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21st Century Failures: The Biggest First Round Bust From The Last 15 NBA Drafts

NBA Drafts are filled with all-time greats, role players, minor chips, nobodies, and enormous busts. Over the last 15 years, there's been a whole lot of busts--some bigger than others of course--but busts nonetheless. Judging a bust can get tricky though. Why is it that Greg Oden was a bust more than Milovan Rakovic--the last pick of the same draft, who never played a game in the NBA? It comes down to expectations and where they were drafted. A number one pick in the draft, who has the same exact career numbers as the number 20 pick in the draft, is a bigger bust because of that number one pick was expected to be better, and the franchise wasted a key franchise asset on that player. It's one of the reasons why Brady will always be better than Manning at this point. Manning was a number one pick. Brady the 199th pick.

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15 Jay Williams (2002)

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The 2002 draft featured Yao Ming as the number one pick. Houston took the 7’6” Yao, and went on to produce some talented Rockets teams. The number two pick in the draft, which the Chicago Bulls owned, did not produce anywhere near the type of player that Houston got.

The Bulls selected Jay Williams, from Duke University. Williams’ career only spanned one season. Playing at point guard, Williams averaged 4.7 assists, and 9.5 points per game. He played just 26.1 minutes per game—dissapointing to say the least.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t good players left to pick. Williams’ Duke teammate, Mike Dunleavy, was picked third by Goldent state and has played over 900 games more than Williams. Nene Hilario, currently playing for the Rockets, was picked by the New York Knicks at number seven. Amar’e Stoudemire, aka Robin to Steve Nash’s Batman in those great PHenoix Suns days, was picked by the Suns at number nine. Tayshaun Prince, out of the University of Kentucky, was picked at 23 by Detroit, and went on to win a Championship with Detroit. Tough man Matt Barnes was picked out of UCLA in the second round.

Disappointing indeed for Chicago.

14 Darko Milicic (2003)

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The 2003 draft is one of the most loaded drafts in NBA history—the upcoming 2017 draft may prove to be as loaded.

LeBron James was taken first overall by Cleveland—he’s only won three championships, and been to the finals six straight times (probably seven). Denver took Carmelo Anthony at number three—he’s only a 10-time All Star. Toronto selected Chris Bosh—two time champ—at four. Miami drafted Dwyane Wade at number five—he’s another three time champion. The 2003 draft provided nine All-Stars in total. In addition to Anthony, Bosh, James and Wade, Josh Howard, Chris Kaman, Kyle Korver, Mo Williams and David West have all been named All Stars.

So who went at number two, picked by the Detroit Pistons? Darko Milicic. Over Milicic 10 year career he averaged 6.0 points and 4.2 boards—not great numbers for a 7-foot Center. He played for Detroit for his first three years, which, other than his one year with Boston, were the worst years of his career. He only averaged 1.6 point per game and 1.2 rebounds a game.

13 Rafael Araujo (2004)

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At first glance it seems 2004 is rather bust free. There is the normal drop off of talent after the first few picks, and a bunch of role players can be found as the top 10 round out. There are gems in the late first round like Al Jefferson, J.R. Smith and Tony Allen. Anderson Varejao and Trevor Arizia can be found in the second round.

While some cynics might pick number one pick, Dwight Howard, as the bust. However, he’s had an excellent career, reaching the finals, putting up stats, making All Star teams. The next three picks Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, and Shaun Livingston all proved to be important players on playoff teams. Even Devin Harris, Josh Childress and Luol Deng made a name for themselves among NBA fans.

Our pick is the next pick, number eight, which Toronto owned. The Raptors selected Rafael Araujo—which is a name that most NBA fans would scratch their heads at. “Who?” Rafael Araujo. He was drafted to play the 5 next to Chris Bosh, but he never amounted to much. It’s always a bad sign when a lottery pick puts up only 3.3 points and 3.1 boards. He was traded before his third season to Utah.

