It's that time of year again. A time when mock drafts abound and fans of lottery teams eagerly consume scouting reports, injury histories and highlight reels on top prospects. Indeed, the NBA Draft will forever offer hope for frustrated fanbases of lowly clubs, all the while charting the future course of franchises for the better or worse. As we get set for a 2018 edition featuring the likes of Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton, Duke power forward Marvin Bagley and Luka Doncic, the token international man of mystery, this always seems like a good time to rehash the good and bad of the past.
Now, any NBA fan can rhyme off a list of the biggest draft busts to ever hit the league. But do they even matter anymore? Infamous names like LaRue Martin and Sam Bowie are from a different era, but even more recent busts like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic and Greg Oden aren't terribly relevant to today's NBA, with them being out of the league and their teams having long since moved on. In classic, "what have you done for me, lately?"' fashion, a club's current position within the NBA hierarchy will only be influenced by recent activity.
With that in mind, we've taken a look at the past five years of drafting from all 30 clubs to determine the worst move made. Granted, this was an easier exercise for some teams than others, but each franchise had at least one draft decision that they'd ideally wish to take back in hindsight. The fun in this exercise, then, is that there's really no surefire formula for draft success, so team's mistakes come in all sorts of forms. Sometimes, the wrong player is chosen when a better fit continues to sit on the board. Other times, a trade involving draft picks quickly alters the fortunes of not one but two of the league's 30 teams. While fans across the league harbor dreams of a franchise-changing superstar falling into their laps, let this list serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that there remain a lot of ways to screw this draft thing up.
30 Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne (No. 15, 2014)
The Atlanta Hawks essentially saw their lottery luck even out heading into a critical 2018 NBA Draft for the franchise. After losing a coin flip to the Dallas Mavericks for the third-best lottery between two teams that finished the season with matching 24-58 records, the Hawks got back into the No. 3 spot thanks to favorable ping pong balls. That third overall pick will be a critical asset for a club that, frankly, doesn't have much to hang their hat on right now outside of promising rookie big man John Collins. Yes, 10 straight playoff years including a 60-win campaign will do that, but there were certainly still ways for management to avoid leaving the cupboard so bare.
Even putting aside the fact that Atlanta lost linchpins Al Horford and Paul Millsap for nothing, two straight No. 15 overall picks in 2014 and 2015 represented opportunities squandered. The trade of Kelly Oubre in 2015 looks damaging in hindsight, but not as bad as drafting Adreian Payne the year prior. The Michigan State power forward made for a heartwarming story thanks to his friendship with eight-year-old cancer patient Lacey Holsworth. However, his short, injury-marred NBA career wasn't quite so magical, only three games of which came in the ATL. To make matters worse, the selection of Payne came with guys like Jusuf Nurkic, Clint Capela and Nikola Jokic still on the board. The Hawks still have hopes of getting something out of the pick, as they also own the 19th overall pick this year thanks to a trade that sent Payne to Minnesota.
29 Boston Celtics: Guerschon Yabusele (No. 16, 2016)
After a 48-win 2015-16 season, the Boston Celtics benefited from some Danny Ainge trade wizardry to somehow land the third, 16th and 23rd picks in the 2016 NBA Draft. Taking Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick looks like a home run, but the later first round selections haven't panned out nearly as well. Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic were taken with the 16th and 23rd selections, respectively, with the Celts having just Yabusele's 33 games to show for it. The French power forward has spent most of his tenure in the G-League and could still be a player in Beantown, while Zizic was part of the Kyrie Irving trade.
Boston would surely be content with their 2016 draft lot today, even if they went just 1-for-3. So why is this considered their biggest draft mistake of the past five years? Well, consider the alternatives they could have picked from instead. 2013 first rounder Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira became Kelly Olynyk, 2014 brought Marcus Smart into the fold, 2015 saw the Celts take Terry Rozier and, of course, 2017 may well have given Ainge the draft's best player (Jayson Tatum) and a future first rounder. In short, don't mess with draftin' Danny.
28 Brooklyn Nets: Trading Rights To Kyle Kuzma (No. 27, 2017)
Since taking the reins in the front office of the hapless Brooklyn Nets as GM back in 2016, Sean Marks has done a nice job of buying his way into the first round to compensate for being left with an utter lack of draft assets. In fact, the Nets actually had two - albeit late - first rounders in the 2017 NBA Draft. With the first of the two, Brooklyn nabbed promising center Jarrett Allen with the No. 22 pick, acquired from Washington for Bojan Bogdanovich. Their second pick would look even better today - if they hadn't traded it away.
