by Nada Taha

In the past decade of NBA drafts, stars have been born and first rounders have been disappointments. We’ve seen career-altering injuries and sleeper picks live up to their potential.

Every team enters the draft hoping to pick a franchise player who they can build around and who can lead them to a championship. But who’s to say those players are as good as advertised?

Just glancing at the top three of every draft for the past nine years says a lot. Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol. LeBron James. Those names bring a connotation of success. They changed the face of their team. They led them to a ring or had them so close they could smell it.

But bring up names like Stromile Swift, Darko Milicic or dare I say it, Kwame Brown, and the first thoughts that come to mind are you seriously considering how much better you could have done in the NBA.

The draft is like buying something off eBay. The pictures look great. The seller’s reputation has been good in the past and the price is great. But when that item arrives at your door and you open the box, it’s not always as good as it looked on screen.

YEAR
STARTERSALL-STARS
200073
2001155
2002114
2003137
2004153
2005112
200681
2007100
2008120
20093N/A

Naming top players from a draft is pretty easy. But naming a top draft class is another story. Most draft classes have a façade. They boast a LeBron but hide a Darko. But others with some scratches on the surface, upon further inspection house gems like Michael Redd, Carlos Boozer or Monta Ellis.

Ask anyone what was the best draft class of the past decade and 99 percent will say 2003 with no hesitation. Hell, it’s in the same breath as 1996 and 1984.

It’s not easy to deny that the 2003 draft was possibly one of the best of all time.Seven All-Stars. Future hall-of-famers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Do I even need to continue? Yes? How about true franchise players like Carmelo Anthony (who’s lighting it up this season) and Chris Bosh.

But what makes a draft class the best? Is it superstars? Depth? Franchise players?

Is the 2003 draft the best of the decade statistically? Or is it just being measured by intangibles?

To figure out if it truly is the best draft class, I measured the number of All-Stars and starters based on career mpg averages. Statistically speaking, the 2001, 2004 and 2008 classes give 2003 a run for its money.

Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Joe Johnson are all draftees of a stacked 2001 class with 15 starters and five All Stars – two of which (Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur) were second rounders.

You can’t overlook the 2004 class with players like Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, and Andre Iguodala holding down the top 10 and Kevin Martin, Josh Smith and Jameer Nelson filling the other spots of 15 starters in that class.

And although it was followed by a draft class as weak as Chris Brown’s apology, 2008 was a big year. The word starter is seen more times than not in the top 15 picks with Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo and Russell Westbrook doing the top four justice.

Taking statistics and adding the X-factor to the mix, loosens up the tight race for best draft class, especially when 2003 boasts four All-Stars in its top five and numerous franchise players.

A draft class is no joke when it not only has MVPs and rings, but future HOFs as well. Considering the ’01 and ’04 classes have had some time to beef up their credentials, I’d have to say ’08 is the biggest competitor for LBJ’s class.

Do we really have any doubt that Rose, Beasley, Mayo, and Eric Gordon will be All-Stars in due time?

What makes 2003 the best class however, is the depth and the short amount of time it took for these players to prove their worth and rise above and beyond the expectations that come with getting a team cap so early on on draft night.

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For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.