12 Marvin Williams (2005)

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Yikes, there was a big mistake in the 2005 draft. Andrew Bogut was pretty much the concensus number one pick, and for good measure. Bogut could have been as dominant as Dwight—and at times was—if he hadn’t been hit and gotten awkward injuries. Bogut has been injured plenty, but unlike Derrick Rose, he isn’t injury prone, just unlucky with injuries and late in his career it seems to be catching up with him.

But the 2005 draft was overtaken with which point guard should you take first? Deron Williams or Chris Paul? Doesn’t seem like much of a conversation now. Deron Williams had a good career—better than most NBA players, but Chris Paul is probably the third best point guard of all time (behind John Stockton and Steph Curry). Of course Utah made the mistake of taking Williams over Paul, and the rest is history.

But the biggest mistake of the draft was made by the Atlanta Hawks, who could have taken either Williams or Paul, but passed on both. The Hawks took Marvin Williams. Out of those top four picks (Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul) Marvin Williams has the worst career numbers. He’s become a role player at this point in his career. In his even years with Atlanta—which he saw some post season success—he averaged 11.4 ppg. Not too bad—just not second pick worthy.

11 Adam Morrison (2006)

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It kinda feels like Adam Morrison was so displeased with his own NBA performance that he hired some voodoo witch in North Carolina and switched bodies with a kid by the name of Steven Adams. I bet Charlotte would’ve loved to pick a player like Steven Adams in 2006.

The 2006 draft wasn’t forgiving to many franchises. Toronto picked Andrea Bargnani with the first pick, and though he’s been a serviceable player, he wasn’t Olajuwon, or James, or Bird. He’s been a role player for ten years. The best player of the draft was taken by Chicago at number two. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge was picked by the Bulls, but traded the same day to Portland for Viktor Khryapa and Tyrus Thomas—not a good trade for the Bulls.

Adam Morrison was taken third by Charlotte. Picked before Brandon Roy, Randy Foye, Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, Ronnie Brewer, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap—all of whom had better careers than Morrison. Morrison had an okay rookie year—averaging 11.8 points over 29.8 minutes per game. He missed the next entire season due to a knee injury and was never the same player. Though, he did win two rings with the Lakers in 08 and 09—frustrating.

10 Greg Oden (2007)

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What was the big debate for 2007? Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Teams agonized over which player would be better for their franchise. Boston had the worst record that year, and whispers surrounded Massachusetts that Ainge would be taking Durant. But Boston was leapfrogged by four teams, ended up with the number five pick, and took Jeff Green—who they traded to Seattle for Ray Allen, starting a chain of events which landed Garnett in Boston and a championship at the end of the year in the TD Garden.

Portland ended up with the number one pick in the draft and they should have taken Durant. There’s something about hindsight and the number 20, to do with that though. Portland selected Greg Oden—they didn’t even need to take Oden or Durant to get a franchise player. They could’ve gone with Al Horford or Oden’ collegiate teammate Mike Conley.

Oden played two seasons with Portland, he made it into 61 games in his first season, and just 21 the next. Foot injuries hindered his career. He showed flashes of being a Shaq type player, but never could stay healthy. He made a 23 game comeback in 2013-14.

9 Joe Alexander (2008)

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2008 is another draft that was pretty good. A lot of good players came from here—Russell Westbrook and pre-injury Derrick Rose being the most prominent. It’s still amazing that Westbrook was taken fourth instead of second. Derrick Rose was evidently going to be the first, but Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo going second the third is (in the word’s of Stephen A.) a crime!

The first seven players in the draft were Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, perennial All Star Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari, and Eric Gordon. Pick nine through 14 were D.J Augustin, Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson and Brandon Rush—all of whom have been serviceable players (Brook Lopez even more so). Robin Lopez, JaVale McGee, Courtney Lee, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Geroge Hill, and DeAndre Jordan were tall taken long after our 2008 bust.

With the number eight pick in the draft (David Stern’s commissioner ghost says) the Milwaukee Bucks select someone NBA fans cannot remember: Joe Alexander.

Alexander was out of West Virginia University—and he’s probably the second most famous alumni. Who is the first? The Logo! Jerry West. Alexander only played two seasons. He averaged just under 5.0 points a game in his first season. But the Bucks traded him to Chicago, where he played eight games, averaged 3.6 minutes a measly half a point.

