Ranking the Last Three NBA Draft Classes

Photo Credit: HoopsHype

Almost every NBA Draft class has a big amount of hype behind it. From one and done players who flashed some of their potential in the college season, to guys who have been producing for 2-4 years on the college level, to prospects from overseas who may have already been playing professional ball- almost every time the NBA Draft comes around, there is a huge buzz about who the young players will be to lead the league into its’ future. Notably, the past three draft classes (2016-2018) have had a big deal of hype, with the phrase “generational talent” being used over and over to describe players who analysts think can be superstars in the league one day. Not all of these players have reached their level of hype, and also, there have been some surprise players who have already exceeded expectations. So, even though these players have not been in the league for very long, let’s try to rank these classes to see which of the 3 has been the best so far.

The way I chose to rank these classes was to break them down into scores in the following categories: Current production (out of 10), prospects that haven’t lived up to hype (out of 10) (subtracted from total), players that have exceeded expectations (out of 5), superstar potential (out of 7). Of course, it is easier to judge the players from the older classes because they have been in the league longer and it is easier to tell what they are as a player, but I did the best I could with the limited film of the younger guys.

2016

(ABS-CBN News)

Top 5:

1.Ben Simmons, Sixers, 2. Brandon Ingram, Lakers, 3. Jaylen Brown, Celtics, 4. Dragan Bender, Suns, 5. Kris Dunn, Timberwolves

Current Production: 7

This class is very up and down when it comes to players that are producing currently. On one hand, you have quite a few players such as Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Domantas Sabonis, and Pascal Siakam who are having positive contributions for very good teams this year. On the other hand, there are players like Jakob Poeltl and Kris Dunn, who are very up and down, capable of having good games and stretches but ultimately not crucial to their team’s success and somewhat inconsistent.

Haven’t Met Expectations: 6

In my personal opinion, if a player is drafted in the lottery, their expectations are to at the very least, make a positive contribution to their team on a game-to-game basis. For all the players that can be found in the late first round or early second who produce, anyone taken in the top 14 picks should definitely be able to be a very solid player for their team. This draft, however, has a number of guys who have not met the expectations that come with their draft position. Some examples include- Kris Dunn, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and  Georgios Papagiannis- of these four, 2 (Dunn, Chriss) are no longer on the team that drafted them, while Bender is barely in the Suns’ rotation and Papagiannis is out of the league completely.

Exceeded Expectations: 4

The 2016 draft has a very impressive number of guys who, considering their hype leading up to the draft, have done much better than analysts and fans thought they would. Jamal Murray has developed into a very reliable scorer on the West’s current top team: the Denver Nuggets, including a 48-point outburst this season in which he went toe to toe with Kyrie Irving. Thon Maker and Juancho Hernangomez were relatively unknown to casual fans because they did not play college ball in the States but they have both carved out very solid roles on playoff teams. Malcolm Brogdon won the ROY award for ’16-17 and he was drafted in the second round! And players like Caris LeVert, Dejounte Murray, and Pascal Siakam were all drafted in the 20s, but are, despite injuries to two of them, in position to be starters for their respective teams for the near future.

Superstar Potential: 2

One of the biggest knocks for this class is probably the lack of star potential they have as a class. Other than Ben Simmons, and maybe Jamal Murray, it is hard to see other players from this class becoming superstars- despite players like Brandon Ingram, who was hailed as the next Kevin Durant, or Buddy Hield who was supposed to be one of the NBA’s next great scorers.

Class Total: 7

2017

jayson_tatum_loads_up_the_3_cannon.jpg(SI)

Top 5: 

1. Markelle Fultz, Sixers, 2. Lonzo Ball, Lakers, 3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics, 4. Josh Jackson, Suns, 5. De’Aaron Fox, Kings

Current Production: 9

The 2017 class is very solid in terms of sheer volume of players who have stepped into their respective teams and made an immediate positive impact, and continue to do so in year 2. From guys at the very top like Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, and De’Aaron Fox, to guys picked a little lower like Lauri Markkanen or Donovan Mitchell, to the end of the first round/beginning of second, like Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Jordan Bell- The entire draft is littered with talent that has been putting their fingerprints all over the NBA and helping their teams to win games, some having even made big plays in the playoffs last year.

