The 10 Best NBA Draft Classes Of All Time

The 2014 NBA Draft has seen an enormous amount of hype, if it yields anything less than three or four future stars, it will be considered a disappointment. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Julius Randle highlight a cast of talented youngsters. Assuming some of these NBA hopefuls reach their ceilings, we could be looking back at this draft class as one of the best ever.

That said, where would it fall? Does the 2014 class have the kind of talent to match previous super drafts? Does the group of draftees coming this season stack up to some of the Hall of Fame, championship-winning classes of the past?

Taking a look back at previous NBA Drafts, it’s clear the 2014 class has a long way to go if they’d like to be mentioned among the all-time greats. For some added spice we’ve included the best picture, and No. 1 single from the year of each draft.

*** *** ***

10. 1969
Notables: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jo Jo White, Norm Van Lier and Bob Dandridge
Best Picture: Oliver
No. 1 Single: The Archies – “Sugar, Sugar”
This wasn’t a particularly deep draft. Van Lier was a three-time All-Star and led the league in assists during the ’70-71 season. Dandridge was a four-time All-Star and was the third-best player on the Alcindor-Big O Bucks championship. He was also the second-best player on a Bullets championship squad. White was a key piece for the Celtics on the way to two championships. White was an All-Star in seven consecutive seasons, the pinnacle of his career may have come from winning the ’75-76 Finals MVP.

However as you can see the main reason for the selection of the 1969 Draft was Abdul-Jabbar. At the time, Lew Alcindor was the most sought after prospect ever. His 273.4 career win shares are the most all time–for reference, Michael Jordan collected 214 win shares over his prestigious career.

Jabbar won six championships, a record six MVPs, and appeared in a record 18 All-Star Games. On paper, I believe Jabbar has the best arguable case to be the “GOAT” over Jordan. His longevity helped him accumulate an enormous number of records: points, games, rebounds (third) and blocks (third). He matches Jordan in championships while being recognized as the league’s Most Valuable Player one more time. He is also the only player to win the Finals MVP award on two different teams. If Jabbar was the only player drafted in 1969, this draft would still be on my list.

9. 1970
Notables: Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens, Calvin Murphy, Tiny Archibald, Dan Issel, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Rudy Tomjanovich and Geoff Petrie
Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy
No. 1 Single: Simon and Garfunkel – “Bridge over Troubled Water”
A loaded class of players just under the superstar level. Lanier was a double-double machine. He had eight All-Star appearances yet never made an All-NBA team. Cowens was instrumental in two Celtic championships. He was the Celtics best player during both championship runs–no offense to Hondo or White, but never received the Finals MVP award. Cowens notched the league MVP in ’72-73 despite being bumped to the All-NBA Second Team behind Abdul-Jabbar.

Murphy, Archibald, Issel, Tomjanovich and Petrie all had varying levels of success, playing at high levels and producing some impressive stat lines–most notably, the Kentucky Colonels Issel, who started his career with three-straight 27-point, 11-rebound per game seasons.

Finally we have the Pistol. In a large part the Pistol can thank his epic nickname for being the most memorable player of this draft class. Maravich was a talented scorer, and his 31.1 points per game in ’76-77 won him the scoring title. He was a five-time All-Star and yet he only played in 26 career playoff games. He was kind of like old day T-Mac: great numbers but failed to find success in the postseason and cement his legacy.

8. 1976
Notables: Robert Parish, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Dennis Johnson and Mitch Kupchak
Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
No. 1 Single: Wings – “Silly Love Songs”
Kupchak wasn’t a legendary player but he did win two championships and go on to be an incredibly well-known executive. Alex English and Adrian Dantley are two of the ten best scorers from the wing position of all time. They led the league in scoring a combined four times. English had eight seasons scoring 25-plus per game. Dantley joins Jordan as the only wing to ever score 30-plus points on 50 percent shooting or greater in four or more seasons.

