1996 brought what is widely considered to be one of the most legendary NBA Draft classes to date. Out of the 58 draft selections in the ’96 draft, only 47 players made the cut to play in an NBA game. Despite nearly 20% of the entire class never getting a chance to step on the court for even one minute of playing time, that number pales in comparison to the contributions made by those who did get their opportunity.
From the role players to the stars of the league, the ’96 draft had the best. Amongst these names are countless NBA Championships, All-Star selections, NBA records, and every accolade the league offers. The 50th draft in NBA history was truly something special, showcasing an unheralded level of talent. Aside from the amazing 1984 NBA Draft that included such greats as Jordan, Olujawon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton there is no other class worth mentioning in the same breath as ’96. Here is a countdown ranking the best 30 draft picks in a year that made so many memories and brought so much history to the game.
30 Todd Fuller – 11th Pick
Honestly, this is a very shaky way to start off a legendary class, but don’t be fooled, because it gets much better… eventually. The 6-11 Todd Fuller was expected to be a force down low after a highlight filled four years at NC State. That wasn’t the way it went by any stretch. Fuller’s NBA career was short-lived. In just fives years, Fuller bounced around to four different teams and was largely irrelevant from year one.
Fuller’s “career highs” are numbers far from worthy of bragging about. His rookie season was a good as it got with the big man, which isn’t saying much. Fuller averaged a meager 12.7 minutes per game and topped out at only 4.1 points per game. As if those numbers aren’t forgettable enough, the rest of his statistics are even less noteworthy. In his fifth and final season, Fuller only saw playing time in ten games, making him one of the bigger busts in a draft where he was selected before so many great players.
29 Randy Livingston – 42nd Pick
Randy Livingston may not have played many games in the NBA, but his ability to hang around the league for eleven season is proof alone that the veteran point guard knows the game. Livingston racked up the frequent flyer miles, traveling across the nation as he played for nine different teams over his career. When he wasn’t coming off a team’s bench, he was busy producing in the D-League, helping with the development of other young players working to make it to play in the NBA.
Livingston’s contributions have, in large part, gone unsung as the D-League is, well, a development league. In 2007, Livingston was named the NBA D-League MVP and went on to with the league championship the following year before officially retiring. To put in perspective just how important he was to the D-League, the Erie Bayhawks still actually drafted Livingston in their inaugural season (2008) in hopes that they could coax him out of retirement.
28 Jamie Feick – 48th Pick
At 6-9, Jamie Feick was clearly undersized for an NBA center, but that didn’t stop him from being a beast on the boards. Feick played four years at Michigan State, and though his scoring wasn’t spectacular, it was enough to serve as a solid compliment to average a near double-double junior and senior year. Though Feick’s NBA career was a relatively short one, it showed some great promise before it ended up being cut short.
Feick bounced around five different teams in his five years, but looked like he finally found a home with the New Jersey Nets in ’99. Feick’s fantastic rebounding ability came to fruition during the shortened season 1998-99 NBA lockout season when averaged dominant 11 rebounds per game. The following season, Feick continued to produce as he took on a major role, playing in 81 games and making a name for himself as a beast on the boards. Feicks career was unfortunately cut short, when he was forced to undergo surgery to remove bone spurs that also required Achilles surgery.
27 Travis Knight – 29th Pick
Travis Knight had an interesting seven-year NBA career that brought him from the West Coast to East… to West… and back East again. Knight was a 7-0 center from UConn that served as a backup through most of his career. Drafted by the Bulls, Knight was waived before ever officially signing with Chicago and was quickly picked up by the Lakers. After one year in LA, Knight was signed to a seven-year deal on the opposite side of the states with Boston. Things got just a tad bit weird when Knight said how happy he should be about his time deal, but wasn’t because his heart belonged to the Lakers. That super awkward comment apparently worked flawlessly, since Knight found himself back in LA the next season, which also happened to the Lakers’ 2000 Championship year. The savvy center enjoyed his title of NBA Champion as well as another year in the City of Angels before finishing out his final three years as a member of the New York Knicks.
