The NBA draft is always an exciting annual event as fans and teams gear up to see which young stars will make their marks at the professional level. Some years, though, the talent pool is poor and teams have to filter through a bunch of lesser prospects to mine the few gems that may or may not be available to select.
For as many great draft classes that there were, there’s been an equal number of classes with almost no superstars or many players capable of contributing to winning basketball.
But they deserve to be recognized, so here are the top-10 worst draft classes in NBA history. This ranking excludes the 10 most recent draft classes and is based primarily on the overall talent pool of the draft and what those players accomplished in their careers, not necessarily the year with the most busts or most whiffs by teams with lottery picks.
10. 1989 Draft Class
Headlined by Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp and Vlade Divac
This class produced a handful of solid NBA starters who sustained decent peaks and long NBA careers, like Divac, Hardaway, Kemp, Glen Rice and Clifford Robinson. It also includes some productive role players in B.J. Armstrong, Mookie Baylock, Nick Anderson and Sean Elliot who found success alongside true superstars. Outside of them, this class consists of a bunch of mediocre talent that didn’t accomplish much of note.
The top-two selections in 1989, “Out of Service” Pervis Ellison and Danny Ferry, never found their footing in the NBA. Only three of the top-10 picks averaged over 10 points per game for their careers, and there weren’t a bunch of late-round steals to be found either.
As a whole, this class earned 21 All-Star and 10 All-NBA selections.
Best Players: Tim Hardaway, Glen Rice, Shawn Kemp, Vlade Divac, Clifford Robinson, Mookie Baylock
9. 2006 Draft Class
Headlined by LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Lowry, and Paul Millsap
The 2006 class’ most talented player was Brandon Roy, who was on a path toward greatness in his first few seasons before knee injuries cut his career short. Without him realizing his full potential, this class leaves much to be desired. Aldridge, Lowry and Millsap are good players in their own right, as were Rajon Rondo J.J. Redick, and Rudy Gay, but that’s where the list ends for this class.
Andrea Bargnani went first overall to Toronto in this draft, much to the chagrin of Raptors fans everywhere. He had a couple of good scoring seasons but was a poor rebounder and horrendous defender, seldom showing a semblance of interest in basketball.
This class consisted of some good starting-caliber players, a few role players and a bunch of fillers. In total, this class has accumulated 24 All-Star selections, nine All-NBA selections and no MVPs.
Best Players: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Rajon Rondo, J.J. Reddick, Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy, P.J. Tucker
8. 1971 Draft Class
Headlined by Artis Gilmore, Spencer Haywood and Sidney Wicks
This class contains two Hall of Fame centers in Gilmore and Haywood, two tenacious rebounders who often intimidated their opponents. Aside from them, the 1971 draft gave the league a bunch of decent scorers who didn’t win much and fizzled out of the NBA sooner than they should have.
Guys like Wicks, Randy Smith, Austin Carr, Fred Brown and others were adept at putting the ball in the basket and not much else. It’s unclear why there are so many players in this class who put up empty statistics on bad teams. So many of them didn’t accomplish much and get lost to history.
This class totaled 25 All-Star games, some of which came in the ABA, and five All-NBA selections.
Best Players: Artis Gilmore, Spencer Haywood, Sidney Wicks, Randy Smith, Austin Carr, Fred Brown
7. 2002 Draft Class
Headlined by Yao Ming, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer
Ming was the first selection in the 2002 draft and was a sensation for all eight of his injury-plagued seasons. Stoudemire straight out of high school and blossomed into a star, and Boozer, selected 35th overall, grew a couple of inches upon entering the league, which helped his game transition from college. Aside from those three players, this class consists of mostly role players and a few players who enjoyed short-lived success.
Caron Butler and Luis Scola were solid players in their primes and steals based on when they were picked. More highly-touted players out of college like Drew Gooden and Mike Dunlevy were selected in the top-five only to amount to nothing more than a role player to complement other stars and did so mostly unsuccessfully. This draft also had a couple of tragedies occur, like with star Duke point guard suffering a motorcycle accident that ended his career and Memphis guard Dajuan Wagner having his career cut short from stomach disease that required several surgeries.
No player from this draft accumulated over 100 career win shares. Overall, this class totaled 18 All-Star games and 11 All-NBA selections.
Best players: Yao Ming, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Nene Hilario, Tayshaun Prince, Caron Butler, Luis Scola, Matt Barnes
6. 1983 Draft Class
Headlined by Clyde Drexler, Doc Rivers and Derek Harper
The class that preceded the legendary 1984 draft had the great Clyde Drexler as its singular star. Productive starters and one-time All-Stars like Rivers, Dale Ellis, Jeff Malone fall in the second tier of this bunch, along with guys like Harper and Byron Scott who were strong pieces on good teams. Even players like Craig Ehlo, Antoine Carr, Thurl Bailey and John Paxson carved out long, successful careers. Having Manute Bol in this class also adds an element of fun, although he wasn’t much of a player beyond blocking shots for 15 minutes per game.
What gets this class on a ranking like this how almost all of the highest-picked players turned out. Besides Scott, the five other players selected in the top-six had subpar careers. The 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson was the top pick and was on pace toward a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries took their toll after his first few seasons. Picks two and three, Steve Stipanovich and Rodney McCray, were serviceable players but nothing special.
Had Sampson fulfilled his potential, that probably would have been enough to push this class out of this list. What this class did accomplish despite his injuries, though, is 18 All-Star games and seven All-NBA teams, mostly from Drexler.
