The 2003 NBA Draft class has been regarded for quite some time as one of the best drafts. It’s agreed that 2003 wasn’t better than the 1996 NBA Draft, featuring Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Marcus Camby, Jermaine O’Neal, and many more. The 1984 draft is also agreed to be better then 2003, as it features Hall-of-Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Alvin Robertson, and more. However, the 2003 NBA Draft class, which features some Hall-of-Famers, is vastly overrated. Today, I’m going to explain why.
The first thing you have to understand is that in the early 2000s, NBA Drafts sucked. The amount of NBA talent was nowhere near the amount that we see in today’s drafts. This could be because this was around the time The Black Mamba dominated on the Lakers and won three championships, showing that players straight out of high school could succeed in the NBA. In 2004, Kevin Garnett (who was drafted straight out of high school) won the NBA MVP Award, and thus influenced tons of high schoolers to put their name in the draft. However, not every high school phenom is the next NBA MVP, and this resulted in lots of underwhelming drafts and busts. Don’t believe me? Look at the 2000 NBA Draft, the 2001 NBA Draft, and the 2002 NBA Draft, and you’ll see my point.
Now let’s look at the 2003 NBA draft. The #1 pick, as we all know, was LeBron James. From there, we have an immediate drop off as Darko Miličić, who was a huge bust, was selected #2 overall by the Detroit Pistons. But hey, at least he won a championship in 2004. At #3, things go back up as Carmelo Anthony was selected by the Denver Nuggets. An incredible scorer and talent, although he never won a championship at the NBA level, and seemed to care more about his points than his teammates or coaches’ success. The reason that Jeremy Lin and Linsanity didn’t stay with the New York Knicks? Anthony grew jealous of Lin’s success, demanded that Lin be traded, and also demanded that head coach Mike D’Antoni be fired. Anthony, being the star of New York, had all his demands immediately agreed to. However, Lin has a ring and Anthony doesn’t, so it seems karma bit him in the butt pretty hard.
At #4, we have Chris Bosh, who was selected by the Toronto Raptors out of Georgia Tech University. Bosh had an underrated career, as an All-Star multiple times over, champion, and defensive anchor for The Big Three in Miami in the early 2010s. Lastly, at #5, Dwayne Wade was selected by the Miami Heat out of Marquette University. Wade had an instant impact for the Heat, and it’s crazy to think that in 2006, Wade might have been considered a better player than James, as they both had two All-Star selections to their name, but Wade had already won a championship. He finished his career with three rings, and also led the NBA in scoring during 2009, which never really gets talked about.
All in all, the 2003 NBA Draft has a claim to one of the best top 5 pick selections in NBA history. However, when we get to the rest of the draft, it only goes down. At #6, the Los Angeles Clippers (being the Los Angeles Clippers) selected Chris Kaman out of Central Michigan University. Although he was named to one All-Star team, the 7’0″ center would miss over 300 games in his career due to injury, and would retire at the age of 33.
The next pick was Kirk Hinrich, who had a decent 13-year career, made the All-Rookie Team, and made one All-Defensive Team in 2007. I’d say the Chicago Bulls could have done much worse, like taking TJ Ford, the 8th overall pick. Ford only appeared in 55 games his rookie season, missed the entire next season due to a back injury, and retired at the age of 28, appearing in 35 games through his last three seasons.
Multiple no-names or players with sub-par careers filled the next part of the draft. Mike Sweeney was taken at #9, Jarvis Hayes was taken 10th, Mickaël Piétrus was taken 11th, Nick Collison was taken 12th, Marcus Banks was taken 13th, Luke Ridnour was taken 14th…. you get the point. Lots of guys that barely played, lots of guys that had their careers ended by injury, and lots that simply didn’t amount to anything. That’s pretty disappointing for the second half of a lottery and mid-first round. Only is there a glimmer of hope when we reach David West, the 18th pick in this mind-numbing draft? “What?” younger fans are saying. That old guy from the Warriors’ title runs in 2017 and 2018? No, West was much more than that.
Standing 6’9″, West was considered a tweener, and played both small and power forward when he entered the league. However, playing alongside Chris Paul and being coached by Byron Scott on the New Orleans Hornets, West found his place. During 2007 and 2008, he was named an All-Star, averaging around 21 points and 9 rebounds per game in both of those seasons. After playing for Indiana and San Antonio, West then made his way to the Warriors, where he won two championships. All in all, that’s not a bad career resume.
After West at 18, we have to skip over the next two players, Sasha Pavlović and Dahntay Jones, to get to our next decent pick, Boris Diaw. Diaw was never an All-Star, and has a career average of 8.6 points per game, but he was a contributing role on the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns with Steve Nash, and won a championship in 2014. Overall, not a bad career.
