The 2018 NBA draft was held on Thursday night. Future 15-year veterans, NBA All-Stars, NBA Champions, and maybe even Hall of Famers crossed the stage. Please remember their names: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Mo Bamba, Collin Sexton, Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr, these players will shape the NBA landscape for years to come.
But before the 2018 draft class takes the court in late October, let’s focus on the previous one.
Comparing draft classes is popular among basketball fans, and in June it’s very popular. The talent level changes with each class and a group of special players can result in a special era for the league. In 15 years, how will we view the 2017 NBA Draft class?
It’s clear that this draft class has a long way to go if they’d like to be mentioned among the all-time greats, but this is a loaded class that will be a gift that keeps on giving for teams and the league. This class will be a line of demarcation for the league’s next golden era, but can the 2017 NBA Draft class be the best?
Here are the most noted NBA draft classes in league history (in no particular order). Each of those is often referred to as one of, if not the, best NBA draft ever.
The 2003 class is already an all-time great, and it is far from being done. Four MVPs, 53 All-Star appearances, 29 All-NBA selections, and nine titles. The top five (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) is arguably the greatest ever, despite one of the biggest busts of all-time (Darko Milicic being infamously selected by the Pistons in the No. 2 spot).
Only the top five picks in 1984 could rival the first five selections in 2003. But this wasn’t a four-player class. David West (No. 18), Kyle Korver (No. 51), Nick Collison (No. 12), Boris Diaw (No. 21) and Kendrick Perkins (No. 27) have enjoyed lengthy and productive careers. While Chris Kaman (No. 6), Kirk Hinrich (No. 7), Leandro Barbosa (No. 28), Mo Williams (No. 47), and Josh Howard (No. 29) all contributed to their franchises and added more depth to an already deep draft class. Twenty-seven of the picks played at least 10 NBA seasons. Even with some lottery misses, this draft outclassed the rest of the 2000s.
The 1996 Draft class was absolutely loaded. Four MVPs, 64 All-Star appearances, 30 All-NBA selections, nine titles and one Hall of Famer (so far). That’s how remarkably gifted these guys were. With all factors considered, there simply isn’t a more decorated draft class in NBA history than the Class of 1996. Allen Iverson (No. 1), Marcus Camby (No. 2), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (No. 3), Stephon Marbury (No. 4), Ray Allen (No. 5), Antoine Walker (No. 6), Kobe Bryant (No. 13), Peja Stojakovic (No. 14), Steve Nash (No. 15), Jermaine O’Neal (No. 17), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (No. 20), Derek Fisher (No. 24) all hold weight among NBA fans.
All were quality players, and most appeared to be franchise players. And if this is not enough, Ben Wallace added even more depth. Wallace is the only undrafted player in NBA history to be voted a starter for the NBA All-Star Game.
If you knew anything about basketball you’d know that 1984 Draft class was going to be mentioned. Seven MVPs, 53 All-Star appearances, 39 All-NBA selections, nine titles and four Hall of Famers. Hakeem Olajuwon (No. 1), Michael Jordan (No. 3), Charles Barkley (No. 5), Alvin Robertson (No. 7), John Stockton (No. 16), Otis Thorpe (No. 9) and Kevin Willis (11).
From purely a star power standpoint, the Class of 1984 is the best ever. Four Hall of Famers being drafted in the first sixteen picks (five overall, if you include Oscar Schmidt, who never actually played in the NBA). Michael 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, the NBA record holder for steals and assists, isn’t too far behind. The 1984 draft class also had three members of the infamous Dream Team.
Alright, so we know where the bar is set. Now, let’s focus on the exciting class of the 2017 NBA Draft. Depth is the key to this draft class. There are many players with star potential, that can alter a franchise:
Donovan Mitchell (No 13)
Mitchell was amazing last season after falling out of the top 10 selections in the 2017 NBA Draft. He led all rookies in both total points (1616) and points per game (20.5), and finished the season as a Top-25 NBA scorer, averaging more points than Carmelo Anthony, Andrew Wiggins, and Kyle Lowry.
During the season, he went for 40-plus points twice and became the fourth rookie over the last 35 seasons with multiple 40-point games, (Michael Jordan – 7 times, Allen Iverson – 5, and Blake Griffin – 2). Mitchell broke the regular season and playoffs records for points in a game by a Jazz rookie (Darrell Griffith previously owned regular season record, scoring 38 in 1981, and Karl Malone owned the postseason record, 31 in 1986). He also set an NBA rookie record for 3-pointers. Mitchell hit 187 3-pointers, Damian Lillard set the previous record for a first-year player (185) during the 2012-13 season.
His Jazz became the fifth team since 1983-84 (when seeding began) to make the postseason with a rookie leading the team in points per game (joining Denver Nuggets (Carmelo Anthony 21.0 – 2003-04), San Antonio Spurs (David Robinson 24.3 – 1989-90), Indiana Pacers (Chuck Person 18.8 – 1986-87), and Chicago Bulls – (Michael Jordan 28.2 – 1984-85). Mitchell was also spectacular during the postseason.
