The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the mecca for the game of basketball. Its brand has grown to unprecedented heights throughout the years and is only growing bigger by the season. Basketball players, not only in the United States but around the world, can only dream and desire at a chance to play in the NBA. The NBA has 30 total teams with 13 active players on each team, that's 390 players a year out of millions who have the opportunity to play on the main stage of basketball.
The percentage or odds of making "The League" is projected at 0.03% for high school basketball players. This is the time in your life when basketball gets to a highly competitive level, challenging you to either be great or blend in with the other 99.97% of players who will be watching NBA games on television. The road is only beginning in high school, the next step is the collegiate level, if you make the cut that is. Approximately 1% of college players go on to be drafted to the NBA, a step up from high school percentages but nowhere near a lock.
Millions of people dream of one day being an NBA star, but the ratio from players to roster spots makes these dreams almost impossible. Over the years, we've learned that just being drafted doesn't guarantee a successful career. Different organizations draft players upon their own needs on the court, but sometimes what they think they need turns out to be the exact opposite. In these cases, some teams' bad decisions have effected other franchises' rise to glory.
This list highlights 15 draft busts who were drafted ahead of future NBA legends.
15 Sam Perkins
Drafted ahead of: Charles Barkley
Sam Perkins was a huge part of the University of North Carolina's success, helping the Tar Heels finish the 1983-1984 season with a 28-3 overall record, also making it to the Sweet 16. This success caught the eye of NBA front offices as Perkins was drafted #4 overall in the 1984 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks.
Perkins had a lengthy NBA career playing 17 seasons with 4 different teams (Mavericks, Lakers, Supersonics, Pacers) but over the longevity of his career, he blended in as an average player finishing with 0 NBA Championships, 0 All-Star appearances and a good but not great 15,324 career points. He was a decent player but more was expected of him, especially when you consider who was drafted after him.
Charles Barkley was drafted right after Perkins at #5 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers out of Auburn University. Barkley also dubbed "Sir Charles" by his peers spent 16 seasons in the NBA playing for 3 teams (76ers, Suns, Rockets). It's a debate whether or not winning NBA championships dictates your greatness in the basketball world but one thing is for certain, although Barkley finished his NBA career with 0 rings, he has stamped his name as an NBA legend, leaving the game as an 11 time all-star, 1992-1993 Season MVP and 2006 Hall of Fame Inductee.
14 Terence Stansbury
Drafted ahead of: John Stockton
When it comes to All-Time NBA busts, Terence Stansbury shines bright. Stansbury was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks 15th overall in the 1984 NBA draft coming out of Temple University. "Career" would be a reach as Stansbury was in the league 3 short years, playing for 2 different teams (Pacers, Supersonics). In his 3 years as a professional, Stansbury recorded 0 NBA Championships, 0 All-Star appearances and a low grade 1,200 career points.
The man drafted 1 pick after him at 16 was none other than John Stockton out of Gonzaga University. Stockton spent 19 years in the league, all with the Utah Jazz and is a household name for any basketball fan as he's known for his classic battles with the great Michael Jordan over his career. Although he finished his career with 0 NBA Championships, Stockton was a 10-time All-Star, ultimately getting inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
13 Ennis Whatley
Drafted ahead of: Clyde Drexler
Ennis Whatley is a special case when it comes to NBA busts, playing for 10 different teams in 10 seasons, there seemed to be no good fit for the guard out of the University of Alabama. Whatley was drafted 13th overall by the Kansas City Kings in the 1983 NBA draft. In his 10 year stretch, Whatley played just 385 games averaging 1.8 rebounds 4.6 assists 1.0 steals 0.1 blocks and 5.6 points per game, ending his career with 2,150 points. Without much contribution, sticking around 10 years in the league is quite an accomplishment.
Drafted just after Whatley was Clyde Drexler at 14th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Drexler quickly became a wonder in the league earning the nickname Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. Over his 15 year career, Drexler played for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1983-1995 and his hometown Houston Rockets from 1995-1998 winning his one and only ring in his first year with Houston. Drexler left the NBA with 1 NBA Championship, 10 All-Star appearances and 22,195 career points, all leading up to his 2004 Hall of Fame induction.
