The Best Active NBA Player from Every Draft of the Last 20 Years
Nearing the one month mark of the 2012-13 NBA season, we're starting to see which members of the 2012 Draft Class are living up to expectations, exceeding them or falling short. Anthony Davis despite a concussion is humming along at a level that was expected. Damian Lillard was expected to be good out of the gate, but his outstanding play is still going beyond the expected pale. Austin Rivers, although thought to be a reach at the 10th pick, has still severely underwhelmed.
But that's just how things stand right now in the nascent careers of these players. 20 years down the line, a dark horse 2nd round pick could upend all of the 1st round picks. Davis could stay the same level while Lillard zooms ahead. Debilitating injuries could play a merciless and cruel determiner of who succeeds and who fails.
With that in mind, let's take a look back at the last 20 years of NBA drafts and see which active player is the best man standing from his class. Some of these choices proved easy, other quite difficult, but all of the players are exceptional.
Except the 2000 Draft. Good lord that was an awful spectacle.
Anyhoo, let's get to the rundown!
1994 Draft: Jason Kidd
Only two men remain from this Paleolithic draft. With Grant Hill sidelined with injury, Jason Kidd practically by default is the best active player from the 1994 NBA Draft. And not only active but playing a key role in the Knicks' surprising start to the season as the ageless wonder continues knock down threes at an insane rate while also swiping 2.1 steals a game.
1995 Draft: Kevin Garnett
"The Kid" was the 1st high schooler to join pro hoops since Moses Malone (ABA) and Daryl Dawkins (NBA) back in the 1970s. As with Jason Kidd, Garnett doesn't enjoy much competition for his status as best active member of the 1995 draft. Only Kurt Thomas, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace still play from this class.
Also like Kidd, Garnett is still a terrific contributor at his advanced age: 16 points and 7.5 rebounds as of November 26th, 2012. I think we can expect that to keep up until season's end.
1996 Draft: Kobe Bryant
Finally we have draft class where more than one player is contributing significantly. Ray Allen is shooting lights out in Miami, and Steve Nash should be a major cog for the Lakers when his leg heals, but this is still an easy call.
Kobe Bryant is the best active player from this draft. Never known for shooting acumen, Bryant this season so far is on a torrid pace that likely won't keep at its current pace, but will still be amazing for a player in his 17th season.
1997 Draft: Tim Duncan
No matter how old he gets, as long as Tim Duncan remains in the league he'll be a force to reckon with. Duncan continues to score at respectable rates. Add to that his usual intelligent defense and excellent rebounding, he's still the best player from the 1997 draft.
Always has been, always will be.
1998 Draft: Paul Pierce
And here is the 1st difficult choice.
The 1998 draft class features Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. Both of these men have held up extremely well despite being the 9th and 10th picks of the draft, respectively. And have also played for the same franchise their whole careers.
I chose Pierce over Nowitzki at this moment because Pierce is actually active at the moment. Dirk is currently sidelined with a troublesome knee. Hopefully it doesn't prove to be career-altering, but it knocks him below Pierce for this list. But if Dirk comes back healthy and strong he may take over this spot from Paul Pierce. Or Pierce may continue to ward of Nowitzki. The Truth is still putting up 20 points a night for the Celtics.
1999 Draft: Shawn Marion
I wouldn't quibble with selecting Jason Terry for this spot, and Elton Brand and Andre Miller are still contributing well, but Shawn Marion would be my choice from this class at this moment.
The Matrix has always brought one of the more unique skill sets delivered in a unique fashion. If you take a look at his numbers and watch his superb play from the past decade, especially with Phoenix and Dallas, you'll be hard pressed to not put him down as a borderline Hall of Famer.
I'm actually inclined to say he is Hall of Fame worthy.
2000 Draft: Jamal Crawford
When Jamal Crawford is not only the best active player but the best player by any measure, you know the draft was atrocious.
For various reasons (injury or being a devoted fan of pizza eating), the only potential challengers to Crawford (Hedo Turkoglu, Mike Miller, Michael Redd and Kenyon Martin) just can't put together a convincing resume.
