The best player in the 1980 NBA Draft class was clearly Kevin McHale. McHale was the only Hall of Famer from the class and one of only five players from the class to ever make an NBA All Star team. The other four All Stars from the class were Andrew Toney, Joe Barry Carroll, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Jeff Ruland.
Who had the best careers from the 1980 NBA Draft Class?
The 10 best players from the 1980 NBA Draft class are listed in order below. I have ranked the players using a combination of traditional statistics, advanced statistics and career accomplishments.
Below the player biographies there is a table with some sortable stats for every 1st round pick and for selected later picks who had decent or better NBA careers.
- Kevin McHale
- Kiki Vandeweghe
- Joe Barry Carroll
- Jeff Ruland
- Andrew Toney
- Darrell Griffith
- Rick Mahorn
- Mike Woodson
- Mike Gminski
- Kurt Rambis
Kevin McHale easily had the best career of anyone from the 1980 NBA Draft Class. McHale was picked 3rd overall in the draft after a trade that saw Red Auerbach’s Celtics sending the 1st and 13th picks in the 1980 draft for Robert Parish and the 3rd pick.
Any trade where you get 2 Hall of Famers at the start of their career is a pretty sweet deal! McHale did not start right away for the Celtics because they had Cedric Maxwell and Larry Bird on the team.
But McHale won two Sixth Man of the Year awards as a backup and even made one All-Star team from the bench. After becoming a starter, he went on to make 6 more All-Star games, was named to All NBA Defensive teams 4 times and made 1st Team All NBA in 1987.
Most importantly, McHale won three NBA championships for those Celtics teams. McHale easily has the best advanced stats of the 1980 NBA Draft class and did the most winning as well.
Kevin McHale was a dominant two-way player known for having some of the best post moves in the history of the game and for being one of the better defenders to ever play. He was clearly the best player in the class.
Kiki Vandeweghe was not a name I was expecting to rank so high when I started researching, but he is pretty clearly the 2nd best player in the 1980 NBA Draft class. Vandeweghe was picked 11th in the 1980 NBA Draft but demanded a trade and got shipped to Denver.
He played for the Nuggets, Trailblazer, Knicks and Clippers in a career that saw him shuttle around the league a bit. Kiki was a scoring machine: he averaged nearly 30 a game for the Nuggets one year, averaged 20 a game for his career and was the leading scorer per game in the draft class.
Vandeweghe not only led the class in scoring, he was 2nd to McHale in career Win Shares and Value Over a Replacement Player. He didn’t do much more than scoring – the rest of his traditional stats are not great and he was a poor defender.
But Kiki probably deserves more love for being able to fill it up at the level he did. One thing held against him is that he never really won.
But sports narratives can blame and credit players for winning too often sometimes. Sure, McHale was a huge part of why the Celtics won. But Paul Pierce was a big part of why the Celtics won in a later generation and he was considered a loser around the league until Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett came to town.
My point is sometimes players win when they are on great teams and lose when they are not. You wonder if Kiki Vandeweghe ended up on a team that won more if his reputation would be stronger.
Joe Barry Carroll
As a Celtics fan of a certain age, I always assumed Joe Barry Carroll was horrible. He was brought up as the punchline in jokes about the trade that brought the Celtics McHale and Parish.
Imagine my surprise to find out Joe Barry Carroll was pretty darn good! He was the 3rd leading per game scorer and rebounder in the draft class and had the 7th best career Win Shares and Value Over a Replacement Player.
Carroll averaged nearly 20 points per game right out of the box in his rookie year after being drafted 1st overall by the Warriors. He later put together four straight 20 plus point per game seasons while averaging around 8 rebounds per game as well. He made the 1987 All Star game and was one of the best players in the 1980 NBA Draft class.
Jeff Ruland had a fascinating career where injuries robbed him of his full potential. He was the 2nd pick in the 2nd round by Golden State but was traded to the Washington Bullets after playing his first year in Spain.
Ruland reached pretty high heights for the Bullets averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds a game in the ‘83-’84 season. He was becoming a star and had a couple more really strong seasons for those Bullets teams before injuries derailed his career.
Ruland suffered a knee injury that effectively ended his career in his prime. He was traded from the Bullets but only played briefly for the Sixers before his first retirement. After four years out of the game, he briefly came back to the NBA but was a shell of his former self.
Despite his short career, Ruland was a top 10 scorer in the class on a per game basis, was top ten in career Win Shares and finished 4th in Value Over Replacement Player. Ruland could easily be ranked lower, but has a strong case in the battle of what could have been.
Another strong candidate in the battle of what could have been is Andrew Toney. Toney was a two-way guard for the Sixers teams of the early 80’s. Those teams were great and the ‘83 championship team had one of the all-time seasons featuring Dr. J, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks and, yes, Andrew Toney.
Toney earned the nickname the Boston Strangler in the ‘82 Eastern Conference Finals when he beat McHale’s Celtics and averaged 26 points per game. Toney was a two-time All Star for the Sixers and averaged 16 points per game for his career.
Andrew Toney likely would have finished higher on this list had his career not been cut short by foot injuries that limited him to 8 NBA seasons including a couple where he played very few games.
For some reason, the advanced stats don’t love him either and he finished outside the top 10 for the class in Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player. I still think his scoring, winning, and All-Star appearances justify a high ranking in the 1980 NBA Draft class.
Dr. Dunkenstein is another player the advanced stats are not enamored with, probably because, like Toney and Ruland, injuries derailed his career.
Griffith played 10 seasons for Utah after the team took him 2nd overall in the draft. He came out hot, winning Rookie of the Year and averaging 20 points per game (or very close to it) in his first 5 seasons.
