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Ranking decade's recruiting classes: 2004 by a nose

by | CBSSports.com
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One class was sexy, ego-driven and had plenty of flair, while the other took more time to develop and lacked the star power.

The classes of 2004 and 2007 were very different, but both are clearly the two best high school classes in the past decade.

"They're the gift that keeps on giving," ESPN.com recruiting director Dave Telep said. "As good we thought they were, they consistently get better."

Rajon Rondo is among the top players from the 2004 class. (Getty Images)  
Rajon Rondo is among the top players from the 2004 class. (Getty Images)  
After CBSSports.com senior writer Jeff Goodman's package last week on the class of 2002 and how it remains a cautionary tale for high school athletes, we look at the other side of the spectrum: Which was the best high school class of the decade? And, like many high-profile games over the year, it came down to top-tier talent (2007) against superior depth (2004).

Two-thousand-and-four was an extremely deep class. At least 20 players averaged double-figure points last season from the class, paced by Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay. Other top players from 2004 include Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Kyle Lowry, Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, Nick Young, J.R. Smith and Dorell Wright. That doesn't include role players like Arron Afflalo, Daniel Gibson, Toney Douglas, Glen Davis, Ramon Sessions and others.

"That was unbelievable," said Goodman, who covered recruiting in 2004. "In terms of depth, in terms of everything. Some of the guys haven't panned out, but there are plenty of guys that did. That was a deep, deep class."

Simply put, it was a class for the ages. What makes it interesting, though, is that there was only one one-and-done player in that group. The 2004 NBA Draft was the next-to-last in which players could skip college and go straight to the NBA -- and the class of 2004 took advantage in a major way. There were eight prep-to-pros prospects, and most of them panned out. Robert Swift, drafted No. 12 by the Sonics, was one of the few busts.

Since many players from 2007 have only been in the NBA for a couple of years, one might not be able to fully judge the impact of the class for a few more seasons. That said, it might be tough to top the quartet of Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon. Griffin is one of the best big men in the league; Love is going to be a 20-15 guy for the next decade; Rose is the best point guard in the NBA; and Gordon has the ability to be a multiple All-Star.

"It was clear it was going to be a very good class," said Evan Daniels, national recruiting analyst at Scout.com. "This good? Couldn't have predicted it. Griffin kept getting better and all of those guards are terrific."

Brian Snow, a Scout.com recruiting analyst, agreed that the rise of Griffin affected the entire outlook.

"You knew it was special," Snow said. "But you didn't know Blake Griffin was Blake Griffin. That's what changed."

Where the class does lose some luster is depth. The only other NBA double-figure scorers besides the big four were Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, J.J. Hickson and James Harden. The class of 2007 included 12 one-and-done players, all still in the NBA. While this class doesn't have the plethora of impact players like 2004, it might be unfair to truly judge them yet. For example, several class of 2007 prospects were just picked in June's NBA Draft.

So, which is it? Top-tier talent vs. highly impressive depth? While '07 has more high-level stars, it's really tough to compete with '04. That class had its fair share of stars with Howard and Rondo, but its collection of second-tier All-Stars is what really puts it on a pedestal. Some of the 2007 players still need time to develop, but the depth of 2004 will be difficult to catch.

For example, Jeff Green was ranked as the No. 19 PF in the class, Joakim Noah the No. 18 PF. Kyle Lowry was the No. 12 PG, while guys like Ramon Sessions and Nick Young were barely a blip on the radar screen for the most part.

"In 2007, the top guys lived true," Goodman said. "In '04, the guys further down turned out to be really good players. Overall, the amount of guys that are in the NBA is remarkable. That's where it separates itself."

Telep said the debate likely will ring on for at least another five years, when you can truly look at the class of 2007 and see where players end up.

"The race might not be over yet," he said.

Ranking the rest

3. 2006: Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Ty Lawson, Spencer Hawes, Brandan Wright, Darrell Arthur, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley, D.J. Augustin, Russell Westbrook.

Durant is one of the top five players in the NBA, while Westbrook is his explosive sidekick. Lawson, Conley and Augustin are three of the best young point guards in the league, and Brook Lopez is a go-to big man.

4. 2003: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva, Shannon Brown, Kris Humphries, Trevor Ariza, Aaron Brooks, Renaldo Balkman, Paul Millsap.

While this class might have two of the top players in the NBA in James and Paul, the rest of the class doesn't stack up. Millsap is a workhorse, Deng can score and Humphries is a double-double guy. The key could be Aaron Brooks; he has shown flashes.

5. 2005: Monta Ellis, Louis Williams, Andray Blatche, Josh McRoberts, Martell Webster, C.J. Miles, Andrew Bynum, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Danny Green, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Darren Collison.

This turns out to be mostly role players. The stars of the group are Ellis, Bynum, Blatche and Collison, although none of them will be career All-Stars.

6. 2008: Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Demar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Kemba Walker, Jrue Holiday.

It's still too early to tell where this class will end up, but Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans will be two of the most productive guards in the league. Holiday and DeRozan could be burgeoning stars. Check back in a year.

7. 2002: Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Ray Felton, J.J. Redick.

Goodman's column is all you need to read. The class has three stars, but only two other players still in the NBA.

8. 2001: Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, David Lee, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Channing Frye, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes.

Not a lot of star quality in this class, but Lee, Chandler, Frye and Okafor are all quality inside players. Gordon had his moments as a scorer with the Bulls.

9. 2000: Zach Randolph, Chris Duhon, Gerald Wallace, DeShawn Stevenson, Jared Jeffries, Luke Ridnour, Jameer Nelson.

Randolph's resurgence in the playoffs last season wasn't enough to bring this group of the cellar. Wallace and Nelson are still highly-productive players.

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