The 2017-18 rookie class has been one of the most productive in recent memory. A myriad of rookies, controversial or not, have all contributed to their respective teams, whether in the regular season, postseason or both.
But how do they stack up against the best? After all, the NBA has had some dominant rookie classes throughout its storied history.
While their careers are still in their infancy, the likes of Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and others have proven themselves a special bunch. The bar has been set time and time again, but how do these kids compare?
For simplicity’s sake, this list will compare the combined top five win share marks from the 2017-18 group to some of the better rookie groups in NBA history (win shares being an estimate of the number of wins contributed to a team by a single player).
6. Class of 2003-04
Notable Rookies: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 26.8
One of the most anticipated groups of the last 20-odd years, the 2003-04 class, headlined by then high school phenom LeBron James, are still finding ways to produce in 2018. Four of the top five players went on to play multiple All-Star caliber seasons and, in all likelihood, will end up in the Hall of Fame (sorry, Darko).
However, things weren’t perfect during their freshman campaigns.
Chris Bosh actually led the group, posting 6.2 win shares for the Toronto Raptors. Carmelo Anthony (6.1) with the Denver Nuggets, James (5.1) with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Udonis Haslem — who had gone undrafted in 2002 — (4.8) and Dwyane Wade (4.6), both with the Miami HEAT, all followed.
This class produced plenty of other serviceable players as well. While the likes of Chris Kaman, David West, Mo Williams and Kyle Korver haven’t been superstars like the others, they found ways to produce for their teams and, in the case of West and Korver, are still playing important playoff minutes on their respective teams.
5. Class of 1996-97
Notable Rookies: Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 27.4
The 1996 rookie class was deep. The group was littered with future All-Stars and also produced three future MVPs in Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
But, like the 2003-04 group, it took some time before they were playing their best basketball on the biggest stage.
Bryant and Nash averaged just 15.5 and 10.5 minutes per game, respectively, in their first pro seasons. While the likes of Iverson and Ray Allen played big minutes in their first season’s, it took them both multiple years before they were finally able to make an impact in the playoffs. Kerry Kittles (6.9), Dean Garrett (6.2) and Matt Melony (5.3) were actually the top three among rookies in win shares that season, but not many could tell you who they were.
4. Class of 2008-09
Notable Rookies: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 28.8
Multiple players from this group contributed solid minutes immediately. Marc Gasol, who had come over after spending some time in Spain, led all rookies with 6.4 win shares while averaging 11.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Brook Lopez (5.8) posted 13 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Kevin Love (5.3) averaged 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.
While Derrick Rose (4.9) and Russell Westbrook (1.9) didn’t crack the top five in win shares, both posted solid stat lines — Rose averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 assists, Westbrook 15.3 and 5.3 — while Rose took home Rookie of the Year and led his team into the postseason.
Rudy Fernandez (6.1), who played just four seasons in the NBA, and Mario Chalmers (5.2) rounded out the top win share leaders among rookies that season.
3. Class of 2017-18
Notable Rookies: Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 31.1
Simmons (9.2), Tatum (7.1) and Mitchell (5.2) made the difference all season long for their respective squads. Lauri Markkanen and Kyle Kuzma both proved to be major contributors on the offensive side of the ball, while the likes of John Collins, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen and plenty others all found their own ways to contribute.
In terms of pure production, the 2017-18 group has been exceptional in all facets of the game. Simmons, Tatum and Mitchell alone produced over 4000 total points during the regular season. Multiple rookies have had a big impact in the playoffs as well.
And, with the emergence of other players toward the end of the season — Adebayo, Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk and others — this rookie group looks poised to take the league by storm in the coming seasons.
2. Class of 1992-93
Notable Rookies: Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Latrell Sprewell, Robert Horry
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 35.6
Has there ever been a player as physically dominant as Shaquille O’Neal? An instant All-Star, Shaq feasted on competition from the get-go and racked up numerous stats and accolades, including 1893 points, 1122 rebounds, 286 blocks, Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie honors in his first season. Shaq finished 12th in the league and tops among rookies in win shares with 10.4.
As great as Shaq was, Alonzo Mourning (8.2), Christian Laettner (5) and Latrell Sprewell (4) were nothing to scoff at. All three were immediate contributors for their respective teams — all three averaged at least 15 points on the season, Mourning and Laettner both averaged more than eight rebounds while Sprewell averaged 1.2 steals per game.
Others, including LaPhonso Ellis (8), Robert Horry (3.6) and Tom Gugliotta (1.6), had solid rookie seasons and went on to have great careers as well.
1. Class of 1984-85
Notable Rookies: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Sam Perkins
Top 5 Combined Win Shares: 43.2
Is this really a surprise?
Often regarded as one of the best rookie classes EVER, the 1984-85 class immediately claimed the NBA as their own. Multiple players revolutionized their respective franchises and changed the landscape of the league.
The rookie phenom Michael Jordan (14) led all rookies and was second in the NBA in win shares after posting a stat line of 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in his inaugural campaign. Hakeem Olajuwon (10.2) completely changed the fortunes of the Houston Rockets, taking them from a record of 29-53 to 48-34 in just a single year. Charles Barkley (7.5) found his way to a more than talented Philadelphia 76ers team stocked with frontcourt talent, including Julius Irving and Moses Malone, and made an immediate impact, averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Even Sam Bowie (5.7), often thought to be one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, had a solid rookie season averaging 10 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The most successful periods in NBA history have been marked with major influxes of talent and youth. Each group, in some form, managed to change the game or grow the culture of the NBA. The 2017-18 rookie class, which has proven itself to be a special group, appears to be in a similar vein.
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