The first ten picks in any draft are sacred, especially to the fan bases of the teams with those picks. They are initially a reminder of awful season that your team had the year before, but they provide hope that the hard times will soon be at an end. However, for every Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant that is found in the draft, there is a Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, or Sam Bowie.
In this article, we look at the 15 biggest busts from top-10 picks since 2009. For those wondering, 2009 is the draft that Steph Curry was drafted seventh in, so I wanted to help give perspective at the mistakes these GMs have made. Some of the busts are made more glaring based on circumstance; Jonny Flynn was a point guard selected ahead of Steph Curry, while others have suffered from being “too good” in college, like Jimmer Fredette. One thing is certain, if given the chance to redo these drafts, the teams that selected these players would make very different decisions.
Leave any comments that you have at the bottom to spark discussion and I would be happy to continue this conversation.
Here we go, the 15 worst top 10 picks from 2009. We will work our way up to the worst of all time, starting with 15,and going down until we hit one.
15 Brandon Knight, PG/SG: #8 Pick From 2011, Detroit Pistons
Now some of you might be wondering, “Why is Brandon Knight on this list? “ It’s true, an examination of Knight’s statistics, both yearly and over his career, would suggest he shouldn’t be on this list. However, this ranking is based more on his pride, which seems to be busted on a yearly basis. Knight consistently finds himself on the wrong side of every major highlight that happens in basketball. Whether it is getting crossed so bad he hits the floor and slides ten feet, gets dunked on by then-AARP member Kobe Bryant, or being put down by DeAndre Jordan, Knight finds himself on his back, looking up, wondering what happened more than any player in the league. Knight is starting to carve out a nice career for himself, but if he continues to be on the receiving end of these highlights, he may leave the league out of pure shame.
Disclaimer: If you don't know the sufferings of Brandon Knight, when you are done with the article, check out Brandon Knight is the Unluckiest Player video.
14 Dion Waiters, SG: #4 pick from 2012, Cleveland Cavaliers
Again you might be wondering why Dion Waiters is on this list based on his stats. Since coming out of Syracuse, Waiters has averaged 12.8 points per game and shot 41% from the field, but like Knight, this ranking is based partly on basketball and partly on things not entirely in his control.
First, we have to look back at the 2012 NBA draft and mention the guys that were taken right after him, which included a run of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond. To make matters worse, the second round of the draft also produced Draymond Green and Jae Crowder. Now again, it’s not his fault that Cleveland took him over them, but when you compare Waiters to the guys in those groupings, he is underwhelming.
Fast-forward four years and Waiters hit free agency in this “Make it Rain” period of free agency. While guys like Timofey Mozgov got $64 million, Austin Rivers, the 10th pick in 2012, got $35 million, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas got 2 years, $6 million, Waiters managed to pull a one year, $2.9 million deal, with a player option for a second year. Not quite the payday that a #4 overall pick expected to get.
Since his rookie year, when he started 48 games, Waiters hasn’t started more than 25 games in a season and will be on his third team in five years after OKC rescinded the qualifying offer they gave to him in the beginning of free agency. Waiters will now have the almost impossible task of trying to make Miami Heat fans forget about Dwyane Wade, on a Heat team that is extremely mediocre, which will likely be too much for him to handle.
13 Austin Rivers, SG: #10 Pick From 2012, New Orleans Pelicans
Austin Rivers is a hard player to figure out because every year that it seems like he is ready to turn the corner and take that next step; he regresses, so we need to see how he handles his new payday. I’m sure the playoffs are fresh in everyone’s mind and he had some impressive performances against the Thunder, but that is far from his norm and I wouldn’t expect those games to be a trend.
Rivers has become a defensive specialist in the league, but that’s not what the Pelicans were hoping for when they drafted him from Duke with the #10 pick. Rivers averages over 20 minutes of playing time for his career, yet is averaging 7.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists a game, not the numbers you would expect from a ball handling guard. The Pelicans traded Rivers in the middle of his third year and after spending three days in Boston, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, where his father, Doc Rivers, is the coach and President of the team. Rivers did have his best scoring season last year coming off the bench for the Clippers, but again, this is the #10 pick, he should be making an impact, not sitting on the bench as a role player on the team his dad coaches.
