The shoes. The reality show. The hype.
All that noise surrounding Lonzo Ball won’t now overshadow his less than mediocre showing during his first game Thursday night.
The second overall selection in this year’s draft landed with a thud in his Lakers’ debut, scoring just three points in 29 minutes of play and turning the ball over twice.
More on him later.
We can’t heap all the scorn on Ball’s first appearance in the big leagues, as there have been many over the years, from top draft picks to meat-and-potatoes guys who were expected to do more after apprenticing for long stretches.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks first ever starting QB, lefty Jim Zorn (who doesn’t make this list), was fairly awful in his premier game, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 292 yards and two TDs (with two interceptions). His rookie season was also a dud, as he finished with 12 TD passes and 27 total INTs.
We’ve got a fair list of awful debuts. Here are 15 we thought were particularly pitiful.
15. Johnny Manziel – Cleveland Browns (2014)
Quarterbacking in the NFL ain’t easy. It’s especially difficult calling the signals in Cleveland, where 28 different quarterbacks have started at least one game since the Browns came back in 1999. Other than Tim Couch in 1999, none came to the Browns with as much hype as Johnny Manziel. The over-rated Texas A&M product and Heisman Trophy winner got the nickname “Johnny Football” and was expected to be the next savior of the sad-sack franchise. He waited on the sidelines for most of his 2014 rookie year, then got the call to start his first game in Week 15. Not helping his cause was a 5-for-8, 63 yard relief appearance the week before, when he also scored a rushing TD. In his debut, though, he was just 10-for-18 with 80 yards passing and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times in a 30-0 loss to Cincinnati. The horror.
14. Bryan Bullington – Pittsburgh Pirates (2007)
Big right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington was the first overall pick in the 2002 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Indianapolis native was a star at Ball State and was expected to be a big part of the Pirates rotation in short order. He percolated fairly well in the minors and by 2007 he was ready for his debut. Now, he did get in one short relief appearance in 2005, but we’re not counting that, as he was tabbed a starter. After a hot start with the Pirates AAA affiliate in ’07, he got the call in September. On Sept. 6, he got the ball to start against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, not a very hospitable place. It didn’t go very well at all. In the first inning he gave up two runs on four hits and a walk, and the in the second he walked the lead off hitter and later surrendered a three-run jack to former pitcher turned outfielder Rick Ankiel. The line on Bullington that day was three innings pitched, seven hits, two walks and five earned runs. He was also saddled with the loss in a 16-4 rout.
13. Anthony Bennett – Cleveland Cavaliers (2013)
When King James took his talents to Miami in 2010, it set the Cavaliers on the path to redundancy. A series of last to near last place finishes resulted in some high draft picks. First there was Kyrie Irving at no. 1 in 2011, followed by Dion Waiters at no. 4 in 2012 and then Canadian Anthony Bennett first overall in 2013. A standout at UNLV, it was expected that the big power forward would fill the void vacated by James three years earlier. A day before Hallowe’en, Bennett finally made his regular season debut. And it was truly scary. In just under 15 minutes, the Toronto native shot 0-for-5 from the field and scored just two points on 2-for-4 shooting from the charity stripe. His only saving grace was five rebounds, but otherwise, a terrible first game (which led to a lousy season, too).
12. Josh Ho-Sang – New York Islanders (2017)
Ever since his playing days in junior with Windsor and Niagara of the OHL, Josh Ho-Sang has marched to the beat of his own drummer. The often controversial Toronto native is immensely talented, but prone to unpredictable emotional outbursts and dirty play (he was suspended for a vicious hit from behind once). Also, even though he could have made the Islanders in 2014, he was sent back to junior for being late to his first day of training camp that year. Once he was called up to the team in early 2017, Ho-Sang also caught the ire of hockey fans everywhere for wearing the number 66, which was often thought sacred because of its tie to Mario Lemieux. In his first game with the Isles, he was very un-Mario like, recording no points and just two shots in 17 minutes of ice time.
