Being a professional athlete in a league like the National Basketball Association is quite the accomplishment. Over the years, plenty of players whose debuts were heavily hyped to be the next legend in the making. Some would even be billed as the new generation’s version of someone like stars like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or even today’s LeBron James.
A number of basketball players who came straight from high school garnered a lot of hype for posting ridiculous numbers against what seemed like sub-par competition for their level of play. Nowadays with recent NBA policy changes, it’s spending a year or two in college before trying to go pro and chase not only greatness, but the almighty dollar.
But for everyone who succeeds like a LeBron James, there are 99 players who struggle to reach that same level, fall short of expectations or fizzle out for a variety of reasons. That chance to become one of the next great legends of the hardwood is usually a brief moment that might be summed up in one opportunity. The following are 15 players who were unable to achieve greatness despite the hype and the expectations held to their name when they started.
While the list will be critical of players who struggled in the NBA, there are some notable “busts” who will not be included. Players like Greg Oden are not going to be included, since injuries that were tragic and obviously unexpected circumstances shouldn’t count as “blowing their one shot at greatness.”
This list includes players, in no particular order, who had a combination of work ethic issues, attitude problems, substance abuse and then those who made poor decisions in certain situations.
15 Darius Miles
Darius Miles is another example of a young athlete going straight from high school to the NBA and flaming out. Miles was picked third overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2000 NBA Draft. While averaging less than 10 points per game as a bench player, Miles was named part of the All-Rookie team that season. But Miles never fully developed as he averaged only 10.1 points in more than 440 career games.
Attitude was also an issue regarding Miles, who had a very loud argument with then-Portland coach Maurice Cheeks in 2005 while playing for the Trail Blazers. Karma was not kind to Miles, who would miss two seasons from 2006 to 2008 with a knee injury before finishing his career with Memphis in the 2008-09 season. Miles has since popped up in the news having to sell his possessions after filing for bankruptcy in June.
14 Steve Francis
There has to be something said about someone who is able to find their way to professional sports, especially when they come from a very rough upbringing with the loss of his mother. Nor did anyone expect someone who played a lot of street-based basketball to make it to the NBA. But Francis did and he had some success doing so with a career average of 18.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. But the three-time NBA All-Star still had a lot of issues that made it hard for him to maintain the higher stat lines.
Francis demanded trades and was often known to butt heads with different coaches as he moved between the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks. After a 2007-08 season with just an average of 5.5 points, Francis would resort to playing in China. Now Francis has become more famous for recently released arrest videos of him cursing at officers when they suspected driving while intoxicated in late 2016.
13 O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo had a lot of hype after playing the 2007-08 season with the University of Southern California – 20.7 points per game in 33 collegiate games. Mayo would be selected third overall in the 2008 NBA Draft; but was moved from Minnesota to Memphis in a trade revolving around Kevin Love. He had a decent start to his NBA career with an average of 18 points in his rookie and sophomore seasons.
His numbers would dip a little in his third and fourth years with the Grizzlies. After a brief bump with Dallas in 2012-13, Mayo was barely a factor with the Milwaukee Bucks for a three-season period. He last played in the 2015-16 season (averaging just 7.8 points). Mayo would then be disqualified from the league in 2016 – meaning he has to wait until 2018 to be reinstated. This sort of punishment usually is reserved for drug use and related criminal offenses.
12 Hedo Turkoglu
While certainly not one of the worst players on this list, Hedo Turkoglu was someone who had a lot of potential to be one of the best power forwards in the game. At six feet and 10 inches, he was a large man who the Sacramento Kings found valuable in the 2000 NBA Draft. His numbers were lower than they would have liked and he would then move to the Orlando Magic before the 2004-05 season. It was in 2007-08 where he looked like he was hitting his stride – 19.5 points per game and started all 82 games.
But in the years that followed, his numbers declined greatly. Forbes named him one of the most overpaid players in 2011 with a field goal percentage of just 41 percent. A failed drug test – testing positive for Methenolone – in 2013 didn’t help his image either. Despite playing in nearly 1,000 NBA games, Turkoglu was never able to be consistent enough to be one of the greats.
11 Hasheem Thabeet
Hasheem Thabeet was the second overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. After a brief stint with the University of Connecticut, Thabeet was scouted heavily for his size – seven feet and three inches for a frame that weighed more than 260 pounds. Unfortunately, Thabeet ended up with numbers that don’t support the No. 2 overall pick status that he was being compared to.
In 224 career games from 2009 to 2014, Thabeet averaged only 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Considering his height, both seem like very miniscule numbers. This led to him receiving the label of being considered a bust. However, Thabeet is still hoping to play in the NBA again, as noted in a story published late last year for The Undefeated.
10 Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum was one of the last few NBA players who came straight into the league out of high school. But unlike the legendary stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Bynum might be viewed as more of a cautionary tale of preparing a Plan B beyond being a professional athlete. He played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2005 until 2012 for seven seasons – his last being an All-Star season.
But Bynum was traded to Philadelphia, and he had to miss the entire 2012-13 season due to knee injuries. He then found himself splitting time between Cleveland and Indiana in the 2013-14 season – averaging less than nine points per game. Through his time, he would show flashes of dominance. But he was never able to play at a consistent level to become a legitimate star in the league.
9 Baron Davis
Baron Davis is the kind of player who had a respectable career in the NBA. But to say he achieved greatness would be overselling a burger patty as a prime rib steak. Davis was the equivalent of a sit-down-restaurant burger that isn’t fine dining. Davis’s career began as a third overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1999 NBA Draft – where he was a two-time All-Star. He was also part of the Golden State Warriors from 2004 to 2008 where he showed dominance.