12 Wesley Johnson, SF: #4 Pick From 2010, Minnesota Timberwolves
This is the second of three Syracuse Orange players on this list, something that hurts me as a life-long fan of the Orange. Johnson came out of college as a Consensus first-team All-American and Big East Player of the Year, after averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Because of Johnson’s length, athleticism, and ability to play shooting guard or small forward, the Timberwolves selected Johnson with the #4 pick in 2010. Johnson had a relatively productive rookie year, being named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team after averaging 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. However, since his rookie year, Johnson has not improved and has found himself coming off the bench for teams like the Clippers, and even the miserable 2014-2015 Lakers. Unfortunately for Johnson, he was drafted right before DeMarcus Cousins, as well as Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, and Hassan Whiteside, so it makes Johnson’s role as a bench player look that much worse.
11 Jordan Hill, PF/C: #8 Pick From 2009, New York Knicks
There seems to be a running theme in this section of players; guys who are carving out average or below NBA careers, but circumstances make them look much worse. Coming out of Arizona, many people tabbed Hill to be a top 5 pick after starting all 34 games for the Wildcats that year and averaging 18.3 points and 11 rebounds per game. Heading into the draft, it was no secret that the New York Knicks wanted an undersized guard who was a four year started at Davidson named Stephen Curry, but when Curry was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, the Knicks decided to select Hill. What makes matters worse is that after the Knicks drafted Hill, Toronto drafted a shooting guard from USC by the name of DeMar DeRozan, who has since become part of the second-best back court in the league.
Hill didn’t even last his entire rookie season with the Knicks, who traded him at the 2010 trade deadline in a three-team deal that brought the Knicks back the remnants of Tracy McGrady. Hill didn’t start a single game his rookie season and only 20 games in his first five years in the league. Hill has averaged over 10 points per game only once in his career and will be on his fifth team since being drafted when he suits up for Minnesota this year.
10 Dante Exum, PG: #5 Pick From 2014, Utah Jazz
Dante Exum is a difficult player to gauge because he tore his ACL before last season and didn’t play in a single game in 2015-2016. Exum comes from an athletic family and has the pedigree to be a successful player; his father Cecil played college basketball at the University of North Carolina and was on the 1982 National Championship team, a team that had two future hall of famers on it (Michael Jordan and James Worthy). Exum was built extremely similar to the PG that had won the Rookie of the Year the year before, Michael Carter-Williams, which intrigued many GMs, but because he didn’t play college basketball, some were skeptical if his talents could translate. At 6’6" and 190 pounds, Exum was the point guard for the new age, a tall, long playmaker who could score, but was well rounded in all areas of the game, and happened to fall into a draft bereft of talented point guards.
In his rookie year, Exum started in half of the games, splitting time with Trey Burke, and showed flashes of what intrigued so many GM’, averaging 4.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 0.5 steals a game. However, because Exum tore his ACL, no one can be sure if he will be able to come back and continue to improve his game. Indications are that the Jazz believe that not only can/will Exum come back healthy, but he will be a major contributor to the team because they picked up his third-year option and traded Trey Burke after challenging for the 8th seed in the Western Conference last year.
9 Thomas Robinson, PF: #5 Pick From 2012, Sacramento Kings
Thomas Robinson had a very successful college career and peaked at just the right time, averaging 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game in his junior year, a stat line that not only won him Big 12 Player of the Year, but had GMs salivating over the all around potential that he could bring (think LeBron or Atlanta Josh Smith).
However, his four years in the league have now made people wonder what they were thinking. Robinson has been on five teams in his four years in the league and hasn’t spent more than a year and a half on any team that he had played for. Robinson was able to put together a nice streak of four straight double-doubles for the Nets, but in his career, he has averaged 4.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game, not quite the well-rounded stat lines he put up in college. To be fair to Robinson, there weren’t many good power forwards coming out in 2012 after Anthony Davis, but second round steals like Jae Crowder as well as future All-Stars Andre Drummond, Damien Lillard, and Draymond Green were all drafted after Robinson.
