Pundits and fans constantly analyze the NBA Draft, thinking they can nail the right pick. But sometimes you just get a bad draft. The draft might be deft of superstars and your favorite team may be left with a middling player who ends up sitting on the bench for the majority of his NBA tenure. And sometimes, you get a draft where you can’t miss. Most of the high draft picks go on to succeed and play an integral part of your team’s future.
I took a look at the drafts from 1989-2000, ranking them based on the best 10 players selected, using a select few categories to get the best perspective on their impact in the NBA. Some of these drafts will have numbers that are completely shifted due to the dominance of one great player, but that just shows how impactful that one player was.
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12. 2000 NBA DRAFT
This list is a bit devoid of superstars. They had the worst numbers across the board of the 12 drafts that I looked at. None of these players became “stars” and most of them would go on to become slightly more than role players for the majority of their careers. Michael Redd might have had the greatest peak out of all these players because of the burden that he carried for the Bucks, but it was so short lived due to injuries that he was unable to sustain any long-term success. Jamal Crawford has had the longest amount of success but has done so being one of the best bench players in the league, not a go-to player.
11. 1990 NBA DRAFT
This list had only one great player: Gary Payton. Payton was an extremely talented point guard who was one of the best defensive guards of all-time. The only caveat with Payton was his accused volatile nature, and even that has been dismissed by some teammates who played with him. Coleman was relatively successful but never progressed into the franchise star that many thought we would become. The next best player, Toni Kukoc, is best known for his role on the Chicago Bulls championship run in the ’90s. Antonio Davis was a bruiser down low but is best known now for his work on ESPN as a NBA analyst, as well as running into the stands to protect his wife in Chicago.
10. 1993 NBA DRAFT
They don’t have a player like Payton, but Chris Webber was a superb offensive force that led the Kings deep into the playoffs in his prime. Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Allan Houston and Sam Cassell were important pieces to contenders. This draft had a couple of strong players but is distinctive for its entire crop of important contributors to the NBA.
9. 1991 NBA DRAFT
Dikembe Mutombo was a presence in the paint, earning three trips to the All-Defensive Team and making eight trips to the All-Star Game. Terrell Brandon was a skilled offensive player who could both pass and score. Larry Johnson not only appeared on two All-Star teams but made the “L” sign famous due to his ability to hit big shots. L.J. may have made the most famous 4-point play of all-time against the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the ’99 Eastern Conference Finals. They inch by the 1993 class due to Mutombo’s defensive excellence.
8. 1989 NBA DRAFT
Shawn Kemp and Tim Hardaway were the two biggest takeaways from this draft. Kemp was an explosive scorer who led the Sonics to the playoffs and nearly won a championship. This group had a little bit of everything as they made their mark in every category and finished with a respectable group Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 15.4.
7. 1999 NBA DRAFT
What this group lacks in star power they gain in depth. This group compares favorably to the Denver Nuggets: A bunch of highly-efficient players that are very good, but not great. None of these players directly led their team, but every single one of them played very important parts on championship and playoff teams.
6. 1994 NBA DRAFT
Jason Kidd and Grant Hill are the two best players on this list. They both led a draft class that didn’t gain many championships, but were in the middle of the pack in terms of PER and number of All-Star teams. Jalen Rose, Glenn Robinson, Donyell Marshall and Eddie Jones, all of whom posted long careers, follow the two “elites” in this draft.
5. 1995 NBA DRAFT
It was a tough call between this draft and the 1994 Draft but I give the nod to the 1995 squad solely because of Kevin Garnett‘s all-around dominance. Rasheed Wallace adds another dominant power forward to this list, and one that won a championship during the height of his talents. Jerry Stackhouse, Kurt Thomas and Michael Finley round up the rest of a good draft.
4. 1998 NBA DRAFT
It was tough to put a group that consisted of Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce this low but they don’t have a player that cracks the top 15 of all time, a trait that the next two drafts have. These guys are no slouches, though. Both Nowitzki and Pierce played integral parts in their team’s championship runs and have stayed loyal, with neither player switching teams during their career.
3. 1997 NBA DRAFT
Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest player of the 2000s and that alone is enough to give the 1997 Draft a top-three rating. Duncan separates this list from other groups, but he is helped out by a couple of other players. Chauncey Billups became the orchestrator of the tremendously successful Detroit Pistons during the mid 2000s, routinely hitting big shots and sinking free throws. Tracy McGrady never had much postseason success, except this season, but was an athletic freak that could wake up an arena with an array of moves and dunks. T-Mac’s “Dinner Serve” in the 2004 All-Star Game was a fantastic dunk that still gets YouTube hits.
2. 1992 NBA DRAFT
Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Latrell Sprewell are just good enough to nudge 1992 ahead of 1997. This draft was loaded with championship rings and All-Star appearances. Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry had a knack for finding the right team at the right time, accumulating seven championship rings during his career. This list is not without its stories, though. Sprewell will forever be remembered for choking out head coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice and for saying the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves should up his contract offer to Sprewell so he could “feed his family.”
1. 1996 NBA DRAFT
The only player not to make an All-Star appearance was Marcus Camby, who ended up being named to a couple of All-Defensive teams. This group had it all with star power (Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash), three-point specialists (Ray Allen and Peja Stojakovic) and troubled stars (Jermaine O’Neal, Stephon Marbury and Antoine Walker). It will be rare to see another draft with the talent level that ’96 had.
Did we get this list right?
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