His time with the Los Angeles Clippers (2008-2011) was met with criticism by Vinny Del Negro, who made his first order as head coach to address Davis’ weight in 2010. Davis was often viewed as a larger point guard with some listing him as high as 260. After being traded to Cleveland and playing the 2011-12 season with the New York Knicks, Davis’ numbers decreased and he found himself out of the NBA.
8 Eddie Griffin
Eddie Griffin was a forward who had a great freshman season at Seton Hall in 2000-01 – 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds averaged in 30 games. But he left the team after a dispute with a teammate led to him declaring for the NBA Draft. His attitude was a concern that let him fall to the seventh overall pick in 2001 to the Houston Rockets. His numbers were never particularly that great as he played five total seasons in the NBA.
Griffin had substance abuse problems and actually had to miss the 2003-04 season due to being in rehab. He would spend three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves before being waved in 2007. Months later, Griffin died when his car crashed into a freight train – which showed that he was never able to defeat his alcohol addiction.
7 Tyrus Thomas
Tyrus Thomas was someone who had built up quite a reputation while playing at Louisiana State University. This led to him being picked fourth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2006 NBA Draft. But he was quickly traded to a Chicago Bulls franchise that was in the middle of their long rebuilding process at the time. After two seasons of little action, he had 61 starts averaging 10.8 points in 2008-09.
But as he was traded to Charlotte, his numbers dipped significantly over time. He went from a 10.2 point average in 2010-11 to 5.6 points in 2011-12, followed by 4.8 in 2012-13. His reputation in the league also declined after several situations in the locker room, including a situation when he was shoved into the locker room by then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas. Thomas attempted a return in 2015, but has since found himself playing overseas.
6 Isaiah “J.R.” Rider
Sometimes, one’s mouth might write checks that cannot be cashed. In the case of Isaiah “J.R.” Rider, he developed a reputation that wouldn’t work well in the NBA. It is a shame because he had quite the right start to a basketball career after two successful seasons for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. After being selected fifth overall by Minnesota, Rider actually won the 1994 Slam Dunk Championship.
After success with the Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers, he was traded to Atlanta; a team that he wasn’t a good fit for. He would spend the 2000-01 season with the Los Angeles Lakers with a lot of confidence. Unfortunately, his trash talking led to him being destroyed one-on-one against Kobe Bryant. Add the fact that his play declined with reports of drug abuse, Rider’s strong start led to a stagnant finish in 2002.
5 Sebastian Telfair
Not all talented high school basketball phenoms were able to make the successful transition to the NBA. Some would have benefitted from learning more from a college coach with a great track record. Sebastian Telfair was a star out of New York, with a commitment to play for coach Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville in 2003. Pitino commented before Telfair pulled from his commitment that he hoped Telfair would play college ball.
Instead, Telfair would be drafted by Portland. While he did play a total of 564 career games, Telfair only averaged 7.4 points per game while converting only 39 percent of his field goals. It’s a shame considering he averaged more than 33 points per game during his senior year of high school – including a school record of 61 points in one game.
4 Vin Baker
Vin Baker was once drafted eighth overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, after playing collegiately at the University of Hartford. Early in his career, he was named an NBA All-Star for four consecutive seasons from 1994 to 1998 – three for the Bucks and once for the Seattle Supersonics. During that time, he averaged nearly 20 points per game with nearly 10 rebounds per game. But his numbers dropped from the 1998-99 season until retiring in 2006.
Near the end, Baker had a drinking problem where he admittedly spent most of his money on alcohol and other substances. This led to three trips to rehabilitation before he was finally able to turn things around through sobriety and religion. Baker now works as a summer basketball camp director in Massachusetts. But what could have been?
3 Rasheed Wallace
Rasheed Wallace certainly had a lot of ups and downs in his career. Overall, he was by far a good player who was picked fourth overall by the Washington Bullets in 1995. He moved around to various teams in his 16 total seasons – he was retired from 2010 to 2012 before a brief 21-game stint with the New York Knicks. But Wallace did accumulate four nominations to the All-Star Game and won a NBA Championship in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons.
But Wallace was polarizing with the different issues that surrounded his name. In the 2000-01 season, Wallace had a record of 41 technical fouls. Then there was the 2003 incident where Wallace confronted a referee after he didn’t like some of the calls against him in the game. The incident saw Wallace fake a punch to the referee, which landed him a seven-game suspension. Overall, Wallace could have had a better career if he wasn’t as unreliable and immature as he was.
2 Jay Williams
As mentioned earlier, it can be a little unfair to judge an athlete whose career falters due to injuries. But when it is caused by the athlete making some questionable decisions, the athlete only has himself to blame. In the case of Jay Williams, he had the potential to become a big star in the Chicago Bulls’ rebuilding in 2002. Williams was drafted second overall after three seasons averaging more than 19 points per game at Duke University.
Williams’ one season in the NBA (2002-03) saw an average of 9.5 points per game. But an offseason motorcycle accident led to him being physically unable to return to the game. Not only was he not allowed to ride a motorcycle, according to his contract, he wasn’t licensed in Illinois and was not wearing a helmet. Williams made a poor decision that hurt his career that could have been with a great franchise.
1 Len Bias
Some considered Leonard “Len” Bias to be the greatest athlete never to play professionally. His numbers at the University of Maryland would back that up. In the four years of collegiate basketball, he averaged 16.4 points per game and made 53.6 percent of his shots from the field. His senior season was his best with an average of 23.2 points per game. This led to him being picked No. 2 by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft.
Unfortunately, Bias made a poor judgement call that led to dying from cardiac arrest in his dorm room in Maryland. Medical examiners found traces of cocaine in his system just a few days after being drafted. His friends/roommates would later face charges for possession and the school’s athletic department certainly faced a lot of investigation. But someone with all the talent to be one of the greats didn’t get a chance to showcase his skills in the NBA.