10 Greatest Center Draft Classes in NBA History

Mike B.Correspondent IOctober 6, 2011

10 Greatest Center Draft Classes in NBA History

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    Centers Enes Kanter and Jonas Valančiūnas were chosen within the first five picks of this past June's 2011 NBA draft.

    Both big men have the potential to become exceptionally good players in the future. If they do indeed emerge as stars someday, the class of 2011 may eventually be considered one of the NBA's greatest center draft classes of all time.

    This slideshow will take a look at the top 10 center classes in draft history. In order to make the cut, the class has to contain more than just one quality big men. They don't have to be two All-Stars, but at least two quality bigs.

    Let's get started.

10. Class of 2008

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    The class of 2008 was definitely a point-guard-rich class with the likes of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin.

    And a few solid centers were there for the taking as well such as Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, JaVale McGee, Roy Hibbert and DeAndre Jordan.

    Brook is clearly the better Lopez twin. Nothing against Robin, but Brook appears to be a future All-Star in the Eastern Conference. Robin doesn't put up big-time numbers, but has been a starter for the Phoenix Suns.

    McGee is the type of dunker you would pay to see, and Hibbert's and Jordan's stats continue to increase every season. 

9. Class of 2001

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    Four high school centers were selected within the first eight picks of the 2001 draft.

    This quartet included Kwame Brown (first overall), Tyson Chandler (second overall), Eddy Curry (fourth overall) and DeSagana Diop (eighth overall).

    Brown never ended up becoming a superstar like some had predicted, but is still a decent big man; Chandler will be one of the most coveted free agents whenever the lockout ends; Curry averaged nearly 20 points per game a few years back; and Diop was a solid role player in the past.  

    The Class of '01 also includes the shot-blocking Samuel Dalembert and 2007 All-Star Mehmet Okur.

8. Class of 1968

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    The great Wes Unseld was drafted second overall in 1968. At only 6'7", the Baltimore Bullets star was a bit undersized for the center spot, but that didn't matter.

    Unseld became just the second player in NBA history to win both MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Wilt Chamberlain was the first to accomplish the feat.

    Unseld averaged a hefty 14 rebounds per game for his career, was named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all time and led the Bullets to a title in 1978. 

    Another center taken in '68 was Tom Boerwinkle, who teamed with guys like Jerry Sloan, Bob Love and Norm Van Lier to make the Chicago Bulls a respectable franchise in the 1970s.      

7. Class of 2004

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    Owning the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Orlando Magic had to decide between two skilled centers in high schooler Dwight Howard and UConn's Emeka Okafor.

    The Magic would make the right choice by taking Howard, undoubtedly the best big man in the league today. "Superman" has impressively won the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award in each of the past three seasons. 

    The Charlotte Bobcats took Okafor second overall in the draft. Currently a member of the New Orleans Hornets, he isn't on the same level as Howard, but he's certainly a double-double machine.

    Borderline All-Star Al Jefferson was taken 15th overall.

6. Class of 2007

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    Big men Greg Oden, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Marc Gasol entered the NBA in 2007.

    Oden has had an injury-riddled career so far, but if he can ever get healthy, don't be surprised to see him become one of the game's top defenders.

    Power forward is perhaps the best position for Horford, but he's played center since arriving in the pros. He has been named an All-Star the past two seasons.

    Noah, Horford's college teammate at Florida, has helped the Chicago Bulls become a title contender for the first time since the dynasty years.

    Hawes is a decent player and Gasol, Pau's younger brother, could develop into an All-Star down the road.      

5. Class of 1979

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    Centers Bill Cartwright, Bill Laimbeer and James Donaldson heard their names called in the 1979 draft.

    Cartwright was an All-Star in New York before becoming a role player for three Chicago Bulls title teams in the 90s.   

    One of the baddest of the "Bad Boys," Laimbeer was a four-time NBA All-Star who helped the Detroit Pistons capture back-to-back titles.

    Donaldson, an All-Star in 1988, was the starting center for those memorable Dallas Mavericks squads of the 80s.

4. Class of 1986

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    The 1986 draft is considered one of the worst in NBA history. However, a trio of talented centers were selected that year in Brad Daugherty, Arvydas Sabonis and Kevin Duckworth.

    Taken first overall, Daugherty became one of the league's best passing big men of all time. The five-time NBA All-Star would have been a Hall of Famer if injuries didn't limit his career to just eight seasons.

    Sabonis and Duckworth were both associated with the Portland Trail Blazers, although they never played a game together. Sabonis stuck around overseas and didn't join the Blazers until 1995. He was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    Duckworth made the Western Conference All-Star team twice and helped Clyde Drexler and the Blazers reach the NBA Finals in both 1990 and 1992.

3. Class of 1996

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    The '96 draft class includes non-center stars like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and Ray Allen. But don't think that there weren't any serviceable centers that came out that year.

    Center Marcus Camby (second overall by Toronto) is one of the best players in league history to never make an All-Star team. The "Camby Man" was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and has averaged exactly 10 points and 10 rebounds for his career.    

    Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th overall) became a two-time All-Star in Cleveland after batting injuries for a couple of seasons early in his career.

    And don't forget about four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, who surprisingly went undrafted.    

2. Class of 1992

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    Two franchise big men were taken with the first two picks in the 1992 draft: LSU's Shaquille O'Neal and Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning.

    O'Neal, more commonly known as "Shaq," is without a doubt one of the NBA's five greatest centers of all time and is a lock to make the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He led the Los Angeles Lakers to three straight titles in the early 2000s as he took home the Finals MVP award each time.

    Mourning isn't a first ballot Hall of Famer like O'Neal, but he did put together a spectacular career. Zo made seven All-Star teams and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year in both 1999 and 2000.

    As teammates, O'Neal and Mourning won a title in 2006 with the Dwyane-Wade-led Miami Heat.    

    Also drafted in '92 was Matt Geiger, who was a solid center for a few years in Miami, Charlotte and Philadelphia.       

1. Class of 1970

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    Coming in at No.1 is the 1970 draft class, which produced Hall of Fame centers Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens and Dan Issel.

    Lanier was an eight-time All-Star and put up roughly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for his career.

    Cowens led the Boston Celtics to two titles in the 70s and was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

    And Issel was a star in the now-defunct ABA as well as the NBA, playing with the Kentucky Colonels and Denver Nuggets.  

    In addition, 1975 All-Star Sam Lacey was taken in this draft as well. He is one of only five players in NBA history to record at least 100 blocks and 100 steals in six straight seasons. Julius Erving, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Ben Wallace are the other four. 


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