It’s no secret that one high draft pick can make or break a professional sports franchise; choose the right player, you’re on the championship track; choose the wrong player, and you can set your franchise back by years as you attempt to deal with the repercussions of drafting an unproductive player. This holds true for most all sports but perhaps most especially for basketball, where small rosters and hefty play time make it imperative that teams make effective use of their draft picks and ensure they are employing the best potential players at all times. With this in mind, we’ve gathered together some of the worst draft picks in NBA history in hopes of educating both our readers (and the people running the NBA franchises of the world) as to what can go wrong when you’re gifted a high first round pick in the NBA draft.
10. LaRue Martin (Portland Trail Blazers)
We’re headed all the way back to 1972 to kick things off here, and we’re taking a look at the first of what will be several appearances by the Portland Trail Blazers on this list (seriously, it’s alarming how poorly managed that franchise has been). Gifted the first pick in the 1972 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers took a young star out of Loyola University in Chicago named LaRue Martin, a 6’11 center who turned a historic college career into a high draft pick before busting monumentally in the pros. Often cited as one of the worst draft picks of all time, Martin only played four seasons before retiring from the NBA, averaging an incredibly poor 5.3 points per game and a lowly 4.3 rebounds a game. Martin, who went on to finish his degree and work for Nike after his retirement, was selected over the likes of Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving, two future Hall of Famers who help to add insult to injury when speaking of Martin as one of the NBA’s truly spectacular draft disasters.
9. Shawn Bradley (Philadelphia 76ers)
We imagine there will be some debate about the inclusion of Bradley on this list, despite the fact that he has been deemed by many as a monumental draft bust. A wildly intriguing prospect in college, Bradley (who was born in Germany but grew up in Utah, where he earned the nickname “The Stormin’ Mormon’) towered over his NCAA competition by clocking in at an astounding 7’6; however, his thin build left his interior game without the necessary power to dominate in the NBA, and as such he never truly developed into the star he was projected to be. Despite his mediocre production totals over the course of his career, which saw him average 8.1 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game, Bradley managed to eke out a 12 year career in the NBA, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Nets and the Dallas Mavericks.
8. Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis Grizzlies)
This Tanzanian born player is a very recent addition to the list of the NBA’s greatest draft busts, as he was taken with the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Chosen by the Memphis Grizzlies, Hasheem Thabeet was intended to be a cornerstone for the franchise, occupying the center position and producing at the same stellar level that he did when playing college basketball at Connecticut. Of course, had things gone according to what was intended, Thabeet wouldn’t have ended up at number eight on this list, and he certainly wouldn’t have ended up playing for the D-League Grand Rapids Drive, where he is currently rostered. Thabeet, who played only two seasons for the Grizzlies before being traded to the Houston Rockets, also spent time with the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder before flopping out of the big leagues entirely.
7. Kwame Brown (Washington Wizards)
Michael Jordan’s chosen son, Kwame Brown was chosen by the Great One himself with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft; if only Brown’s career had resembled Jordan’s in any way, and perhaps he’d find himself on a different type of list. Brown, who struggled with immaturity and inconsistency early in his Wizards career, never recovered from the hype and expectations placed upon him at a young age. A chronic under-achiever, Brown was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers just three years after being taken first overall, and would go on to play for six other franchises before flopping out of the league in 2013, including the Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors. A classic example of wasted potential, Brown will be forever labelled as a draft bust chosen by one of the greatest basketball players of all time (let’s be honest, Jordan was always far better at managing things on the court than he has been off of it, however).
