Teams drafting basketball players have a lot more to think about than height. Even judging players by their stats in college, high school, or European Leagues, has proven far from a sure thing. Some players excel with certain coaches or teammates, or playing certain styles, but struggle with different circumstances.
With millions of dollars at stake, plus the careers of general managers and coaches, a good pick can make a career. Finding a diamond in the rough like Kawhi Leonard can keep a team competitive, or even bring them a championship.
On the other hand, a bad pick not only becomes a subject for mockery by TV analysts, fans, and journalists, but it can also signal the end of a general manager’s reign, and can stall a team’s progress for several years.
Not only does a team have to worry about the stats of the player they select in relation to their team, but there is also a tendency to judge a player compared to players selected afterwards. Millions of fans have been known to say, “We could have picked (insert better player’s name) instead.”
With this year’s NBA draft just wrapped up, here is a look at some of the biggest NBA draft busts of the past fifteen years.
10) Greg Oden, Center, Portland Trail Blazers, 2007
It seems like a lifetime ago that analysts were debating between two high-profile college players entering the NBA draft. Those two were center Greg Oden, and forward Kevin Durant. Portland selected Oden, leaving Durant for the then-Seattle Supersonics.
Of course, if Portland was strictly looking for a center that year, then Durant would not have made sense for them. However, the player selected third overall, Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford, would have, as he has been an all-star several times in his career.
Sadly, Oden suffered a string of knee injuries, and was unable to play even a minute in his first season. He played only 82 games, the equivalent of one season, in his three years with Portland. In 2010, he left the NBA, and was signed by the Miami Heat in 2013-14. He only played 23 games with them before being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend in the summer of 2014.
9) Anthony Bennett, Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2013
Cleveland’s choice of Canada’s Anthony Bennett with their first overall pick in 2013 shocked everyone at the NBA draft, including Bennett himself. Though the draft was not particularly deep, many observers felt the Cavaliers would take skilled guard Victor Oladipo instead.
Bennett has, to this point, been a total bust. Not only did he show up to training camp overweight, but he hardly managed to play meaningful minutes at all. In his career, he is averaging 4.7 points per game, and was traded, along with fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins, to Minnesota for Cleveland to acquire forward Kevin Love. Bennett has shown signs of life, but too often he looks lost on the court. He may end up being the worst first-overall pick in recent memory.
While it is early, it appears that at least Oladipo, Otto Porter, and Giannis Antetokounmpo will have more significant NBA careers than Bennett.
8) Jonny Flynn, Point Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves, 2009
In 2009, the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking for a point guard of the future. They held the fifth and sixth overall picks, after a trade with the Washington Wizards. They used both picks to select point guards, in Spain’s Ricky Rubio, and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn. Rubio has been a league regular, although has battled numerous injuries. Flynn, on the other hand, had one strong season as the starting point guard, before being sent to the bench in favour of Rubio.
Unwilling, or unable, to work up to the challenge of supplanting Rubio, Flynn’s game went downhill, and he only started 9 games in the next 3 seasons, before completely falling out of the NBA and playing in Australia, China, and Italy.
Oh, by the way, point guards selected after Rubio and Flynn include; Denver’s Ty Lawson, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday, Detroit’s Brandon Jennings, and 2015 regular season MVP, Golden State’ Stephen Curry.
7) Joe Alexander, Power Forward, Milwaukee Bucks, 2008
The 2008 draft was stocked with college talent, and one athlete stood out in particular for his combination of height, speed, and strength. West Virginia’s Joe Alexander was seen as the prospect with the most promising athletic abilities, one who could be molded and taught by coaches.
Unfortunately, after joining the Milwaukee Bucks, Alexander was not able to translate his raw athletic ability into NBA success. Despite having a few impressive games as a rookie, overall he was not able to make consistent progress, and was not re-signed after his rookie contract. Alexander spent some time in the development league, but was not able to stick. He currently plays with Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli League.
Players drafted after Alexander in 2008 include Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, and Brook Lopez, all of whom have been important players on playoff teams.
6) Rafael Araujo, Center, Toronto Raptors, 2004
The Toronto Raptors have never been known for their tremendous drafting or scouting. The 1990s saw future all-stars Damon Stoudamire and Vince Carter selected, and the famous 2003 draft placed Chris Bosh on the team. Other than those, Raptor draft picks have been largely disappointing.
None more so than the Brazilian center Araujo. Taken eighth overall from Brigham Young University, Araujo was expected to be a long-term project for the rebuilding Raptors. However, he was not able to make much impact on the court for the Raps. He was later traded to the Utah Jazz, but still struggled and often seemed unaware and lackadaisical on both ends of the floor.
