Leaving aside the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly the most successful NBA franchise. Since they entered the league in 1948, the Lakers have amassed 60 playoff appearances and 16 NBA championships. No franchise can ever get close to that without factors like great financial backing, fantastic management, a large fan base, and perhaps the most important element of them all, an excellent knack for recognizing talent.
In the NBA, that good knack can most easily be translated to a team’s performance in the NBA Draft. It is the premier time for the teams in the league to select from a pool of basketball players who will either become legends or go down in history as some of the biggest busts the sport has ever seen.
Like any other franchise, the Lakers have had a lot of ups and downs when it comes to the draft. They have drafted some of the greatest players who ever played basketball like Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
Nevertheless, the Lakers have been notorious for making some of the most ridiculous draft picks in the history of the game. Our job today was to separate the good apples from the bad ones. What at first can seem like any easy thing to do, might turn out to be a lesson in understanding how unpredictable a draft pick could be. Some of the guys you’ll see on this list seemed like they were bound to become legends after they finish their college or high school careers. So take it as you will, but here are 15 draft mistakes the Los Angeles Lakers should still be embarrassed about.
15 Toney Douglas
Toney Douglas was a late first round pick. Usually, a spot where you can find low-risk-high-reward players, the end of the first round can also turn out to be a land of disappointment for franchises and fan bases.
Douglas was traded to the New York Knicks during draft night, which is the only reason why Lakers fans didn’t have to witness him chucking up bad three-pointers and turning the ball over. But even though he was traded, when we look at the players who were still on the board when the Lakers selected Douglas, it leaves little room to doubt that this was a mistake. Some of the players whom the Lakers passed on to pick up Douglas were Wesley Matthews (who went undrafted), Patrick Beverly, Marcus Thornton, Danny Green, and Jodie Meeks to name a few.
14 Sun Yue
There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that when the Lakers drafted Sun Yue in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft, it was a marketing play. With the rise of basketball popularity in China, drafting a Chinese player seemed like a good deal at the time. But even though nobody expected great things from him in terms of performances on the court, nobody expected he would be as bad as he was.
Yue barely survived his first season with the Lakers and only played ten games with the team before being sent down to the D-league and subsequently getting injured. He finished his NBA career with an average of 0.6 points, 0.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.1 blocks and 0.3 turnovers per game.
If there is any consolation for Yue, he ended up traveling with the team in the playoffs and was crowned an NBA champion that year.
13 Kenny Carr
The biggest sin committed by this 6’7” forward from North Carolina State who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 1976 Summer Olympics, was that the only team he didn’t play well for in the NBA was the team that drafted him.
When the Lakers selected Carr with the sixth pick of the 1977 NBA Draft, he seemed like a sure thing. A 22-year-old gold medalist with the potential to turn into one of the best power forwards in the league, nobody thought drafting him would be a mistake. It turns out it wasn’t such a great deal for the Lakers as they passed on future All-Stars like Bernard King, Jack Sikma, Rickey Green and Norm Nixon.
In three seasons with the Lakers, Carr only averaged a little over six points and four rebounds per game. On the other hand, in the three seasons he played for Cleveland he averaged 14.1 points and nine rebounds per game.
12 Chris Jefferies
Chris Jefferies is another example of a player with whom the Lakers wasted a pick but were smart enough to trade before he could do any damage to their squad. This guy only played three seasons in the NBA, two with Toronto and one with Chicago. He ended up averaging 3.9 points and just 1.2 rebounds per game. And that’s because he was a 6’8” 225-pound player who could play both shooting guard and small forward.
The real crime here, however, is that in order to draft him with the 27th pick, the Lakers passed on guys like Carlos Boozer, Matt Barnes, Juan Carlos Navarro and, most notoriously, Luis Scola. The ridiculous stat here is that in just his rookie season, Scola surpassed the total numbers that Jefferies had during his career.
