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The Best Player From Each NBA Draft Class In The Last 20 Years

The Best Player From Each NBA Draft Class In The Last 20 Years

The NBA Draft is a very important part of a team’s offseason because drafting the right player is absolutely essential to short-term and long-term championship success. We have seen some iconic rookies such as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan dominate the game in their first seasons, and both are obviously responsible for two of the game’s greatest franchises. But we have also seen draft flops, including No. 1 overall pick Darko Milicic and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett.

It has been clear throughout NBA history that the correct draft choice alters a franchise’s season and future. But which players have had the most impact on their teams over the last two decades of NBA draft classes? It is not easy for rookies to get acclimated to the NBA, but we have seen some excellent talents accomplish this in surprisingly great fashion. Without further ado, here is the best player from each draft class over the past 20 years.


2002 NBA Draft Class - Yao Ming

Yao-Ming

2nd place: Amar’e Stoudemire; 3rd place: Carlos Boozer

Yao Ming not only changed the way extremely large centers are viewed, but he also changed the game for good. Ming was extremely skilled for a 7’6” big man who was not able to play above the rim due to his gigantic size. Armed with an above-average jumper and a soft touch around the rim, Yao put the league on notice as soon as he arrived.

But Yao was also responsible for making the NBA a global market due to its entrance into the Chinese market. There is no doubt that millions of basketball fans from China flooded the NBA market and all of them supported Yao and the Houston Rockets for that matter. Amar’e Stoudemire won Rookie of the Year, posting 13.5 PPG and 8.8 RPG for the Phoenix Suns. As great as Amar’e was, Yao had a bigger cultural impact. Of course, Carlos Boozer had his time as an All-Star big man for the Utah Jazz.


2003 NBA Draft Class - LeBron James

LeBron James

2nd place: Dwyane Wade; 3rd place: Carmelo Anthony

There is no doubt that LeBron James is the greatest player to come out of the 2003 NBA Draft, as he is still going strong in Year 19 as a top-5 player in the world. LeBron’s longevity is unparalleled because he put in the work to be great and stay healthy for this long. James is not only an all-time great talent, but his impact off the court has been arguably larger. The King has been pristine as a role model, and he has always backed it up with superstar play on the court with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers.

The King has accomplished everything in the game of basketball, on an individual and team level, and is easily the greatest player of his generation. Dwyane Wade is the man who helped LeBron win his first ring and is also one of the greatest winners in NBA history taking into account his 2006 Finals performance. An elite slasher and defensive guard, Wade is considered a top-3 shooting guard of all time. Credit should also go to Carmelo Anthony, one of the game’s most talented scorers, who is a top-3 player in the 2003 Draft. Even though Anthony does not have an MVP or NBA title, the native New Yorker will be in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.


2004 NBA Draft Class - Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

2nd place: Andre Iguodala; 3rd place: Josh Smith

Many seem to forget how dominant Dwight Howard was in his prime, as he captured 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards and carried the Orlando Magic to the Finals in 2009. One of the game’s best defenders ever, Dwight was simply the best big man in the game for at least 6 straight years. With 8 total All-Star teams, 8 All-NBA selections, and 5 All-Defensive Teams, Howard will also be a Hall of Famer.

Andre Iguodala, 2015 Finals MVP, is the runner-up to Dwight Howard. Even if Iggy likely won’t make the Hall of Fame, he has been a great player during his career. An elite defensive wing with countless clutch moments, Iguodala can look back on his career and certainly be proud. We never got to see enough of Josh Smith, because a player of his skill set and athleticism should have been greater. Nonetheless, Smith had a strong career which included an All-Defensive Team in 2010.


2005 NBA Draft Class - Chris Paul

Chris Paul

2nd place: Deron Williams; 3rd place: Andrew Bynum

One of the greatest point guards ever, Chris Paul is simply a once-in-a-generation talent considering his elite two-way skillset and leadership. Despite being undersized, Paul dominated his position for nearly 2 decades. With 12 All-Star Teams, 9 All-Defensive Teams, and 10 All-NBA selections to his name; Paul is clearly a first-balot Hall of Famer. The only thing he needs to add is a championship ring, a very real possibility this year.

Deron Williams was also a dominant point guard in his prime, as he made 3 straight All-Star Teams during his best years. A physically imposing point guard with scoring and playmaking ability, Williams was on par with Chris Paul at the height of his power. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum deserves credit for forming a twin-tower pairing with Pau Gasol in Los Angeles that led to two straight championships.


