The 2023 NBA draft class has now been selected, and another year’s contingency of budding stars has an opportunity to leave their mark on the league over the years to come. Many NBA top picks have gone on to build decorated careers in the league, and the expectation is that Victor Wembanyama will do the same. There’s a lot of pressure on that young man to succeed, and he’ll put his skills to the test with the San Antonio Spurs over the next few seasons.

The recent NBA draft buzz got us thinking about the best NBA draft classes of all time. Which one was the best ever? How do the most remarkable groups of players from any single draft compare to others?

What was the best NBA draft class ever?

As it turns out, the battle for the honor of best NBA draft class is also the battle between Michael Jordan and LeBron James for the G.O.A.T. status. Both MJ and LeBron had outstanding individual careers, but they also emerged from two of the all-time best NBA drafts.

When Jordan was drafted in 1984, he entered the NBA along with Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Oscar Schmidt. Nineteen years later, LeBron was selected in the same draft as Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh.

Jordan’s class likely takes the cake because of the quantity of Hall of Fame talent and championship success. However, LeBron’s class has a great legacy of its own in that James, Wade, and Bosh later teamed up to win it all in Miami.

It will certainly take some doing for the 2023 NBA draft prospects to earn a place in the all-time conversation, but many potentially great draft classes have been overlooked in the past. Consider the 2011 draftees, for example. Of course, the flip side of having a successful draft class is that some less fortunate players in the group will be remembered as the biggest draft busts in NBA history. 

The name Darko Milicic springs to mind. He was drafted second overall by Detroit behind LeBron James in 2003 – ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Yikes.

Ranking the Top 10 NBA Draft Classes of all time

  1. 1987 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Sarunas Marciulionis

The 1987 class narrowly beat out the class of 2009 to claim the No. 10 spot on this list. The 2009 group included Steph Curry and James Harden, with a supporting cast of DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. However, the prowess of the 1987 class was just enough to outrank them.

“The Admiral,” David Robinson, was selected first overall out of the U.S. Naval Academy by the San Antonio Spurs. He went on to win two NBA championships and an MVP award while being named to 10 NBA All-Star Games.

Scottie Pippen teamed up with Michael Jordan in Chicago to win no less than six NBA championships. He was initially drafted fifth overall by the Seattle Supersonics before being traded to Chicago in exchange for center Olden Polynice … ouch.

Reggie Miller might have had a couple of championships of his own had it not been for MJ and Pippen, but he still managed a Hall of Fame career nonetheless. The rest of the 1987 class included the likes of Horace Grant, Kevin Johnson, and Mark Jackson.

  1. 1965 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Rick Barry, Bill Bradley, Gail Goodrich, Billy Cunningham

The 1965 NBA draft class had a ton of talent and depth that extended way beyond its four Hall of Famers. Players such as Jerry Sloan, Dick and Tom van Arsdale, Flynn Robinson, and Bob Love were all picked that year.

Rick Barry changed the game with his approach to pro basketball, and he wasn’t loved for it. The 6-foot-7 small forward was among the most talented scorers of his generation and led the Golden State Warriors to a championship with an inspired NBA Finals performance in 1975.

All four Hall of Famers from this draft year -- Barry, Goodrich, Bradley, and Cunningham – were key players on NBA championship teams, further proving the depth and breadth of the 1965 draft class.

  1. 1960 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Lenny Wilkens, Tom Sanders, Al Attles

The 1960 NBA draft class is, without a doubt, buoyed by the presence of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, but the overall talent ran deep.

Robertson was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cincinnati Royals. and West went No. 2 to the Minneapolis Lakers. Both men went on to Hall of Fame careers. “The Big O” won a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 as well as league MVP honors in 1963-64. West was named the NBA Finals’ MVP in 1969 and won a title with the Lakers in 1972.

Robertson and West have a total of 26 NBA All-Star Game appearances between them, but the greatness of Lenny Wilkens and Tom Sanders shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing this exceptional draft class.

  1. 1985 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Joe Dumars, Manute Bol, Arvydas Sabonis

Three of the most powerful big men of the late 1980s and early 1990s were all drafted in 1985. Patrick Ewing was the standout prospect out of Georgetown who went first overall to the New York Knicks, while Karl Malone was selected 13th by the Utah Jazz. Arvydas Sabonis, the third outstanding big man, was selected out of the Soviet Union by the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth round.

