The end of June marks the annual change from spring to summer, but in the NBA this time of year also represents the period in which optimism among all teams ought to be at its highest. While only one team can take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy each season, once the champion is crowned the remaining 29 teams turn their hopes to the next season, looking to use the impending NBA Draft to acquire young talent and the looming free agency period to attract established players to bolster their rosters in the hopes of claiming a title of their own.
Some teams have reason to be more optimistic than others, as there are those that have a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, plenty of cap space to spend on free agents, or, in relatively rare circumstances, a combination of draft picks and cap space such that it is possible to completely overhaul a roster if the opportunity should arise. While having a lottery pick or significant cap space is certainly good reason for optimism, there is no guarantee that a draft pick or cap space will yield a transformative player, as there are a number of other factors at play, including, perhaps most significantly, opportunity.
It should be plainly evident that some NBA Draft classes are simply more talented than others, and even having the top overall pick does not guarantee anything at all in terms of the level of talent it will yield. For every LeBron James there is a Kwame Brown, and for every Shaquille O’Neal there is a Joe Smith. The same could be said for the overall talent pool in any given draft class, as having a lottery pick in the 1996 NBA Draft gave a team a good chance of landing a future Hall of Famer, while any team with a lottery pick in the 2000 NBA Draft should have felt good about merely landing a solid rotation player.
In determining which classes featured the least amount of talent, a number of factors have to considered. The sheer volume of talent matters, so one or two great players at the top of a draft class will not be enough to keep the class off the list. Each of the 15 worst NBA Draft classes will very likely contain some good and even great players, but the focus of this list is on the overall NBA talent available to teams in any given draft year, with a greater emphasis on players taken in the lottery.
15 15. 1989 NBA Draft
There was plenty of talent available in the 1989 NBA Draft, with Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp and Vlade Divac all taken after of the 13th pick of the draft, and nine members of this draft class would ultimately make at least one All-Star team during their careers. The top of this draft, however, was particularly weak, and it is fair to say that at least eight of the first 10 selections did not exactly pan out as planned, with only Sean Elliott and Glen Rice having truly notable careers in the NBA.
14 14. 2001 NBA Draft
Like the 1989 NBA Draft class, the class of 2001 ended up having a number of All-Stars taken but was lacking significantly in talent taken at the top of the draft. Kwame Brown, the first selection, had a solid pro career but fell incredibly short of expectations and is widely considered one of the worst top selections in the history of the draft. The Bulls took Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler with the second and fourth overall picks, respectively, and while Chandler has had an outstanding career, it took some time for him to become established as a defensive standout and Curry never truly lived up to his talent or expectations.
13 13. 1975 NBA Draft
12 12. 1986 NBA Draft
11 11. 2004 NBA Draft
10 10. 2005 NBA Draft
9 9. 1983 NBA Draft
Perhaps the most notable fact about the 1983 NBA Draft is the number of NBA coaches it ultimately produced, with Doc Rivers, Byron Scott, Randy Wittman and Sidney Lowe all having coached in the NBA. Although Ralph Sampson (1) and Clyde Drexler (14) enjoyed Hall of Fame careers, the remainder of the draft was exceptionally weak, with only Dale Ellis, Jeff Malone and Doc Rivers ever making All-Star teams during their respective NBA careers. Even Sampson was something of a disappointment, as injuries derailed a very promising career and essentially limited him to just four full seasons (he played nine seasons in total, but he only averaged 35 games per season over his last six years in the NBA).
8 8. 1998 NBA Draft
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how any given draft should have played out, and the 1998 Draft would undoubtedly feature a very different order if teams were given the chance to re-draft. The three best players in the draft were taken 5th (Vince Carter), 9th (Dirk Nowitzki) and 10th (Paul Pierce), and this particular lottery featured some of the most disappointing NBA careers in recent memory, a fact only made worse by the lengthy standout careers of Carter, Nowitzki and Pierce.
7 7. 2006 NBA Draft
6 6. 1990 NBA Draft
The standout of the 1990 NBA Draft class is without question Gary Payton, a Hall of Famer who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the NBA throughout his career. Beyond Payton, however, the 1990 class did not exactly overflow with talent. Derrick Coleman, the top pick of the 1990 NBA Draft, was one of the most talented players to enter the league at the time, but that talent never quite translated into the greatness that many expected of him.
5 5. 2002 NBA Draft
4 4. 2013 NBA Draft
3 3. 1997 NBA Draft
The availability of Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA Draft led to some of the most egregious examples of tanking, with the Boston Celtics and several others clearly punting the 1996-97 season with the hope that Duncan would serve as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. The Spurs landed the top pick that year, and the consolation prizes for the other teams in the lottery were not all that great. Keith Van Horn and Chauncey Billups went second and third, respectively, but there was a massive drop in available talent thereafter.
2 2. 1973 NBA Draft
1 1. 2000 NBA Draft
Hedo Turkoglu has had a very nice NBA career and is certainly not deserving of any disparagement or derision, but when he represents the best player to come out of an individual draft class, something has gone terribly wrong. The 2000 NBA Draft turned out to be comically atrocious, with just three players combining for a total of three All-Star appearances (one each for Kenyon Martin, Michael Redd and Jamal Magloire). The Clippers were perhaps the most unfortunate team in this draft, as its three first-rounders yielded Darius Miles (3), Keyon Dooling (10) and Quentin Richardson (18).
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