26 Moochie Norris – 33rd Pick
Moochie Norris enjoyed a nine-year, successful career in the NBA along with a number of other professional leagues. The lefty point guard got a slow start to his career, playing in only eight games as a rookie for the Vancouver Grizzlies. After a year hiatus, playing in the Continental Basketball Association and LNB Pro A, Norris made his NBA return.
After a one-year stint with the Seattle Supersonics, Norris enjoyed his best years with the Houston Rockets. Of his four full seasons in Houston, Norris played in all 82 games for the first three. He was a key contributor for the Rockets, and helped them to three winning seasons and a playoff appearance in his first year with the team. It’s hard to argue the fact that Norris really did make it to the big time, considering he got himself a sweet bobblehead night in ’02 that sported his signature afro.
25 John Wallace – 18th Pick
John Wallace was an absolute force coming out of college. The 6-8 small forward played all four years at Syracuse, leading them to the NCAA Finals, where he dropped 29 points and 10 rebounds on the big stage. The dynamic forward out of Cuse went on to play seven years in the NBA with six teams, putting up his best numbers his sophomore year with the Toronto Raptors in the 1997-98 season.
What may have been Wallace’s crowning achievement in basketball was something he did that same year. Wallace – along with two other players selected in the ’96 draft – had a supporting role in the cult classic Stan Lee hoops movie He Got Game. What’s better than having the chance to showcase your skills than playing some street ball on the big screen? “I got hops, baby, I got hops.” The classic line after throwing down an alley-oop still holds weight; Russell Westbrook even did a little reenactment of after a throw down against the Nuggets during the 2015-16 season.
24 Vitaly Potapenko – 12th Pick
Vitaly Potapenko didn’t have the flashiest career in the NBA, but he make it last, going the long haul for an eleven-year run. Though he may have been picked early in hindsight, Potapenko was a solid contributor off the bench in his long career. During his third year with the Cavaliers (who originally drafted him), “The Ukraine Train” was involved in a trade with the Celtics where he earned his most time as a starter for a couple years.
Potapenko’s greatest accomplishment in the NBA actually came once his playing career was over. As an assistant coach, Potapenko bounced between a few NBA and D-League teams before returning to the Cavs in 2010. Potapenko is still an assistant for the team and now has two finals appearances with Cleveland. So it may have taken Potapenko two decades, but he helped the city to its first ever NBA Championship in 2016.
23 Jerome Williams – 26th Pick
Jerome Williams had a tough road to the NBA, having to first play at a junior college for two years before going on to Georgia for his junior and senior year. Williams went on to play nine years with the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls, and Knicks. It didn’t take long for the scrappy forward to become a legitimate contributor to every team he played for. He quickly earned a reputation for his efforts and earned the nickname "Junkyard Dog" for his relentless hard work.
The Junkyard Dog’s grit and grind made him a favorite in every city he played for, especially Toronto where he played as a starter in most of his games, and even nearly missed averaging a double-double in the 2002-03 season. Even though he found himself in traded from team to team, the JYD’s time spent in each city was enough to make him a memorable player that got the praise he deserved from fans whenever he returned to play against a former city.
22 Samaki Walker – 9th Pick
Okay, so overall Samaki Walker is definitely a bust, but take away the fact that he was selected ninth overall and he was actually a solid reserve over his ten-year NBA career. Still, in the opportunities he was given, he provided a solid spark off the bench over his ten year of play. Though Walker didn’t live up to his lottery hype, teams were well aware of the help he could provide off the bench.
Coming in with the second unit, Walker’s talent provided a unique challenge to opposing teams, which made him a desirable candidate for championship contenders such as the Spurs and Lakers where he played two seasons each. Walker seemed to make his entire basketball career a color-coordinated experience, playing at Whitehall-Yearling High School, showing up to the NBA Draft in his infamous all-white suit and matching fedora, and visiting the White House after winning the NBA Finals with the Lakers in ’02.
21 Walter McCarty – 19th Pick
“I… Love… Walta!” That quickly became a staple to Celtics legend turned (legendary) commentator Tommy Heinsohn repertoire every time Walter McCarty knocked down a three or made a big play. Heinsohn’s love for the 6-10 power forward mirrored all of Boston, as McCarty played eight of his ten years as a Celtic. McCarty fluctuated between a starting and bench role, but always maintained an integral piece of the C’s.