2006 NBA Draft Class - Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry

2nd place: LaMarcus Aldridge; 3rd place: Rajon Rondo

A point guard that won an elusive NBA title in 2019, Kyle Lowry is an exceptional leader and hard worker. Lowry was not meant to be a bonafide All-Star and All-NBA performer, but he worked on all the key areas of his game including outside shooting and defense. After Kawhi Leonard, Lowry was the most important player for the Raptors' title-winning team. So far in his career, Lowry is putting up 14.8 PPG and 6.3 APG over stints with 4 different franchises.

Aldridge is a veteran playing role player’s minutes at the moment, but he was arguably the best power forward in the game during the final years of his stint with the Portland Trail Blazers. A 7-time All-Star and 5-time All-NBA performer, Aldridge brought his mid-range scoring at a star level for a long time. Of course, 2-time NBA champion Rajon Rondo deserves praise for being one of the best pure passers of his generation.


2007 NBA Draft Class - Kevin Durant

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2nd place: Marc Gasol; 3rd place: Mike Conley

Arguably a top-15 player of all time, Kevin Durant is simply a rare talent. We have not seen a player with the build of George Gervin shoot the ball like Durant, and he has also improved other areas of his game including playmaking and defense over the years. A 4-time scoring champion, there are only a handful of players who could get buckets at Durant’s efficiency and consistency. We will probably never see a player like Kevin Durant again.

We also saw some All-Star talents including Marc Gasol and Mike Conley come out of the 2007 Draft. Gasol was a dominant defensive force in his prime, winning Defensive Player of the Year and making 3 All-Star Teams. Conley formed a strong core with Gasol in Memphis, as both stars lead Memphis to multiple playoffs runs together.


2008 NBA Draft Class - Russell Westbrook

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2nd place: Derrick Rose; 3rd place: Kevin Love

No matter what critics have to say about Westbrook this year, he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer with some amazing accolades. For one, Westbrook is the most athletic guard of all time with the greatest explosiveness we have ever seen. The point guard has won an MVP award, 2 scoring titles, 3 assist titles, and made 9 All-Star Teams. Time will tell if Russ can find a way to add an NBA title to his resume.

If not for his career-altering injuries, Derrick Rose would have been the best player out of the 2008 Draft. With a mix of athleticism and natural floor leadership, Rose was on his way to an all-time great career that already included an MVP award as the youngest to ever achieve it. Unfortunately, Rose is the biggest “what-if” story. Finally, Kevin Love deserves respect for winning an NBA title with the Cavaliers in 2016 and also making 5 All-Star Teams.


2009 NBA Draft Class - Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry

2nd place: James Harden; 3rd place: Blake Griffin

Who else would come out on top as the best player in the 2009 Draft? Stephen Curry has changed the game, whether for good or bad. The point guard is simply the greatest shooter of all time, winning 2 MVPs and 3 championships as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Not to mention, Curry has made 8 All-Star Teams and 7 All-NBA teams to date as he is still going strong.

James Harden was also taken in 2009, becoming 6th Man of the Year in 2012 for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, The Beard found his way to Houston where he became a perennial All-Star and even won league MVP in 2018. An all-time great isolation scorer, Harden is already a Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, we could be seeing the last years of Blake Griffin, an all-time great dunker who has a nice collection of accolades including a Rookie of the Year award, 6 All-Star Teams, and 5 All-NBA Teams.


2010 NBA Draft Class - Paul George

Paul George

2nd place: John Wall; 3rd place: DeMarcus Cousins

John Wall was always going to go No. 1 overall in the 2010 Draft because he had the most potential as a superstar talent. But with his neverending list of injuries, it is obvious Paul George should have been taken No. 1 knowing what we know now. George has made 7 All-Star Teams, 6 All-NBA Teams, 4 All-Defensive Teams, and also won Most Improved Player in 2013. If George can win a title with the Los Angeles Clippers, we could be looking at a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Wall had a fantastic career with the Wizards when healthy, making 5 All-Star Teams and the 2017 All-NBA Team. Possibly the fastest point guard in NBA history in terms of raw speed, Wall was one exciting player to watch in his prime. While mentioning All-Star talents with unfortunate injury history, DeMarcus Cousins is another great player who had his career sidetracked with injuries. A dominant 4-time All-Star, “Boogie” Cousins was on his way to greatness before the injury bug sidetracked his career for good.


2011 NBA Draft Class - Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard

2nd place: Kyrie Irving; 3rd place: Klay Thompson

There is zero doubt who the best player in the 2011 Draft was, and that is 2-time NBA champion and 2-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The Claw is simply one of the greatest defensive players ever and has a natural clutch gene because he sees the game in slow motion. An elite two-way superstar, Leonard has a chance to win his 3rd championship with his 3rd team, something that will take him to another level as an all-time great player.

