Goodbye ’96 Draft Class: Iverson, Ray, Kobe and Nash

If a draft class produces one Hall of Famer, that’s a good thing. But when you have four Hall of Famers in a class, and at the end of their career(s) they post this stat line: 7 NBA Titles, 4 league MVP’s, 2 Finals MVP’s, 6 scoring titles, 4,777 NBA games, that’s special.

Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were drafted in 1996. Iverson and Allen were billed as sure things. Kobe and Nash, not so much. Over the length of their careers, they all had roles in each others low points and high points.

Allen Iverson and Ray Allen played each other in their first NBA game. Then five years later, Iverson prevented Allen from getting to the NBA Finals in 2001, beating him in the Eastern Conference Finals. Kobe Bryant then beat Iverson in that Finals to win his second NBA ring.

Ray Allen beat Kobe Bryant in the 2008 NBA Finals and Bryant returned the favor beating Allen in the 2010 NBA Finals.

Steve Nash beat Kobe in the first round of the playoffs in 2006, in seven games. And Kobe returned the favor, keeping Nash from the Finals in 2010.

But before all that happened they were kids. They were drafted.

Allen Iverson was the #1 pick in the ’96 draft, a kid out of Georgetown who had already been through the justice system when a race riot broke out in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia and Allen was accused of being the initiator. In the league, he was expected to set the NBA afire with his speed and shotmaking and heart. His first NBA game, Iverson scored 30 points against the #5 pick Ray Allen who scored 13 points and only missed one three. Iverson would win the league MVP (2001) and 4 scoring titles en route to a Hall of Fame career that was filled with ups and downs, trades and disappointments (playing with Carmelo) and getting to the NBA Finals only once to lose 4-1, though he put on a show in game one in L.A: 48 points, 6 assists, 5 steals, 5 rebounds. Career: 26.7 points, 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 914 games. 78% games played as a 76er.

Ray Allen was the #5 pick in the ’96 draft, selected by Minnesota and traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a UConn product who won Big East Player of the year his last year in Connecticut. Allen could score from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop for ferocious, hang in the air dunks. Allen was a tireless workhouse, taking 300 jumpshots (minimum) before each game. He became the best three point shot maker in NBA history. He started his career in Milwaukee with George Karl and was traded to Seattle, paired with Rashard Lewis. In 2007, when it was clear the Sonics were in rebuild mold, they just drafted Kevin Durant, Allen was traded to the Celtics for Jeff Green. He became part of history, the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and won his first NBA title in 2008. Allen signed a free agent deal with Miami in 2012 and made it possible for LeBron James and company to win back to back titles. It was Allen’s last second shot that made Game 7 a reality. He made a game tying three in Game 6 and then in overtime he stole the ball from Manu Ginobli, made two free throws to ice the game. Ray Allen played 41 minutes in that game crucial game 6 that led to title #2. Career: 18.9 points. 3.4 rebounds. 40% 3-pointers. 89.4% free throw shooter. 1300 games. 38% games played as a Buck. 27% games played as a Sonic. 23% of games played as a Celtic. 12% of games played as a Heat.

Kobe Bryant was the 13th pick in the NBA draft. He was the first guard to bypass college and enter the NBA. On draft night, teams were either intrigued or skeptical. Charlotte traded him because they needed a big man. He didn’t get real playing time until his third year. He was a shot maker with high confidence, a tireless work ethic like Allen, but unlike Allen, he was hard on the teammates he perceived as lazy.

He won three titles with Shaquille O’Neal. His iconic moment was in Game 4 when Shaq fouled out in overtime. Kobe told Shaq “I got this.” He went on to score nearly every point in overtime to give the Lakers a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Two more titles followed. He was paired with Pau Gasol in 2008 and won two more titles in 2009, 2010. He became the 3rd all time scorer in 2014. He made 18 consecutive trips to the All-Star game. The last game of his career was a 50 shot, 60 point night which was the Kobe Bryant legacy, shoot early, shoot often. Career: 25.0 points. 4.7 assists. 4.1 rebounds. 19.5 shots per game. 1346 games. Entire career as a Laker.

Steve Nash was the little guard out of Santa Clara. He got his college degree and then was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the #15th pick. The Suns had been hoping Kobe Bryant would fall to them. He didn’t and so they grabbed Nash. Nash was booed on draft day. How would he fit in, this white guard who had great handles but wasn’t big on athleticism. Besides, he went to Santa Clara. How good could he be?

Damned good. But he didn’t play much in his first season. He played more in his second season and then was traded to Dallas, paired with a young Dirk Nowitzki. Nash and Nowitzki made a breathless duo, Nash with the dribbles and Nowitzki finishing with a three or driving to the rim. That team also had a very good wing in Michael Finley. Mark Cuban bought the team and everything about the Dallas Mavs changed. Nash led the offense and created shots and opportunities for his teammates but more than that he was exciting. He made it to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Spurs, a team that would haunt Nash and his career.

As a free agent, Nash was allowed to walk and he became an attractive piece for unknown coach MIke D’Antoni’s 7 Seconds or Less offense. It revolutionized the league. Go small up front. Space the floor. Move it or shoot it. Nash created space with the dribble and then found teammates open for the three. They were the most popular team for four years but their teams never did much on the defensive end and always lost in the playoffs to the Spurs. D’Antoni was fired but Nash had one more shot at the Finals but Kobe’s Lakers eliminated him in six games. Nash is the third in assists all-time, only John Stockton and Jason Kidd were better at creating shots for others. Career: 14.3 points, 8.5 assists, 90.4% free throws, 42.8% three pointers. 1217 games. 61% of games played as a Sun. 34% games played as a Maverick.

 

photo via llananba