11 Travis Grant
Travis Grant was a really good basketball player. The only problem was that he wasn’t good in the NBA. This guy only played a couple of seasons in the league after being drafted by the Lakers with the 13th pick of the 1972 NBA Draft. He finished his NBA career averaging 3.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Those wouldn’t be ridiculous numbers for a guy who only played 36 games in the league. But if we take in account his numbers after he went to the ABA, the Lakers apparently just didn’t get enough out of this guy. In four seasons in the ABA, Grant averaged 16 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
This sure had to be a letdown for the Lakers who passed on future All-Stars like Jim Price and Don Buse in order to pick Grant.
10 Jim Paxson Sr.
Jim Paxson Sr. was the father of three-time NBA champion John Paxson, who played alongside Michael Jordan in that legendary Bulls team. Unlike his son, however, Jim didn’t have much success in the NBA. He was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers with the third pick of the 1956 NBA Draft but only played two seasons in the league. In the only one he played with the Lakers, Paxson averaged 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. The hype around him and the third pick were warranted when we consider he was part of the team that won the 1955 Pan-American games.
Nevertheless, his talent didn’t translate well to the NBA, and the Lakers ended up passing on future Hall of Famer K.C. Jones.
A fun fact is that with two of their later picks, the Lakers selected Hall of Famers Sam Jones and Elgin Baylor. So that draft wasn’t all too bad for the Minneapolis Lakers.
9 Earl Jones
It’s hard to say that a team could possibly go wrong when they draft a seven-footer in 1984, especially if that guy had already represented the United States in a World Championship. Well, that was Earl Jones’s resume when he declared for the 1984 NBA Draft. The Lakers selected him with the 23rd pick, which wasn’t too bad considering how tall he was and that he was widely recognized as a good player.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, however, Jones’s career in the NBA didn’t last long. He stayed in the league for two years and only played 14 games. With the Lakers, he only played two games in his rookie year. His total tally for the year was seven minutes played and one missed field goal, as well as one turnover. So yeah, even for a late first round pick, having more turnovers than points for your career can’t be a good sign.
8 Mark Madsen
The 2000 NBA Draft was anything but stacked. Usually, in every draft, there are at least four or five guys who have a good chance of becoming All-Stars. Often it’s even more than that, but the 2000 Draft was very far from the rule. Only three players out of that draft class ever went on to be selected for an All-Star game. They were Kenyon Martin, Jamaal Magloire and Michael Redd. The Lakers didn’t have a chance to choose either of the first two, but Redd was still on the board when they selected Mark Madsen with the 29th pick.
He seemed like a safe pick, but despite his successful career at Stanford at the college level, Madsen only played three seasons with the Lakers in which he averaged 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.
7 Roger Strickland
Talk about wasted picks. We’ve covered a few useless selections the Lakers had on any given NBA Draft. But it will be hard for anybody to surpass what happened when they drafted Roger Strickland.
The Lakers selected Strickland with the seventh pick of the 1963 NBA Draft. However, this 6’5” 200-pound forward from Jacksonville never even entered an NBA court with the Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The Lakers waived him before he ever played for the franchise despite having drafted him while players like future Hall of Famer Gus Johnson were still on the board.
As for Strickland, he was picked up by the Baltimore Bullets and given a chance at the NBA level. Perhaps he excelled with the Bullets, right? Wrong.
Strickland finished his NBA career playing only one game with the Bullets in which he scored two points and committed one foul.
6 David Rivers
David Rivers was a successful basketball player. Unfortunately for the Lakers, he became successful once he went to Europe. The Lakers selected this point guard out of the University of Notre Dame with the 25th pick of the 1988 Draft. And, like many before on this list, he was a very solid pick for a late first round selection. Nevertheless, he was one of those players who just couldn’t quite make it in the NBA. He played one season with the Lakers and then a couple with the Clippers, but never really caught on as he finished his NBA career averaging 3.4 point and 2.5 assists per game.