Best players: Clyde Drexler, Doc Rivers, Derek Harper, Bryon Scott, Dale Ellis, Jeff Malone, Ralph Sampson
5. 1990 Draft Class
Headline by Gary Payton, Derrick Coleman and Toni Kukoc
The 1990 Class is carried by Payton. He’s a Hall of Famer, a top point guard of his era and one of the best perimeter defenders ever. The others who were called to the stage by David Stern that year enjoyed fairly modest careers, like first overall pick Coleman who got out of the first-round only once at age 35.
Kukoc, Dennis Scott, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Kendal Gill, Antonio Davis and a few others of similar stature enjoyed nice stretches in the league but did do much besides playing their roles well. Outside of about 15-20 guys from this draft, this class is mostly interchangeable players who lasted five-to-10 seasons. Nothing special.
Overall, this class made 14 All-Star games and made 11 All-NBA teams, almost all of which are Payton’s.
Best Players: Gary Payton, Derrick Coleman, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Scott, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Antonio Davis, Kendal Gill, Tyrone Hill, Dee Brown, Cedric Ceballos
4. 1986 Draft Class
Headlined by Dennis Rodman, Arvydas Sabonis, Mark Price
The 1986 Draft class doesn’t contain any players with a standout NBA career besides Rodman, who did so in truly unique ways. Jeff Hornacek enjoyed prolonged team success but was never a star. Price and Brad Daugherty were two good players but could sustain their success. Others like Chuck Person, Dell Curry and Ron Harper were solid players in their own right, albeit without any spectacular individual accolades.
This group is limited by three tragedies, the most unfortunate being the death of Maryland superstar Len Bias soon after draft day. He was joining an all-time great Boston Celtics team and was touted as the next great forward. Drazen Petrovic lit up the NBA with his elite long-range shooting and ferocious competitiveness for four seasons before dying in a car accident. Sabonis, still regarded as one of the best players to not showcase his prime in the league, was forced to stay in his home country for several years before finally joining Portland in 1995.
All three of those could have made this a great draft class had they had the chance to reach their potential. Unfortunately for basketball fans they never got a true opportunity. Still, this class accumulated 13 All-Star appearances and eight All-NBA selections.
Best Players: Dennis Rodman, Mark Price, Brad Dougherty, Arvydas Sabonis, Ron Harper, Jeff Hornacek, Drazen Petrovic
3. 1975 Draft Class
Headlined by David Thompson, World B. Free and Gus Williams
Several players from the 1975 class spent time in the ABA before switching leagues, so some of their careers aren’t quite as fulfilled as they could have been. Still, this class as a whole doesn’t have any all-time greats besides Thompson, and unfortunately, his career was cut short due to substance abuse issues. Free is the only other player that achieved a level of greatness, but his time as an elite player was also brief.
This class simply doesn’t have many special players who significantly contributed to the league. Lionel Hollins, Williams, Alvan Adams and Darryl Dawkins all produced well but aren’t legends by any means. Most of the other players are forgettable, as was a good amount of 1970s NBA basketball that was plagued by drug issues and poor public perception.
This class tallied 13 All-Star games and seven All-NBA selections, with some All-Star games coming in the ABA, which lessens the accomplishment somewhat.
Best players: David Thompson, World B. Free, Gus Williams, Alvan Adam, Lionel Hollins, Dan Roundfield, Darryl Dawkins
2. 1973 Draft class
Headlines by Doug Collins, George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones
Look up the list of everyone in this draft class and see how many you know. Many of the players in this class played part of their careers in the ABA and almost none had memorable NBA careers once they transitioned. Collins was the top pick and made four All-Star games, never really amounting much besides a good scorer. McGinnis, for as great as he was in the ABA, is more known for his defensive deficiencies and shortcomings than his scoring and rebounding prowess. Everyone else isn’t worth mentioning.
No player from this class has over 45 career win shares. The player with the most, Jones, never even averaged double-digit points for a season. This is as unremarkable a class as there ever was and would be even more so without some players’ accomplishments in the ABA. Hopefully, a class like this doesn’t enter the league anytime soon.
The 1973 class made 19 NBA/ABA All-Star games and just two All-NBA teams.
Best Players: Doug Collins, George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones, M.L. Carr
1. 2000 Draft Class
Headlined by Michael Redd, Jamal Crawford Kenyon Martin
The 2000 NBA draft class is the worst in league history. Five of the top-seven selections were busts and teams whiffed on picks left and right. The class made just three total All-Star games, one coming from Jamaal Magloire after averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds in the 2003-2004 season. Redd is the only one to make an All-NBA team and No. 1 pick Kenyon Martin broke his leg before he ever played an NBA and was never quite the same. This draft is about as poor as it gets.
When looking at the total careers of those drafted in 2000, there are only five players worth having on an NBA team that’s trying to win: Redd, Crawford, Martin, Mike Miller and Hedo Turkoglu. Notable names like Quentin Richardson, Stromile Swift and Darius Miles were entertaining at times but did more harm than good at the end of the day. Simply put, this class consists of mostly end of the bench players. It was truly a terrible way to ring in the new millennium for the NBA. Thankfully, it seems scouting and player evaluations have gotten better.
Best Players: Michael Redd, Jamal Crawford, Kenyon Martin, Mike Miller, Hedo Turkoglu