This is a picture of a basketball net. In front of it are the words: 1983 NBA Draft Class

The 1983 NBA Draft: The Busts and The Best

The 1983 NBA Draft featured Ralph Sampson as the number one pick, but Clyde Drexler became the best player by far. Sampson flamed out after three great seasons while Drexler put together a Hall of Fame career with the Blazers and Rockets. Other players in the class included Derek Harper, Doc Rivers and Byron Scott. 

Who were the best players from the 1983 NBA Draft Class?

Clyde Drexler

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Clyde Drexler was easily the best player from the 1983 NBA Draft class. He was chosen 14th overall by the Portland Trailblazers after a stellar college career at Houston. 

Drexler accomplished nearly all one could in the NBA. He was a 10x NBA All Star and made 5 All-NBA teams, including 1st team in ‘91-’92. Clyde was also chosen for the original Dream Team that won gold at the 1992 Olympics. 

Drexler did it all for the Blazers but could not quite bring the team to a championship. They became serious contenders in ‘89-’90 when they lost to the Bad Boy Pistons in the NBA Finals. 

The Blazers lost to the Lakers in the Conference Finals the following year before another trip to the NBA Finals 1991-1992. This time they were eclipsed by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. 

After three seasons of increasing losses, Drexler asked for a trade to chase a title. The Blazers reunited him with college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995.

Despite an average regular season record, the Rockets with Clyde and the Dream won their second straight NBA title that season. With an NBA title, Drexler had accomplished nearly everything he could in the NBA. 

He played three more seasons before retiring in 1998. Clyde Drexler was chosen for the Hall of Fame in 2004 for his individual play and again in 2010 as part of the Dream Team.

Drexler was also chosen for the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team as one of the greatest players to ever live. He is quite easily the best player in the 1983 NBA Draft class. 

Derek Harper

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Derek Harper might be a controversial choice as the 2nd best player in the 1983 NBA Draft class. He headlines a group of four players I feel could be grouped fairly in any order. 

No single player stands out to me as the clear 2nd best player in the 1983 class like Mo Cheeks does from 1978 or Sidney Moncrief does from 1979. 

Why have I chosen Harper over the others then? Advanced stats love Derek Harper and nothing else is an obvious tiebreaker. 

Among 1983 draftees, Harper is 2nd in career Value Over Replacement Player, 2nd in career Win Shares and 3rd in career box +/-. 

While those stats, like all stats, are flawed in some ways, I think they are a better way of sorting playing careers than points per game or total points.

What each of the stats attempts to do is add up everything a player does on the court, including defense as much as it can be measured with stats. 

The fact that advanced stats love Derek Harper points to his strength on both ends of the court. 

Harper played 16 seasons most notably for the Mavericks and Knicks. He averaged 13 points and 5.5 assists per game for his career.  

At his peak, Harper scored nearly 20 per game while dishing out 7 assists for the early 90’s Mavs. 

Notably, Harper was a two-time All-NBA Defensive 2nd team selection for the late 80’s Mavs as well. 

He never was selected for the All Star game but he surely could have been at that point in his career. 

Harper was 3rd in assists per game for the draft class but 1st in career total assists. He also had his number retired by the Dallas Mavericks. 

When you combine Harper’s peak offensive numbers with his defensive recognition and stellar career advanced stats, you get the second best player in the 1983 NBA Draft. 

Dale Ellis

Dale Ellis could fill it up. He had an interesting career in that he did little for the team that drafted him – the Dallas Mavericks.

After being chosen 9th overall, Ellis played less than 20 minutes per night his first three seasons in Dallas. He scored less than 10 per game as well.

He was traded to Seattle and everything changed. Ellis won the NBA’s Most Improved Player in ‘86-’87, as he went from scoring 7 points per game to 25! 

That is an insane, almost unheard of improvement for an NBA player.

Ellis continued to score like that for the next three seasons in Seattle, maxing out at 28 points per game for the Sonics in ‘88-’89. 

He made both the All Star Game and 3rd team All-NBA that year. 

After his four great years in Seattle, Ellis settled into being a mid-teens scorer and that is where he stayed for a long time. 

He got those points almost exclusively through being an incredible shooter. Ellis shot 40% from the 3-point line for his career. 

He shot an insane 48% from three on 4 attempts per game in his All-NBA season. He led the league in 3-point shooting in 1998 at age 37 when he shot 46%. 

The knock on Ellis was that shooting is all he did. He was not a good defender, got only 1.4 assists per game for his career, was not a strong ball handler and did not get many rebounds or much of anything else. 

Dale Ellis was a one dimensional player. But, man, he was good at that one dimension. And shooting is a pretty key piece of the NBA game. 

Ellis played 17 NBA seasons and averaged 16 points per game in them. 

He finished 3rd in career VORP and 4th in Win Shares for the 1983 draft class. His career box +/- is weaker at 9th. 

I have him ranked behind Derek Harper as the third best player in the 1983 NBA Draft class. 

Byron Scott

Byron Scott won three NBA titles with the Showtime Lakers. Now, those teams were stacked. 

They had two of the greatest players to ever live in Kareem and Magic

When you only need to use one name to refer to a player, they’re probably pretty good. 