6. Greg Oden (Portland Trail Blazers)
If you look up Greg Oden on the internet (as we often do for articles like this), you’ll see that during his time playing NCAA basketball, he managed to accumulate an uncanny number of awards for excellence; McDonald’s All American MVP, Second Team All American, Pete Newell Big Man Award, etc. To many uninformed individuals, it might seem a curious thing then for Oden to have been a wildly unsuccessful NBA player, where he’s played in a meagre 105 games over the course of 6 professional seasons (NBA teams play 82 games a season, for reference). It’s only after realizing that Oden, who underwent a wide variety of surgeries during his time in the NBA (including an invasive microfracture surgery on his knee immediately after being drafted), has struggled with injuries for the entirety of his career does his status as a monumental draft bust make sense. Oden, who was drafted first overall by yes, The Portland Trail Blazers, also played for the Miami Heat very briefly before ending up with the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association.
5. Michael Olowokandi (Los Angeles Clippers)
With a name like Michael Olowokandi, it would seem as though this Nigerian born basketball player was destined for NBA stardom; after all, “Olowokandi” is a sports broadcasters dream, a name so glorious it lends itself to innumerable puns, references and nicknames. Olowokandi never achieved NBA stardom, however, even after being drafted with the first overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft. Selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, Olowokandi was born in Lagos, Nigeria, before playing college basketball with the University of the Pacific, where he starred as center and averaged over 22 points per game. His professional production never reached those heights, however, and Olowokandi only averaged 8.3 points per game in the NBA (although he did experience success as a rebounder, averaging about 6.8 per game). After being let go by the Clippers, Olowakandi played for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics before retiring in 2007.
4. Adam Morrison (Charlotte Bobcats)
The man with the moustache, Adam Morrison was a verifiable star for Gonzaga circa 2006. A prolific small forward who mixed versatility with strong movement skills to develop a strong overall game, Morrison wont the Player of the year Award after the NCAA’s 2006 season, an accolade which helped make him the third overall pick in the first round of that year’s NBA Draft (he was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats). Another player hand-picked by Michael Jordan (who was operating out of the Bobcats front office at the time), Morrison is every bit the bust Kwame Brown was, and in fact only played two seasons for the Bobcats before being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he also failed miserably. Now retired, Morrison played only four years of professional basketball, an astounding statistic considering his lofty draft position and legendary college career.
3. Jay Williams (Chicago Bulls)
One of the few small men on this list, Jay Williams (who still registers a solid 6’2, well above the average man) was a point guard who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls second overall in 2002. An electric player at Duke, Williams led the Blue Devils to the 2001 NCAA Championship and was assured a position in the drafts upper echelon; unfortunately, he would never again occupy that echelon, as his professional career was marred by a horrific motorcycle accident that saw him tear three knee ligaments, sever a major vein in his leg, and break his pelvis. With extensive physiotherapy required to just to walk again (let alone play a professional sport), Williams would never again play professional basketball, although he did try to mount a comeback in 2006. Williams only started 54 games in his NBA career.
2. Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers)
We warned you there were plenty of Trail Blazers on this list, and man do we feel sorry for the fans of that franchise. Between LaRue Martin, Greg Oden and now Sam Bowie, the Portland franchise has miffed on a record number of elite draft picks, leaving little wonder as to the cause of the team’s struggles in the past several decades. Sam Bowie, who was taken second overall in the 1984 NBA draft, was an average player in most every way; he scored 10.9 points per game and averaged 7.5 rebounds per game, mediocre but employable numbers. It’s the numbers of the individuals drafted around him, however, that make Bowie’s career seem bust-worthy in comparison; Bowie had the severe misfortune of being drafted ahead of superstars Michael Jordan, John Stockton and Charles Barkley.
1. Darko Milicic (Detroit Pistons)
Much like Sam Bowie, Darko Milicic is often spoken of as a bust not due to his own career, but rather due to the careers of the individuals drafted behind him (to be fair, his production is also extremely sub-par). The second overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, Milicic was chosen after LeBron James but before notable stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. While that’s certainly excellent company to keep, it would be better if Milicic, who hails from Serbia and managed to carve out a 9 year NBA career, had managed some level of production of his own. Milicic, who also played for the Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics in his NBA career, only averaged 6 points per game in his 9 seasons, a far cry from the unbelievable statistics managed by his contemporaries.