McCarty was one of four teammates that won the 1996 NCAA Championship with Kentucky that were all selected in the ’96 draft, one being Mark Pope, who didn’t make this list (sorry, Pope). McCarty left such an impact from his days playing for the Celtics that he was brought back on for the 2003-04 season as an assistant coach. Not only was a member of the ’08 championship team… he had a supporting role in He Got Game, which is again to classic to not consider amazing.
20 Tony Delk – 16th Pick
It’s back-to-back Wildcats with Tony Delk next on the list. The University of Kentucky point guard went on to share some other similarities with his former college teammate. Delk, like McCarty, lasted ten seasons in the NBA, though he was a bit more of journeyman, as he played for eight different teams over his career. Amongst those teams were Phoenix (who McCarty also played for) and spent some time in Boston with the Celtics alongside McCarty for a couple seasons. Even though Delk spent most of his professional career coming off the bench, he was a talented scorer that knew how to find the basket. In his ten years, Delk played in seven playoff appearances, including two Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics (’02) and Pistons (’06).
19 Jeff McInnis – 37th Pick
Jeff McInnis had a solid and undoubtedly strange career that was always pure entertainment. The 6-4 guard out of UNC played for seven teams during his long tenure that last through 2008. McInnis served as a starter for four years with the Clippers, Trailblazers, and Cavaliers, but maintained a major role off the bench for the remainder of his career.
What may have been most memorable about McInnis were the bizarre situations he seemed to be involved in with two specific highlights that some up his odd career well. In December 2000 as a member of the Clippers, McInnis was involved in a fistfight before a game against the Raptors when he and Charles Oakley got into over girl troubles. Another bizarre highlight came in 2007 as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, when McInnis was kicked out of the game after just eight seconds, because a staff member accidentally handed in the wrong roster that didn’t include McInnis on the team.
18 Othella Harrington – 30th Pick
Othella Harrington – or Big O as fans liked to call him – was one of three Georgetown players to go in the ’96 draft. The 6-9 PF/C had himself an admirable career that spanned twelve seasons with five different teams. Harrington saw some of his best time playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies where he managed to start in all 82 games during the 1999-00 season. Any year with Vancouver was a tough year, and while those seasons may have not looked spectacular for any player, it was an important piece of history in making the Grizzlies franchise what they are today. Along with helping pave the way for the Grizzlies, Harrington went to six playoff appearances in his twelve seasons, including three straight in his first three seasons with the Rockets.
17 Lorenzen Wright – 7th Pick
Lorenzen Wright is a basketball legend in the city of Memphis. The homegrown hero spent most of his life helping shape the basketball culture that now thrives in western Tennessee. Wright played high school ball at Booker T. Washington before playing two years just down the street at the University of Memphis. In what was an accomplished 13-year playing career, Wright completed his storybook rise through the ranks when, after five years in the NBA, the 6-11 big man returned to the city that started it all to play five years for the Grizzlies. Though they never won a postseason game, Wright was an integral member of the first Grizzlies team to ever make a playoff appearance. Not only did he help the city and franchise see their first action in the postseason, he helped them make it three straight seasons. Wright’s career and life was tragically cut short in 2009 in a suburb just outside of Memphis – the homicide still remains unsolved to date.
16 Shandon Anderson – 54th Pick
Shandon Anderson had a memorable career in his decade of playing in the NBA. Anderson was a member of some truly iconic teams. In his first two seasons, Anderson played a key role off the bench of the famed John Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz. After his third year in, Anderson played two years in Houston and started every single game in both seasons. Anderson the 6-6 swingman went on two play a few years for the Knicks before closing out his career with the Miami Heat.
With the Heat, Anderson was able to do what he could not as a member of the Jazz. In his last season in the NBA, Anderson was a member of Miami’s 2006 NBA Championship team. It was an incredible finale to an admirable career, making Anderson’s third trip to the NBA Finals a truly special one.
15 Erick Dampier – 10th Pick
Don’t let the colossal failures of two decisions by two NBA front offices to cloud your perspective on Erick Dampier. In hindsight, the Indiana Pacers drafting Dampier tenth overall, then the Mavs signing him to a seven-year deal worth $73 million (huge money at the time by NBA standards), was far too early and far too much. Off the court numbers aside, Dampier put in work every year he was in the league, which is a whole lot of work considering he went the distance, lasting in the NBA for an incredible sixteen years.