But those Lakers teams also had Big Game James,  Michael Cooper and Mychal Thompson among several others. 

I don’t point out how many great players were on those teams to say Byron Scott rode their coattails. 

Instead l point out how many great players those teams had to note how impressive some of Scott’s accomplishments were.  He led the 1988 NBA Championship team in regular-season scoring at 22 points per game. 

It’s one thing to score on bad teams that don’t win and don’t have many good players. Scott did it on some of the best teams ever. 

Byron Scott was a starter, big-time scorer and huge contributor to 3 NBA title-winning teams. Like Derek Harper he never made an All Star team but he easily could have in his peak years.

Scott played 14 seasons and scored 14 points per game in them. In addition to winning titles, he is 5th in VORP, 4th in Win Shares and 6th in career Box +/-.

I have him ranked 4th in the 1983 NBA Draft class. I could easily see him being ranked both slightly higher and lower. 

Glenn “Doc” Rivers

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He led the class in assists per game. In his best season Rivers made the All Star team in 1988.  He averaged 14 points and 9 assists per game that year. 

In addition to good career counting stats, Doc had great advanced metrics.

Rivers was 3rd in career VORP, 5th in Win Shares and 2nd in Box +/-.

That makes sense because in addition to passing, Rivers was known for his tough defense. 

Those contributions don’t show up when you measure by points per game, but they show up more in the advanced stats.

Because of those outstanding career stats, his good career numbers and one All Star appearance, I have Doc Rivers ranked as the 5th best player in the 1983 NBA Draft class. 

Ralph Sampson

Ralph Sampson is a Hall of Famer, so you may expect him to be ranked higher. 

But the truth is it’s the Basketball Hall of Fame not the NBA Hall of Fame, and Sampson made it for his college career mostly. 

What a college career it was! Sampson was a three-time Naismith Award winner as the best college basketball player in the country. 

It would be difficult to be ranked higher than Sampson was in college.   

He was the 1st overall pick by the Houston Rockets and was coveted across the league as the next big thing. 

At 7’4” with basketball skill, college players had no way to defend Sampson. But the NBA was a bit of a different story.

He did get off to a great start. He averaged 20+ points and 10+ rebounds per game while making the All-NBA 2nd Team in his second season. 

He also made the All Star game his first four seasons.

That fourth season was probably made more on reputation than production, however. 

He averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds while missing half of that season to injury.

He was traded by the Rockets the following season when he missed a bunch of games to injury and averaged 15 points per game. 

He would never score even 10 points per game again in a season. In truth, he never even got close to 10 points per game in several injury-riddled seasons for the Warriors, Kings and Bullets. 

He retired at age 31 with career averages of 15 points and 9 rebounds per game. 

Ralph Sampson is extremely hard to rank. His first three seasons were incredible. 

If he had continued at that pace, the conversation would revolve around whether you think he or Clyde Drexler had the better career. 

But that did not happen. Sampson has some detractors who say it was not just the injuries that kept him from ranking higher.

They point to his weak career advanced stats. He finished 18th in Win Shares, but that is not a fair stat for a player who missed so much time to injury and then retired young. 

Sampson is 11th in career VORP and 18th in Box +/- among 1983 draftees. 

Those numbers are not impacted by his short career like Win Shares are.  Advanced statistics point to Ralph Sampson not being quite the force that his reputation had him being. 

Many critics point to his play style that would have fit the modern game well but did not work in the 1980’s. Sampson was a perimeter player who was too skinny for a lot of the bangning seen down low when he played. 

Even if his critics are wrong and Sampson could have been a force if not injured, he was injured. 

His three great seasons do not offset the lack of a full career for me. 

I rank Ralph Sampson below good, but admittedly not great, players like Doc Rivers and Byron Scott because of his short career and his weak career advanced stats. 

He makes the list because he burned pretty brightly in those first three years and because 1983’s draft class is not full of all-time greats. 

Jeff Malone

If you sort by points scored only, Jeff Malone would rank higher. He finished 2nd in the draft class in points per game at 19 and 3rd in total points.

Malone made a couple of All Star teams in the mid-80’s when he was on a five-year stretch of averaging over 20 points per game for the Washington Bullets. 

He averaged more than 20 six times total, adding one more year of premium scoring for the Jazz.

Much like Dale Ellis, he did not do much else. And, unlike Ellis, he never shot threes. 

Despite playing shooting guard, over the course of his career Jeff Malone averaged less than .5 three-point attempts per game. He never even averaged that many in his first 12 seasons in the league. 

Malone was a two-point scorer. He lit up the mid-range. But, as modern analysts have discovered, that is not always the most efficient way to play.

Malone’s style is reflected in his career advanced stats. Again, if you sorted by points you’d rank him near the top of the class. 

Instead, Malone finished 15th in VORP and 30th in Box +/- for the 1983 NBA Draft class. 

He finished 7th in career Win Shares. That speaks to his long career and ample playing time. 

Malone got that time through scoring. And that is why he is on this list. 

His advanced numbers keep from being higher on it. 

 Rodney McCray

Rodney McCray was the 3rd pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. 