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8 Hasheem Thabeet (2009)

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He was supposed to be the next great shot blocker. Taken second overall, Hasheem Thabeet was pegged to be the next great center of Memphis—only that ended up being Marc Gasol, who the Grizzles had traded for when they shipped his brother Pau to the Lakers.

The Grizzles were probably upset they didn’t get to draft Blake Griffin, who the Clippers took at number one—but it turns out they didn’t need Griffin if they wanted an MVP candidate or superstar. Jrue Holiday at number 17 would have been a better pick, or even Taj Gibson at 26. They could’ve taken a legit scorer from USC in DeMar DeRozan, who went to Toronto at number nine. Tyreke Evans—rookie of the year was selected fourth by Sacramento. MVP candidate James Harden, out of Arizona State University was selected by OKC just after Thabeet. Of course, Memphis probably should have taken Steph Curry, who went to Golden State at number seven. Though how Minnesota took two point guards with pick five and six, and still didn’t take Curry is beyond me.

Thabeet played only two seasons with Memphis. He averaged 2.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game—which is close to his career numbers over nine seasons.

7 Ekpe Udoh (2010)

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At this point Golden State was in the midst of picking draft picks really well. But boy did they miss in the 2010 draft. They had no shot at getting John Wall—and having just picked Curry they shouldn’t and/or wouldn’t have. Evan Turner went number two, followed by Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnon and DeMarcus Cousins—think about it. If Sacramento had taken Paul George or Gordon Hayward instead the Warriors could’ve had Cousins, Curry, Thompson, Green—though most likely the whole thing would have blown up and Curry would be killing it on the Hornets right now.

At number six the Warriors took Ekpe Udoh, who is already out of the league. The next four picks were: Greg Monro, Al-Faroug Aminu, Gordon Hayward and Paul George. All of these players have had way better careers than Udoh, especially Hayward and George, who are All Stars and deserve to be All NBA players this season (probably Hayward more than George).

Udoh played a season and a half before Golden State shipped him out of…well not Boston, but Oakland. He averaged 4.6 points per game and 3.4 rebounds with the Dubs. The good news is that the Warriors packaged him with Mota Ellis and Kwame Brown to get Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson—an excellent trade for the Warriors.

6 Jan Vesely (2011)

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There are both a lot of good and a lot of bad players in the 2011 draft. Kyrie Irving was taken first, and has become a Super Star Champion. Derrick Williams was taken second and is a find 10th man. Enes Kanter is a role player who sometimes is benched in the post season for OKC. Tristan Thompson is a Champion center for the Cavs. Jonas Valanciunas is a hot and cold starter for the Raptors. Bismack Biyombo was bad, then okay. Brandon Knight is okay. Kemba Walker is a legit All Star. Jimmer Fredette was awful. Klay Thompson is a Champion Super Star. You get the point. Oh, did I mention the third best player in the league, Kawhi Leonard was taken 15th by Indiana then traded to San Antonio. (Jimmy Butler at 30 by Chicago).

Jan Vesely was taken at number six by the Washington Wizards. This was a misfire if ever there was one. Vesely, a 6’11” power forward out of the Czech Republic never contributed to the Wizards—who have consequently never found THE power forward for the team. Vesely played just three seasons for the Wizards, averaging 3.5 points per game.

5 Thomas Robinson (2012)

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2012 provided excellent players for the NBA. Anthony Davis was selected first by the then Hornets. He’s gone on to be one of the premier young players in the NBA (though with the potential to be this generations next KG). Michael Kdd-Gilchrist is a superb defender. Bradley Beal is the second of the NBA’s second best backcourt. Dion Waiters, for those on Waiters island, has become a key player for the Miami Heat. Damian Lillard could be considered this draft’s best player, due to Davis’s frequent injuries. Harrison Barnes won a championship as the third option on the Warriors. Andre Drummond is one of the best centers. Austin Rivers has become an incredible defender. Jae Crowder and Draymond Green were both taken in the second round! Amazing.