Dampier totaled just shy of 1,000 games over his career, as he played for five teams. His best numbers came in 2003-04 with the Golden State Warriors when he averaged 12.3 points and 12.0 rebounds. Dampier played in seven postseason, including six straight with Dallas immediately led up to his first year with the Heat, who lost to the Mavs in the 2011 NBA Finals.
14 Malik Rose – 44th Pick
Malik Rose pretty much spent the entirety of his NBA career coming off the bench, but let’s be real, “earning” the title of “starter” isn’t always exactly earned (yeah, that means you, 76ers… you too, Nets). The veteran forward spent eight of his thirteen in San Antonio in a reserve role with a Spurs bench that still could have competed with more than its fair share of starting fives.
Rose played in eight playoff appearances, seven of which were with the Spurs. Of those seven appearances with the Spurs, two (’99 and ’03) went on to win it all. Even in his final season in San Antonio, Rose played in 50 games for the ’05 NBA Champion Spurs before being traded to the New York Knicks. When it comes to unsung heroes – of which there are some on every championship team – Malik Rose’s name is up there with great impact players off the bench.
13 Kerry Kittles – 8th Pick
Kerry Kittles only played all 82 games in three of his eight NBA seasons, but he was a star that burned bright before flaming out. Kittles spent seven of his eight seasons as a member of the New Jersey Nets and was always considered one of the better guards in the league when he was healthy. Unfortunately, health always held him back from reaching his true potential.
Knee issues plagued the Nets’ star shooting guard throughout his career, highlighted by a surgery on his right knee that ended up costing him the entire 2000-01 season. When he was in the game, he was always in the zone. Jason Kidd may have been the face of the team, but Kittles was one of the most important players (on a roster that had a very shallow/nonexistent bench) to help lead the Nets to two straight NBA Finals in ’02 and ’03.
12 Zydrunas Ilgauskas – 20th Pick
Until LeBron James was drafted in ’03, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was, quite literally, the biggest thing in Cleveland. The 7-3 Cavaliers center all but one of his 13 years in Cleveland, bringing them to six playoff appearances. Despite missing his entire rookie year, playing only five games in his second season, and missing all of what would have been his third year, Ilgauskas still left an incredible mark on the Cavaliers organization.
Big Z is the all-time leader for the Cavaliers in games played, rebounds, and blocks. Cleveland recognized their two-time All-Star’s achievements with the team by retiring his number in 2014. Z was more than a formidable shot-blocker with size. The Lithuanian sensation had a soft touch from outside the paint that was surprisingly smooth no matter how many times we watched. Ilgauskas made two NBA Finals appearances – one with the Cavs in ’07 and again in ’11 in the final year of his career as a member of the Miami Heat.
11 Shareef Abdur-Rahim – 3rd Pick
The fact that Shareef Abdur-Rahim was only selected to be an All-Star one time over an NBA career that lasted twelve years is a travesty. Abdur-Rahim’s name was the first one ever called on draft night as the newest member of the (then Vancouver) Grizzlies. It was a colossal task so great that no Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James could have succeeded where Abdur-Rahim could not. The supremely gifted forward faced the trials and tribulations of leading the one-year-old expansion through the ringer for five thankless years before Vancouver became the Memphis Grizzlies.
Aside from his rookie year (when he averaged 18.7) Abdur-Rahim managed over 20 points per game, including the 2000-01 season when he went for 20.3 points and 10.1 rebounds while starting all 82 games. Still, the Grizzlies were terrible, and his otherworldly stats weren’t enough to get them any wins. Abdur-Rahim carved out the path for the Grizzlies without ever basking in the Memphis glory, earning his lone All-Star with the Hawks – the same year his former team moved to Tennessee. The Grizzlies have yet to retire a number, so they have plenty of room to give their pioneer forward some love and put his No. 3 up where it belongs.