Both Ewing and Malone became the centerpiece of their respective franchises for many years. Ewing was an 11-time NBA All-Star, and Malone had 14 All-Star Game appearances while also winning two league MVP awards.

Like many other superstars of the 1990s, both Ewing and Malone might have won a championship if it weren’t for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls dynasty.

The 1985 NBA draft class also featured Hall of Famers Chris Mullin, Joe Dumars, and Manute Bol. Dumars won NBA championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990, and Manute Bol twice led the league in blocked shots.

This was one of the best draft classes in NBA history not only because of its Hall of Fame talent, but also because of its overall depth. NBA stars Charles Oakley, Detlef Schrempf, Xavier McDaniel, and Terry Porter also were drafted in 1985.

  1. 2011 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: None yet

The 2011 NBA Draft class in an interesting one to consider. It took place too recently to include any Hall of Fame players as of now, but its level of talent is undeniable.

Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The top eight featured some talented NBA players, including Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Bismack Biyombo, and Jonas Valanciunas, but the best talent was found deeper in the draft.

Kemba Walker was picked ninth by the Charlotte Bobcats, Klay Thompson was picked 11th by the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard went 15th to the San Antonio Spurs, Nikola Vucevic went 16th to the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Chicago Bulls took Jimmy Butler with the 30th and final pick of the first round.

Kyrie, Kawhi and Klay have all already won at least one NBA championship, while Butler is still chasing his first. Regardless, there will be multiple Hall of Famers from the 2011 class. It is just a question of how many.

  1. 1956 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Elgin Baylor

The 1956 NBA draft was quite the spectacle, mainly because of the Boston Celtics.

Bill Russell’s arrival in Boston ushered in one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports, and it all started with an outlandish trade. The Celtics had drafted Tommy Heinsohn first overall but still felt they needed to do something drastic, so they traded Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to the St Louis Hawks in exchange for No. 3 pick Bill Russell on draft day.

Boston then drafted K.C. Jones in Round 2. These three acquisitions from the 1956 draft helped to form the new-look Celtics franchise.

Those were some good draft-day moves that resulted in Russell, Heinsohn, and Jones leading the Celtics to an almost unstoppable run over the next 10-plus years.

Elgin Baylor was drafted in the 14th round, 90th overall, by the Minneapolis Lakers, and he turned out to be one of the game’s greatest surprises. Baylor made 11 NBA All-Star Game appearances during his career with the Lakers, which involved plenty of battles with the superstar Celtics.

Between these four Hall of Famers – Russell, Heinsohn, Baylor, and Jones -- there are 36 NBA championship rings. This group would hold its own against the best four players from any draft class in history, and Celtics fans just might call it the best NBA draft class ever.

  1. 1970 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Pete Maravich, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens, Calvin Murphy, Nate Archibald, Dan Issel, Charlie Scott, Rudy Tomjanovich

The 1970 NBA Draft class was really something, and if this ranking were based on total Hall of Famers alone, it would be considered the greatest draft class ever.

Eight Hall of Famers came out of the class of 1970. The top 10 that year was almost a home run of elite picks. Each of the first four players drafted went on to become Hall of Famers. Bob Lanier was drafted first, followed by Rudy Tomjanovich, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Dave Cowens. Three more players from the top 10 were NBA All-Stars (Sam Lacey, John Johnson, and Geoff Petrie), but the talent continued beyond 10 picks.

Calvin Murphy and Nate Archibald were drafted back-to-back in the second round, Charlie Scott was picked 106th overall in Round 7, and the eighth and final Hall of Famer, Dan Issel, became a star with the Denver Nuggets after originally being drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the eighth round.

Eight Hall of Famers is quite the class, and one can certainly make a case for this having been the NBA’s best draft class. Based on its top 10 picks alone, this draft stands out as one of the NBA’s greatest.

  1. 1996 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ben Wallace

The class of 1996 produced five Hall of Famers and three players who won the league MVP award. Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash all claimed that prestigious honor during their highly successful careers, with Nash winning it twice. The 1996 group is one of the best NBA draft classes in recent memory, and one that brought a lot of joy to NBA fans.

Iverson was named the league’s 1996-97 Rookie of the Year after being selected first overall by the 76ers, while both Kobe and Nash turned out to be among the greatest mid-first round picks in their respective franchises’ history. In fact, Kobe would haunt the Charlotte Hornets for his entire career after they traded him to the Lakers on draft night.

