It’s hard to label the following 15 players a “bust”, considering how hard it is to become an established player in the NBA. Often it takes anywhere between three to five years for most players to get used to the rigorous grind of the professional game, the offensive and defensive systems and all of the off court commitments. Granted there are some who come in right away after their one year in college or after a few years of playing pro overseas as a young Euro’ teenager and establish themselves right away but for most such is not the case.
High expectations surround the dangerous word “potential” and “ceiling” for a lot of these young men. Critics, media and especially couch coaches all figure that if these players aren’t in the starting five by the end of their first season or at least playing a valuable role off the bench, then they’re soon deemed to be the next pickup in a YMCA game. But let’s call a spade a spade, the following players have yet to live up to their potential and their ceiling is starting to creep closer and closer quicker and quicker.
As said, there is still time for the following individuals who have been drafted anywhere within the previous five years to turn themselves into a valued commodity, but if they continue to carry on as they have since entering the league, their current NBA contract could very well be their last.
15. Dante Exum
He was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, ahead of the likes of Zach LaVine, Jordan Clarkson and Nikola Jokic. Now here is where the problem comes. The Jazz had just traded for former Michigan Wolverines star point guard Trey Burke a year prior. So why add Exum? Considering Burke averaged 12 points and nearly six assists in his rookie season, the numbers weren’t horrible, but Utah felt that the Australian point guard was too much of a can’t miss prospect.
The problem was in order for both players to be effective, they needed the ball in their hands. Burke still started half of the season for the Jazz in 2014-15 with slightly lower numbers to his rookie year, but still effective. Exum on the other hand struggled, as most young floor generals do. While he did start half the year, his numbers were far from impressive and later, an injury led to him missing his sophomore season and that has led to him finding his way onto this list.
14. Dragan Bender
Last summer the Suns not only tagged the 19 year old Bender with the fourth pick, but they also traded for Washington Huskies freshman forward Marquese Chriss, a player of similar size and ability.
While it’s still early to make a decision as to whether or not Bender is a bust, his 13 minutes, 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds hardly made a dent in the Suns record. Whereas at least Chriss provided the struggling team with a noticeable 21 minutes, nine points and four rebounds. Add into the fact that unheralded big man Alan Williams made significant strides at the end of his second season and chances are Bender may find himself glued to be bench a while longer. He’s looking like a bust right now that’s for sure.
13. Stanley Johnson
The Detroit Pistons 20 year old small forward is now in his second season, but questions as to whether or not Johnson is living up to expectations are starting to brew. As the eighth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, similar players to Johnson such as Devin Booker and Norman Powell have had far more successful careers to date for their respective teams.
Following a decent rookie year in which the former Arizona Wildcat averaged eight points and four boards while seeing just over 23 minutes of action, Johnson found his floor time cut down during this past season. Chances are Johnson will never average outstanding offensive numbers as that isn’t his niche, but in order to find some time in Stan Van Gundy’s rotation, the ability to contribute on both ends of the floor is vital to staying off this list.
12. Mario Hezonja
Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Devin Booker and even Larry Nance Jr., all of which who were drafted after the fifth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, have made a bigger impact on their team than the Croatian combo guard/forward. Highly anticipated to make a big impact with the Orlando Magic in either his first or second season, Hezonja has come nowhere close to the expectations set before him.
He was projected to not only have a high level of athleticism but also the ability to spread the Magic’s offense and knock down the outside shot. While fans have seen some of the former, it’s the latter that hasn’t been very impressive at all. With shooting percentages of 35% from the field and 29% from downtown, Super Mario saw his minutes cut during his second season, losing time to Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon. While there is still time for the 22 year old to improve, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him in a different uniform before the end of next season.
11. Noah Vonleh
After deciding to leave the Indiana Hoosiers after his freshman season, Vonleh was drafted with the ninth pick in the 2014 draft by the Charlotte Hornets with thoughts that he would be one of the best big men selected. Such has not been the case.
Coming off a first round playoff sweep by the Miami Heat, the Hornets felt that they needed to add some talent to their front line as Marvin Williams and journeyman forward Josh McRoberts weren’t really cutting it. As a 19 year old, Vonleh played the third least amount of total minutes and would eventually be packaged with Gerald Henderson in a trade to the Portland Trailblazers. If a team is willing to give up on a high draft pick after only one year, chances are their value isn’t exactly as high as it was predicted to be, even if it was Michael Jordan who drafted him (see MJ’s failing draft history). After two years in Portland, Vonleh has seen slight improvement but hardly valuable increases in his stats, but nothing that warrants being a top ten pick.
10. Jeremy Lamb
While there wasn’t much in the cupboard in terms of star level talent to choose from (nobody knew that Draymond Green would become a two time All-NBA player), there were still some significant pieces that the Rockets could have added. So what can be said for Lamb’s career to date? Whether it was his first three years playing for the Thunder or the last two as part of the Charlotte Hornets, Lamb has come off the bench for all but thirteen games, has yet to average double digits in points and considering he’s supposed to be a shooter, he has a career average of 32% from downtown.
Add to the fact that last season Lamb hovered around being the tenth best shooter on a team that has Marco Belinelli and Nic Batum in front of him, a career off the bench appears to be his calling.
9. Meyers Leonard
After failing with the Greg Oden experiment, the Portland Trailblazers needed to add some youth to their front line. Although they tried to bridge the gap with veterans like Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman, a young big man was much sought after.