10 Antoine Walker – 6th Pick
John Wall wasn’t the first Kentucky Wildcat with a great dance move to complement his game. Long before Wall there was Antoine Walker and “the wiggle.” Walker was the star of Kentucky’s loaded NCAA Championship team and became an even bigger star with the Boston Celtics. Walker and his famed celebratory wiggle made him one of the biggest personalities in the NBA and a fan-favorite throughout his seven years in Boston. Those seven years (and a half, technically) were the best of Walker’s 12-year NBA run. In that time, Toine earned three All-Star selections and, along with fellow Boston legend Paul Pierce, led the Celts through some memorable playoff runs. It wasn’t until ten years into Walker’s career that he made it to, and won, the NBA Finals as a member of the Miami Heat in ’06. Though Walker is largely remembered for going bankrupt after earning well over $100 million, his colorful personality and utility of skills made him one of the most memorable NBA players in recent history.
9 Derek Fisher – 24th Pick
Derek Fisher was like the glue that held the Death Star together, playing point guard for the 5x NBA Champion Evil Empire Los Angeles Lakers. He played for, and somehow kept his body in one piece to start in, almost every single game of his 18-year career. D-Fish was a machine, still able to play about 20 minutes per game in his final three years with the Thunder. In 2012, Fisher played a major role in his first year with OKC, helping them reach (his eighth) NBA Finals appearance. Fisher and Kobe played twelve years and won all five championships together in Los Angeles, but the seasoned point guard to that fierce mindset wherever he went.
Even at 39, in his final NBA season, Fisher’s veteran presence helped lead the Thunder to their second Western Conference Championship in three years. What Fisher did for Kobe’s career, may almost be most telling as to how great he really was. The almighty "Black Mamba" didn’t return to his proper throne two more times until D-Fish returned from his three-year hiatus to play with the Warriors and Jazz.
8 Peja Stojakovic – 14th Pick
Peja Stojakovic, hands down, had one of the best shots from behind the arc in the league when he played, which is quite an accomplishment, as he was in the NBA for 14 seasons. Peja was a 3x All-Star in Sacramento, where he spent half of his career playing for the Kings. The Serbian sharp shooter won two straight NBA Three-Point Shootout Contests before averaging the second highest ppg (24.2) in 2004 while finishing fourth in MVP votes. The dominant small forward was just as good behind the line, averaging 8.95 over his entire career. Peja left ended his legacy in 2011, playing his only year in Dallas as a member of the championship Mavericks team. Though he never brought Sacramento to a championship run, his incredible record-setting seven years was worthy enough to retire his No. 16.
7 Stephon Marbury – 4th Pick
Stephon Marbury is the man the fans loved to hate. "Starbury’s" greatness as a point guard was only rivaled by his ability to walk into any given arena and gain a new following of haters, even his own fans when playing for the Knicks. Starbury was a 2x All-Star (once with the Nets, once with the Suns). Marbury posted some great numbers, always able to score against any competition and dishing out plenty of dimes.
Starbury had flashes of pure brilliance at times. Back in ’01, during his first All-Star year with the Nets, Marbury dropped 50 points against the Lakers who won the championship that same year. Starbury’s demise may have come at his own hands, as his household name landed him a big time contract with Knicks, making it impossible to sign any other high profile names to the team. A horrendous Knicks team overshadowed Marbury’s greatness in five of his last six years before he went on to play one final season for the championship contending Celtics.
6 Jermaine O’Neal – 17th Pick
Despite being plagued with a plethora of knee injuries and various ailment, Jermaine O’Neal still somehow managed to play in the NBA for 18 seasons. The 6-11 power forward/center fought through aches and pains, playing well past his prime, joining teams like the Heat, Celtics, and Warriors in the hopes that he could finally win a championship (he never did). Incredibly, O’Neal never found his niche with the Trail Blazers in his five years with the team. It wasn’t until getting traded to the Pacers that O’Neal broke out.
After his first year with the Pacers, O’Neal was an All-Star for six straight years. O’Neal was a force down low, especially through his first few seasons in Indiana. Playing mainly at the four with the Pacers, O’Neal averaged over 20 points and 10 blocks per game, often tacking on over two blocks to make him a truly formidable low post presence.
