The Top-Five NBA Drafts Since the Legendary 2003 Class
Is the 2017 Draft Class the most talented since 2003? Not so fast…
Some basketball pundits are calling the 2017 NBA Draft the most talented group of prospects since the LeBron-Wade-Melo-Bosh class in 2003. It’s a reasonable argument, considering the upcoming draft is filled with two projected MVP-caliber franchise players (Fultz and Ball); four guys who could evolve into the second banana on a championship team (Tatum, Jackson, Fox, and Monk); and two All-Star locks (Issac and Smith).
With that said, the upcoming rookies have big shoes to fill. While 2003 easily takes its place among the NBA’s Mount Rushmore of Drafts — alongside 1984 (Jordan, Hakeem, Barkley, and Stockton); 1985 (Ewing, Mullin, Malone, and Dumars); and 1996 (Kobe, Iverson, Nash, and Ray Allen) — there have been five legendary drafts in the past 13 years.
To assess the predecessors the 2017 draftees must usurp, let’s look at the five best drafts since 2003, in reverse order.
#5 — 2010 NBA Draft
All-NBA Selections: DeMarcus Cousins & Paul George
All-Stars: John Wall* & Gordon Hayward*
With Wall and Hayward predicted to be selected to their first All-NBA teams this year, the 2010 Draft class has gotten better with time. If half of the top-eight picks had panned out, this class could have gone level with the 2003 class. Going into the draft, Wall and Cousins were the only assumed sure-things, as the Kentucky duo was drafted #1 and #5, respectively. Before Hayward and George were selected at #9 and #10, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, Greg Monroe, and Al-Farouq Aminou were off the board. Unfortunately, all six of those players have not fulfilled Draft Day expectations.
#4 — 2012 NBA Draft
All-NBA Selections: Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, and Andre Drummond
Honorable Mention: Bradley Beal
At the time, the 2012 draft was underestimated. While Davis was regarded as an MVP-caliber talent, Kidd-Gilchrist, Waiters, and Thomas Robinson were assumed to be the next-best prospects. Five years later, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Overlooked on draft day, diamond-in-the-rough — Draymond Green (35) — and future All-NBA selection — Dame Lillard — have become the second and third-best players in the class; while Beal is only scratching the surface of his potential ceiling. Did you see Beal’s performance in Game 7 against the Celtics? He is only getting better, and he’s already one of the best two guards in the game.
#3 — 2008 NBA Draft
MVP: Derrick Rose
All-NBA Selections: Russell Westbrook*, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, and Goran Dragic
All-Stars: Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert
If Westbrook ends up winning this season’s MVP — which he is projected to — the 2008 Draft will be the first since 1996 to include multiple MVP-winners. Even so, the biggest “What If” of this generation — D-Rose — makes this class a tragic group. If it wasn’t for the injuries that have defined his career, Rose, along with Westbrook, would have catapulted this class into the upper echelon of all-time drafts. With that said, 2008 still includes multiple All-NBA selections (Jordan and Love), along with All-Star talents (Lopez and Hibbert).
#2 — 2009 NBA Draft
MVP: Steph Curry
All-NBA Selections: James Harden and Blake Griffin
All-Stars: Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, and Jeff Teague
Curry and Harden will surely carry the 2009 class to many more MVPs. Even so, the draft’s legacy will greatly be hindered by the injury-riddled career of #1 pick — Blake Griffin. Two years ago, Griffin finished third in MVP-voting, comprising a triple-headed monster of co-draftees that rivaled LeBron-Wade-Melo, before them. He’s had a good career, but it had the potential to be far better by now had he been able to avoid injuries. Regardless, the Curry/Harden draft class demands to be considered an excellent one given the basketball brilliance of those two players alone.
#1 — 2011 NBA Draft
All-NBA Selections: Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson
All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker
The 2011 Draft is already one of the only classes in NBA history to completely exceed expectations. At the time, #1 pick, Kyrie Irving, was viewed as the draft’s only sure-thing. Besides Kemba Walker, an All-Star, the other eight players selected in the top-ten haven’t panned out. Unfathomably, the draft’s best players were completely overlooked, as they were picked outside the Top 10 — Klay (11); Kawhi (15); Butler (30); and Isaiah (60). The 2011 class is only getting better with time, as Isaiah and Butler are on the cusp of being selected to their first All-NBA team; Kawhi is close to being an annual MVP-favorite; Kyrie is on the verge of being regarded as the league’s best PG; Isaiah asserted himself as an MVP-caliber talent; Butler is just scratching his ceiling; and Klay is one of the best-shooters of all-time.
May the 2017 class be just as special.