The NBA Draft provides teams with the promise and hope that a young player can come in and turn around a struggling franchise. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any selection, regardless of how high they are picked, will ever reach their potential. The dreaded “bust” label is something that all teams hope to avoid when they bring in a player from the draft, especially if it is with one of the top selections. Unfortunately, not all picks work out and some can set back the direction of a franchise by years. Here are the five biggest busts in NBA lottery era history.
No. 2 overall, 2009, Memphis Grizzlies
Height can be a wonderful thing for a potential NBA prospect and the 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet was one player who found himself shooting up the draft rankings due to his immense size. Having only just started playing basketball at the age of 15, Thabeet was an extremely raw prospect even after spending three seasons with the University of Connecticut.
In just four seasons, Thabeet has already spent time with four NBA teams and his per game averages peaked in his rookie season. In 201 career games, Thabeet has averaged just 2.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Some of the players taken after Thabeet in the 2009 draft include All-Star James Harden, Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and star point guard Ricky Rubio.
4. Kwame Brown
No. 1 overall, 2001, Washington Wizards
While the 2001 draft is one of the weakest classes we have seen in recent history, you still expect to come away with a franchise cornerstone with the No. 1 pick. Kwame Brown, who was the first player out of high school to be taken with the top overall pick, seemed to have all the physical traits you could want from a big man prospect and a great deal of raw potential to work with. Instead, Brown never really established himself in the NBA, struggling to find a niche and has bounced around the league for over a decade.
The Wizards missed an opportunity to take a number of big men in the draft that went on to have All-Star careers, including Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol. Later in his career, Brown managed to become a solid, defensive role player but his paltry 6.6 points and 5.5 reboundsper game averages are hardly what you would expect from the to overall pick in any draft. Brown is one of the best examples of why the NBA changed the eligibility rules to no longer allow high school players to declare for the draft.
3. Greg Oden
No. 1 overall, 2007, Portland Trail Blazers
Greg Oden was hyped for years as the league’s next dominant big man and even injury concerns during college did not deter the Trail Blazers from taking him with the first overall pick in 2007. Fast forward six years and Oden has played in just 82 games over the course of five seasons and has spent more time off the court with injuries than he has even practicing with NBA teams. Oden has had numerous lower leg surgeries, including multiple microfracture procedures on his knees.
When Oden has managed to see significant time on an NBA court he has been impressive, although with his injury history even those positive signs are likely a thing of the past. He has solid per game averages of 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds; however, he has played just 82 of a possible 410 games since he was drafted. Compounding the disaster that was Portland’s top pick was the emergence of Kevin Durant. Durant was taken with the second pick and there were talks prior to the draft that some teams would have taken Durant with the top pick. Durant has gone on to become one of the league’s brightest young stars and a dominant All-Star who has already led his team to the NBA Finals.
No. 1 overall, 1998, Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers thought they had found their franchise cornerstone center in the 1998 draft when they picked Michael Olowokandi with the first overall selection. After averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds in his senior season at the University of Pacific, Olowokandi had scouts convinced he would be a productive NBA player despite picking up the game at a late age. While Olowokandi would go on to have a solid nine-season career in the NBA, he would never even scratch the surface of the dominant player the Clippers hoped he would be when they selected him with the top pick.
Olowokandi went on to average 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in 500 career games with three NBA teams. He had a number of productive seasons as a starter during which he averaged double digits in scoring, but could seemingly never take the next step in his development. While Olowokandi is definitely not the worst player on this list, the long line of NBA All-Stars taken in the 1998 draft makes the selection that much worse in retrospect. The likes of Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter were selected in the first round and went on to have outstanding NBA careers.
No. 2 overall, 2003, Detroit Pistons
The 2003 draft class will long be remembered as one of the most outstanding in league history. LeBron James was a certainty to go No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the questions over who would be selected next were not answered right up until the night of the draft. The Detroit Pistons selected Darko Milicic, a 7′, multi-talented big man who was destined to become the next great international star of the NBA. Things never worked out for Milicic, who struggled to carve out a role on a veteran Pistons team before a number of stops around the league.
The real tragedy for the Pistons was that the 2004 champions were unable to transition from their veteran core to a young star as they had planned and if they had taken any number of the players taken after Milicic they may have had the opportunity to again compete for the NBA title. The list of stars taken after Milicic in the 2003 draft is extensive and one can only imagine what the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh could have done for the Pistons. Milcic averaged six points and 4.2 rebounds over the course of his 10-year NBA career before returning to Europe.