In addition to his dunking prowess, Griffith became a good shooter and he and Adrian Dantley formed a powerful scoring duo. But a knee injury caused him to miss the ‘85-’86 season and when he came back he was never quite the same.
The stats are in love with Toney and Griffith in comparison to Rick Mahorn. If you judged players only by box scores, Mahorn would not score well.
The Bullets 2nd round pick averaged only 7 points and 6 rebounds per game in a career that saw him play for the Bullets, Pistons, Sixers and others in an 18 year career.
But there was a reason he was far-and-away the career leader in games played and 3rd in Win Shares in the 1980 NBA Draft Class. Mahorn brough toughness, defense and leadership to his clubs.
It worked for the Bad Boys Pistons, where Mahorn would win his only NBA title in 1989. He went on to make the All NBA Defensive team the next year and would play all the way until the ‘98-’99 season.
Mike Woodson had a nice NBA career with his best year coming for the Kings. He was the 12th pick for the Knicks after a good career for the IU Hoosiers.
He lasted only one season with the New York before he was traded to New Jersey and on to the then Kansas City Kings. You read that right. Until tonight I had no idea the Sacramento Kings moved from Kansas City, but they did.
Woodson put together five strong mid-teens scoring years for the Kings. He moved along with them from Kansas City to Sacramento. Woodeson continued to score in the mid-teens for two more years for the Clippers.
Woodson is clearly a top ten player in this class finishing sixth in VORP, 8th in Win Shares and 6th in career points per game and 8th in games played.
Like Darrell Griffitth, Gminski is better known for his college career where he was an All-American at Duke. But he had a pretty solid NBA career and makes this list in a close call over players like Larry Smith.
Gminski kicked around the league after being the 7th pick by the New Jersey Nets and having seven decent seasons for them. He peaked in the years when he was leaving the Nets averaging around 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds for SIxers the ‘87-’88 & ‘88-’89 seasons.
Gminski did average nearly 12 points and 7 rebounds per game for his career. He was 3rd in total games played in the class and 4th in total rebounds. But the reason he makes this list is the advanced stats absolutely love him.
Gminski was third in both VORP and career Win Shares for the 1980 NBA Draft class. In both cases he was behind only Kiki and McHale. That speaks to his ability to get things done in the NBA and I think he belongs in the top ten.
I am not entirely sure Rambis does belong in the top ten, but I am going with it. If anything qualifies him it is those advanced stats: he finished 8th in VORP and 6th in Win Shares for the 1980 NBA Draft class. He is also 5th in games played.
Rambis’ traditional numbers are weaker. He averaged 5 points and nearly 6 boards per game for his career. But, like Mahorn, Rambis got things done outside the stats.
He provided physical play, toughness and leadership for the Showtime Lakers and it worked. He won 4 titles for those Lakers squads.
As always, it is hard to know for sure if he was lucky to land on good teams or if one of the reasons those teams were good was because of him. His advanced numbers, some reviews of the toughness he provided and the fact that he lasted so long in the league make me think that he has something to do with winning.
That is why Kurt Rambis just makes the top ten players of the 1980 NBA Draft class.
Who else from the 1980 NBA Draft Class had a good career?
Larry Smith had a nice career with Golden State and others lasting 13 years. He averaged 7 points and 9 rebounds and was the total rebounds leader for the class. Ultimately, I left him off because he only scored more than 10 points per game one time in his career.
Rory Sparrow played forever for a 6’2” inch guard at 6th in games played in the class. He was a nice player but none of his stats made me consider him closely.
Darwin Cook ranks highly in some advanced stats like VORP but nothing else about his career made me think he should be included.
As a whole, the draft class was relatively weak.
You can see the career games played, points per game, Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus for the 1st round picks, and selected later picks, of the 1980 NBA Draft Class below.
Career Statistics for the Best Players in the 1980 NBA Draft Class
|1||Joe Barry Carroll||705||17.7||35.6||8.2|
The data above is taken from Basketball Reference’s 1980 Draft page.
Who were the best picks in the 1980 NBA Draft Class?
The only great pick was Kevin McHale. Whenever you pick a Hall of Famer, it was a good pick. When you add in that he was traded alongside another Hall of Famer for Joe Barry Carroll and bust Rickey Brown, it becomes downright ridiculous.
The only other contenders are nice players who were picked up late. Jeff Ruland was a solid pick for the second round. But he never played for Golden State, the team who picked him, so how much did they really love the pick in hindsight?
The Lakers had to be happy to snag Kurt Rambis at 58. He helped them win four titles. Nothing wrong with that. That was a pretty solid pick.
Who Were the Biggest Busts in the 1980 NBA Draft Class?
James Ray was the biggest bust of the 1980 NBA Draft class. He was chosen 5th overall by the Denver Nuggets. He played around 100 games averaging 3 points and 2 boards per game in his 3 NBA seasons.
He somehow had negative career Win Shares and a negative VORP. James Ray was a bust.
Here are some other big busts from the 1980 NBA Draft Class:
- Hawkeye Whitney had the best name but not the best game in the draft class. He played only 70 games over 2 NBA seasons after being the 16th pick by the Kings.
- Monti Davis, the 21st pick by the Sixers, played in TWO career games. Wow.
- Chad Kinch played in 41 games over 2 seasons with Cleveland and Dallas after being the 22nd pick by the Cavs.
Summary: 1980 NBA Draft Class
The 1980 NBA Draft class was a weak one with only one player having anything near a great career. That player was Kevin McHale who won 3 titles with the Celtics while being a great two-way forward. Kiki Vandeweghe, Joe Barry Carroll, Andrew Toney, and Rick Mahorn were among the other best players in the weak draft class.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.