And believe me, I'd love to select someone other than Crawford. But he's genuinely the best active player from this draft. Unbelievable.
2001 Draft: Zach Randolph
If there were a survey of the best player career wise, it'd be Pau Gasol or Tony Parker.
But actively, right now, it's Zach Randolph. Gasol has visibly lost a bit of his luster, while Parker has actually maintained a level not far off from his best days. Randolph is my choice though because he is absolutely beasting for the Grizzlies after having a lackluster 2011-12 campaign due to injury.
Still, a part of me wants to pick Tony Parker, but I'll stick with Z-Bo.
2002 Draft: Mike Dunleavy
Yes, Mike Dunleavy is the best active player from this draft.
Yes, it's surprising.
Yes, I can't believe it either.
The only conceivable option besides Dunleavy's efficient shooting and splendid off-the-ball movement is Carlos Boozer's great rebounding, deteriorating offense and atrocious defense. You're between a rock and a hard place on this one.
PS - This should be Yao Ming's spot. Damn you, injuries.
2003 Draft: LeBron James
There are three, maybe even five players from this draft that could be the best from the previous year's affairs. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony would take the prize. Mo Williams and David West could also make a good case.
But this isn't the 2002 Draft, it's 2003 and LeBron James triumphs over all these very fine players.
2004 Draft: Dwight Howard
Still recovering and regaining his form from back surgery, Dwight Howard still takes 1st place when selecting the 2004 draftees again today. His defense and rebounding are second-to-none, while his offensive game is maligned only by those who are stuck in 2007.
He needs to ditch the headband, though. Not a good look.
2005 Draft: Chris Paul
Anyone who keeps the Clippers not only relevant but possible title contenders deserves not only selection as the best active player of their draft, but also a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Surely, I've settled the Deron vs. Paul debate forever with this selection.
2006 Draft: Lamarcus Aldridge
This is a sneakily good draft class despite the presence of Andrea Bargnani and the loss of Brandon Roy.
Rajon Rondo's embarrassing quest for meaningless assists continues to tar his otherwise good play, while Paul Millsap and Rudy Gay provide play that you'd be proud to call your own.
My pick though for best active player is LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers PF/C is currently struggling with a bad hip, so his position here is precarious, but for now he's still my choice. He's a great post passer, a splendid mid-range jump shooter, has developed an effective post game and is a better-than-average defender.
2007 Draft: Kevin Durant
This was fairly easy. The only player, along with Michael Jordan and George Gervin, to lead the league in scoring 3 straight seasons following the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, Durant is a scoring machine. But he's increasingly showing better defense, rebounding, and especially passing skills
You'd be a fool to make any other choice.
2008 Draft: Kevin Love
Regularly scoring 25 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, Love is the mutational evolution of Moses Malone. Neither man gets his boards by flying high, but with a brand of muscling and positional boardwork that should be taught in every high school gym.
Add in a shot of Love three-pointers and you got yourself a hell of a player. The best of the 2008 draft.
2009 Draft: James Harden
Harden may have garnered this high honor even if he stayed with Oklahoma City but his arrival in Houston has put to rest any idea that anyone from this draft is currently better than he is.
The Beard has the ability and touches to put up 25-5-5 for the season. That would put him in some spectacular company.
2010 Draft: Greg Monroe
The Moose is loose and the best in show!
Greg Monroe can't jump very high, if at all, but his old man game makes him the best so far of this young class.
As for future challengers to Monroe, there's Paul George who is growing but still not there yet. Derrick Favors is showing the signs of a defensive stalwart. John Wall's knee is cranky. DeMarcus Cousins is just plain cranky.
2011 Draft: Kyrie Irving
Despite a couple of health problems early in his career, Kyrie Irving is easily the best player of the 2011 draft so far. The kid's got gumption, spunk and chutzpah to last for days. Plus he's League Pass Alert dynamite. If the game is winding down and the Cavs are within striking distance, watch out for the show Kyrie may put on.
And for fans of the Cavaliers' sake, I hope he returns soon from his hand injury. This Cleveland team is wretched without him, except for the always entertaining Anderson Varejao.