You can't blame Marks for jumping at the chance to add point guard D'Angelo Russell.
After all, he was just two years removed from being the No. 2 over-all pick. Neither dealing franchise power forward Brook Lopez or assuming the contract of Timofey Mozgov seemed too prohibitive a cost. But trading the No. 27 pick that turned out to be emerging Lakers star Kyle Kuzma? Russell played well upon returning from knee surgery, but still didn't quite match the 16.1 points of Kuzma in his rookie campaign. This deal looks like a loss for Brooklyn even without taking into consideration the $32 million still owed to Mozgov.
27 Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk (No. 11, 2017)
Okay, let's get a little controversial here. I get that it seems unfair to rip on the Charlotte Hornets' selection of Malik Monk last summer after just one so-so season, especially given that the franchise doesn't exactly have a great recent track record of drafting impact players. Dating back to selecting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall in 2012, none of Cody Zeller (No. 4, 2013), Noah Vonleh (No. 9, 2014) or Frank Kaminsky (No. 9, 2015) have really worked out as the Hornets would have hoped. They have been trying to become a competitor in the league and it isn't working very well.
So why does Monk, a Kentucky alum who averaged just 6.7 points on 36% shooting in his rookie season, stand as the worst? While it's hard to point to too much noteworthy talent that Charlotte whiffed on with previous first round picks (that would have been realistic in their draft slot, anyway), a clear miss from last year's draft has already emerged. Donovan Mitchell was taken two spots after the Hornets took Monk and has emerged as the jewel of the draft class. How close was Charlotte to securing his services? Mitchell has actually said that he thought he would be a Hornet going into the draft.
26 Chicago Bulls: Trading Rights To Jusuf Nurkic And Gary Harris (No. 16 and 19, 2014)
The 2018 NBA Draft will be a big one for the Chicago Bulls. They hold the No. 7 pick, the club's first top 10 selection since they took Derrick Rose first overall in 2008 and one that stands as a major key to the future of the franchise. Whomever they choose will serve alongside Lauri Markkanen, a 2017 top 10 selection acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine as the future bedrock for the club. As it stands, however, the group doesn't exactly have a massive collective ceiling, largely because GM Gar Forman hasn't fared well in recent drafts.
Recent picks like Valentine, Justin Patton and Bobby Portis simply haven't raced out of the gate in the way that other more promising young players have. In fact, you could make the argument that the best first round picks from Chicago since 2013 have been Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, both taken in the 2014 draft. That same night, however, the two prospects were packaged up to acquire the No. 11 pick, Doug McDermott. McDermott is already on his third team since leaving the Bulls. Meanwhile, Nurkic started 79 games and nearly averaged a double-double for the 49-win Blazers and Harris was second-leading scorer on a Denver Nuggets team that fell one game short of the postseason.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett (No. 1, 2013)
Major draft misses can set a franchise back years - or they can lead to an NBA championship within three seasons. The infamous selection of Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in 2013 would undoubtedly find a place alongside Greg Oden, Kwame Brown and Sam Bowie as one of the biggest draft blunders of all-time, were it not for the return home of one LeBron James just a year later. Bennett was promptly traded as part of the Kevin Love mega-deal and the rest is history. For Kevin Love, history is good. For Anthony Bennett, not so much.
Still, the pride of Akron, Ohio's homecoming can't wash over everything and the Cavs and then-GM Chris Grant should still need to answer for a pick that looked bad at the time and looked even worse after. Bennett was enough of a reach that then-ESPN personality Bill Simmons failed to conceal his utter shock when the pick was read out. The UNLV star needed 33 games to finally hit double digits in scoring, triple the length of any other first over-all pick in NBA history. Most recently, he was cut by Turkish superpower Fenerbahce and currently toils in the G-League without an NBA contract.
24 Dallas Mavericks: Trading Rights To Kelly Olynyk (No. 13, 2013)
For as much as the Dallas Mavericks have failed to build a winner while foolishly avoiding a rebuild in recent seasons, their draft history of late isn't littered with the blunders that you might expect. Before hitting what appears to be a home run with the pick of Dennis Smith Jr. last summer, the Mavs only held onto one of their previous four first rounders thanks to a slew of bad trades designed to make them better in the now. None of Rajon Rondo, Lamar Odom or Lucas Nogueira, the primary players acquired for those picks, did much to help Dallas, but the jettisoned draft choices also didn't really hurt them.