12 Reggie Williams
Drafted ahead of: Scottie Pippen
Coming out of Georgetown University, Reggie Williams was drafted 4th overall in the 1987 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. Williams had a less than stellar NBA career spending his 10 years in the league with 6 different teams (Clippers, Cavaliers, Spurs, Nuggets, Pacers, Nets). In those 10 years, he played 599 games accumulating 0 NBA Championships, 0 All- Star appearances and 7,508 Career points. Picked up just 1 spot after Williams was Scottie Pippen at 5th overall by the Seattle Supersonics out of The University of Central Arkansas.
In Pippen's 17 NBA seasons, he played for 3 teams (Bulls, Rockets, Trail Blazers) but his success thrived in the city of Chicago. Pippen won all 6 of his NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan. Finishing up with 6 rings, 7 All-star appearances and a 2010 Hall of Fame induction, it's safe to say Pippen is a true legend of the game.
11 Darko Milicic
Drafted ahead of: Carmelo Anthony
Not only was Darko Milicic drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, but the next picks that followed were Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. You couldn't go wrong with all three stars, but the Detroit Pistons managed to get it wrong, as they selected the Serbian with the second overall pick.
Darko would manage to get a championship ring in his rookie with the Pistons, who went on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Of course, Darko was just along for the ride and wasn't an actual contributor. He would go on to play for five other teams before leaving the league in 2012. Milicic is considered to be one of the biggest busts of all time in a legendary draft class.
Carmelo Anthony was drafted immediately after by the Denver Nuggets with the third pick, who went on to become a 10-time NBA All-Star, making 6 All-NBA teams. Although Darko does have a ring over him...
10 Vitaly Potapenko
Drafted ahead of: Kobe Bryant
The 1996 NBA Draft had an abundance of great talent, with big names like Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and Steve Nash joining the league. But there are two names that effected that draft class forever. With the 12th overall Pick in the 1996 NBA draft the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Vitaly Potapenko, a player out of Wright State University with what seemed like a promising basketball career. But the man drafted right after him is what the Cavaliers severely missed on.
Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. Perhaps, the Cavaliers passed on Bryant because he was a young kid coming out of Lower Merion High School but that young man turned into an all-time great. Potapenko spent 11 seasons in the NBA playing for 4 different teams (Cavaliers, Celtics, Supersonics, Kings) before retiring with 3,995 career points, 0 NBA Championships and 0 All-Star appearances.
Bryant on the other hand spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers after being traded in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets. Bryant retired in 2017 with 5 NBA Championships, 18 All-Star appearances, 1 Regular Season MVP (2007-2008), 2 NBA Finals MVPs (2008-2009/2009-2010) and third All-Time in career points with 33,643. It's safe to say that the 12 teams that passed on Kobe Bryant would certainly love to have another shot at the 1996 NBA draft.
9 Purvis Short
Drafted ahead of: Larry Bird
The Golden State Warriors had a shot at taking Larry Bird in the 1978 draft but instead chose to pick up Purvis Short 5th overall out of Jackson State University. Short was a "good enough" player once he joined the league but Golden State had no idea that they could have drafted one of the NBA's most iconic figures instead. Playing 12 seasons for 3 teams (Warriors, Rockets, Nets), Short won 0 NBA championships and had no All-Star appearances.
His 14,607 career points were good enough to stick around 12 years in the league but when all is said and done, the #1 goal that all NBA franchises share is to win a championship, and Bird was able to provide 3 of them for the city of Boston. The Hall of Fame is where all of the greats belong, and "Larry Legend" has resided there since 1998 for good reason.
Bird also known as "Larry Legend" played 13 seasons for the Boston Celtics earning 3 NBA Championships, 12 All-Star appearances, 3 MVP awards and 21,791 career points, quite a resume for a player passed on by 5 different teams.