5 Marcus Camby – 2nd Pick
Marcus Camby was a shot-blocking nightmare for the entirety of his 17-year run in the NBA. Who can go for an automatic double-double? "The Camby Man" can. Camby cruised through his career on autopilot, averaging a double-double in six seasons, narrowly missing it by a point or two in a few more. Defense was never a problem for the lanky center. For ten seasons, Camby was able to pull down well over ten rebounds per game. Even more ridiculous, the veteran big man averaged over two blocks in six seasons and an even more spectacular 3+ blocks for five seasons.
The Camby Man really was his own horror series for NBA centers. He just kept coming back looking like as bad a man as ever. Camby’s defensive prowess made him one of the best defenders in NBA history, leading the league in blocks four years. He was also named 2x NBA All-Defensive Second Team and 2x NBA All-Defensive First Team. Camby’s crowning achievement came in 2007 when he was named Defensive Player of the Year.
4 Steve Nash – 15th Pick
Steve Nash is the definition of a true point guard. Despite his diminutive stature, Nash was one of the greatest players on the floor during his 18-year career and established himself as one of the greatest guards in NBA history. Nash was an 8x All-Star, playing ten of those years with the Phoenix Suns. The No. 13 hangs in the Suns’ rafters for good reason, as it demonstrated nothing but greatness.
Nash is a member of the elite 50-40-90 club for shooting 50% field goals, 40% from behind the arc, and 90% at the free throw line. Only seven players have pulled off that incredible feat a total of 11 times… Nash being four of those! Don’t get the impression that Nash, who averaged 14.3 points over his career, was chucking up shots 24/7. Actually, he led the NBA in assists five times. It’s no wonder he was named the NBA Most Valuable Player twice.
3 Ray Allen – 5th Pick
Even though he hasn’t played since 2014, yet the world still desperately hoped Ray Allen would make a comeback at 41. "Ray Ray" finally officially announced his retirement (November 1, 2016), but is the only man in the world that’s so in shape that it wouldn’t even be that surprising. Ray Allen aka Jesus Shuttlesworth – thank you, Spike Lee, for gifting us with He Got Game for a perfect nickname – stands as arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history.
The 10x All-Star holds numerous three-point records for the teams he played on and holds the NBA record for most threes attempted and made; yet he was so much more than just a spot up shooter. In Allen’s earlier years, he threw down some of the filthiest jams in the league, posterizing any and every player that attempted to stop that from happening. Allen will always have a particularly special place in the hearts of Boston ad Miami fans, where he won two NBA Championships with the Celtics in ’08 and Heat in ’13.
2 Allen Iverson – 1st Pick
Allen Iverson was recently inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame player for 14 seasons of eye-popping play. The (not quite) 6-0 point guard was the first pick of the ’96 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and persevered, as all eyes stayed locked on him. Iverson was indeed “The Answer” to Philly’s losing problem, and carried a heavy burden, as expectations were through the roof despite having to essentially carry the team on his back his entire career in Philly.
AI felt the pressure, but never cracked. Iverson’s handles literally reinvented the game, relying on his stellar dribbling and famous fakes that left countless defenders with broken ankles and injured pride. AI was relentless: 1997 Rookie of the Year, 11x All-Star, 2x All-Star MVP, 4x scoring champion, 3x steals leader, and the 2001 MVP for his unforgettable season that defied all odds and led the 76ers to an improbable NBA Finals appearance.
1 Kobe Bryant – 13th Pick
One of the most legendary NBA Drafts in history has one of the greatest NBA legends in Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba certainly embodied his moniker as an accurate, deadly, and aggressive attacker with almost no adversary capable of posing a threat back. Kobe was the face of the league for two whole decades, playing in purple and gold for the Lakers all 20 years.
The 18x All-Star brought his Lakers to 16 postseasons and made it all the way to the NBA Finals in seven of those appearances. Kobe was just as unstoppable in the finals as he was the regular season, winning five championships. After winning his three in a row with Shaq, crushing every finals opponent, Kobe proved he could do it without him, earning two NBA Finals MVPs in ’09 and ’10.
Kobe was an unquestionable MVP – he won the actual award in ’08, but looked like the best player in the league so much longer. As one of the greatest players of all time, Kobe has racked up accolades like 11x All-NBA First Team, 9x All-NBA Defensive First Team, 2x NBA scoring champion, and was even the Slam Dunk Contest champion back in his rookie season. The Black Mamba is a legend in its purest sense of the word.