This makes the selection of Thomas Robinson pretty bad. Having already taken a big man in DeMarcus Cousins not that long before, the Kings were attempting to pair Robinson next to Cousins in a twin tower lineup (meanwhile the league is shifting to small ball). Robinson didn’t even make it through his first season with Sacramento. The fifth pick in the draft was traded to Houston, having averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 boards.

4 Anthony Bennett (2013)

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“Whoa!” are the infamous draft coverage words of Bill Simmons. That was the general reaction too when the Cleveland Caveliers took Anthony Bennett as the number one overall pick. The pick looks especially bad when the next six picks have turned out to be way better than Bennett ever was.

Victor Oladipo, running mate of Westbrook on OKC, was taken second by Orlando. Otto Porter, the starting small forward of the Wizards current playoff team, was taken third by DC. Cody Zeller, a good role player on Charlotte, was taken by the Hornets at number four. Picked at five was Alex Len, an up and coming center on Pheonix (picked by the Suns). And Nerlens Noel—who most pundits thought would be drafted number one—was selected by the Hornets and immediately traded to the Sixers, who have now traded him to Dallas.

Kntavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroits starting shooting guard, C.J. McCollum and, best player of the draft, Giannis Antetokounmp were all taken after Anthony Bennett.

Bennett is almost at Greg Oden type bust level. Though this 2013 draft was disliked by scouts more than it was in 2007, Anthony’s numbers are still abysmal. Bennett averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds with the Cavs before being traded in the package for Kevin Love.

3 Joel Embiid (2013)

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This is a tough one, and hopefully something that will change in the coming years. So far though, the third pick in the draft, Joel Embiid, has been injured more than he has played.

Coming into the draft there were pig questions as to who would go first, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid. There were some mentions of Jabari Parker in that group too, but Wiggins and Embiid seemed to be the front runners. Then Embiid got injured, and he fell to the third pick.

Embiid has missed his first two seasons due to foot injuries—creating scary flashbacks to big men with foot injuries: Yao Ming, Shaq, and of course Greg Oden. He played 31 games this season on a minutes restriction and scored 20.2 ppg and 7.8 rebounds. Not bad. His per 36 was 28.7 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. Not bad, again.

Let’s hope he gets back to being healthy.

2 Cameron Payne (2015)

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Were in the territory of it’s too early to tell. But there are some players who stand out from the 2015 draft.

While Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis—the first four picks in the draft—have all found different levels of success, many of the players from this draft have not. Pick number five, Mario Hezonja, selected by Orlando has seen his career numbers decline from his rookie season. Stanley Johnson has experiences the same problem—and neither player, by any means put up good stats in their first season.

Cameron Payne stands out among the crowd though. A promising prospect, Payne was selected at 14 by OKC. Playing point guard, he didn’t make much of a difference behind Russell Westbrook. But then the Thunder traded him this season. He went to the Bulls, and many thought—especially with the Rondo debacle—that he’d immediately contribute to a non-playoff bound Bulls roster. Except the Bulls did make it to the playoffs and Payne didn’t play at all. Payne didn’t see the floor except for four minutes during the entire six game series against the Celtics. Not a good sign.

1 Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram (2016)

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This is even harder to pick from than the 2015 draft. Honestly, the whole group deserves an incomplete, but since we have to pick something, the committee (of one) is going with a toss up between the top two picks. While Buddy Hield (Pelicans pick at six) and Kris Dunn (Timberwolves pick at five) were both disappointing—and Dragon Bender (Pheonix pick at 4) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics pick at 3) both contributed in ways you’d expect—it comes down to the top two picks to be the biggest busts so far.

Ben Simmons went to college only to play basketball, and the minute the basketball season was over, he left LSU. Simmons was drafted number one by the 76ers. He prepared himself for the NBA and injured his foot, sidelining him for the entire season. This qualifies him for bust status—though hopefully he’ll go on to be healthy and productive, along with Embiid, and the 76ers will win sometime next decade.

Meanwhile Brandon Ingram, who was picked by the Lakers at number two, has been a major disappointment this season. This is largely due to too high of expectations thrust upon him—with comparisons to Kevin Durant being thrown his way. Yet he was expected to contribute meaningfully immediately.

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