The 2014 first rounder used to acquire Odom became Michigan stud Mitch McGary, best remembered for a drug-related suspension at the NBA level. The pick shipped to Boston for Rondo became the aforementioned Guerschon Yabusele, who has actually been outplayed by Dwight Powell, who was taken with the second rounder that the Mavs got as a throw-in. By default, the costliest draft decision was sacrificing Kelly Olynyk to add Nogueira along with a pair of second-round picks. Olynyk has now played 354 career games - 278 of which came in Boston - while none of the trio of Nogueira, Cleanthony Early or Russ Smith ever played a game for Dallas.
23 Denver Nuggets: Trading Rights To Donovan Mitchell (No. 13, 2017)
Eleven other teams missed their chance to draft Donovan Mitchell last June (Sacramento missed twice!), but watching the Louisville star blossom into a rookie sensation with the Utah Jazz has to sting a little extra for the Denver Nuggets. It was through a trade of the Nuggets' 13th overall pick that Mitchell wound up in Utah. In the deal, Denver exchanged the pick for prospect Tyler Lydon (24th overall) and 22-year-old power forward Trey Lyles, clearly not enamoured with any options available in the 13th spot. With that move, the mile high club definitely hit a low, giving up a real diamond for very little.
Denver was surely looking on enviously as Mitchell became a candidate for Rookie of the Year, an award that no Nugget has ever won in franchise history.
Making matters even worse is the fact that the explosive 21-year-old led the Jazz to an unlikely No. 5 seed and second round playoff appearance, while Denver missed the postseason on the season's final day despite finishing just two games behind Utah. As for their end of the trade, Lyles wound up averaging just 19 minutes per game and making just two starts, while Lydon played all of two minutes with the big club.
22 Detroit Pistons: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (No. 8, 2013)
Stan Van Gundy is out in Detroit, leaving behind a roster that might be big on name with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, but comes up short in both results and future promise. The lack of future promise can be directly connected to a middling draft history. Despite making five top 10 selections over the past seven drafts, the Pistons have just Drummond and a bunch of average players to show for it. On SVG's watch, none of Stanley Johnson (No. 8, 2015), Henry Ellenson (No. 18, 2016) or Luke Kennard (No. 12, 2017) have ascended to star status as hoped, but at least they remain with the club.
The same cannot be said for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the eighth pick of the 2013 draft. The three-point specialist out of Georgia has been good enough that he's started all but one game since his rookie year. KCP wasn't a star in Detroit, but he was enough of an asset to earn a generous contract offer from the Pistons as a restricted free agent. However, when he turned it down and Detroit dig their heels in, the 24-year-old's Motown career came to an unlikely end, leaving the Pistons with nothing to show for it when he signed with the Lakers.
21 Golden State Warriors: Trading Rights To Gorgui Dieng (No. 21, 2013)
The Golden State Warriors are perfectly capable of making mistakes just like the rest of us - you just may have to go back to 2013 to find one. The perennially dominant Dubs haven't had to worry too much about the draft in recent years, but that didn't mean that dubious decisions from the past couldn't come back to haunt them. Golden State's 2013 first rounder has been discarded years before, when the team traded it in 2008 to the then-New Jersey Nets for once-promising point guard Marcus Williams. That's a five year long con for the books!
The pick, which turned out to be the 21st overall selection and eventually made its way to Minnesota, wound up being Gorgui Dieng, a hard-nosed, aggressive power forward in the mold of current Warrior Draymond Green, albeit a lesser version. As for Williams, the one-time UConn star was used sparingly in just nine games for the Warriors and was already three years out of the league by the time Dieng was drafted. And while Dieng may have lost playing time in the recently concluded 2017-18 regular season, he's given the Timberwolves a lot of value for someone who was picked late in the first round.
20 Houston Rockets: Trading Rights To Andre Roberson (No. 26, 2013)
Daryl Morey hasn't got time for the NBA Draft. The core of the current Houston Rockets, which he has constructed as GM, is a championship contender predominantly made up of trade acquisitions and free agent signings. James Harden, Chris Paul, Aaron Gordon and Ryan Anderson were all added via trade, while Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker signed in free agency, thus creating the group that pushed Golden State to its seven-game limit in the Conference Finals. The only draft-related exception was Morey's absolute steal of Clint Capela with the 25th pick of the 2014 draft.