8 Noah Vonleh, PF: #9 pick from 2014, Charlotte Hornets
Noah Vonleh is another player on this list where it might be too early to label him a bust, as he's had a year cut extremely short by injury problems. However, after playing in just 25 games, Charlotte decided they had seen enough and traded him to Portland in a package that brought back Nicolas Batum. Last year for the Trail Blazers, Vonleh started in 56 games and was only able to average 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds as the starting power forward, on a team that no longer had Robin Lopez or LaMarcus Aldridge to take rebounds from him. The Portland front office is saying all the right things going into this year, but with the fact that the Blazers will be carried by their back court, it seems unlikely that Vonleh will ever become the player that he was drafted to be.
As a comparison, the Spurs were able to draft Kyle Anderson at the end of the first round and Cory Jefferson at the end of the second round of that draft, both of whom have more impressive stat lines than Vonleh.
7 Joel Embiid, C: #3 Pick From 2014, Philadelphia 76ers
Many people will argue that Joel Embiid should fall in the top three of this list, if not #1 because he has yet to play a single game for the 76ers, in the NBA or in the D-League. However, it is unfair for us to call him a bust because he has been kept off the court due to serious medical issues. If you have been on Twitter or watching ESPN this summer, Embiid looks like he is back in shape and has been showing off his post moves and agility on various Vines and videos (granted he is posting up a guy who can’t be more than 5’8"). If Embiid can get on the court for the 76ers, he could make an immediate impact and with Jahlil Okafor, they could form one of the biggest and most formidable big men combinations currently in the league.
6 Jimmer Fredette, SG: #10 Pick From 2011, Milwaukee Bucks
If you didn’t get to see Jimmer Fredette play in college, you really missed out. When he played for BYU, he redefined what range was, doing to college basketball defenders what Steph is currently doing to NBA defenders. He would dribble the ball up or receive it on a pass and just chuck a shot up from five to ten feet behind the three-point line. He set 11 BYU records and 6 Mountain West Conference records in his four years, winning the 2011 Player of the Year after averaging 28.9 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game.
However, after being traded on draft night to Sacramento, Jimmer was never able to live up to the expectations that he created for himself based on his college play. In his five years in the league, Jimmer only started in seven games, averaging 6.0 points, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 rebound per game; not the output that was expected from “Jimmermania.” To make matters worse, Golden State took a shooting guard from Washington State by the name of Klay Thompson with the very next pick and four picks later, Indiana drafted a small forward from San Diego State by the name of Kawhi Leonard. Though Jimmer tried to catch on with the Knicks last year, he was ultimately unsuccessful and he signed with Chinese Basketball Association this offseason, meaning that we may have seen the last of Jimmermania.
5 Ekpe Udoh, PF/C: #6 Pick From 2010, Golden State Warriors
One year after drafting Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors found themselves in the lottery again and, after grabbing a guard the previous year, decided to select a big man, and chose Udoh, the 6’10" power forward out of Baylor. Again, circumstance will help increase Udoh’s bust status, seeing as he was drafted between fellow big men DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe, both of whom are currently max players in the league. Udoh was an extremely limited contributor to the Warriors and will be most fondly remembered by that fan base for being part of the trade that brought Andrew Bogut over.
In his five-year career, Udoh averaged 4.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, not exactly the numbers that scream top-10 pick. Udoh is currently out of the NBA, playing for the Turkish Club Fenerbahce in the European league and it’s safe to say that no NBA teams are knocking down his door to get him to return to the league.
4 Jonny Flynn, PG: #6 Pick From 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves
Finally we find the third and final former Syracuse Orange player on this list. If you watched the 2009 draft, you probably scratched your head when Minnesota drafted Jonny Flynn, especially since they had just drafted Spanish phenom Ricky Rubio with the pick right before. Granted Rubio ended up spending two years in Spain, but drafting two point guards back to back, with more proven guards like Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan still on the board, made that Timberwolves front office look like one of the worst in major sports history.
However, Flynn made the Timberwolves front office look like geniuses his rookie season, starting in 81 games and averaging 13.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game, landing him on the All-Rookie 2nd team. However, Flynn had hip surgery in the 2010 offseason and never was the same player and was traded twice in two years. After his strong rookie season, Flynn would start in only nine more games and average 5.0 points and 3.4 assists per game. Flynn signed with Detroit in 2012 but was waived before ever appearing in a game with the team and bounced around the summer league before taking his “talents” to Australia. Flynn played in both the Chinese Basketball Association and Serie A basketball (Italy) but played with his teams for less than a month each after suffering injuries.