8 LaRue Martin
Drafted ahead of: Julius Erving
Coming out of Loyola University of Chicago, LaRue Martin was taken first overall in the 1972 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. For a #1 pick in the 1st round of the draft, Martin has sketched himself in NBA history as one of the biggest draft busts, playing only 4 seasons with little contribution. As he only played with the Trail Blazers, Martin recorded 0 NBA Championships, 0 All-Star appearances and just 1,430 career points in 271 games played.
Later in the first round came Julius Erving, drafted 12th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks out of The University of Massachusetts Amherst. Erving also known as "Dr. J" played 11 seasons all with the Philadelphia 76ers. Winning 1 NBA championship, appearing as an All-Star every season of his career and earning the 1980-1981 Season MVP award, Erving has left his mark on the league forever. Julius Erving was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Meanwhile, the second pick of that draft was Bob McAdoo.
7 Adonal Foyle
Drafted ahead of: Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady's career was hurt by nagging injuries but there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest talents in NBA history. He was drafted 9th overall by the Toronto Raptors, where he would go on to play for three years before moving to Orlando Magic. McGrady would have his best years with the Magic, leading the league in scoring back-to-back in 2003 and 2004.
Not only was he a great scorer, but he was one of the best playmakers as well. He was one of the top NBA players in the early to mid 2000s until injuries took away his athleticism. Meanwhile, Adonal Foyle was drafted 8th overall by the Golden State Warriors, and became their longest-tenured player at that time. Not exactly a record the Warriors were proud of, as Foyle finished his career with an average of 4.4 PPG and 4.7 RPG.
Not only that, but he managed to get a $42 million contract with the Warriors in 2004.
6 Darrell Griffith
Drafted ahead of: Kevin McHale
In the 1980 draft, Darrell Griffith was picked up 2nd overall by the Utah Jazz out of The University of Louisville. Griffith played 10 years in the NBA and played every single game with the Utah Jazz. Similar to Joe Barry Carroll (drafted first overall), Darrel had a very average career, with 0 NBA Championships and 0 All-Star appearances. In his 765 games played, Griffith scored 12,391 points, which is an under achievement considering who he was drafted before.
Kevin McHale at #3 wasn't too far behind where he belonged but the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz definitely passed on a true NBA legend and role model of how the game should be played. Perhaps those franchises didn't see what the Boston Celtics saw in McHale but the city of Boston definitely benefited from their lack of belief in the all-time great.
5 Robert Traylor
Drafted ahead of: Dirk Nowitzki
Robert Traylor was the 6th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft out of The University of Michigan by the Dallas Mavericks, which is interesting because the Mavericks slept on the player that would soon become their franchise's top superstar. In his 7 seasons as a pro, Traylor played for 3 teams (Bucks, Cavaliers, Hornets) and ended his career with 0 NBA Championships, 0 All-Star appearances and 2,085 points. On the other hand Dirk Nowitzki was chosen 3 picks later at #9 by the Milwaukee Bucks who later traded Nowitzki to Dallas for Traylor, one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
Unlike every other player on this list, Dirk didn't come out of any University, actually he came from an entire different country. Nowitzki had to work his name overseas as he was drafted from Wurzburg, Germany. Nowitzki has been in the league 19 seasons and is still currently playing for the Dallas Mavericks, the only team he's played for in his entire career.
Aside from the 2006-2007 season MVP, Dirk currently has 1 NBA championship (2010-2011) in which he was Finals MVP and 13 All-Star appearances. Nowitzki is currently #6 in all-time points with 30,141 and isn't done yet.
4 Derrick Coleman
Drafted ahead of: Gary Payton
In the 1990 NBA draft, the New Jersey Nets had the #1 overall pick and a hard decision to make. It seems they made the wrong one in taking Derrick Coleman over Gary Payton. Coleman was taken out of Syracuse University first overall and although he had a lengthy 15-year NBA career, his contribution didn't quite add up to what was expected with the first pick in the draft. Playing for 4 teams in 15 years (Nets, 76ers, Hornets, Pistons), Coleman won 0 NBA Championships and netted 1 All-Star appearance. Not a bad player by any means.