He had a nice career for the Rockets, Kings and others where he averaged 12 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. 

He is third in the class for total rebounds and 4th for rebounds per game. 

But McCray was known for more than just counting stats. He made All-NBA Defensive teams in 1987 and 1988, including the 1st team in ‘88.

He even managed to grab a ring in 1993 when he was a part-time player for Jordan’s Bulls in the last year of his career. 

McCray’s decent counting stats and excellent defense are noted in his stellar career advanced stats. He finished 6th in the 1983 NBA Draft class in career VORP and Win Shares and 4th in career Box +/-.

His great advanced stats and defensive awards, along with his one NBA title help make Rodney McCray the 8th best player in the 1983 NBA Draft. 

Who else from the 1983 NBA Draft Class had a good career?

You can see the career games played, points per game,  Win Shares and VORP for the 1st round picks, and selected later picks, of the 1983 NBA Draft Class below. 

1HOURalph Sampson45615.420.15
2INDSteve Stipanovich40313.230.48.4
3HOURodney McCray76811.75619.1
4SDCByron Scott107314.175.221
5CHISidney Green6797.517.4-3.9
6GSWRussell Cross453.70.80.1
7UTAThurl Bailey92812.8456.9
8DETAntoine Carr9879.342.14.1
9DALDale Ellis120915.784.722.9
10WSBJeff Malone9051954.24
11DALDerek Harper119913.386.835.7
12NYKDarrell Walker7208.927.413
13KCKEnnis Whatley3855.69.62
14PORClyde Drexler108620.4135.670.2
15DENHoward Carter665.30-0.6
16SEAJon Sundvold5027.78.9-0.9
17PHILeo Rautins321.5-0.1-0.2
18MILRandy Breuer6816.820.92.3
19SASJohn Paxson7727.236.33
20CLERoy Hinson50714.230.23.4
21BOSGreg Kite6802.55.6-6.7
22WSBRandy Wittman5437.417.22.1
23INDMitchell Wiggins3891015.21.6
24CLEStewart Granger804-0.1-0.7
30DALMark West10905.741.91.1
31ATLDoc Rivers86410.968.230.5
48HOUCraig Ehlo8738.641.214.1
97SDCManute Bol6242.612.34.5
139PHISedale Threatt9519.84810.7

Who were the best picks in the 1983  NBA Draft Class? 

Clyde Drexler was easily the best pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. Whenever you can get a Hall of Fame player with a mid-1st round draft pick, you are going to be happy with that pick. 

The Blazers didn’t draft him and watch him leave and have most of his Hall of Fame career elsewhere, either. He played 11 years for the team and is universally considered the best player in team history. 

After Drexler, the thing that stands out about the 1983 NBA Draft is the value teams got beyond the 1st round. Below is a strong list of solid players who were picked after the 1st round in 1983.

  • Doc Rivers was chosen in the 2nd round by the Atlanta Hawks. I ranked him the 5th best player in the 1983 NBA Draft Class. I could easily see an argument for Doc being the 2nd best player in the class. That is great value for the 31st pick. 
  • Mark West was taken with the pick before Rivers. While he was mostly a journeyman center, he did last 17 seasons and was 3rd in the class in games played. 
  • Craig Ehlo was the first pick of the 3rd round and had a nice 14 year run in the NBA. Ehlo most notably played with the Cavs where he had some success alongside Mark Price and others. 
  • Manute Bol was a 5th round pick who played 10 years in the league. Bol is tied for tallest player ever in NBA history. 
  • Sedale Threatt was a great pick who was chosen last in the 6th round. Threatt played 14 NBA seasons and averaged almost 10 points per game, including a couple of seasons in the early 90’s where he averaged 15 points per game for the Lakers. 

Who Were the Biggest Busts in the 1983 NBA Draft Class? 

The biggest bust in the 1983 NBA Draft class was Russell Cross who had a nice career for Purdue before being chosen 6th in 1983 by the Warriors.

The 6’10” center did not even make it one season before being cut. Cross got a tryout in Denver but did not make the team. His NBA career lasted 45 games.

Cross did have a decently long career in Europe. 

Here are some other big busts from the 1983 NBA Draft Class: 

  • Howard Carter only made it 66 games across two seasons with the Denver Nuggets after being the 15th pick. The 6’5” shooting guard averaged 5 points per game and barely played in his second season.
  • Leo Rautins only lasted 32 games in the NBA after being the 16th pick by the Sixers. The 6’8” small forward scored less than 2 points per game.
  • Greg Kite was not a traditional bust. He lasted 12 years in the NBA. But look at those advanced stats! Kite is dead last in career VORP among all players in the draft class at -6.7. He is 49th in Box +/- tied with Rautins. He is lucky to have played in an era before advanced stats. 

Check Out My Other NBA Draft Class Articles

Summary: 1983 NBA Draft Class

The 1983 NBA Draft featured Ralph Sampson as the number one pick. Sampson was a 3x College Player of the Year, but flamed out in the NBA due to injuries. The best player in the draft class was Clyde Drexler who made the Hall of Fame for his play with the Blazers and Rockets.

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