With that type of mindset, it's actually remarkable that Morey hasn't been burned more often by missing out on the chance to nab future stars. But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened at all. Morey's wheeling and dealing ahead of the 2013 draft saw them acquire and then part with what would be the No. 26 pick in a trade for point guard Jonny Flynn, who spent just 11 games in Houston before being packaged for Marcus Camby. The cost of Flynn, Donatas Motiejunas and a second round pick that would become Will Barton but would be traded long before that? Brad Miller, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Chandler Parsons and the 26th pick, which would become OKC's go-to wing defender Andre Roberson.
19 Indiana Pacers: T.J. Leaf (No. 18, 2017)
The past 12 months have been worth celebrating if you're a fan of the Indiana Pacers. Prior to that, they were a middling franchise facing a messy split from their headline star. However, the Paul George trade netted the Pacers Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, both of whom were integral to a surprising 48-win season in which they snared the No. 5 seed in the East and pushed LeBron's Cavs to the limit in a seven-game first round series. The 2017 draft, however, may go down as the one slight smudge on an otherwise pretty ideal 2017-18 campaign.
It's way too early, of course, to close the book on 2017 draftees. TJ.. Leaf, who Indy took 18th overall out of UCLA, could still become a standout power forward if given a bigger role and more floor time. For now, though, it seems like Kevin Pritchard and the rest of the Pacers brain trust may have chosen the wrong 6'10" power forward. One pick after Indiana took Leaf, the Atlanta Hawks grabbed John Collins, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in a promising freshman campaign. Yes, he played a significantly larger role for his team, but the Wake Forest alum also had an 18.3 Player Efficiency Rating, compared to Leaf's 10.7.
18 Los Angeles Clippers: Trading Rights To O.G. Anunoby (No. 23, 2017)
That Reggie Bullock is the best player drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers over the past five years might seem like a damning indictment of the franchise's scouting department, but they haven't really been in a position to net much more. As a perennial playoff team (until this year, anyway), they've routinely picked in the latter stages of the first round, in the years that they've actually kept their pick. When they haven't been taking a C.J. Wilcox or Brice Johnson, their pick has been a necessary casualty of attaining the services of Doc Rivers (their 2015 pick went to Boston as compensation and wound up being R.J. Hunter).
The only real notable miss on the Clippers' recent draft record came with their 2017 first round pick.
They actually surrendered the pick back in 2014, sending it to Milwaukee in a trade that also shipped out Jared Dudley in exchange for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica and a 2016 second rounder (Marcus Paige). Why a first rounder needed to change hands in a deal with those names involved is beyond me. Anyway, that pick wound up in the hands of the Toronto Raptors, who landed O.G. Anunoby, a standout defender and 62-game starter for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. The trio of Delfino, Raduljica and Paige would go on to play exactly zero games for the Clips.
17 Los Angeles Lakers: D’Angelo Russell (No. 2, 2015)
Top 10 picks four years running? Second overall picks for the past three drafts? These certainly aren't the marquee, front-running, star-driven Los Angeles Lakers we're used to. That being said, the group of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle - three of the players chosen with those top picks - form the foundation of what could eventually be a Showtime renaissance, especially if Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and co. can lure a top-flight free agent. The aforementioned picks leave one glaring omission: the 2015 selection of No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell.
Now with the Brooklyn Nets, Russell is still just 22 and has shown flashes of the dynamic point guard he was supposed to be. But the Ohio State product compounded an uneven and inconsistent rookie campaign in LA with some public moments of immaturity, not the least of which came when he recorded a video of a private conversation among teammates in which Nick Young confessed to betraying his girlfriend, rapper Iggy Azalea. Russell's ensuing locker room toxicity made him a pariah and essentially forced a trade, in which the Lakers did well to land Brook Lopez and the pick used to take Kyle Kuzma, in addition to unloading the contract of Timofey Mozgov. Still, the club surely could have done more with the second overall selection, especially with players like Kristaps Porzingis and Devin Booker still on the board.
16 Memphis Grizzlies: Jordan Adams (No. 22, 2014)
The Memphis Grizzlies head into the 2018 draft holding the No. 4 overall pick, unfamiliar territory for a franchise that hasn't selected higher than 17th since 2010. Now, there's no single transaction or front office decision that has booted them from the postseason to the lottery, but more so a series of small errors that has chipped away at what was a Western Conference finalist just five years ago. The club's draft history serves as evidence of that. The Grizz haven't made any disastrous draft blunders in recent years, but they also haven't added any impact talent, save for trading for Dillon Brooks last summer.
