The Top 10 NBA Draft classes of All Time

David Stern and Adam Silver
David Stern and Adam Silver
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty Images)

In honor of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday, Deadspin is taking the time to rank the top ten drafts in NBA history.

Our draft rankings were determined by listing the drafts with the best combination of star power and role player contribution.

So, let’s get into it.

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10. 1999

10. 1999

Elton Brand
Elton Brand
Image: (Getty Images)

Stars: Manu Ginobili, Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Richard Hamilton, Elton Brand

Key Role Players: Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Maggette, James Posey, and Wally Szczerbiak.

The 1999 Draft gave us some of the most exciting players of the last few decades. No one will ever forget Baron Davis leading the 8th seeded “We Believe” Warriors over Dallas in the 2007 playoffs, or the countless gritty and eye-popping plays from Manu Ginobili during his career with the Spurs. Even though this draft didn’t produce any top 20 level talents it was rich with significant role players who made their mark on the history of the league.

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9. 2016

9. 2016

Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray
Image: (Getty Images)

Stars: Jamal Murray, Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis

Key Role Players: Jaylen Brown, Caris LeVert, Dejounte Murray, Buddy Hield, Taurean Waller Prince, Marquese Chris

The 2016 Draft has the potential to be a very stellar crop of talent. Jamal Murray was arguably the best player in the Orlando bubble this season and Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis have all been All Stars. The class is also supported by the strength of “role players” like Jaylen Brown, Caris LeVert, and Buddy Hield that have shown they can go off on scoring tangents at any moment. If this class keeps up this level of production it will hold its spot as one of the best draft classes ever.

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8. 1970

8. 1970

Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich
Image: (AP)

Stars: Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Tiny Archibald, Dave Cowens, Rudy Tomjanovich, Calvin Murphy

Key Role players: Jim McMillian, Sam Lacey

Off the strength of the star power in this draft, it had to be in the top ten. You can’t have players like Pistol Pete, Bob Lanier, and Tiny Archibald in the same draft and not give it the respect it deserves.

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7. 2011

7. 2011

Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard
Image: (AP)

Stars: Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, Nikola Vučević

Key Role Players: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Tristan Thompson, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valančiūnas, Iman Shumpert

The 2011 Draft is one of the most solid drafts in NBA history in both star power and depth. Stars like Kawhi Leonard (drafted by the Pacers before being traded to the Spurs), Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson helped bring championships to their organizations. Role players like the Morris twins, Enes Kanter and Iman Shumpert were vital pieces on winning teams for years.

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6. 1998

6. 1998

Vince Carter
Vince Carter
Image: (Getty Images)

Stars: Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby

Key Role Players: Rashard Lewis, Antawn Jamison, Cuttino Mobley

If you have star power like Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce in the same draft then it’s going to be ranked high on general principle. These three players were the faces of the league for the majority of the 2000s. Also, players like Rashard Lewis and Antawn Jamison were buckets in the league during their careers.

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5. 1987

5. 1987

Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Image: (AP)

Stars: David Robinson, Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson

Key Role Players: Horace Grant, Mark Jackson, Derrick McKey, Muggsy Bogues.

The 1987 draft is packed with top-level talent and gives you stellar role players that have made key contributions in the NBA. Whenever you have Scottie, the Admiral, and arguably the second-best shooter in NBA history all in the same draft, there really isn’t much choice but to have them in the top five.

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4. 1985

4. 1985

Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing
Image: (AP)

Stars: Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Joe Dumars

Key Role Players: Detlef Schrempf, A.C. Green, Hot Rod Williams, Charles Oakley

Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing are two of the best big men to ever play this game, and when you add a sharpshooter like Chris Mullin to your draft class it solidifies 1985 as one of the best in the league’s history. It also can’t be ignored that rough rider Charles Oakley was also a member of this class, as well NBA ironman A.C. Green.

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3. 2003

3. 2003

LeBron James
LeBron James
Screenshot: ESPN

Stars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh

Key Role Players: David West, Kyle Korver, Kirk Hinrich, Kyle Korver, Boris Diaw

You can make the argument that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh make up the greatest squad of top five players in NBA history. This draft also includes major role players like Kirk Hinrich and sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

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2. 1984

2. 1984

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Image: (AP)

Stars: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton

Key Role Players: Otis Thorpe, Sam Perkins, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Willis, Alvin Robertson

Jordan, Barkley, Stockton, and Olajuwon should tell you everything you need to know about why this draft is ranked so high. However, if you need more convincing, role players like Sam Perkins, Otis Thorpe, and Jerome Kersey help support the strength of this draft substantially from the roles that they played on successful teams throughout their careers.

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1. 1996

1. 1996

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson
Image: (Getty Images)

Stars: Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury

Key Role Players: Marcus Camby, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jermaine O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Peja Stojakovic

The 1996 Draft takes the top spot in our draft rankings because the combination of star power and role player impact is unmatched. Kobe Bryant is arguably a top-five NBA player of all time, and players like Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash are some of the best guards to ever play the game. You combine this with the presence of role players like Peja Stojakovic, who was a stellar scorer, and Derek Fisher, who hit some of the biggest shots in NBA history, this draft reigns supreme above all.

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