There's a tendency to place infusions of basketball talent in context by using the NBA draft. Before the 2014 draft in June, a common sentiment was that it was the strongest draft class the league had seen since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all entered the league at the same time.
There's a problem with that line of logic, though. NBA draft classes pull players who can be three grade levels apart in school. Andrew Wiggins was ready for the NBA sooner in his development as a player than Doug McDermott. If you really want to see what years have produced the best basketball talent, looking at high school classes is the most objective way to do it.
On Tuesday, we compared the class of 2015 to the class a year below it in 2016. At the moment, it looks like 2016 has the superior top-end talent. Of course, that's all subject to change when you're talking about teenagers. After covering the July recruiting period for the last month, it seemed like a good time to check in on what high school classes have been the best historically. Each player listed below has his high school rank according to Rivals in parenthesis. The database only goes back to 2003.
A quick note: Even when comparing high school classes, the players might not always be the same age. Take the class of 2016, for example. Josh Jackson, ranked No. 2 by ESPN, was born on Feb. 10, 1997. That's 13 months older than the player one spot below him, wing Jayson Tatum.
Most notable members: Andrew Bynum (6), Monta Ellis (3), Amir Johnson (29), Danny Green (31), Wilson Chandler (44), Gerald Green (1), Josh McRoberts (2), Martell Webster (5), Andray Blatche (6), Lou Williams (7), Tyler Hansbrough (10), Mario Chalmers (12), C.J. Miles (19) Chris Douglas-Roberts (75)
This was the last year high school players were allowed to turn pro. Bynum, Webster and Green were all first-round picks, but none turned into perennial All-Stars the way other prep-to-pro players did. You'll notice that this is a class full of late bloomers. Johnson, Green, McRoberts and Webster each didn't really come into their own until the last season or two in the NBA. The depth of this class behind Bynum and Ellis looks a lot better now than it would have two summers ago.
Too soon to tell
Most notable members: Anthony Davis (2), Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal (4), Michael Carter-Williams (29), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (4), Cody Zeller (15), Trey Burke (142), Rodney Hood (16), Ben McLemore (34), Otto Porter (37), Marshall Plumlee (79), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12), P.J. Hairston (13), Quincy Miller (7)
Davis might be the third-best player in the NBA by the end of next season -- his presence alone is a major boost for this class. Beal also started to break out last season and seems poised for another jump forward as a player who turned 21 years old only a month ago. Miller, drafted by the Nuggets in the second round of 2012, is the sleeper to watch for in this class.
Update: We forgot Andre Drummond here because he wasn't listed on Rivals' class of 2011 rankings. Drummond reclassified before his junior year to immediately become a senior. He was ranked No. 2 in the class according to ESPN.
Most notable members: Nerlens Noel (2), Steven Adams (5), Anthony Bennett (7), Marcus Smart (10), T.J. Warren (17), Nik Stauskas (71), Kyle Anderson (3), Gary Harris (25)
College players, this year's juniors: Fred VanVleet (138), Willie Cauley-Stein (40), Montrezl Harrell (82), Alex Poythress (8), Kaleb Tarczewski (9), Sam Dekker (13), Brandon Ashley (23), Shaq Goodwin (44), Georges Niang (69), Cam Ridley (29)
It is way too early to judge the class of 2012, players who would have just finished their sophomore season in college. Noel, Adams, Bennett and Smart have the best potential to be stars from this class. Willie Cauley-Stein likely would have been a lottery pick in June, but he opted to return to Kentucky where he'll be part of a loaded front court. Check back in on these guys five years from now.
Most notable members: Andrew Wiggins (1), Jabari Parker (4), Joel Embiid (25), Julius Randle (2), Aaron Gordon (3), Noah Vonleh (8), Zach LaVine (44), James Young (11),
The reason the 2014 draft received so much hype was because the high school class of 2013 was just that special. If Wiggins, Randle and Embiid become the type of players many expect them to be, this could go down as a historic class. Bobby Portis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Walker could each be lottery picks a year from now with solid sophomore seasons.
Most notable members: Kyrie Irving (4), Terrence Jones (13), Harrison Barnes (2), Tristan Thompson (17), Dion Waiters (29), Victor Oladipo (144), Terrence Ross (48), Jeremy Lamb (76), Adreian Payne (20), Gorgui Dieng (44), Shabazz Napier (98), Enes Kanter (3), Brandon Knight (6), Tobias Harris (7), Perry Jones III (9)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 1 Josh Selby
For as much hype as as Barnes received out of high school, he wasn't even the No. 1-ranked player in the class. That would be Josh Selby, a 6'2 guard whose one season at Kansas was interrupted by an NCAA investigation and ensuing nine-game suspension. Irving is the only no-brainer out of this class at this point, but everyone else behind him still have the potential to be very good players.