11. Matt Stafford – Detroit Lions (2009)
When the Detroit Lions put up an oh-fer in the 2008 season, it won them the right to pick first in the 2009 entry draft. Waiting for them at no. 1 overall was Georgia star Stafford, who opted out of his senior year to go into the draft. With little surprise, he was taken and during training camp supplanted incumbent Daunte Culpepper as starting quarterback. The prize freshman would make his first start on Sept. 13, 2009 against New Orleans, one of four rookies to make their initial appearance in a Lions uniform. From the get-go, Stafford underwhelmed. He completed just 16 of 37 pass attempts for 205 yards and was intercepted three times, along with a sack. He did punch in a goal line TD, but the Lions fell 45-27, on the way to a horrid 2-14 season.
10. Zach Eflin – Philadelphia Phillies (2016)
Phillies hot prospect Zach Eflin couldn’t have drawn a tougher assignment in his first ever major league start. But, the 6’6″ hurler did himself no favors by totally screwing it up. Drafted 33rd overall by San Diego in 2012, Eflin progressed well through the minors and on June 14, 2016 he got the call to face the Blue Jays in Toronto. Facing a powerful Blue Jays line-up, Eflin, shall we say, got roughed up big time. He allowed a run on two hits and a walk in the bottom of the first. Things got ugly the next inning when Kevin Pillar led off with a homer, followed by a two-run shot off the bat of Josh Donaldson. By the bottom of the third, he was done. He walked Russell Martin with one out and then gave up a two-run blast to Ezequiel Carrera. Then, he allowed singles to Pillar and Devon Travis, walked Jose Bautista to load the bases. The final coup de grace was delivered by Donaldson, a grand slam deep into the seats in left. He left with Toronto leading 9-0 in a 11-3 loss.
9. Nerlens Noel – Philadelphia 76ers (2014)
Before he even donned a New Orleans Pelicans jersey as a first round pick in 2013 (sixth overall), University of Kentucky phenom Nerlens Noel was dealt to the Sixers. A lanky center/power forward, Noel was expected to revitalize a moribund franchise with his defensive prowess and decent scoring ability. However, he would miss the entire 2013-14 season with a knee injury. He showed well during the 2014 NBA summer league, setting the bar high. His regular season debut came on Oct. 29, 2014 against the Indiana Pacers. Like another name on this list, it was a pre-Hallowe’en horror show. He played almost 35 minutes, but managed to drop just two of 11 field goal attempts and 2-of-4 from the free throw line for six points in a 103-91 loss. Good thing for Noel that he flashed his defensive prowess, grabbing 10 rebounds and making three blocks.
8. Troy Aikman – Dallas Cowboys (1989)
Even highly regarded no. 1 picks and future Hall of Famers have a bad day. In the case of Troy Aikman and the 1989 Dallas Cowboys, his first awful day quarterbacking his new team preceded the second worst season in team history when they went 1-15 (Dallas was 0-11-1 in their first NFL season). The UCLA superstar was fed to the wolves in his first career start, a 28-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 10, 1989. Aikman completed just 17 of 35 passes for 180 yards, including two interceptions and two sacks. All this, despite the fact he had Herschel Walker in the backfield and Michael Irvin running pass routes. Overall that debut season, Aikman completed 155 passes for 1,749 yards in 11 games, with nine TD strikes, 18 interceptions and a rating of 55.7.
7. Bill Baker – Montreal Canadiens (1980)
Bill Baker gained fame for being a member of the U.S. “Miracle On Ice” team that won a surprise gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Montreal Canadiens draft pick was a collegiate star at the University of Minnesota before joining Team U.S.A. He scored a key goal against Sweden in their opening game, the tying marker in a 2-2 draw (that tie allowed the U.S to advance). The defenceman made his NHL debut with the Habs during the 1980-81 season and from what we could glean (stats are sketchy where he is concerned) had one heck of a bad game early on. Not known as a big pugilist, Baker got involved in three fights during a 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 22, 1980. He fought Flyers scorer Tim Kerr twice as well as scrapper Mike Busniuk. In all, Baker suffered a broken nose and would need 17 stitches to close various punch inflicted wounds to his face. Yikes.
6. Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves (2014)
One of the best players ever to come out of Canada, Andrew Wiggins was drafted no. 1 overall by Cleveland in 2014 out of the University of Kansas. Before he ever put on a Cavs sweater for a regular season game, he was traded to Minnesota in a three-team deal that saw Kevin Love go to Cleveland. Wiggins, expected to be an impact player for years to come, found out just how hard NBA hoops were in his first game on Oct. 29, 2014 against Memphis. The 6’8″ small forward was limited to under 19 minutes on the floor and shot two-for-five from the field and one-for-two from the free throw line to record six points in a 105-101 loss. He did show off some of his renowned athleticism, pulling down three rebounds and steeling the ball twice, but all in all it most likely wasn’t what he envisioned for his inaugural appearance on a NBA floor.
5. Terry Bradshaw – Pittsburgh Steelers (1970)
It’s kind of funny how no. 1 picks like Bradshaw have their entree into football spoiled by a lousy first game. The Blonde Bomber out of Louisiana Tech was destined for greatness (four Super Bowl Championships) but suffered the indignity of being owned in his first game for Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, 1970. That day against the Houston Oilers, Bradshaw completed just four of 16 pass attempts for 70 yards, while tossing an interception in a 19-7 loss. He also ran for 20 yards and finished with a QB rating of 19.3 before being replaced by Terry Hanratty. The future Hall of Famer’s first season could be considered a total bust. He started eight of 13 games he appeared in, throwing for 1,410 yards, six touchdowns and a NFL high 24 interceptions and finished with a dismal rating of 30.4.
4. Mike Mayers – St. Louis Cardinals (2016)
Drafted in the third round of 2013 MLB amateur draft, big righthanded starter Mike Mayers progressed nicely through the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system. So much so that on July 23, 2016 the Cardinals purchased his contract from AAA Memphis and announced he would make his major league debut the next day against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a nationally televised game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, so the stakes were high. However, he succumbed to rookie jitters and did something no other first-time hurler had ever done. He became the first ever to give up nine runs while not advancing past two innings pitched. It started off ugly, as Mayers gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases, followed by an Adrian Gonzalez grand slam. His slash line from that day read: 1.1 innings pitched, eight hits (two HR), nine earned runs, two walks and one strikeout and a 60.75 ERA. He was sent down to the minors the next day.
3. Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers (2013)
Hockey pundits and fans have been ripping on former no. 1 pick Nail Yakupov for years now, but in eight games so far with the Colorado Rockies (his third NHL team), he looks like has turned things around. However, he goes down in history as one of the Edmonton Oilers worst first round draft picks. Selected first overall in 2012, the baffling Russian had loads of offensive talent, but needed a map to find his way back to his own zone. He debuted during the strike shortened 2012-13 season and in his first game, was nearly invisible. In a 3-2 victory over Vancouver on Jan. 20, 2013, Yakupov had 22 shifts (16:20 ice time), took one shot and was -2. Yakupov did manage to record 31 points in just 48 games that year, but in four seasons with Edmonton, never lived up to the hype.
2. Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts (1998)
Coming from great pedigree — his Dad is former QB Archie Manning — Peyton Manning was expected to be a savior in Indianapolis after being taken first in the 1998 draft after a stellar collegiate career at Tennessee. He was named starter out of training camp and was behind center for the Colts to face the visiting Miami Dolphins on Sept. 6, 1998. It was a daunting task, having to face the legendary Dan Marino in that first game. Despite throwing for 302 yards, Manning was intercepted three times and sacked on four occasions as the Colts lost 24-15. Manning did give a glimpse into a spectacular future though, when he hit future fellow Hall of Fame WR Marvin Harrison for a six-yard TD reception with just four seconds left on the clock.
1. Lonzo Ball – Los Angeles Lakers (2017)
In the preamble, we talked about how bad the over-hyped Lonzo Ball played in his first ever NBA game. Selected no. 2 overall this year by the Lakers, Ball has had to contend with all kinds of social media backlash over his (overpriced) shoes and his overbearing father, LaVar (not to mention the execrable reality show, Ball In The Family). After all the noise of the off-season, Ball finally premiered in the big league, against Blake Griffin and the rival Clippers on Oct. 19. Talk about pressure. The rookie point guard did not fare well, despite being given just under 30 minutes of floor time. He shot 1-for-6 overall from the field, recording his three total points on 1-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc in a 108-92 loss. He did have nine rebounds, along with four assists, a steal and a block, however he also turned the ball over twice.