Haven’t Met Expectations: 7

This 7 seems harsh, especially given what I just wrote, and the fact that there is a very small amount of what you’d consider disappointing picks so far. But two, Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson, have done their fair share (mostly Fultz) to earn that score by themselves. Jackson simply hasn’t gotten into a groove and looked truly comfortable to this point in his career. For his career, he is only averaging around 40% from the field and 27% from deep, to go along an average of 12 ppg. For someone drafted in the top 5, especially when looking at some of the players taken afterward, this must be considered a disappointment. Fultz’s situation, on the other hand, is a completely other problem. It is well known, I don’t think I need to re-hash it, but if you want to get a quick recap, look no further than this article. Because of all his issues, and the fact that he really hasn’t made any impact on the league since being drafted #1 overall, I think the 2017 draft class has to take a hit in this category.

Exceeded Expectations: 5

This class has no shortage of players who have played way above what most people thought their ceilings were. To list a few:

-Lauri Markkanen, who became the first rookie ever to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds, and hit 110 threes in a season

-Donovan Mitchell, who would have won the Rookie of the Year award if not for Ben Simmons’ redshirt year, was the first rookie since 2011 to score 40 points in a game and set a rookie record for threes with 186

-Kyle Kuzma, who, as the 27th pick, led his team in scoring

-Jordan Bell, who, as a second-round pick, played significant playoff minutes for the 2017-18 Warriors, who won the Finals

Superstar Potential: 3

(NBC Sports)

This class has shown me a lot, especially early on this season, about its star potential. De’Aaron Fox has been one of the most pleasant surprises early on this year. He is currently sitting at 18.2 ppg to go along with 7.4 assists, has looked fearless when attacking some of the best wing defenders and rim protectors in the league, and is leading his Sacramento Kings to a surprising start which has them close to playoff position in the Western Conference. Jayson Tatum just came off one of the more impressive playoff runs by a rookie in recent memory, where he went toe to toe with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, and has emerged as one of the best young scorers in the league right now (16.7 ppg, 39.6% 3pt). Lauri Markkanen and Kyle Kuzma have also flashed star potential, showing no fear when going against some o the best players in the league, and displaying shotmaking ability late in games.

Class Total: 11

2018

luka-doncic-e1544012261527.jpg(The Big Lead)

Top 5:

1.DeAndre Ayton, Suns, 2. Marvin Bagley, Kings, 3. Luka Doncic, Mavs, 4. Jaren Jackson, Grizzlies, 5. Trae Young, Hawks

Current Production: 7

There are a good amount of rookies already making an impact on their teams, even though it hasn’t hit January yet in their first seasons. Each of the top 12 picks, in fact, have been getting significant minutes for their teams and most of them have been productive positive contributions. Of course, guys at the top like Doncic, Bagley, and Ayton are known, but players like Miles Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Okogie, and Omari Spellman have also been able to make plays for their teams- a good sign for this class.

Haven’t Met Expectations: 2

This is one category where the younger class has a huge advantage- there is really not enough film on them to this point to be able to tell if they haven’t met their expectations yet. Players like Collin Sexton and Trae Young among others have been up and down but nobody is having an Anthony Bennett-like start to their career.

Exceeded Expectations: 2

There have definitely been some surprises in the draft, even this early in the season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of them. He has impressed with his playmaking ability along with his scoring and helped lead the Clippers to their hot start this year. Miles Bridges is another example, he was regarded as a tweener who may have trouble finding his position to play, but he has shown that with his athleticism, that may not matter as much as most thought it would. As more of these guys get a chance to play more, especially next year after they make the usual sophomore leap, we will get to see who else makes a jump above what people thought they could do.

Star Potential: 3

usa_today_11462009.0.jpg(SB Nation)

These two guys represent two of the brightest stars the NBA has seen in a while. While Doncic is receiving most of the buzz, and rightfully so, it shouldn’t be ignored that Ayton has stepped right into the NBA and is averaging a double-double at 16-10. In most drafts, this would absolutely be Rookie of the Year worthy. This year, however, Doncic is showing a level of maturity and comfort in the league, while also making highlight plays that many rookies do not, that makes him a (currently) runaway candidate for the award. In fact, if not for his rookie status, Doncic would probably be getting some All-Star consideration. At 18.4, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.9 assists, combined with the number of plays he has made late in games and going directly at some of the NBA’s best, Doncic represents one of the future superstars of the league, and it is hard to see him not realizing that potential.

Class Total: 10

Final Scores: 2017 (11), 2018 (9), 2016 (7)

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