June 6, 1987
best nba drafts
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have a long history of savvy draft selections.
The Lakers drafted Magic Johnson (1979) and James Worthy (1982) with No. 1 overall picks acquired in trades. General manager Jerry West selected Kobe Bryant (1996) straight out of high school with the 13th pick. Celtics impresario Red Auerbach made draft night trades for Bill Russell (1956) and Kevin McHale (1980) and selected Larry Bird (1978) one year before he entered the draft.
Both teams have two first-round selections and three of the first 35 in Thursday’s NBA draft — a few chances for once great franchises to improve after consecutive losing seasons.
Finding one great player in a single draft requires skill. Two involves luck. Three — that’s called pulling an Auerbach. When Red traded All-Star center Ed Macauley and the rights to Cliff Hagan for Russell in 1956, he also drafted Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones.
That’s the best draft in NBA history by a few lengths.
A couple factors determined the rest of the top 10.
Technically, the Hornets drafted Bryant. But they had already agreed to select him and then trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. That’s how almost all draft day trades work. For the purposes of this list, the Lakers drafted Bryant, and the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen.
Win shares and All-Star appearances are the two objective numbers used to measure these drafts — but only win shares and All-Star appearances accumulated while the player was with his original team. For example, Ron Harper had 66 career win shares, but only 19 with the Cavaliers. That’s the number listed beside each player.
Of course, subjectively played a factor, because Derek Fisher just isn’t that good.
1. BOSTON CELTICS | 1956
2. Bill Russell, San Francisco (164)
13. K.C. Jones, San Francisco (39)
Tom Heinsohn, Holy Cross (territorial pick) (60)
The Celtics drafted the centerpiece and two other key players of their dynasty in 1956.
Bill Russell led them to 11 championships from his rookie season through 1969. He was a five-time league MVP and led the league in rebounding five times. He is considered the greatest defensive player in history. His teams were 10-0 in Game 7s.
Tom Heinsohn (eight championships) made six All-Star teams. K.C. Jones (eight championships) was the starting point guard on three title teams.
Russell, Heinsohn and Jones also led the Celtics to six championships as coaches.
Russell was the team’s player-coach during his last three seasons, the first black coach in American professional sports history, winning championships in 1968 and 69. Heinsohn led the Celtics to titles in 1974 and 76, and Jones led them in 1984 and 86.
2. MILWAUKEE BUCKS | 1969
1. Lew Alcindor, UCLA (115)
45. Bobby Dandridge, Norfolk State (63)
The Bucks drafted the best player of the 1970s and an important role player in 1969.
Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after his second season, was a six-time league MVP — three times with the Bucks. He is the all-time leading scorer and led the league in scoring twice. Dandridge made three All-Star teams in Milwaukee.
They teamed with Oscar Robertson to win 66 games and an NBA title in 1970-71.
3. CHICAGO BULLS | 1987
5. Scottie Pippen, Central Arkansas (100)
8. Horace Grant, Clemson (62)
The Bulls already had Michael Jordan. They drafted two forwards to complement him in 1987.
Scottie Pippen is probably the most famous second banana in league history, a 6-foot-9 basketball Swiss Army knife who made seven All-Star teams and 10 All-Defensive teams. Horace Grant made one All-Star team and four All-Defensive teams.
Both flanked Jordan on the Bulls first three championship teams (1991-93). Pippen also played on the second three (96-98).
Grant signed with the Magic in 1994.
4. SAN DIEGO ROCKETS | 1970
2. Rudy Tomjanovich, Michigan (84)
18. Calvin Murphy, Niagara (70)
The Rockets didn’t just draft two future All-Stars in 1970. They drafted two franchise staples.
Rudy Tomjanovich made five All-Star teams, although he is most famous for being punched by Kermit Washington on Dec. 9, 1977. The 5-foot-9 Calvin Murphy is the shortest player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Both played their entire careers with the Rockets, who moved to Houston in 1971.
Tomjanovich coached the Rockets for 11 seasons, leading them to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 95. Murphy has been a television analyst with the team for many years.
5. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS | 1986
1. Brad Daugherty, North Carolina (65)
8. Ron Harper, Miami (Ohio) (19)
25. Mark Price, Georgia Tech (65)
The 1986 draft is known for its cautionary tales — Len Bias, Chris Washburn and Roy Tarpley — but the Cavaliers were that night’s success story.
Brad Daugherty made five All-Star teams in an injury-shortened, eight-year career. Mark Price made four All-Star teams. Ron Harper was their shooting guard.
They teamed with Larry Nance and John Williams to win 57 games in 1988-89, but the Cavaliers were eliminated by Michael Jordan’s “Shot” in the first round of the playoffs.
Harper was traded to the Clippers the following season.
6. DALLAS MAVERICKS | 1981
1. Mark Aguirre, DePaul (49)
9. Rolando Blackman, Kansas State (70)
24. Jay Vincent, Michigan State (23)
The expansion Mavericks built a winning franchise in the 1981 draft.
Mark Aguirre was one of the league’s top scorers, making three All-Star teams. Rolando Blackman made four All-Star teams. Jay Vincent was their power forward.
The Mavericks won 28 games in 1981-82, followed by 38, 43, 44, 44, 55 and 53 wins in 1987-88, when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The Mavericks were nearly flawless on draft night in the 1980s, selecting Derek Harper and Dale Ellis in 1983, Sam Perkins in 1984, Detlef Schrempf in 1985 and Roy Tarpley in 1986.
7. LOS ANGELES LAKERS | 1996
13. Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion High School (Philadelphia) (173)
24. Derek Fisher, Arkansas (Little Rock) (45)
The Lakers drafted the second-best shooting guard of all time and the luckiest player of all time in 1996.
The first guard to be drafted right out of high school, Kobe Bryant was the youngest starter in league history and won the Slam Dunk Contest during his rookie season. He is third all-time in points and led the league in scoring twice. He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal and then Pau Gasol to lead the Lakers to five championships.
Derek Fisher is perceived as a player of some import, because he was also a member of five championship teams. But he was a below average point guard who was in the right place at the right time.
8. ORLANDO MAGIC | 2004
1. Dwight Howard, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (88)
20. Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph’s (43)
The Magic rebooted their franchise with a dominant center and a point guard in 2004.
Dwight Howard, the best center since Shaquille O’Neal, made six All-Star teams in Orlando. He was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, leading the league in rebounding four times and blocks twice. Jameer Nelson made the All-Star team in 2009.
They lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 2009.
9. SEATTLE SUPERSONICS | 2008
5. Russell Westbrook, UCLA (53)
24. Serge Ibaka, Republic of the Congo (42)
The SuperSonics already had Kevin Durant. They drafted two more elite athletes and moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Russell Westbrook, who didn’t miss a game in his first five seasons with the Thunder, has made four All-Star teams. He led the league in scoring and triple-doubles last season, when Durant missed 55 games. Serge Ibaka has led the league in blocks twice.
The Thunder lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals in 2012.
10. DETROIT PISTONS | 1981
2. Isiah Thomas, Indiana (81)
12. Kelly Tripucka, Notre Dame (32)
The Pistons drafted two players who made the All-Star team in their first season in 1981.
One of the best playmaking point guards of all time, Isiah Thomas played in 12 All-Star games and led the Pistons to two championships. Tripucka played in two All-Star games.
Both played major roles in the highest scoring game of all time — Pistons 186, Nuggets 184 in three overtimes on Dec. 13, 1983. Thomas had 47 points, including the game’s only 3-pointer, and 17 assists. Tripucka scored 35, including 12 in the second overtime.
The Pistons traded Tripucka to the Jazz for Adrian Dantley in 1986 — the same year they drafted John Salley and Dennis Rodman.
HONORABLE MENTION | Cincinnati Royals, 1970 (Sam Lacey and Tiny Archibald); Portland Trail Blazers, 2006 (LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy); Atlanta Hawks, 1977 (Tree Rollins and Eddie Johnson); Memphis Grizzlies, 2001 (Pau Gasol and Shane Battier); Philadelphia 76ers, 1973 (Doug Collins, Caldwell Jones and George McGinnis).