Memphis' 2014 selection of Jordan Adams stands as fitting representation of their draft struggles. The No. 22 slot isn't guaranteed to produce any sure things, but there were several future stars still available when the Grizzlies' number came up, including Clint Capela, Nikola Jokic and Jordan Clarkson. Perhaps most interestingly, there was reportedly an internal dispute taking place in the club's draft room between Adams and Rodney Hood, who would go to Utah one pick later. Adams, the preferred choice of GM Chris Wallace and VP John Hollinger, was cut after just 32 games across two injury-marred seasons and is still trying to catch on with another NBA team. Hood, the choice of then-head coach Dave Joerger, grew into a go-to scoring option in Utah before being dealt to Cleveland at this year's trade deadline.
15 Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier (No. 24, 2014)
It hasn't been quite as thrilling a half decade in South Beach as the Big Three-driven five years that preceded it, but Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have maintained their keen eye for talent, as their recent draft history suggests. The last three picks made by the Heat have turned into Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo, three young players who look to be rounding into key parts of the club's future.
If we are going to get picky with the details, which is the reality of the whole exercise in this case, we can highlight Miami's poor return from the 2015 draft that continues to hurt them to this day. One day after selecting P.J. Hairston 26th overall and Semaj Christon 55th, the club sent both prospects to Charlotte for UConn star Shabazz Napier. While Napier now looks like a successful reclamation project in Portland with his improved play and contributions to the team, he was clearly not NBA-ready during a 51-game stint with the Heat before being traded for a draft pick that didn't convey any significant improvement. Still, while no one likes a wasted draft, it's not like Hairston or Christon have become stars elsewhere.
14 Milwaukee Bucks: Jabari Parker (No. 2, 2014)
Even with superstars like LeBron James and Paul George up for new contracts this summer, the free agency of Jabari Parker bears watching. Whether the restricted free agent re-signs with the Milwaukee Bucks or goes elsewhere, someone will be getting the services of a gifted scorer who is just 23 and has a 20-point per game season under his belt. In that sense, Parker has lived up to his No. 2 overall slot from back in 2014. The big asterisk here is a checkered injury history that includes a torn ACL and has limited the Duke star to just 183 games over four seasons (roughly 45 a year).
The injury conundrum that clouds his free agency also complicates the evaluation of the Bucks' draft decision. Even with an iffy injury history of his own, No. 3 pick Joel Embiid has clearly emerged as a better prospect for the Philadelphia 76ers. Can you imagine a Bucks team anchored by Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo? Not that they were ever serious candidates for selection at No. 2, but you could argue that both Clint Capela and Nikola Jokic would have made for better picks here. Although, as everyone knows hindsight is always 20/20.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves: Kris Dunn (No. 5, 2016)
The Minnesota Timberwolves enjoyed something of a coming out party this past season, transitioning from being potential-laden to growing into a bona fide playoff contender in the West. That jump had plenty to do with their success in the draft room in recent years. Minnesota's current roster is shaped most significantly by Andrew Wiggins, a former No. 1 pick acquired in the Kevin Love deal, and Karl-Anthony Towns, the club's own No. 1 overall selection. Beyond those two pillars, drafting Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen (for Chicago, but still) helped net the Wolves Jimmy Butler and even the 2013 selection of Trey Burke became Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad.
Needless to say, no draft decision of the past five years has truly hurt Minny. But that doesn't mean they've all been the right one. The No. 5 pick in 2016 probably should have brought more value than Dunn, a disappointment as a rookie who basically served as a throw-in in the Butler deal, offered. Even with an opportunity to wrestle the starting point guard job away from Ricky Rubio, the Providence star could only be entrusted to play 17 minutes a game, good for just 24th among eligible rookies. Dunn's struggles likely forced Minnesota's hand in paying Jeff Teague $57 million to run the point.
12 New Orleans Pelicans: Trading Rights To Sam Dekker (No. 18, 2015)
Assuming he signs elsewhere in free agency, it's about time to call the DeMarcus Cousins experiment in New Orleans what it was: a failure. Despite hopes that the Boogie/Brow tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis would help the Pelicans challenge the Western elite, it was only after the former Sacramento King went down with a season-ending Achilles injury that Davis put the team on his back en route to a second round playoff appearance. Amazingly, Cousins wasn't even the first big man who flopped alongside Davis.