Dantley is one the league’s most underrated players of all-time. He was a lights-out scorer and his efficiency was top notch. Parish and Johnson combined to win seven championships over their careers. Parish won three with the Celtics, and one with the Bulls as a 12th man in his final year. Johnson won a championship and a Finals MVP with the SuperSonics before winning two more rings with the Celtics.

7. 1974
Notables: Bill Walton, George Gervin, Bobby Jones, Jamaal Wilkes, John Drew and Maurice Lucas
Best Picture: The Sting
No. 1 Single: Barbra Streisand – “The Way We Were”
If Bill Walton doesn’t get hurt this class could be a whole lot higher. Bill Walton was a two-time All-Star, two-time champion, MVP, Finals MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, and one of the best college players to ever take the court. He’s the Terrell Davis of basketball. He was dominant over a short period of time but lacked the longevity to have his name mentioned in the “best ever” debate.

George Gervin can join Dantley and English in the top scoring wings of all time department. He won four scoring titles and was a 12-time All-Star. The Iceman was something else when he got it going, he led the playoffs six times in points per game but never mounted the podium to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Bobby Jones was considered the premier wing defender of his generation. Jones had nine All-Defensive First Team appearances, to go along with five All-Star appearances, and a Sixth Man of the Year award. Lucas and Wilkes were both multiple time All-Stars who contributed on championship teams.

6. 1960
Notables: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Lenny Wilkens
Best Picture: Ben-Hur
No. 1 Single: Percy Faith – Theme from “A Summer Place”
Best point guard class ever. Oscar Robertson, the human triple-double machine, and the Logo in the same draft? The Big O led the league in assists per game seven times, led the league in scoring once, won an MVP and a championship. West was an All-Star all 14 years he was in the league. He won a Finals MVP award without winning the Finals. He won a championship and led the league in scoring and in assists in separate seasons. Combined, the two amassed an insane 351.8 win shares. Wilkens, who despite being a distant third in the conversation, was a nine-time All-Star and also led the league in assists per game.

5. 1985
Notables: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Detlef Schrempf, Joe Dumars, Chris Mullin, Terry Porter, Xavier McDaniel and Arvydas Sabonis
Best Picture: Amadeus
No. 1 Single: Wham! – “Careless Whisper”
Anytime you get two top-50 players, it’s a good draft. Ewing was the anchor and heart of the tough and gritty defensive Knicks squads. He didn’t retire a champion but he was an 11-time All-Star. Ewing gets a bit of a pass because he played in the Jordan era. The Knicks did make it out of the East twice–once they were defeated by Olajuwon‘s Rockets and then later on by the David Robinson and Tim Duncan Spurs.

The Mailman needs no introduction, as Malone’s longevity and surplus of pure numbers is surpassed only by Abdul-Jabbar. Like Ewing, he was thwarted from championship aspirations by Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the gang. However he was able to win two MVP awards and appear on 13 All-NBA teams. The John Stockton-Malone duo was a legacy in itself and to this day kids who never saw them play respect what they accomplished.

Dumars was the running mate of Isiah Thomas during the Bad Boy Pistons era and won a Finals MVP. Schrempf, Mullin, McDaniel and Porter were all fan favorites and long-time starters for their fan bases. Sabonis could’ve been an a great one but he didn’t start his NBA career until he was 31.

4. 1987
Notables: David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Kevin Johnson, Horace Grant, Reggie Lewis and Mark Jackson
Best Picture: Platoon
No. 1 Single: Bangles – “Walk like an Egyptian”
Horace Grant and Mark Jackson were true pros. Both played over 1,150 career games. Grant was a four-time champion, and Jackson is third all time in assists. Lewis was well on his way to being the next Celtics great one before a heart condition took him from the game. Reggie Miller never won a ring but his shooting stroke and complete destruction of the Knicks will be remembered forever. The Admiral was right up there with the league’s best centers ever statistically but when Duncan came he was the perfect mentor and second option. Along with his two championships, Robinson retired with a Defensive Player of the Year and an MVP award.