3 Jan Vesely, PF: #6 Pick From 2011, Washington Wizards
Ever since Dirk Nowitzki came over with his 7-foot frame and become the best shooting big man and best European player the game has ever seen, teams have been pouring picks into unproven and project European players hoping that they can find the next Dirk. This was the case for the Wizards, who took Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic in 2011, a guy who had been compared to Dirk and Andrei Kirilenko because of his speed and ability to run the floor. However, Washington’s coach at the time, Flip Saunders wasn’t impressed with the Czech product and gave him little playing time. When Saunders was fired, Vesely started to play more and more importantly shoot more, and ended up averaging 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game during his rookie season.
However, in the next two years. he only started five games, averaged 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds, and shot an abysmal 30% from the free throw line. Vesely would be traded to Denver, where he would play in only 21 games before leaving the NBA at the end of the 2013-2014 season. Despite being the #6 pick, Vesely was out of the league in three years and is now playing in the Euroleague.
2 Hasheem Thabeet, C: #2 Pick From 2009, Memphis Grizzlies
Most NBA experts and analysts saw this one coming. Hasheem Thabeet, a 7’3" rim-protector from Tanzania, was an absolute force in the paint for UConn in college. As a freshman he averaged 3.8 blocks per game, and had 10 blocks in a game, tying a UConn record. However, as you watched him, you noticed his offensive game was limited, if not non-existent. Thabeet averaged a double-double in his final season at UConn, won National Defensive Player of the Year, and led UConn to the Final Four, tricking NBA GMs into thinking that he could continue to polish his offensive game while being a defensive force and rim-protector, whose size couldn’t be matched in the NBA.
Sadly, it quickly went downhill from there. Thabeet was selected second overall ahead of fellow first-rounder picks James Harden, Steph Curry, and DeMar DeRozan, as well as quality second round picks like Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Patrick Beverley. While that isn’t necessarily Thabeet’s fault, his lack of offensive development, which GMs were concerned about was and he bounced around to six different teams before finding himself in the D-League, with Grand Rapids. Thabeet averaged 2.2 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game, far from what was expected from the 7’3" center when Memphis drafted him.
1 Anthony Bennett, PF: #1 Pick from 2013, Cleveland Cavaliers
This is a no-brainer. Anthony Bennett easily outdoes Greg Oden as the worst #1 pick of all time from the NBA and ranks right up there with JaMarcus Russell as the worst #1 pick, in any sport, of all time. Bennett didn’t start a single game his rookie year, which is the first time that has ever happened to a #1 pick in the NBA, save for injuries (Greg Oden/Blake Griffin). Studying and reviewing that draft and the prospects, you could have predicted that Bennett wasn’t going to live up to the #1 pick, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad. In his entire NBA career, Bennett has started three more games than I have and I stopped playing basketball in high school. Bennett was the star for a UNLV that went 25-10 that year, reviving memories of Tark’s UNLV teams, but then lost to then 12-seeded California in the NCAA tournament. There was much speculation leading up to the 2013 draft as to who the #1 pick would be and despite Bennett getting shoulder surgery in May of that year, the Cavs selected him #1, making him the first Canadian player ever drafted #1 overall. Immediately, the Cavs realized the mistake they had made, when it took Bennett 33 games to record his first double-digit point game, which was three times longer than any other #1 overall pick. To put this into perspective, about 60% of #1 overall picks score double digits in their first game.
Cleveland shipped him to Minnesota with Andrew Wiggins in the trade that ended up bringing Kevin Love to Cleveland, where Bennett got the only three starts of his career. Bennett was waived from Minnesota and signed with his hometown Toronto Raptors, only to be demoted to the D-League, becoming the first ever #1 pick to play in the D-League. Though Toronto would bring him back up to the pros, he would be demoted another three times that year and was eventually waived due to a perceived lack of effort and love for the game. Though Bennett signed with the Nets this offseason, it is unlikely that he will see the court, even for a team in a rebuild like the Nets. For his career, Bennett has averaged 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game as the #1 overall pick in a draft that included Victor Oladipo, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (The Greek Freak). Bennett will go down as one of, if not the worst #1 pick in NBA history, and the biggest bust on this list.