Two more quality players remained in the first round. After the likes of Zoran Pavlović, Travis Outlaw, Brian Cook, Carlos Delfino, and Ndudi Ebi, the next quality player, picked 27th overall, was Kendrick Perkins. Although he didn’t average the most glitzy numbers, he was a key player on the 2008 champion Boston Celtics, and had his best year in 2010 when he averaged 10 points per game. But hey, I’m sure he’s got lots of good stories to tell us from his playing days while on ESPN.
After Leandro Barbosa, we get to the 29th pick of the draft, Josh Howard. Howard played at Wake Forest University, and was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. He is one of the handful of All-Stars in this draft, as he was named an All-Star during the 2006-07 season. Ironically, his statistics were better the season following 2007 than in 2007. At his best he was a near 20-point per game scorer, and after 10 seasons in the NBA, he retired at the age of 32.
To save everyone’s time, let me name the notable players in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft:
Jason Kopono (three point champion from UCLA)
Zaza Pachulia (the guy who had injured more star players then made threes in his career)
Mo Williams (One-time All-Star)
Kyle Korver (One time All-Star)
These are the five most recognizable names in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft. Williams was James’ second option in Cleveland for two and a half seasons, whereas Korver went on to become a deadly sharpshooter, and somehow found his way into the 2015 NBA All-Star game.
In total, this draft featured nine All-Stars, 58 picks (this draft did not have the usual 60 picks), and 47 players that actually ended up playing in the NBA. Among all of these players, only 27 played 10 or more seasons, and James and Anthony are the only players in this draft class that are still in the league.
So, why do I feel as though this draft is overrated? For comparison, let’s look at the 2011 NBA Draft, which is one of the better drafts in NBA history but is not considered “loaded.” The first overall pick was Kyrie Irving, who would be stuck as James’ sidekick in Cleveland until 2017, where he would request a trade. However, he is a champion and seven-time NBA All-Star.
The second pick in this draft was Derrick Williams, who like Miličić, was a bust and only played seven seasons in the NBA. Next up we have three quality centers, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, and Jonas Valančiūnas. Valančiūnas just averaged a 17-point 12-rebound double-double, and the other two centers are both quality big men. After some other non-mentionable role players, we arrive at Kemba Walker, who was picked 9th overall in this draft. Having to carry the Charlotte Hornets for more seasons than I can count on one hand must have put a strain on Walker, and I don’t doubt that it contributed to his injuries. However, he’s still a quality point guard and All-Star. Two picks after Walker, we have Klay Thompson, one of two Splash Brothers and the man who holds the record for most three-pointers in an NBA game, with 14. He is a three-time champion, five-time All-Star, and member of the All-Defensive Team. Two picks after Thompson, we have Markieff Morris, followed by his brother Marcus Morris. Both would have solid careers, and play for multiple contenders.
After the Morris twins, Kawhi Leonard follows at #15 and Nikola Vučević was drafted at #16. I shouldn’t have to explain how good Leonard is, and although the Bulls did not reach the playoffs with Vučević this season, he is an All-Star center. At #19, Tobias Harris was drafted, and in my opinion, he is currently the best player in the NBA to never make an All-Star team. He has averaged 20 points per game multiple times, played for contenders, helped turn teams into contenders, and brought scoring, shooting, and rebounding to the teams he played for.
Rounding out the first round, we have Reggie Jackson, who exploded in this year’s playoffs and showed us what he was capable of. And with the last pick in the first round, the Bulls selected Jimmy Butler, who is one of the hardest working players in the NBA. Just to not ramble on for too long, the second round notable players are Bojan Bogdanović, Dāvis Bertāns, and former MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas. Out of the 60 players drafted, 54 played in the NBA.
While only seven NBA players from 2011 have been named All-Stars and nine NBA players from the 2003 draft class have been named All-Stars, the likes of Josh Howard, Chris Kaman, and Mo Williams were all only named All-Stars once. Meanwhile, everyone in the 2011 NBA Draft has been named an All-Star more then once. So, with this perspective, let me ask you: which draft class is better?
The 2003 NBA Draft class with 47 players playing in the NBA, or the 2011 NBA Draft Class with 54 players playing in the NBA?
The likes of James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, West, Kaman, Korver, Williams, Howard, Diaw, Perkins, Walton, Pachulia, Kapono, or Irving, Thompson, Valančiūnas, Walker, Thompson, the Morris Brothers, Leonard, Vučević, Harris, Jackson, Butler, Bogdanović, Bertāns, and Thomas?
Did the 2003 NBA Draft Class have one of the best top fives ever in NBA history? Yes, almost certainly. But did they have one of the best drafts ever overall, balanced with many steals, MVP candidates, and multiple time All-Stars in the second round? No. All in all, the 2003 NBA Draft class in itself failed to produce as many quality starters and role players, and while they had more All-Stars, their careers are over while the 2011 NBA Draft Class has just entered it’s prime. 2011’s All-Stars are better quality as well, and for these reasons, I believe the 2003 NBA Draft Class is highly overrated.
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