NBA general managers rely on scouts to pour over film, reports, and stats in preparation for the draft. It’s all about spotting potential, but sometimes the upside doesn’t manifest. A lottery pick can alter the course of the franchise; Hit the pick, and you have a star. Miss, and your team is set back for years.
These guys are subjects of the latter. Here are the 10 biggest NBA draft busts:
Honorable Mention: Jay Williams, Chicago Bulls
Williams was a superstar and NCAA champion at Duke. A motorcycle accident after his rookie season derailed his NBA career. The point guard only played one year in the league.
Draft position. No. 2, 2002
Notable subsequent picks: Nene, Amare Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer
10. Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats
The Gonzaga star was the poster boy for college basketball in 2005-06. Morrison struggled to adjust to the NBA game, particularly on the defensive end, and suffered a severe knee injury prior to his second season. He has two rings as a bench member of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
Draft position: No. 3, 2006
Notable subsequent picks: Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap
9. Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers
Olowokandi started playing basketball at 18. Five years later, he was playing in the best league on Earth. He had the unfortunate consequences of the 1999 lockout tamper his rookie year. This mixture of shaky circumstances is not something you want surrounding your first-round draft pick, let alone the top overall selection. He was never able to live up to the hype during his eight-year career.
Draft position: No. 1, 1998
Notable subsequent picks: Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce
8. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards
Brown was the first high school player taken No. 1 overall in NBA history. The big man suffered the wrath of Michael Jordan in his twilight-career stint with the Wizards and later with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers.
Draft position: No. 1, 2001
Notable subsequent picks: Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, Zach Randolph
7. Chris Washburn, Golden State Warriors
I’ll let Stephen A. Smith take this one.
Draft position: No. 3, 1986
Notable subsequent picks: Ron Harper, Dell Cury, Arvydas Sabonis, Dennis Rodman
6. Shawn Bradley, Philadelphia 76ers
Bradley played only one season at BYU before entering the draft. He was touted for his enormous height (7-foot-6), which ironically was his undoing because of his gangly 235-lb. frame The biggest highlight of Bradley’s career was a cameo role in Space Jam.
Draft position: No. 2, 1993
Notable subsequent picks: Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Vin Baker, Allan Houston, Sam Cassell
5. Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies
Thabeet picked up a basketball for the first time at 15 and gradually adjusted to the game. He emerged as a double-double machine at UConn and specialized in rim protection, but couldn’t translate to the NBA. The center was essentially dealt to a different team every season of his career.
Draft position: No. 2, 2009
Notable subsequent picks: James Harden, Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday
4. Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers
I’m still convinced Oden was a 45-year-old disguised as a teenager. The No. 1 pick was deemed the best player in the draft coming out of Ohio State. He was injury-riddled throughout his six-year NBA career.
Draft position: No. 1, 2007
Notable subsequent picks: Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol
3. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
Bennett was the inaugural Canadian player selected as the first overall pick, guy. The UNLV product could never get going and floated between the NBA and G-League. He was out of the league after four seasons.
In hindsight, it’s truly amazing the Milwaukee Bucks landed Giannis with the 15th pick in this draft. They can thank the Dallas Mavericks for that one.
Draft position: No. 1, 2013
Notable subsequent picks: Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. Darko Milicic, Detroit Pistons
The guy drafted after LeBron James and before three perennial All-Stars. Darko had maturity issues and was an NBA journeyman, making stops in Orlando, Memphis, New York, Minnesota, and Boston after Detroit. He does have a ring as part of the 2004 Pistons run, though.
It seems every washed lottery pick finds their way to the Timberwolves at some point.
Draft position: No. 2, 2003
Notable subsequent picks: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade
1. Sam Bowie, Portland Trail Blazers
The guy drafted before Michael Jordan. Bowie had red flags with injuries before the draft which makes the pick that much more astonishing. Bowie was never able to fully recover in the NBA.
Draft position: No. 2, 1984
Notable subsequent picks: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton
This post was originally published on May 19. 2020.