He would depart the NBA in 2007, after which he bounced around European, Chinese, and Brazilian leagues. The player taken directly after Araujo was 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
5) Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Center, Denver Nuggets, 2002
The Republic of Georgia’s first and only NBA player, Tskitishvili was the fifth-overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in 2002. Looking for a big man, the Nuggets selected the Georgian over future NBA regulars Nene Hilario, Chris Wilcox, and Amare Stoudemire, all big men who have had more notable careers than big Nik.
The Nuggets were committed to developing Tskitishvili, playing him in all but one game in his first season. However, he only managed a 29% field goal percentage, 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. After that, Nuggets management realized they had bought a lemon, and his playing time fell off a cliff in later seasons.
Currently playing for Champville of the Lebanese Basketball League, Tskitishvili may have been one of the worst European selections in NBA history.
4) Hasheem Thabeet, Center, Memphis Grizzlies, 2009
Also of the 2009 Draft class, Tanzania’s Hasheem Thabeet was viewed as a long-term project. He had the right build for the NBA, standing 7 feet, 4 inches tall, with a huge wingspan and was stronger than most beanpole centers. However, after being drafted second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies, he failed to develop much of an offensive game, and struggled to learn NBA-level defensive schemes. His prime strength is shot-blocking, but that alone is not enough to stay in the league.
Several teams have taken on Thabeet, thinking that they will be able to coach some offensive understanding into him. He has bounced from the Grizzlies to the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, and his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Never playing more than about 5 minutes a game, Thabeet has career averages of 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. He is widely considered the worst-case scenario of a “project” draft pick. Players still on the board when the Grizzlies selected Thabeet included James Harden and Stephen Curry, two of the three best players in the league this season.
3) Yi Jianlian, Power Forward, Milwaukee Bucks, 2007
Being touted as “the next Yao Ming” while playing in the Chinese Basketball League, Yi Jianlian was selected sixth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007. Jianlian infamously worked out against a chair in a practice facility, though he could not replicate his success against the inanimate object when playing against NBA centers.
Yi was far from a terrible NBA player. His career stats are respectable, but Jianlian failed to live up to the hype of being the next Yao Ming. Also, his age was found to be older than he had stated when joining the league, leading to another reason to mock him and the Bucks’ selection of him.
He now plays in the Chinese Basketball League again, after a few years with several NBA teams. Drafted a few spots after him was Chicago Bull Joakim Noah, who has been a two-time all-star and defensive player of the year.
2) Kwame Brown, Center, Washington Wizards, 2001
The 2001 NBA draft was stocked with talent at the center position. In particular, the Wizards were choosing between Brown and Tyson Chandler. Chandler was considered the safe pick, but the Wizards were highly impressed with Brown’s workout, and wound up selecting him first overall. Chandler went second to the Los Angeles Clippers (then traded to Chicago), and Spain’s Pau Gasol was taken third by the Atlanta Hawks (then traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies).
Brown was a head case, often arguing with teammates and coaches, and was never able to consistently display the obvious talent he had. His best season came in his third year with Washington, where he averaged 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Brashly, Brown rejected a contract extension and chose to become a free agent, forcing the Wizards to re-sign him at a much higher price than they wanted. This exacerbated the feud with management, and Brown was later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Again, he struggled to get along, and after three injury-marred seasons, Brown was never able to stick with another team for more than two years, playing in Memphis, Charlotte, Detroit, Golden State, and Philadelphia.
No one ever questioned Brown’s talents. His personality, however, was not built for NBA longevity. Meanwhile, players like Chandler, Gasol, Joe Johnson, and Zach Randolph, have all blossomed into all-stars.
1) Darko Milicic, Center, Detroit Pistons, 2003
Milicic was a highly-touted 7-foot center from Serbian team Hemofarm. He had been playing professionally from the age of 16, when his height and strength started to give him a chance to compete against some of Europe’s best players. Serbia is a respectable basketball power in its own right, so many owners, coaches, and general managers saw 18-year-old Milicic as a potential franchise cornerstone; a bigger, stronger Dirk Nowitzki.
In 2003, the Detroit Pistons controlled the second overall draft pick. This was widely considered one of the greatest drafts in NBA history, featuring high-school phenom LeBron James and college stars Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. After the Cleveland Cavaliers predictably selected LeBron, the Pistons selected Milicic, allowing future all-stars Anthony, Bosh, and Wade to be selected by the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat, respectively.
Milicic only played an average of five minutes per game in his first two seasons with Detroit. Since the Pistons were a contending team, they didn’t want to risk losing games by playing Milicic and allowing him to develop. He bounced around a few other NBA and European teams, but never made the impact expected of a second-overall draft pick. He recently retired from basketball and has taken up professional kickboxing.
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