There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NBA Draft. Injuries, off-the court issues and other factors have derailed the careers of players who seemed to be destined for greatness, while then-under-the-radar selections have gone on to enjoy illustrious careers littered with championships and personal accolades. Every year a new crop of players enters the league, and although the 2011 NBA Draft isn’t expected to be anything special in terms of star power, there have been a number of draft classes in the last 30 years that have produced some of the greatest players to ever hit the hardwood. In lieu of today being draft day, here’s a look at the top 10 draft classes of the last 30 years:
8. 1999: Although no MVPs or leaders of world champions were born into the NBA through the 1999 NBA Draft, that’s by no means a knock on the quality of the class. 1999 produced nine all stars (Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Manu Ginobili, Ron Artest, Andrei Kirilenko, Wally Szczerbiak, Richard Hamilton and Shawn Marion) and seven key contributors to championship teams (Artest, Ginobili, Hamilton, Marion, Jason Terry, Lamar Odom and James Posey). The 1999 NBA Draft was not rich in superstars, however, it was extremely deep and produced a considerable amount of players that have gone on to enjoy very successful NBA careers.
7. 1998: It’s difficult to choose between the class of ’97 and the class of ’98, as both groups have produced excellent players. While Tim Duncan — one of the greatest players in NBA history — gives substantial weight to the class of ’97, the Dirk Nowitzki-led class of 1998 has a greater amount of star power, thus trumping Duncan and the class of ’98 for a spot on the list. Although this draft may be remembered more for being the year Michael Olowakandi went No. 1 overall, that’s not to say the draft didn’t exceed expectations after the Clippers’ fumblerooski of the top pick. Aside from the league’s newest reigning Finals MVP, the 1999 draft produced Paul Pierce, who is one of the greatest scorers in Celtics’ history; Vince Carter, who was the first athletic “freak” to enter the NBA; and high-quality, above-average players in Antawan Jamison, Mike Bibby, Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington — all of whom, have been major contributors to very good teams at various points in their careers.
6. 2003: When it’s all said and done, 2003 could go down as arguably the greatest draft class of the last 30 years. Better than Michael Jordan’s stacked 1984 group and better than the Kobe Bryant/Allen Iverson led class in 1996. Even though it’s only been eight seasons since the group of ’03 entered the NBA, it is home to two players, who could retire right now, and be first-ballot hall of famers (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). Aside from producing two of the top 25 players in NBA history (James and Wade), 2003 also produced Carmelo Anthony, who has become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league, and Chris Bosh, who has been an all star six years in a row, while holding down a career average of 20 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Although the talent and quality takes a significant dive after the top four players from 2003, the players below James, Wade, Anthony and Bosh haven’t been lying asleep for the past eight years either. In fact, four players (Josh Howard, Chris Kaman, Mo Williams and David West) have been named to an NBA all-star team, and Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw have both taken home some hardware, winning the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards, respectively.