As many people say each year, the NBA draft is a total crapshoot. It is also, however, a major factor in the success of many NBA teams. Hitting on an early first round draft pick can give a team a much needed boost, or create a franchise centerpiece that will define your team’s identity for years to come. A good example of this is the San Antonio Spurs, who took Tim Duncan first overall in the 1997 draft and landed themselves a future Hall of Famer, one of the best talents of his generation who helped the Spurs contend for a championship in every season he spent in the league. An example of this backfiring is the recent misses made by the Sacramento Kings, who have struggled despite having several high picks in recent years. Waiting on a prospect to develop that never does takes time and can set your team back several years, as it has for the Kings.
That’s why, year after year, the draft is a huge deal for NBA fans. Will their team grab their next franchise player? Or will they pick a Greg Oden over a Kevin Durant, like the Portland Trailblazers famously did in 2007.
When it comes to evaluating talent, patience is often preached. Some players get off to a slow start at the next level, but find their game and start tearing up the league (think Isaiah Thomas). Other players start slow and then…just don’t get better, leading to a frustrated team and fan-base that pinned a lot of hope on that player’s shoulders (think Kwame Brown).
With that in mind, this article will look at the last two NBA drafts and call out some players who just haven’t been living up to the expectations placed on top NBA picks. Let’s get right into it…
15. Diamond Stone
It seems like quite a while ago that Diamond Stone was a five-star high school recruit heading to Maryland for college and seemingly destined for greatness. Once a projected lottery pick, a lackluster season with Maryland pushed Stone out of the first round. He was drafted with the tenth pick of the second round in 2016 by the New Orleans Pelicans and traded to the Los Angeles Clippers the same night.
The center has a high ceiling, but questions about his work ethic and speculation that he needed more time in college to develop have equaled a rocky start for his career. Expectations aren’t as high for a second round pick as they are for the other players on this list, but he has had a very difficult time fitting in at the NBA level and will have a hard time getting out of the D-League for the near future.
14. Henry Ellenson
After looking dominant in his only year of college playing for Marquette and nearly averaging a double-double, the Detroit Pistons took Ellenson eighteenth overall last year, hoping to develop the big power forward into a star at the next level. It’s been rough going, however, as Ellenson only played in 19 games on the season and averaged only 3.2 points per game when he did see the floor.
It’s normal for a mid-first round pick to need a bit of time to develop, but Ellenson hasn’t even reached the most pessimistic Detroit fan’s expectations, and has spent much of his NBA career in the D-League.
13. Denzel Valentine
When the Bulls grabbed Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick last year, he was considered a steal. One year later? Not so much. The 6’6″ shooting guard (wasn’t there another notable 6’6″ shooting guard that played for Chicago at some point?) had a patently unimpressive rookie campaign. Valentine spent a lot of time in the D-League, and when he was on the floor for the Bulls, he spent most of his time throwing up bricks from deep. Valentine’s game looks very one-dimensional at this point in his career, and he hasn’t even looked good in his one dimension.
12. Skal Labissiere
It’s no secret that the Sacramento Kings have had some pretty awful drafts. Whether it’s been Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas, Sacramento has been missing more than they’ve been hitting in the first round in recent years. That unfortunate trend looks to be continuing, as they struggle to develop first-round pick Skal Labissiere (who they traded for on draft night last year). Once thought to be one of the top college prospects in the nation and a potential top draft pick, Labissiere has declined sharply since his high school days. He posted a disappointing season at Kentucky, declared for the draft anyway, and has continued to trend sharply downward as a player. His decline has continued to the pro level, as he disappointed in his first year, struggling to see significant minutes and spending a lot of time in the D-League, despite the King’s need for a center following the DeMarcus Cousins trade.
11. Wade Baldwin IV
Drafted 17th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies last year, Wade Baldwin has shown no signs of developing into the point guard of the future the team hoped he could be. An exciting player with high upside, Baldwin was a huge disappointment when he saw the court for the Grizzlies, looking very raw and being completely unable to hold down consistent minutes in the team’s rotation. Baldwin spent a lot of time playing with the Iowa Energy, the Grizzlies’ D-League affiliated team.
Obviously the franchise isn’t going to give up on the first-round pick right away, but Baldwin will need to show some kind of improvement in his sophomore season to prove he has a future in the league.
10. Ben Simmons
While 76ers fans certainly hope the best for Simmons, we may have seen this movie before. Simmons, a promising big man drafted first overall, had to sit out the entire 2016-2017 season due to an injury that took much longer to heal than expected. While obviously different players in different situations can end up having very different careers, the start of Simmons’s definitely draws parallels to mega-bust Greg Oden, who also missed his entire rookie season with an injury he ended up never being able to really shake.
While the injury story seems similar, Simmons is, of course, a very different style of player from Oden. A big point forward that has reportedly grown to almost seven feet tall, Simmons hopes to play a hybrid role, using his skill as a distributor to get his team back on track. It just remains to be seen if he will get back on the court anytime soon, and if yes, if he can stay there.
9. Cameron Payne
Originally drafted 14th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, Payne has struggled during his time in the league and looks like he’ll need to improve significantly if he has any shot at making an impact at the next level. Payne was in and out of the D-League during his first season, and was traded to Chicago this past year. He is hardly the most popular man in Chicago, as many Bulls fans were upset the team gave up fan favorite Taj Gibson as part of the package to acquire the guard.
Payne has continued to be assigned to the D-League during his time in Chicago, and has been struggling with a foot injury. Neither of these things are encouraging signs for a player looking to turn his career around.