Kyrie Irving is often criticized for his off-court antics and even his questionable leadership qualities on the court, but there is no doubt he is the best ball-handler of all time. Kyrie hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history by draining the game-winner over Stephen Curry in 2016, giving him his first championship. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson is possibly the 2nd greatest shooter of all time and one of the most iconic players of his generation.


2012 NBA Draft Class - Anthony Davis

Credit: USATSI

Credit: USATSI

2nd place: Damian Lillard; 3rd place: Draymond Green

Even before he became an NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Anthony Davis is one special talent. In terms of offensive ability, Davis might be the most talented power forward in NBA history in raw talent. Of course, mentality and physical dominance also come into play which is why Tim Duncan and Karl Malone are miles ahead in terms of all-around greatness. But Davis is the best player in the 2012 Draft and it is by quite a margin.

Damian Lillard was a surprising inclusion to the All-NBA 75th Anniversary Team, although he is one of the greatest shooters ever with superstar scoring ability. Lillard lacks in accolades and achievements, but he has made 6 All-Star Teams and 6 All-NBA Teams which is impressive, to say the least. Draymond Green also deserves praise for winning 3 NBA titles and being the leader of a Golden State Warriors superteam over the last few years.


2013 NBA Draft Class - Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo 2017

2nd place: Rudy Gobert; 3rd place: CJ McCollum

Giannis seemingly came out of nowhere as the No. 15 overall pick. One of the scariest athletes in sports history, The Greek Freak stands 6’11” with an incredible wingspan while moving like a point guard on the floor. How many times have we seen Giannis get from one rim to the other in just a few dribbles? A 2-time MVP and NBA champion, we are already looking at an all-time great player.

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert has also placed his mark on the game, defending the rim at an All-Star level and wreaking havoc on the opposition with raw size and length. Even if Rudy lacks aggression in his play, there is no doubt he is the most impactful defender in the game. Finally, CJ McCollum has been a solid scorer throughout his career, putting up over 20 PPG for 7 straight seasons.


2014 NBA Draft Class - Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic

2nd place: Joel Embiid; 3rd place: Zach LaVine

Nikola Jokic has been a revelation to the city of Denver because he is showcasing his talents as possibly the most unique center ever. Whatever Nikola lacks in muscle definition and athleticism, he makes up for it with incredible passing and offensive skills. Even if Jokic looks slow and rather not muscular on the court, he is incredibly strong and nimble as he plays point-center for his team. An elite scorer and passer, Jokic just edges Joel Embiid as the best player in the 2014 Draft.

Embiid is most likely the MVP candidate this season and has already made 5 All-Star Teams and 3 All-NBA Teams through 6 seasons. A special offensive player with tremendous defensive impact as well, Joel Embiid is already one of the most talented 76ers players ever. If the big man can capture the league MVP award this year, he is on track to all-time greatness, especially with James Harden by his side. Zach LaVine has come a long way from being the best dunker in the game, as he is now a bonafide All-Star for the Chicago Bulls with superstar offensive potential. Averaging 24.6 PPG this season and over 20 PPG over the last 4 seasons, Zach has been a fantastic acquisition by the Bulls.


2015 NBA Draft Class - Devin Booker

Devin Booker

2nd place: Karl-Anthony Towns; 3rd place: Kristaps Porzingis

Devin Booker seems to fly under the radar more than he should because this is the same player who once scored 70 points in a single game. An excellent scorer, Booker has averaged over 25 PPG for 4 straight seasons so far. Making the NBA Finals last year, Devin is ready to take the next step as possibly the next-best shooting guard in the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns just made his 3rd All-Star Team and has tremendous all-around ability as a sharpshooting big man. Towns is the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves and continues to show why he has superstar potential as one of the best big men in the game. Kristaps Porzingis has seen his stock decreased greatly in recent years, but he has a chance to return to his “unicorn” days where he looked like becoming a superstar center with the New York Knicks.


2016 NBA Draft Class - Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown

2nd place: Brandon Ingram; 3rd place: Ben Simmons

The 2016 Draft was an interesting one because Ben Simmons was the runaway No. 1 overall pick. But surprisingly, Jaylen Brown has been the best player out of that class until now. The athletic scorer has developed into a bonafide All-Star, averaging over 20 PPG in the last 3 years. An improving passer and defender, Brown is also a part of a dynamic duo in Boston with Jayson Tatum.