Awe, Scottie Pippen. It’s impossible not to like Pippen. The perfect teammate gave up personal numbers and individual gain to forge a far greater legacy with Jordan. I don’t understand why being a team’s “Pippen” is such a bad thing. There’s never been another Pippen–he won six championships, and had 17 nominations to All-NBA or All-Defensive teams. Jordan never won a ring without Pippen and that was not a coincidence.

3. 2003
Notables: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and David West
Best Picture: Chicago
No. 1 Single: 50 Cent – “In Da Club”
Like the 2014 Draft class, at one time or another the ’03 class threatened to be the greatest of all time. I believe the “Big Three” may have hurt that legacy a bit but regardless, the class continues to shine in today’s NBA. LeBron James is Jordanesque, not necessarily in style or mentality but in terms of pure dominance. James will go down as one of the best players to ever lace them up and he does have a legit chance to surpass Jordan. He’s a two-time champion, four-time MVP, and his individual dominance extends far beyond per game statistics.

Wade is a special player; he’s not going to run as long as LeBron will in this league but he will go down as a great. He’s a three-time champion and had some absolutely monstrous individual seasons.

Carmelo Anthony is a great scorer but he’s never really put it all together. Bosh will, as he claimed, be a member of the Hall of Fame. The perennial All-Star had some strong All-Star seasons in Toronto before ascending into the Miami spotlight. David West, Kirk Hinrich, Kendrick Perkins and Josh Howard all contributed to their franchises and added some depth to an already deep draft class.

2. 1984
Notables: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and Otis Thorpe
Best Picture: Terms of Endearment
No. 1 Single: Prince – “When Doves Cry”
Sam Bowie! Oh wait, sorry Portland. At least you got Kevin Durant! Oh wait, yeah never mind. There isn’t much to say about this draft class. If you knew anything about basketball you’d know that this year was going to be on the list. The draft class had three members of the infamous Dream Team. Stockton is the NBA record holder for steals and assists. Along with Malone, he made Utah Jazz basketball relevant for over a decade. He led the league in assists per game in nine consecutive season. Barkley, notoriously known for his personality as much as his play, is a top-five power forward all time. He was an 11-time All-Star and one-time MVP winner. Barkley fired up fans in multiple cities without ever bringing home a trophy. Olajuwon is one of the classic franchise players. He went No. 1 over Jordan and I can’t say it was a mistake. He was the best two-way basketball player during his prime and brought the Rockets faithful two championships. He was an All-NBA Team member 12 times, two-time Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a one-time MVP recipient.

Jordan. Jordan won six rings, and five MVPs. He led the league in scoring ten times. I’ve mentioned him in almost every paragraph I’ve written for this piece. That’s the type of legacy he’s left. You can’t talk “GOAT” in any capacity without mentioning his name.

1. 1996
Notables: Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Antoine Walker, Peja Stojakovic, Stephon Marbury and Marcus Camby
Best Picture: Braveheart
No. 1 Single: Los Del Rio – “Macarena”
The last three classes were really hard to arrange. The ’84 class is done, we know what they accomplished. The 2003 class is on the second half of their journey so they could make a jump theoretically. The 1996 class is sadly coming to a close. Camby, Walker, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jermaine O’Neal, Stojakovic, and Marbury’s names all hold weight among NBA fans. All were quality players who, at a minimum at times, appeared to be franchise players.

Steve Nash defied basketball logic. The slim Canadian point guard won back-to-back MVP awards and quarterbacked the Phoenix Suns high octane and exciting offense. Ray Allen is now a two-time champion and may be the best shooter of all time, no offense Reggie Miller. Allen Iverson was the ultimate fan favorite, and he embodied the culture of basketball and his crowning achievement will always be carrying an undeserving Philadelphia squad to an NBA Finals.

Kobe Bryant has his flaws–he wasn’t as good as Jordan or LeBron in his prime–but he has found an immense amount of success. He’s a five-time champion, one-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, and a 16-time All-NBA team member. It’s no secret Bryant would love to match Jordan in rings and is only one away, but is it too late?

Combined, Kobe, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson and Ray Allen have seven championships, four MVPs, and 45 All-Star appearances.

What do you think of these rankings?

Follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshEberley.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.