A three-team 2014 deal would see the Pelicans part with their 2015 first rounder (a pick that would become Sam Dekker) to bring Turkish seven-footer Omer Asik over from Houston. The slow-footed Asik would see his minutes drop in each season in the Big Easy as the league evolved and the traditional center became something of a liability. The trade wouldn't look so bad (Dekker hasn't exactly lit the league on fire) were it not for a poorly thought out five-year, $60 million extension lavished on Asik. The 22nd overall pick in this year's draft was ultimately the price that New Orleans had to pay to get out from under Asik's contract, trading him to Chicago this past February.
11 New York Knicks: Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24, 2013)
It's become an annual rite of the NBA off-season for New York Knicks fans to descend on the Barclays Center and typically dump on the announcement of the club's first round pick. Heck, they memorably booed Kristaps Porzingis two years ago. The fans' cynicism is well-founded, as Porzingis is actually the first Knicks draftee to be named to an All-Star Game while still frequenting MSG's home locker room since David Lee in 2005. More recently, the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster cost the Knicks their first rounders in 2014 and 2016, picks used to select Dario Saric and Jamal Murray, respectively.
Still, 'Melo's divisive tenure in the Big Apple produced enough to remove either pick from consideration here. With the jury still out on 2017 lottery selection Frank Ntilikina, the focus here falls on Tim Hardaway Jr. The son of the five-time All-Star and three-point specialist has had a perfectly solid five-year NBA career, highlighted by last season's 17.5 point per game average. However, it is the club's bizarre handling of the 26-year-old shooting guard that gains him entry here. Though initially drafted by the Knicks, Hardaway Jr. was actually traded to Atlanta in the summer of 2015, two years into his NBA career. Another two years later, they decided that they needed him back and handed the restricted free agent a four-year, $71 million offer sheet that looked bad immediately. As a 24th overall pick, the Michigan star has panned out reasonably well (although Andre Roberson and Rudy Gobert, both taken after him, have been better). As a $17 million man, however, he's doomed to disappoint.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder: Cameron Payne (No. 14, 2015)
With James Harden expected to take home NBA MVP honors at the league's awards show on June 25th, the Oklahoma City Thunder's unbelievable draft run from 2007 through 2009 continues to look more remarkable. Those draft years saw the Thunder bring Kevin Durant (No. 2, 2007), Russell Westbrook (No. 4, 2008) and Harden (No. 3, 2009) into the organization, while later picks in those same drafts produced Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Serge Ibaka and Roddy Beaubois. Steven Adams in 2013 aside, Sam Presti and OKC haven't fared quite so well since.
It doesn't help matters that the Thunder haven't often been a lottery team in this decade, meaning that they haven't enjoyed the benefit of anything close to the three straight top four selections used to take Durant, Westbrook and Harden. The only lottery pick they have had of late came in 2015, when they used their No. 14 selection to draft point guard Cameron Payne. After two and a half seasons spent struggling to stick with the Thunder, Payne was dealt to Chicago in the Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott trade. Even in the Windy City, though, the Murray State alum has been a G-League mainstay, only managing to appear in 25 games for the 27-win Bulls.
9 Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja (No. 5, 2015)
Remember all the excitement over Mario Hezonja ahead of the 2015 draft? Between his mystique as an international prospect and superior athleticism, the Croatian generated some serious buzz as the draft's most exciting entrant. It's funny how quickly things change. No one is talking about Hezonja as a bust because, well, no one is talking about him at all. Super Mario has spent his three-year NBA career playing in decidedly irrelevant Orlando, failing to hit double digits in points per game or distinguish himself within the Magic's small forward mix that also included Jonathon Simmons and Terrence Ross.
The club has an interesting decision coming up with its disappointing former top five selection.
Hezonja is a restricted free agent and the Magic front office, led by Jeff Weltman and John Hammond, could be leery of committing too much money or term to a player who has yet to prove anything, thus making him a prime offer sheet candidate for a club with the cap space and patience for a project. If he stays in Orlando, the 23-year-old risks dropping even further down the pecking order of a franchise desperate to make their 2018 first rounder (sixth overall) count. The franchise wouldn't be facing such a challenging RFA decision if they had drafted the likes of Justise Winslow, Myles Turner or Devin Booker instead.