Most notable members: DeMar DeRozan (3), Greg Monroe (8), Klay Thompson (51), Jrue Holiday (2), Kemba Walker (14), Isaiah Thomas (92), Reggie Jackson (115), Draymond Green (122), Tyreke Evans (6), Brandon Jennings (4), Marcus Morris (29), Iman Shumpert (39)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 10 Willie Warren
Holiday became the first member of this class to make the All-Star Game in 2013, and DeRozan followed him this past February. This class is a good example of why high school rankings are far from finite. Thomas, Jackson and Green have emerged as three of the best players in the class without being ranked in the top 90 out of high school.
Most notable members: John Wall (1), DeMarcus Cousins (2), Kawhi Leonard (48), Eric Bledsoe (23), Lance Stephenson (11), Derrick Favors (3), Avery Bradley (4), Mason Plumlee (55), John Henson (5)
Top-10 recruit you forget about: No. 10 Mouphtaou Yarou
This is why you can never judge a class too early. Just a year ago, no one would have considered Leonard a future Finals MVP, Bledsoe a candidate for a max contract or Stephenson a potential franchise cornerstone. This may also be the biggest testament to John Calipari's recruiting prowess after he came away with three of the four best players in the class.
Most notable members: Kevin Durant (2), Mike Conley Jr. (18), Ty Lawson (9), Brook Lopez (10), Thaddeus Young (5), Taj Gibson (32), Ryan Anderson (98), Robin Lopez (28), Greivis Vasquez (46), Patrick Beverley (65), Gerald Henderson (11), Chase Budinger (4), Brandan Wright (3), D.J.Augustin (49), Greg Oden (1)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 7 Javaris Crittenton
Crittenton is the only player in the top 10 of this class who hasn't had a long NBA career, and his problems go beyond basketball. If Oden's career wouldn't have been devastated by injuries, there's a good chance this could have been the best class of the last 10 years.
Best of the best
Most notable members: Dwight Howard (1), LaMarcus Aldridge (16), Rajon Rondo (25), Joakim Noah (75), Al Horford (36), Kyle Lowry (28), Josh Smith (3), Rudy Gay (5), Al Jefferson (4), Arron Afflalo (26), Marvin Williams (11), Shaun Livingston (2), J.R Smith (8), Anthony Morrow (94), Rodney Stuckey (131), Dorell Wright (12), Corey Brewer (31)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 7 Malik Hairston
When Al Jefferson and Rudy Gay are rounding out the bottom half of the top 10, you know it's a loaded class. Howard was the obvious star as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft out of high school, but the rest of his peers have gone on to make this arguably the deepest talent pool of the last 10 years. This class has 19 All-Star Game selections between it, with eight coming from Howard. Lowry, Smith, Gay and Jefferson have never made the All-Star Game, but have been on the cusp just about every season the last few years.
Most notable members: LeBron James (1), Chris Paul (14), Luol Deng (2), Trevor Ariza (18), Paul Millsap (130), Aaron Brooks (34), Kendrick Perkins (6), Charlie Villanueva (5), Kris Humphries (15)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 4 Ndudi Ebi
CP3 was rated below: Ebi, James Lang, David Padgett, Brian Butch, Leon Powe, Mustafa Shakur, just to name a few. LeBron and CP3 alone give this the chance to be the best recruiting class of all time, though the depth outside of the top five isn't great. Some of us are still holding out hope for former Kings guard Quincy Douby (No. 52).
Most notable members: Derrick Rose (3), Blake Griffin (23), Kevin Love (6), James Harden (11), DeAndre Jordan (8), Eric Gordon (2), Chandler Parsons (19), Jeff Teague (57), Patrick Patterson (17), O.J. Mayo (4), Michael Beasley (1), J.J. Hickson (10), Evan Turner (49)
Top-10 recruit you forgot about: No. 9 Donte Green
Mayo was hyped from the moment he entered high school as the country's next great prospect. By the time the class of 2007 was in college, it was Beasley who was besting the numbers Kevin Durant had put up one year earlier in the Big 12 by destroying everyone at Kansas State. Even if Mayo and Beasley never fulfilled their long-term potential, the class of 2007 is still loaded with talent from front to back.
Rose became the youngest MVP in league history before knee injuries knocked out his last two easons. Griffin and Love are each consensus top-10 players at this point in their careers. Harden is arguably the best shooting guard alive. Even Chandler Parsons received a three-year max deal this offseason from the Mavericks. In the scope of great high school basketball classes, it's tough to beat 2007.