Iverson, Ray Allen, Nash)
The top three classes in this study are what you might call “generational” classes. The players drafted in that year greatly influence – if not outright dominate – the shape of the NBA over the course of a decade or more. We’ve probably passed out of the era of 1996’s dominance, and into that of the class of 2003, but that doesn’t diminish how good this class was. In terms of production and awards, 1996 stands head and shoulders above all others.
Kobe Bryant leads a group that can boast several players who spent at least a portion of their careers as among the very best in the game. Allen Iverson and Steve Nash both have MVP awards. Marcus Camby rebounded from a fragile early career to be one of the top defensive players in the league – earning a Defensive Player of the Year award. Ray Allen is among the best shooters in the history of the game and holds the NBA’s career mark for three pointers.
Jermaine O’Neal found a home in Indianapolis, becoming an MVP candidate and helping to lead the Pacers to their best regular season (61 wins) and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Antoine Walker was responsible for one of the best quotes of my lifetime (“Because there are no fours”), and one of the all time great pictures. The list goes on with players like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Peja Stojakovic, Steph Marbury, and Derek Fisher.
The class of 1996 has been responsible for a lot of the drama and storylines over the last 15 years. We can only hope we see more classes like it.
Note: This completes the first series of this analysis, one that was started in the summer of 2010. For various reasons, this was not published contemporaneously with the first six parts. To remain consistent with the rest of the series, it includes only data through the 2009 draft class and 2009-2010 NBA season.