He dished out a franchise rookie-record 11 assists, became the only rookie with multiple 30-plus point games, and the fourth rookie in NBA history to reach 200+ points in eight or fewer playoff games (he joined elite players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 6 games (in 1970), Wilt Chamberlin – 7 (1960), and Elgin Baylor – 8 (1959).
Donovan Mitchell is a star in the making, he could be a monster with multiple All-Star selections, All-NBA honors and if everything goes right MVP and a title.
Jayson Tatum (No. 3)
Tatum was impressive during his rookie season, and he has been an integral part of the Celtics’ success. He averaged 13.9 points and an impressive 5.0 rebounds per game, while making a ridiculous 43.4 percent of his 3-point attempts, eighth best in the entire league (he also set Celtics record for most 3-pointers by a rookie, 105).
Tatum joined Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Ben Simmons as the only rookies to ever lead a 50 win team in minutes played. But it was just a beginning.
Tatum was a beast during the postseason. The Celtics rookie has done things nobody his age ever has before. Tatum finished the playoffs with a team-high 351 points, the second most for a rookie ever. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had more, 352 in 1970. Tatum became the sixth rookie in NBA history to score 300-plus points in a single postseason and is the only active player to do so (last rookie to achieve this feat – Jack Sickma in 1978).
As expected he ranks first in franchise history, next closest: Tom Heinsohn with 229 points in 1957. Other Boston rookies in the postseason top 10 include Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Bill Russell, and John Havlicek. Moreover, only four other rookies have ever logged more than 600 minutes in the postseason: Magic Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Jack Sikma, and Alvan Adams (Tatum finished with 683). The historical comparisons are very scary. If that is not enough, Tatum broke Larry Bird’s rookie record for most consecutive games scoring 20+ points (7). Bird had four 20+ games in a row during the 1980 playoffs. He also became the first rookie with 20-plus points in multiple Game 7s in NBA history.
It’s difficult to process how good Jayson Tatum already is.
Lonzo Ball (No. 2)
Ball has drawn realistic comparisons to NBA greats over his rookie season. Most commonly: Jason Kidd. His game suits today’s game perfectly. He averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. It is a solid box score production for any point guard, much less a rookie one.
Ball produced some insane stat-lines during his rookie year. He finished his 13th game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists, three steals and three blocked shots. Since the NBA began recording steals and blocks in 1973, only Larry Bird (in 1982) and Magic Johnson (in 1983) produced a box score line matching or surpassing his performance.
Less than a month later he had 10 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, three steals and four blocks, and again a month later he had 5 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and 5 steals (again first Lakers since Magic). But many of the good things he does won’t show up in box scores.
Safe to say Lonzo has the potential to become an all-star caliber player in the near future.
Lauri Markkanen (No. 7)
Markkanen, one of the more pleasant surprises, had an excellent rookie campaign. He averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists across 68 games. In addition, Markkanen scored in double figures in 60 of 68 games and totaled 14 double-doubles during his rookie year.
The Finnisher shoots the lights out, drilling 2.1 threes per game. He became the first player in NBA history to make 10 3-pointers in his first three career games (previous record – 9 by Jason “White Chocolate” Williams in 1998-99), and in his 41st career game, he hit his 100th career 3-pointer, faster than anyone in NBA history (previous record: 44 games by in 2012-13).
Now consider this: Since 1979, when the NBA introduced the 3-point line, 108 players have scored 1,000 points and grabbed 500 rebounds in their rookie season (some who have done it: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Charles Barkley and Tim Duncan). Before Markkanen, none of the 107 players had made 110 or more 3-pointers. He’s made 145 3-pointers.
Whether you are a rookie or not, those numbers are pretty impressive.
Kyle Kuzma (No. 27)
Kuzma went from a late first rounder in the 2017 NBA Draft to one of the most offensively talented players taken in the draft. He has instantly established himself as a go-to guy of the Lakers’ young core and a fan-favorite. Kuzma, one of the draft’s biggest surprises, became the first Lakers rookie with 25+ points in three consecutive games (27, 25 and 38 points) since Jerry West in 1961 and the first Lakers rookie with four 30-point games since Magic Johnson in 1979-80.
Kuzma has put up a combination of points (1242), rebounds (483) and three-pointers made (159) that literally no other NBA rookie has touched. Before the season only three rookies in franchise history reached 1,000 points and 400 or more rebounds, all three have statues outside STAPLES Center (Johnson, West and Elgin Baylor).
It is safe to say that there’s never been a rookie season quite like Kuzma’s.
Depth is where the 2017 NBA Draft class can take over: OG Anunoby, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, John Collins, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Jordan Bell, Jarrett Allen and Josh Jackson all look good, not to mention number one pick Markelle Fultz, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury that has limited him to a total of 14 games. However, in his last game of the season, he became the youngest player in NBA history (19 years, 317 days) with a triple-double (13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds).
So, can the 2017 NBA Draft class be the best? Assuming most of that group will reach their ceilings, in 15 years we could be looking back at this draft class as one of the best ever. We just have to wait, as only time will tell if the players will live up to the expectations, but the potential is great.