Following two years at Illinois, Leonard declared for the 2012 NBA Draft and was the third big man selected after Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. While his rookie year did not provide the team with anything of value in terms of helping the team reach the playoffs, there were signs of hope for the future. Sadly those hopes have been dashed as Leonard struggled during his second and third season in the league, playing sparingly for the Blazers bench. With the recent addition of Jusuf Nurkic as a primary starter, it doesn’t seem likely that Leonard will pan out for the Blazers future.
8. Thomas Robinson
Six teams in five years. It’s rare that a top five pick has that many zip codes on his resume, but for the former Kansas Jayhawk, such is the case. The silver lining for this is that at least someone wants him and for three of the six teams, they have actually traded for him.
Selected ahead of players such as Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond and Draymond Green, Robinson was thought to be on par if not ahead of his fellow classmen in terms or talent and ability. Still just 25 years old, there is time for Robinson to salvage his career as part of a bench rotation somewhere in the league. After signing a one year contract with the Lakers last season, Robinson showed glimpses of the talent he was projected to be during his time in Kansas and could find himself resigning with the rebuilding franchise next season.
7. Georgios Papagiannis
It’s not really fair to lay blame on Papagiannis for the reason why the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins, but when Sacramento traded for the 7’1″ big man from Greece when they already had a logjam of forwards it drove Boogie nuts. Contributing 5 PPG and 4 RPG in just 22 games played, the rookie hardly made an impact on one of the worst teams in basketball. Instead of keeping a young athletic forward in Marquese Chriss, the Kings brass decided to package their eighth overall selection and bring in the 19 year old project from overseas that could have easily been selected with a second round pick.
Could a lengthy NBA career still be in store for the Greek center, yes, but chances are he’ll be heading back home when his rookie contract expires.
6. Terry Rozier
Sure his numbers saw improvement over the course of his first two seasons in the league, but questions about Rozier’s abilities and place on the Celtics roster are starting to come about. When you consider the makeup of the Boston roster, Rozier has to battle Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart for minutes, something that doesn’t seem to be a winning battle or one that will change anytime soon should the Cs pickup Markelle Fultz in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Now, sure there really wasn’t a lot left in the cupboard when the Celtics selected the former Louisville guard with the 16th pick in the 2015 draft, but that still doesn’t mean that Rozier was ready to declare for the draft after his second season. This is a make it or break it year for the Celtics guard as the team holds a $3 million option on his contract for next season and chances are nobody else is going to sign him for that much based on what he’s done in his first 113 games.
5. Jaylen Brown
As with all the other youngsters on this list, judging Brown based on his early results isn’t necessarily foreshadowing for his future, but it does lead to some questions and concern.
Selected third overall last summer, Brown has all the athletic traits needed to succeed in the NBA, but like a former Celtic rookie (now on his second stint with the team) Gerald Green, Brown didn’t turn heads in his first season. When you consider Brown’s size and skill set, averaging just six points a game and a shade under three rebounds for someone who was selected with a top three pick, words like bust and failure start to float around a little more heavily.
It’s been a while since a Celtics draft pick has done anything impressive in his rookie season and this year was no different. Maybe the 2018 first overall selection will break the trend.
4. Jakob Poeltl
Again, not fair to judge a player based on his first year, but considering that life is often made on first impressions, the big man from Austria did not really leave a lasting impression during his rookie season. The same weaknesses that hindered him in the college game were evident in the pros as his lack of a jumper (at least to midrange) could hurt him in the era of which bigs are now stepping away from the low blocks.
Considering he lost out on minutes to second year big man Lucas Nogueira and fellow rookie Pascal Siakam, it doesn’t seem likely that with his limited offensive abilities and the speed of the game that Poeltl will live up to the expectations of the Pete Newell Big Man Award and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award which both honor the play of the best collegiate big man.
3. Adreian Payne
After being the heart and soul of the Michigan State Spartans for four years, the power forward entered the NBA Draft in 2014 and was selected with the 15th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. Following a rookie season in which he spent more time with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA D-League, Payne would be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While it looked as though Payne had found his niche with the Wolves during a limited 29 games in his first year with the club, his stat line declined for the next two seasons as for the third time in four years played less than ten minutes a game. As a free agent this summer, it doesn’t appear likely that the Timbewolves or any other team for that matter will be passing a contract over to Payne and thus, will probably end up playing overseas.
2. Tyus Jones
After being a one and done wonder for the Duke Blue Devils, the point guard MOP and former McDonald’s All American signed up for the 2015 NBA Draft. While his decision to do so came off of the fact that while playing for Coach K, Jones not only took over the starting point guard position, but also was a focal point for the Blue Devils championship run.
After being selected with a late first round pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jones would quickly find a new home in Minnesota playing behind Ricky Rubio. While there have been expectations that Jones would have seen a bump in minutes and production from his rookie year, such was not the case in his second season. Add to the fact that the T-Wolves drafted Kevin Dunn last year and it seems unlikely that Jones will have the opportunity to live up to the standard he set during his single NCAA season.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
It’s hard to believe that a former Rookie Of The Year would be on a list like this. Other than the Greek Freak, there really wasn’t anything substantial coming from the 2013 draft and as the eleventh overall pick it wasn’t like the Philadelphia 76ers were reaching with high expectations.
Unfortunately for MCW, his professional basketball career has seen a downward trend since his first season. After posting what were career highs of 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG and playing/starting 70 games, Carter’s stats, other than his assists during his sophomore year have all headed south. Currently on his third team in four years, Carter found himself coming off the bench for the Chicago Bulls behind Rajon Rondo. With one more year on his contract, Carter-Williams has to hope that his game will return to that of his rookie year if he hopes to have a lengthier future in the league.
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