Brandon Ingram has also been an excellent player, putting up over 22 PPG for 3 straight years with the New Orleans Pelicans. Standing at an athletic 6’8”, Ingram has the ability to pass the ball and also play defense at an elite level as he continues to improve. Finally, Ben Simmons has become the most polarizing figure in the game. Everyone expected Simmons to become a superstar, but his inability to shoot the ball in any way has got in the way of his potential until this point.


2017 NBA Draft Class - Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum

2nd place: Donovan Mitchell; 3rd place: Bam Adebayo

There were a couple of head scratches when the Boston Celtics selected Jayson Tatum at No. 3 ahead of more popular rookies, but not anymore. Tatum is an elite scorer, averaging 25.7 PPG this season and making 3 All-Star Teams until this point. The All-Star forward wants to be the best player he can be and is slowly improving other aspects of his game. In due time, Tatum will start showing superstar capabilities.

There is no way Donovan Mitchell should have fallen to No. 13 overall because he has supreme athleticism to go along with fantastic offensive prowess. A 3-time All-Star who is getting better at taking over games, Mitchell is the best player on a Utah Jazz team that wants to contend for championships as currently constructed. Bam Adebayo has also been a surprisingly great player, making 2 All-Defensive Teams so far while helping the Miami Heat contend for championships.


2018 NBA Draft Class - Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic

2nd place: Trae Young; 3rd place: Deandre Ayton

Luka Doncic, other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, has a chance to become the best player in the league after another 4 or 5 years. The Slovenian is a rare talent because he has the skills and leadership abilities to be the best player on a championship team. Similar to Larry Bird, Luka dominates the game in his own way through a methodical playing style. So far, Luka has already made 3 All-Star Teams in 4 years.

After Luka, Trae Young has been a revelation in Atlanta. The miniature point guard is putting up ridiculous numbers, 27.8 PPG and 9.3 APG this year, and is fresh off an Eastern Conference Finals berth last year. As a superstar offensive player, Trae should be the next Stephen Curry of the future. Deandre Ayton also deserves credit for helping the Suns reach the Finals last year, and will be a double-double threat for the rest of his career.


2019 NBA Draft Class - Ja Morant

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2nd place: Zion Williamson; 3rd place: Darius Garland

Ja Morant has developed into a superstar in this game, and nobody expected this kind of improvement from a young point guard. Similar to a young Allen Iverson, Morant moves across the court with ease and has incredible speed and offensive ability. Averaging 26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 6.9 APG; Morant is already a Western Conference All-Star starter at 22 years old.

We have not seen enough of Zion Williamson, but the big man has tremendous potential as a world class athlete with face-of-the-NBA capabilities. Williamson has already made an All-Star Team in his young career, and will likely dominate the league in the future once he gets healthy. Another surprising young player, Darius Garland has been playing out of his mind for the Cleveland Cavaliers lately. Making his first All-Star Team, Garland is another future superstar guard.


2020 NBA Draft Class - Anthony Edwards

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2nd place: LaMelo Ball; 3rd place: Desmond Bane

LaMelo Ball received the most hype coming into the 2020 Draft, but Anthony Edwards has been the better player as of right now. Edwards is a special talent because he has ridiculous athleticism in his 6’4” body, and has natural scoring ability as he puts up 21.9 PPG this season. Edwards has been so good, he will likely be an All-Star very soon.

Ball made the All-Star Team this year due to his team’s improvements over the past few years and is another natural offensive player. An elite passer and exciting player to watch, Ball can do a lot of things on the court as a 6’7” point guard with elite hops. Putting up 20.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 7.5 APG; the future is very bright for LaMelo. Finally, Desmond Bane is arguably the second-best player on the Grizzlies and is averaging 17.9 PPG as a surprising No. 30 overall pick.


2021 NBA Draft Class - Evan Mobley

Evan Mobley

2nd place: Scottie Barnes; 3rd place: Franz Wagner

So far this season, Evan Mobley is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. A natural shot-blocking center with improving offensive skills, Mobley seems to be developing into a perennial All-Star before our very eyes. The No. 3 overall pick is putting up 14.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 2.6 APG in 50 starts this year. In all circumstances, he probably should have gone No. 1.

Scottie Barnes is the most surprising rookie, performing as a starting-caliber forward already. The Raptors made a genius decision to take Barnes at No. 4 because he can play both ends of the ball at a high level while showing a tremendous attitude to improve his game. Franz Wagner has also been a surprising rookie, averaging 15.6 PPG on 36.2% shooting from deep as the No. 8 overall pick.

Credit for the idea: HoopsHype

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