Top 10 NBA drafts of all time


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With the 2014 NBA draft expected to be one of the deepest ever, it’s the perfect time to take a look at the 10 best drafts in history.

This list starts with the 1966 draft, as drafts prior to that included “Territorial Picks”. In those days, teams were allowed to forfeit their first-round pick to take a player who attended college within 50 miles of their home arena. This was in the days before national TV, back when college hoops ruled, and the league hoped that placing stars close to home would help the NBA draw crowds who wanted to see their local heroes play professionally.

For the most part, I judged drafts based on how many players eventually made the Hall of Fame, All-Star game and All-NBA team. Of course you can’t really consider Hall of Fame membership when it comes to drafts in the past 15-20 years, as very few of those players are eligible for HOF membership yet.

pau gasol trade

#10 – 2001 draft

This draft is often overlooked because out of the top 20 picks, only #2 Tyson Chandler, #3 Pau Gasol and #9 Joe Johnson have ever even made an All-Star team. But this draft was full of steals later on – Zach Randolph (19), Tony Parker (28) and Gilbert Arenas (30) were each named All-NBA sometime in their careers. This draft proved that it’s not always how hyped a player is before the draft, it’s how hard he works once he makes an NBA roster.

Manu Ginobili

AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

#9 – 1999 draft

This draft is also one that usually doesn’t get the respect it deserves, mostly because the only probable Hall of Famer on the list is Manu Ginobili, who was drafted at #57. But this was a solid draft overall, as the top 9 picks included future All-Stars Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Wally Szczerbiak, Rip Hamilton and Shawn Marion. Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry were other top 10 picks who had long, successful careers.

#8 – 1981 draft

This draft features only one Hall of Famer, #2 pick Isiah Thomas. But the top 9 also featured five other All-Stars (Mark Aguirre, Buck Williams, Steve Johnson, Tom Chambers and Rolando Blackman), and a total of nine players from this draft were All-Stars at one time or another.

lebron king

#7 – 2003 draft

This draft is the one that the current draft is most compared to, and you can’t argue with the talent at the top. The first five picks were LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. When four of the top five picks in a draft are All-NBA caliber players, it’s been a good draft. 10 years from now, this draft might easily be ranked as one of the 3-4 best of all time,
depending on how many more championship rings LeBron, Melo, Bosh and Wade are wearing when they retire.

jordan thesportsbank

#6 – 1984 draft

This draft would rank higher on the list if it had more depth, as it features five Hall of Famers – Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Oscar Schmidt. Most of the people reading this probably have no idea who Oscar is, because he never played in the NBA. But he was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the 6th round, and chose not to come to the NBA so he could keep his amateur” status (according to the rules back then).

He participated in five Olympics, and was the leading scorer in three of them. He also led the Brazilian Basketball League in scoring eight times, and the Italian League seven times. His election to the Hall of Fame meant that this top-heavy draft is one of two in NBA history to feature five Hall of Famers.

#5 – 1989 draft

Most people don’t have this draft on their list, because eight of the first 10 picks are considered busts:

  • 1- Pervis Ellison
  • 2- Danny Ferry
  • 5- J.R. Reid
  • 6- Stacey King
  • 7- George McCloud
  • 8- Randy White
  • 9- Tom Hammonds
  • 10- Pooh Richardson

That is certainly a bust-a-licious top 10, but in addition to #3 pick Sean Elliot and #4 pick Glen Rice, five of the seven players drafted between 12 and 18 developed into All-Stars (Mookie Blaylock, Tim Hardaway, Dana Barros, Shawn Kemp and B.J. Armstrong).

In spite of the pitiful top 10, this draft is one of only seven since 1966 to produce nine players who made at least one All-Star team. And many of these players were drafted lower, by better teams, which is why I had to include it on this list.

Kobe Bryant

#4 – 1996 draft

This draft is one of two in history that had seven players named All-NBA in their careers. It was also the most top-heavy draft in NBA history, as all nine All-Stars were taken in the top 17 picks.

Three players from this draft – #1 pick Allen Iverson, #13 pick Kobe Bryant and #15 pick Steve Nash – were named league MVP in their careers. #5 pick Ray Allen makes four future Hall of Famers from this draft.

#3 – 1985 draft

This draft is one of four to have 4 players currently inducted in the Hall of Fame – #1 pick Patrick Ewing, #7 Chris Mullin, #13 Karl Malone and #18 Joe Dumars. 1985 was also one of three drafts ever to feature 11 players who would make an All-Star team in their careers.

The 1985 draft was also the last in NBA history that had an All-Star drafted beyond the third round, as Soviet superstar Arvydas Sabonis was taken in the 4th Round (#77 overall).


#2 – 1974 draft

The 1974 NBA draft was one of only two in NBA history to have 12 players make an All-Star team in their career, and Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and George Gervin are all in the Hall of Fame.

Wilkes is a rare player who spent 11 years in the NBA and made the Hall of Fame even though he was never named to an All-NBA team. This draft is often overlooked, because Walton was injured so often and Gervin spent much of his prime playing in the ABA, but the 12 All-Stars who came out of this draft make it very deserving of the #2 ranking.

#1 – 1970 draft

There is no doubt whatsoever that the 1970 draft was the greatest in NBA history. Even the youngest of readers have probably heard of most of the top eight picks, as seven of them were All-Stars at least once in their careers:

  • Bob Lanier
  • Rudy Tomjanovich
  • Pete Maravich
  • Dave Cowens
  • Sam Lacey
  • Jim Ard
  • John Johnson
  • Geoff Petrie

This is the only draft in NBA history to feature six Hall of Famers – Lanier, Maravich, Cowens, Calvin Murphy, Tiny Archibald and Dan Issel. It is also the only draft in NBA history that saw 12 players who played in an All-Star game.

In addition to the six Hall of Famers, Tomjanovich, Lacey, Johnson, Petrie, Charlie Scott and Randy Smith also made All-Star teams in their careers.

Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor) . In addition to running and writing for The Sports Bank and ChicagoNow (Bullsville), he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He’s a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville.

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  1. 84 is the best

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