Across the pond, however, this guy was a beast and collected several awards. He was the Euro League Final Four MVP in 1997 as well as Euro League Champion that same year. Rivers was also a Greek League MVP and a Greek Cup MVP, both also in 1997.
5 Willie McCarter
Out of all the guys on this list, Willie McCarter is one of the few who we can at least say was consistent. This guy didn’t put up huge numbers for the Lakers, but in the three seasons he played in the NBA, two of them with LA, he averaged seven points per game.
But his okay numbers are not proportional with the fact that he was a lottery pick in a draft that had guys like Norm Van Lier, Bob Dandridge and Steve Mix all being selected outside of the first round. As for the other lottery picks, the bar was set up pretty high as the number one pick that year was Lew Alcindor (a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Future Hall of Famer Jo Jo White and future All-Star Butch Beard also featured as top 15 picks.
4 Wayne Yates
Yates is a guy who had a chance to play in the NBA but made a wrong decision at some point. He was selected as the fifth overall pick in the 1961 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. That was no small feat as he was selected before future All-Stars like Tom Maschery, Don Kojis and Bill Bridges. Yates also went on to have an okay season as a backup center during his rookie year in Los Angeles. He played 37 games and averaged 1.9 points and 2.5 rebounds in seven minutes played per game.
Nevertheless, once the season was over he was traded to the St. Louis Hawks, and that is where his basketball career pretty much ended. Instead of going to St. Louis and playing with the Hawks he signed a contract with the Oakland Oaks, a team that was part of the American Basketball League and would only exist for less than a season after Yates started playing there. He tried returning to the NBA afterward, but couldn't pull it off.
3 Jim Fritsche
We had to go very far back in the history tunnel to find our third place pick that the Lakers should be ashamed of. The one to start our top 3 was the seventh pick in the 1953 NBA Draft. Jim Fritsche is a guy who despite being selected before Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan, who went on to win an NBA championship with the St. Louis Hawks in the 1957-58 season, failed to live up to the expectations.
We don’t need too much research because he only played two games with the Minneapolis Lakers. Throughout his career with the Lakers, this guy scored a total of one point. The worst thing about that is that it took him four free throws and three missed field goals to score that one point. So yeah, that is a pick the Lakers probably don’t like to remember even though it happened more than half a century ago.
2 Sam Jacobson
More than 40 years after they drafted Fritsche, the Lakers managed to make an even worse pick in the 1998 Draft. With the 26 pick of that year’s draft, they selected Sam Jacobson out of the University of Minnesota. A guy, who helped the Golden Gophers to a final four appearance and a NIT title, should be a relatively safe pick to finish off the first round strong, correct?
As the Lakers would later find out: no, Jacobson was not a safe pick. He played two seasons with the Lakers and only managed to get on the court five times. Jacobson’s highest average as a Laker was the 3.6 points per game he could put up in an average of six minutes played per outing. What is unfortunate for the Lakers is that if they were looking for a guard, there were still guys like Cuttino Mobley, Earl Boykins, Corey Brewer and Sarunas Jasikevicius waiting to be selected.
1 Javaris Crittenton
The competition was fierce, but nobody ever gets close to being considered a Laker draft mistake as bad as the 19th pick of the 2007 NBA Draft.
Javaris Crittenton was so bad that you don’t even remember him for his basketball skills. This 6’5” guard out of Georgia Tech played from 2007 until 2009 in the NBA, until the infamous incident between him and Gilbert Arenas in the Washington Wizards’ locker room that saw Crittenton plead guilty and be given a year of probation on a misdemeanor gun possession charge.
He finished his NBA career averaging 5.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. The bad thing about the Lakers and this player is that during a murder trial where he was allegedly accused of murdering a 22-year-old mother of four, an assistant district attorney named Gabe Banks said that during his time in LA, Crittenton joined a very famous street gang and allegedly shot another person.