The NBA implemented the draft lottery in 1985, and since then, having just a ping pong ball shot at a top pick has driven teams to tanking the season. The impact that a first or second overall pick can have on a team has been well chronicled through the history of the game. Countless teams have built dynasties using a top draft pick. On the other hand however, many franchises have been doomed by drafting a lemon in the top two selections.
The past 16 NBA drafts have produced an incredible amount of talent, many players bound for the Hall of Fame have been drafted since the turn of the century. One of the funny things about the draft is how some players are so inaccurately scouted coming out of the amateur ranks. Players like Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Dwyane Wade were all drafted outside of the top two. The job of general managers and scouts is an incredibly difficult one, but some of the players that teams have chosen in the top two are mind boggling when you look back. I am sure as we get into this list you yourself will be shocked at some of the players who were lucky enough to be a top two NBA draft pick.
34. Anthony Bennett – 1st overall, 2013
Anthony Bennett was selected with the number one overall pick in 2013. The Cleveland Cavaliers had the first pick again, for the second time in what would ultimately be three first overall picks in four years.
The Cavs were stuck in a rut after losing LeBron James to free agency just a few years prior, but the selection of Bennett surprised everyone. There were players more highly touted, like Nerlens Noel and Victor Oladipo, not to mention Giannis Antetokounmpo who turned out to be the best player drafted that year. It took one season before Cleveland found a way to ship Bennett out of town. He was packaged into the Andrew Wiggins/Kevin Love trade. Bennett has been bouncing around the league since the trade, not lasting more than a few months with any team. He is currently playing for the Long Island Nets of the NBA D-League.
33. Jay Williams – 2nd overall, 2002
Jay Williams is one of the most tragic stories in recent NBA memory. He was a superstar talent under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke during the late 90s and early 2000s. In 2002 he decided to leave the Blue Devils a year early and enter himself in the NBA Draft. His skills translated very favorably to the NBA game at the time. He was a shifty point guard with an incredibly quick first step. He also had a keen knack for finding ways to get his teammates the ball in positions to score. The thing that most intrigued teams was his leadership and his fearlessness.
The same fearlessness that made him desirable was the thing that ended up costing him his career. During the offseason after his rookie season, Williams was driving his motorcycle when he lost control and crashed it. In the crash he completely tore up his leg, needing several surgeries just to walk again. Williams would make a relatively full recovery but his dream of being an NBA superstar was no longer a possibility.
32. Greg Oden – 1st overall, 2007
Similar to Jay Williams before him, Greg Oden was a victim of injury rather than lack of talent. Oden was a monster during his one and only season at Ohio State. Oden, along with high school teammate Mike Conley, would lead the Buckeyes to the NCAA Championship game in their one year with the university.
After a dominating season in college Oden entered the NBA draft. He was projected to be the first or second pick, with the debate being between him and Texas star freshman Kevin Durant. When the Portland Trail Blazers selected him first overall it was expected that he would pair up with the reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, and take the league by storm. With expectations through the roof in Portland, it was unfairly sad to see the decimation that franchise had to endure. Not only did Oden, due to relentless injuries, become one of the biggest busts in NBA history (as he himself has even said) but their other young star Brandon Roy would have to retire prematurely due to knee injuries.
31. Hasheem Thabeet – 2nd overall, 2009
In 2009 the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to make some noise in the Western Conference. They had a big time star in Rudy Gay as well as budding young stars in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, as well as Zach Randolph. They were also gifted with the second overall pick in that year’s draft. For reasons beyond me, they decided to go with the junior big man out of UCONN Hasheem Thabeet.
This pick is horrible on so many levels. Not only did the Grizzlies draft a player at a position they didn’t need, they also passed up on some of the greatest perimeter players the game has to offer. In 2009, James Harden, Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan all entered the NBA. Thabeet was an accident waiting to happen from the moment he entered the league. He lasted two seasons with the Grizzlies organization before he was pushed out. He bounced around the D-League for a few years but ultimately he was never able to find a home in the NBA.
30. Darko Milicic – 2nd overall, 2003
The Detroit Pistons thought they were being sly like a fox when they decided to go against conventional wisdom back in 2003. Arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history has one major blemish on it, and that is the Pistons selection of Darko second overall.
Detroit was a title contender at the time, but thanks to a 1997 trade with the Grizzlies, the Pistons found themselves holding the second pick. In a draft that saw Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh still on the board the Pistons went with the little-known Serbian kid. Darko didn’t see much playing time during his three years with Detroit, and he blames the lack of court time for his disappointing growth. The Pistons parted ways with their second overall pick in 2006. Darko would spend the next six years bouncing between six teams, ultimately calling it a career after the 2012 season. Perhaps Milicic gets the last laugh on this one though; he was part of the Detroit title run in his rookie season even though he didn’t see much time on the court.