Gary Payton, also known as "The Glove" was taken second overall by the Seattle Supersonics out of Oregon State University., with whom he played his first 13 years in the league with. Within his 17 year career, 'The Glove" played for 5 teams (Supersonics, Bucks, Lakers, Celtics, Heat) winning 1 NBA Championship with the Miami Heat in 2005, along with 9 All-Star appearances. Payton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
3 Kenny Green
Drafted ahead of: Karl Malone
Kenny Green has one of the shortest NBA careers ever documented, actually career is a strong word, it was more like a visit to the league. Green was drafted 12th overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1985 NBA draft out of Wake Forest University, and only spent 2 years as a pro. Finishing with 0 rings and 0 All-Star appearances with 2 teams in 2 years (Bullets, 76ers) it's safe to say Green is one of the biggest busts to ever step foot on an NBA court, his contribution or lack thereof was just 265 points in 60 games played. Considering the player Washington passed up on to get Green i'm sure they wish they could get that pick back.
Karl Malone was taken right after green at #13 by the Utah Jazz out of Louisiana Tech. Malone, also known as "The Mailman", played 19 seasons in the NBA 18 of which were with the Utah Jazz before spending 1 year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Malone retired with quite a resume, 0 NBA Championships, 14 All-Star appearances, 2nd all-time in points with 36,928 and a spot in the Hall of Fame having being inducted in 2010. A certified legend in basketball history.
2 Terry Cummings
Drafted ahead of: Dominique Wilkins
The 1982 NBA draft was a very interesting one. The San Diego Clippers took their #2 pick and ran with Terry Cummings out of DePaul University leaving a future Legend and Hall of Famer on the board. Cummings had a long and semi successful NBA career but nothing compared to what the Clippers could have gotten in Dominique Wilkins. Cummings played a whopping 18 seasons with 7 different teams (Clippers, Bucks, Spurs, Supersonics, 76ers, Knicks, Warriors) obtaining 0 NBA Championships and 2 All-star appearances. Not exactly a huge let down but again, no Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins was drafted right after Cummings at #3 overall by the Utah Jazz out of The University of Georgia, he played for 5 teams (Hawks, Clippers, Celtics, Spurs, Magic) but was notably remembered for his time with the Atlanta Hawks (1982-1994) eventually joining the "legends without a ring" club. Wilkins ended his career with 0 NBA Championships, 9 All-Star appearances and 26,668 points.
In 2006, the Hall of Fame committee welcomed Dominique Wilkins with open arms and he's recognized as one of the NBA's top 50 players of all-time.
1 Sam Bowie
Drafted ahead of: Michael Jordan
When it comes to NBA busts, Sam Bowie trumps them all, not only due to his underwhelming production on the court, but the players he was chosen before. Bowie was taken second overall in the 1984 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers out of The University of Kentucky, that being said he was picked up before Michael Jordan who was drafted #3 by the Chicago Bulls out of The University of North Carolina, Charles Barkley who was drafted #5 by the Philadelphia 76ers out of Auburn University and John Stockton who was drafted #16 by the Utah Jazz out of Gonzaga University.
Bowie lasted 10 seasons in the NBA playing in 511 games with 3 teams (Trail Blazers, Nets, Lakers) putting up a lacklustre 5,564 career points. Michael Jordan was taken right after Bowie at number 3 and is considered among most basketball fans to be the greatest of all time, a title much earned as Jordan accumulated a staggering 6 NBA championships, 14 All-Star appearances and 5 Season MVP awards in his 15 year career. Michael Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Barkley, although finishing his career with 0 rings, is still an 11 time All-Star and 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, as Stockton has etched his name in the history books as a 10 time All-Star and 2009 Hall of Fame inductee. The Portland Trail Blazers could have chosen either of those 3 legends but instead chose Sam Bowie, leaving him #1 on this list of busts that were chosen before future NBA legends.