In June, the basketball world turns its attention to the NBA Draft, the annual event that gives teams the opportunity to secure the talents of some of the most exciting prospects on the planet.
Over the years, the NBA Draft has produced a ton of superstars who were able to transform the fortunes of the teams that were lucky (or, in some cases, smart enough) to select them—as well as a number of notable duds who are only remembered for being a bust.
The level of skill that’s theoretically up for grabs varies year to year, and prior to the draft, a lot of analysts will spend a fair amount of time trying to place a particular class in context by comparing the players who are gearing up to take their talent to the next level to the collective groups from the past.
It’s only natural that many of those discussions will circle back to the NBA Draft class that managed to set the bar all others are measured against, and while it can be a bit difficult to definitively identify the one that should be considered the gold standard, there are a few years that stand out from the rest of the pack when it comes to trying to settle that particular debate.
What’s the strongest NBA Draft class of all time?
“Talent” isn’t exactly the easiest metric to quantify, and while there are plenty of factors you could take into consideration while trying to compare the various NBA Draft classes, focusing on the number of players who eventually punched their ticket to the Basketball Hall of Fame seems like a pretty solid start.
The fact that players have to wait a minimum of four years after playing their final game before they can be immortalized in Springfield presents a theoretical hurdle when it comes to discussing the drafts that have produced guys who are still doing their thing in the NBA.
With that said, there aren’t really any top contenders from the past couple of decades.
2011 is really the only draft in somewhat recent memory to produce a notable number of stars (namely Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler), and the 2003 draft (which features two current Hall of Famers in the form of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who will inevitably be joined by LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony) is the only other potential contender from the new millennium.
However, if we go back a bit further, there are four years that really stand out from the rest.
First off, we have the NBA Draft that took place in 1960.
There were only 16 players selected over the course of the first two rounds that year, which makes the fact that four guys who were scooped up in the first round (Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Lenny Wilkens, and Tom Sanders) eventually ended up in the Hall of Fame particularly impressive.
1970 was also a pretty stacked year, as the first four selections (Rob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Pete Maravich, and Dave Cowens) were all enshrined in Springfield when everything was said and done. It also featured more Hall of Famer (six) than any other draft in history, as Calvin Murphy and Nate Archibald (the first two men to go in the second round) achieved the same honor.
The 1980s also spawned a couple of NBA Draft classes that are arguably the top contenders for the best of all time.
A lot of basketball fans would tell you the 1984 draft deserves that title thanks in no small part to the presence of Michael Jordan, who went two picks after Hakeem Olajuwon and two before Charles Barkley (John Stockton, who was drafted by the Jazz with the 16th pick, is the other notable standout).
That’s a tough act to follow, but 1985 did what it could thanks to a class that boasted five Hall of Famers.
Patrick Ewing more than lived up to the expectations that came with being drafted first overall, and Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, Joe Dumars, and Manute Bol also ended up doing pretty well for themselves (while they didn’t get enshrined, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Oakley and Detlef Schrempf).
Based on the evidence at hand, I’d go as far as to argue that 1985 is far and away the most well-rounded NBA Draft class in terms of talent, although I wouldn’t have any major issues with people asserting some of the other ones I mentioned are more worthy.