8. Jaylen Brown
The Celtics third overall pick in last year’s draft lands about in the middle of this list. He certainly has a ton of bust potential, as a top-three pick that surprised a lot of people. However, he isn’t higher for two reasons: the 2016 class overall has been unimpressive, and out of some mediocre peers Brown still has potential to develop into a star.
However, there is also a good chance Brown will be remembered as just another reason the 2016 class flopped so hard. The 6’7″ forward spent more time as a starter than the Celtics perhaps wanted, being pressed into service due to injury. However, his 6.6 points in 17.2 minutes per game aren’t impressing anybody.
7. Emmanuel Mudiay
When the Nuggets picked up Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, Denver hoped they had found their point guard of the future. Athletic, tall, and promising, Mudiay’s career didn’t get off to a bad start, as he earned an All-NBA Second Team nod following his rookie season. However, his stock has been plummeting since then, as inconsistent play and a crowded backcourt dropped Mudiay to a bench role midway through last season.
His future with the team seems cloudy, given that he lost his starting role to veteran Jameer Nelson and does not inspire confidence after two mediocre seasons. Poor shooting and lots of turnovers have plagued Mudiay, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him out of Denver and struggling to make a roster as a bench player in the near future.
6. Dragan Bender
A white, seven-plus foot, European prospect with a good shooting stroke? You better believe Dragan Bender was getting alllll the Kristaps Porzingis comparisons heading up to the 2016 draft. And, like, Porzingis the year before, Bender came off the board fourth overall, going to the Phoenix Suns. Unlike Kristaps, however, Bender did not have a stellar rookie season. While Porzingis came in and started right away, averaging double-digit points and looking like a player to build a franchise around. Bender only got limited minutes coming off the bench, putting up just 3.4 points per game on some low shooting percentages.
Additionally, ankle surgery forced Bender to miss over a month of playing time, making it harder to get a read on the still-very-young player. However, the early prognosis is certainly not what you’d expect from a top-five pick, especially with the tough bar Porzingis is setting over in New York.
5. Thon Maker
Thon Maker was one of the most talked-about prospects leading up to the 2016 draft. There was his weird age controversy, with reports that the Sudanese-born prospect may older than his listed age of 19. Additionally, the 7’1″ forward was jumping straight from high school to the pro level, a move that has worked for some but means the player is more of a raw prospect. Even when we give him the benefit of the doubt and allow for some development, the future doesn’t look great for Maker. In limited action with the Bucks, Maker only averaged four points, two rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game, far less than you’d expect from a tenth overall pick.
4. Georgios Papagiannis
Like I said before, the Sacramento Kings have been one of the worst-drafting teams in recent memory, with a long list of failed lottery prospects and poor decisions. Georgios Papagiannis unfortunately seems doomed to join that list, a 13th overall pick the Kings acquired during a draft night trade last year.
This season, when their franchise centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins was finally traded to New Orleans, Papagiannis was among many players expected to step up. The massive Greek center, unfortunately, was not able to secure himself consistent minutes and struggled quite a bit. Papagiannis is an old-school pure center in a league that more and more expects big men to be able to stretch the floor to succeed. The 7’2″ 19-year-old spent much of his time buried in the King’s rotation or in the D-league, and does not look like he will be living up to his first-round selection any time soon.
3. Brandon Ingram
Okay, Brandon Ingram has faced a ton of scrutiny, perhaps unfairly so for such a young player. However, when you draw comparisons to Kevin Durant and get drafted second overall to a big market team like the Lakers hungry for a young star to propel the team back to greatness, scrutiny is inevitable. Standing 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan, the Duke star had scouts drooling over his potential heading into last year’s draft. However, his transition to the pro level has been bumpy, to say the least. The slender 19-year-old has shown flashes, but his inconsistent jump shot has hurt him and he does not have the muscle to attack the rim consistently.
9.4 points per game for a second overall pick brought in to be a scorer is not encouraging. It’s not over for Ingram, and a facilitator like Lonzo Ball joining the team, as many are predicting will happen this off-season, could be the boost his career needs. But so far, he has just not shown he can be The Guy in LA.
2. Kris Dunn
When you take a player with four years of college ball under his belt with a top-five pick, like the Minnesota Timberwolves did in last year’s draft, you usually do so because you feel like you have a good handle on the player’s abilities and what he will bring to the organization. Kris Dunn is proving that there are absolutely no sure prospects by…well, being pretty terrible after his first season. Tabbed as one of the safest picks in his class, Dunn barely cracked the ‘Wolves starting line up and averaged a dismal 3.8 points per game, along with just 2.4 assists.
While Dunn has shown potential on the defensive end, for a point guard such as himself at least some proficiency on the offensive end is necessary to succeed. The Timberwolves may want to try him as a shooting guard in their rotation, a role that would allow him to play solid defense and not have to shoulder as much of an offensive role.
1. Justise Winslow
When the Heat selected Duke’s Justise Winslow with the tenth pick in the 2015 draft, the franchise was desperately hoping they’d found a future superstar with the team. Now several years removed from their famous “Big Three” days of Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, Winslow has shown very little to inspire confidence that he can perform anywhere close to the Heat’s former superstar core.
After a mediocre rookie season, Winslow’s future role with the Heat was clouded even more this season after shoulder surgery in January knocked him out for much of the season. The Heat are certainly hoping Winslow will take a step forward, but the current measurables on the 21-year-old aren’t encouraging. Winslow has not shown any of the shooting touch you hope to have from a small forward, and has very little confidence in his jump shot. His abysmal sophomore shooting percentages—35.4 percent from the field and 20 percent from three—do nothing to reassure Heat fans still hoping he’ll become a franchise centerpiece.
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