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The List: Top five draft classes in NBA history

POSTED: Jun 15, 2015 2:03 PM ET

By Joe Boozell, special to


Allen Iverson was the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.

The NBA Draft is the most conventional avenue franchises can use to add talent to their rosters. Player movement via free agency and trades is becoming more and more frequent, but for all intents and purposes, the easiest way to acquire a star player is to draft one.

Thus, there is a reason general managers salivate over certain draft classes and look to trade their picks in others. The caliber of talent changes with each class, and a special group of players can result in a special era for the NBA. With that said, here are the top five draft classes in NBA history.

*Number in parentheses denotes which draft selection each player was.

5) 1998 Draft

Notable players: Mike Bibby (2), Antawn Jamison (4), Vince Carter (5), Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10), Rashard Lewis (33)

Michael Olowokandi flopped as the first overall pick for the Clippers, but the 1998 Draft contains three future Hall of Famers in Carter, Nowitzki and Pierce. Jamison and Lewis were each two-time All-Stars, and though Bibby never received that honor, he came close on several occasions.

Nowitzki and Pierce can each say they were the best player on a champion: Nowitzki in 2011 with the Mavericks, and Pierce in 2008 with the Celtics (though a case could be made that Kevin Garnett was on the same level.) Regardless, the 1998 Draft is one of the best the league has ever seen, and plenty of these players are still major contributors in the league 17 years later.

4) 1985 Draft

Notable players: Patrick Ewing (1), Xavier McDaniel (4), Chris Mullin (7), Detlef Schrempf (8), Charles Oakley (9), Karl Malone (13), Joe Dumars (18), Terry Porter (24)

The 1985 Draft had quite an act to follow considering the crop that was available in 1984, but they certainly didn't disappoint. The '85 bunch contained three members of the Dream Team in Ewing, Malone and Mullin. Ewing and Malone never won an NBA title, but Malone was a 14-time All-Star and two-time MVP while Ewing was an 11-time All-Star in his own right.

The championship rings, however, came with the depth in this draft class. Dumars was a six-time All-Star and a two-time champion with the Detroit Pistons, where he was a perfect backcourt compliment to legendary point guard Isiah Thomas. Schrempf, McDaniel, Oakley and Porter were all All-Stars at some point in their respective careers, and were key cogs on teams with players such as Michael Jordan, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Ewing.

3) 2003 Draft

Notable players: LeBron James (1), Carmelo Anthony (3), Chris Bosh (4), Dwyane Wade (5), David West (18), Boris Diaw (21), Josh Howard (30)

Only the top five picks in 1984 could rival the first five selections in 2003. Outside of Darko Milicic in the No. 2 slot, James, Anthony, Bosh and Wade are all future Hall of Famers, and three of them have multiple championships. Of course, James, Bosh and Wade teamed up to win two of their titles in Miami, and that strategy revolutionized the way star NBA players view free agency.

James has made the NBA Finals in each of the last five years, and no player has the type of impact on the entire league that James does at the moment. But this class isn't all about LeBron. Wade won a title in 2006 without him, and if it wasn't for injuries, he was well on his way to being one of the best players of all time. Anthony is one of the best scorers of his generation, Diaw was the X-factor in the Spurs winning the 2014 title and Howard and West have each made All-Star teams. For those reasons, 2003 will go down as one of the best drat classes in NBA history.

2) 1984 Draft

84DRAFT: Olajuwon Picked First

1984 NBA Draft was headlined by Hakeem Olajuwon being selected first overall by the Houston Rockets.

Notable players: Hakeem Olajuwon (1), Michael Jordan (3), Charles Barkley (5), Alvin Robertson (7), Otis Thorpe (9), Kevin Willis (11), John Stockton (16)

It may come as a shock that the 1984 crop isn't ranked first on this list. It was a very, very tight call, but in the end, this group simply wasn't as deep as another class in NBA history.

From purely a star power standpoint, yes, the Class of 1984 is the best ever. There are four Hall of Famers; five if you include Oscar Schmidt, who never actually played in the NBA. But Jordan, by all accounts, is the best player in NBA history. Olajuwon and Barkley are probably among the top 15 players to ever play the game, and Stockton isn't too far behind. Many consider the 90s the 'golden era' of NBA basketball, and the 1984 Draft is the driving force behind that notion.

Despite all of that, the next class on this list earns a slight edge based on its talent level from top to bottom.

1) 1996 Draft

Notable players: Allen Iverson (1), Marcus Camby (2), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3), Stephon Marbury (4), Ray Allen (5), Antoine Walker (6), Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14), Steve Nash (15), Jermaine O'Neal (17), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20), Derek Fisher (24)

The only person in the top six picks of this draft not to ever make an All-Star team was Camby, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. If not for injuries, he likely would have made a few All-Star squads. And despite all of that, two of the three best players in the 1996 Draft were not selected in the top six picks. That's how remarkably gifted these guys were.

The players I'm referring to are Bryant and Nash, with Stojakovic not far behind, though Allen edges him out as the fourth best player in the Class of 1996. This class has star power (Bryant, Iverson and Nash all won MVPs), depth (the players noted above have 58 All-Star appearances, collectively. 58.) and championship pedigree (Bryant and Fisher have five titles apiece, Allen has two, Walker and Stojakovic each have one). With all factors considered, there simply isn't a more decorated draft class in NBA history than the Class of 1996.