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Bob Ryan

In 1970, NBA gave us a draft class that was, well, pretty classy

Rudy Tomjanovich won 527 regular-season games and two NBA championships as a coach.
Rudy Tomjanovich won 527 regular-season games and two NBA championships as a coach.JOHN GRESS/AFP via Getty Images

First things first . . .

Hey there, Barbara Stevens. Congratulations on your well-deserved election to the Basketball Hall of Fame. No other person, male or female, who made a name coaching college basketball in Boston has had that distinction.

And speaking of the Basketball Hall of Fame, somewhat buried amid the expected fuss accompanying the Big Three of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett was the selection of Rudy Tomjanovich, who has always been the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the No. 2 pick in the 1970 draft?”

So now 1970 draftees Nos. 1 (Bob Lanier), 2 (Rudy T), 3 (Pete Maravich), and 4 (Dave Cowens) are all in the Hall. Pret-ty, pret-ty good.

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Rudy is going in as a coach who won two NBA championships with the Rockets, as well as a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But he was a darn good player as well, a career 17-points-a-game scorer who averaged as many as 24.5 (1973-74) and was a career 50 percent shooter, an amazing figure considering that a significant number of his baskets came on long-range bankers.

Sam Jones was a noted banker. Duncan was likewise an exponent of that dying art. But no one else ever consistently banked from distances that were candy for Rudy T. I mean, we’re talking 2020 threes, in many cases. We are unlikely to see anything like this ever again.

Having the first four players make it to the Hall would make 1970 a standout draft class. But there is more to the story. In fact, those four are only half the story.

The 1970 draft also includes Hall of Fame inductees at Nos. 18 (Calvin Murphy), 19 (Tiny Archibald), 106 (Charlie Scott), and 122 (Dan Issel). There are asterisks attached to Nos. 106 and 122, of course, since we are talking NBA Draft and the reason those two didn’t go higher is that they already had been scooped up by the ABA.

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Leave it to Red Auerbach to protect himself by drafting Scott to secure his NBA rights, just in case, well, whatever. Two years later, Red used those Scott rights to obtain needed power forward Paul Silas when Scott jumped from the ABA to Phoenix.

Eight future Hall of Famers would make this a legendary draft, but there was more bounty available. Sitting at No. 8 was Geoff Petrie, who would share the 1970-71 Rookie of the Year award with Cowens. At No. 13 was Jim McMillian, an excellent small forward. And lurking at 103 was Billy “The Whopper” Paultz, an underrated center who played 15 ABA and NBA seasons and played in 15 playoffs.

There being just 17 NBA franchises in 1970, Murphy and Archibald were actually second-rounders. Think about that.

"When Calvin Murphy and Tiny Archibald go in the second round, you know it’s a good class,” says Cowens.

Dave Cowens was an ultra-aggressive two-way center.
Dave Cowens was an ultra-aggressive two-way center.

Runner-up in this discussion is the class of 1962, which produced Hall of Famers in Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Zelmo Beaty, John Havlicek, and Chet Walker as players, plus Don Nelson as a coach.

Other classes of note include 1965 (Bill Bradley, Gail Goodrich, Rick Barry, and Billy Cunningham as players, and Jerry Sloan as a coach); 1984 (Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton); 1985 (Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, and Joe Dumars); 1987 (David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, and Sarunas Marciulionis); and 1996 (Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash).

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That Class of 1970 would have been an interesting team. Lanier was a classic center, a mobile 6-11 with surprising grace for a fairly big body. His offensive arsenal included a turnaround jumper and a nice sweeping hook, plus the requisite low-post power moves.

In Years 2 through 8 of his 12-year NBA career, he averaged between 21.3 and 25.7 points a game. But it would be hard to say he definitely should start ahead of Cowens, an ultra-aggressive two-way center who could outrun 80 percent of the guards in the league. The world awaits the next Dave Cowens.

Backing them up at either the 4 or the 5 would be Issel, an absolute scoring machine. I would venture to say that no one in his time had more different ways of getting that ball into that orange ring. And then there would be Rudy, banging away off that glass.

Now, the backcourt would be interesting because the rules, then and now, stipulate that the game is played with but one basketball. Pistol Pete would have to make some sort of accommodation with Tiny in terms of who would run the show.

But I think Pete would like Tiny setting him up to shoot, and don’t forget Pete had real 3-point range, even if he scored 44 points a game in a three-year college career and had 68 in an NBA game without the benefit of a three.

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Murphy, the greatest 5-9 2-guard who has ever drawn a breath, could pair just fine with either one. As a bonus, any team would like a man who once shot .958 from the line for a season. And Murph could handle the halftime show with a little baton-twirling exhibition.

The team would have to score a lot of points, however. “I’d have to do a lot of work defensively with those guys,” kids Cowens. Dave would have been the only candidate for an All-Defense nod; that’s for sure. Well, anyway . . .

By the way, Messrs. Cowens and Issel were each born on Oct. 25, 1948. Honest to God.

Millennials, or just past Millennials, fret not. You have a great group coming one of these days. Witness the Class of 2003: LeBron, Melo, Bosh, and D-Wade.

But good luck. The Class of 1970 raised the bar pretty darn high.


Bob Ryan can be reached at robert.ryan@globe.com. Follow Bob on Boston.com at Globe 10.0.