Iverson and Kobe would meet in the 2001 NBA Finals, where Kobe went on to win one of his five league championships.

Ray Allen won two championships -- one in his prime with the Celtics and another as a veteran with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. He also became one of the most clutch 3-point shooters in NBA history.

Although he wasn’t selected by an NBA team on draft night, Ben Wallace was also part of this draft class. Wallace is that rare breed of undrafted player who made it to the Hall of Fame. He won the NBA title with the Pistons in 2004, made four straight All-Star Game appearances, and was one of the most intimidating men in the NBA during his prime.

  1. 2003 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers (so far): Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade

The 2003 NBA draft class featured two men who have recently been inducted into the Hall of Fame -- Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Bosh had a superb career even though it was cut short by injuries. He won two titles with the Miami Heat and made 11 straight All-Star Game appearances while playing for both the Toronto Raptors and Miami.

Wade turned out to be the greatest player in Miami Heat history, setting franchise records across the board and helping bring the Heat a title in 2006. Several years later, he would team up with LeBron James and Bosh to form one of the early NBA superteams.

The Heat won championships in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013, providing their fans with some of the best basketball they will ever see. James was at the height of his prime, which seems to have lasted forever. When he teamed up with Bosh and Wade, the Heat were unstoppable.

LeBron’s presence alone could put any NBA draft class into a top 10 list. One of the greatest prospects in history to enter the NBA out of high school, he was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and has been every bit as good as promised. He has won four NBA championships, four league MVP awards, and four NBA Finals MVP awards. He has also made 19 All-Star Game appearances and is a 13-time member of the All-NBA First Team.

This class also included Carmelo Anthony, who only recently retired following a superb career in the league. Melo helped to turn the Denver Nuggets franchise around in the 2000s, coming close to winning a title with them in his early years. He then went to the New York Knicks, where he continued to be a star -- earning seven straight All-Star Game appearances and leading the league with 28.7 points per game in 2012-13.

  1. 1984 NBA Draft Class

Hall of Famers: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Oscar Schmidt

The Hall of Famers from the 1984 NBA draft class could make up one of the greatest starting fives in league history. A coach could run John Stockton at the point, Michael Jordan at the two guard, Oscar Schmidt at small forward, Charles Barkley at the four, and Hakeem Olajuwon at the five. Good luck beating that team in its prime. Those guys could contend with the best five from any previous NBA draft or any draft that came after theirs.

Olajuwon was drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets, who constructed their team around him on the way to winning championships in 1994 and 1995. Olajuwon, who claimed NBA Finals MVP awards in each of those years, was one of the all-time greatest NBA centers who completely dominated the league for many years.

Barkley was among the 1990s NBA stars who were denied a championship by Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty. His phenomenal TV personality often causes fans to forget how great a player he was in his prime. If he had a better supporting cast during his years with the Philadelphia 76ers, he might have won a championship before the Bulls took over the NBA. Charles was the league MVP with Phoenix in 1992-93 and an 11-time All-Star who could do it all on the court.

Stockton is one of the all-time greatest NBA point guards, who made 10 All-Star Game appearances, but it’s Michael Jordan who stands above everyone else from the 1984 NBA Draft, managing to dominate this draft class despite all the Hall of Fame talent it contained.

Jordan led the Bulls to a second three-peat as NBA champions after taking a two-year break from basketball to try his hand at baseball. He was named the MVP in all six of his trips to the NBA Finals, where his teams never lost.

MJ was the NBA’s MVP five times, tying him with Bill Russell for the most MVP awards. He made 14 NBA All-Star Game appearances, was a 10-time member of the All-NBA First Team, a 10-time NBA scoring champion, and a three-time NBA steals leader. Watching him play basketball was a spectacular experience for fans.

Parameters for ranking

These top 10 NBA draft classes are ranked based on the individual success of the players drafted in each year and the overall depth of each class. All-Star selections, MVP awards, and league championships were all taken into account in order to grade each draft class in a collective manner.

Bet on NBA odds at Betway 

Find season-long NBA odds on Betway sportsbook. You'll find all the latest spreads, totals, money lines, and parlays. Missed tip-off? No problem, Betway also offers live betting. All your NBA betting needs are covered in our online sportsbook.

Visit Betway’s NBA picks page for picks and predictions throughout the season.