8 Philadelphia 76ers: Jahlil Okafor (No. 3, 2015)
Of all the nutty details to emerge from the shocking and bizarre reports of Bryan Colangelo's covert tweeting, perhaps the least surprising part that has come to light is the criticism of one-time 76ers draftee Jahlil Okafor. The former national champion with Duke never seemed like the right fit in Philly, with no veteran mentor available and a big man logjam with both Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel looking for minutes up front at various times. For the Sixers front office, frustrations reigned over a guy once compared to Tim Duncan who never seemed to have the drive or personality to make good on his potential as a No. 3 pick.
Okafor actually had a productive rookie campaign that saw him average 17.5 points and seven rebounds, but much of that good will was undone by a series of off-court incidents that left his maturity in question. From there, he began to fall out of favour in the rotation, to the point that he openly expressed hope of a trade or a buyout. He was ultimately shipped to Brooklyn as part of a package that landed the Sixers Trevor Booker. The talent remains there for the 6'11" center, but he needs to get his career back on track soon. The Sixers, meanwhile, can only wonder "what if" after seeing the development of Kristaps Porzingis, taken one pick after Okafor.
7 Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender (No. 4, 2016)
As excitement builds in Phoenix as they prepare to use their first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history, there's surely a sobering and terrifying thought in the back of the mind of Suns fans: Ryan McDonough is still our GM. Once branded a wunderkind, the only wonder now is how McDonough has kept his job while failing to make much of the plethora of young assets and draft opportunities gained in Phoenix. Dating back to 2013, the club has made three picks in the top five and traded up to snag the eighth pick in 2016. The Suns have remarkably little to show for the whole lot. Although 2017 first rounder Josh Jackson shows promise, it was still mid-first round selections Devin Booker and T.J. Warren who led the 21-win team in scoring.
Scroll all the way down to 15th in Phoenix's per game scoring stats for last season and you will find Dragan Bender. The 7'1" Croatian power forward was selected fourth overall in 2016, arriving with the hype of international mystique, NBA-ready size and a cool name that sounds like it was pulled from Game of Thrones. Transitioning to the NBA has been a struggle for the former Maccabi Tel Aviv star, however. This past season, he put up just 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds despite playing in all 82 games while averaging 25 minutes. Using two top eight picks on Bender and Marquese Chriss, both power forwards, looked puzzling at the time of the draft. Now, without a single 10-point per game season between them, it looks like a major gaffe on McDonough's record.
6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trading Rights To Malik Beasley (No. 19, 2016)
When the Portland Trail Blazers keep their first round draft picks, good things seem to happen (well, unless your name is Greg Oden or Sam Bowie). The club built its All-Star back court of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in back-to-back drafts in 2012 and 2013. Since then, though, they have unloaded five of their six first rounders by draft night - and haven't fared particularly well in doing so. Two of their three 2017 picks were packaged to move up and get Zach Collins, who managed just 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game this season. 2015 first rounder Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was shipped to Brooklyn for Mason Plumlee and has improved in each of his three seasons with the Nets. Going back further, Portland actually sacrificed two first rounders for 65 forgettable games of Gerald Wallace.
The worst and costliest recent use of a first round pick by the Blazers, however, came in 2016. In a bid to bolster their 2015 playoff hopes, the club got aggressive at the trade deadline by adding the two-way talents of Arron Afflalo. In exchange for a guy who would only play in 25 games and then fail to help them avoid a five-game first round series loss, Portland gave up Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and their 2016 first. Fortunately for GM Neil Olshey, none of Claver, Robinson or first rounder Malik Beasley have panned out in a meaningful way. But losing Barton, now a key cog within the talented Denver Nuggets, has to sting at least a little.
5 Sacramento Kings: Ben McLemore (No. 7, 2013)
How bad have the Sacramento Kings been of late? They've made a whopping six top 10 picks over the past five drafts. That they are set to pick second overall this year after a 27-win campaign tells you all you need to know about how those picks have fared, not to mention how the franchise has been managed. Of the players drafted with those six selections, just two (Willie Cauley-Stein and De'Aaron Fox) remain in Sactown, with neither boasting much star power on a team sorely in need of some.
It's probably unfair to deem all of their recent draft efforts to be complete wastes. In addition to remaining hope for Fox and, to a lesser extent, Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles remain prospects with varying degrees of upside, all of whom were acquired by way of trades involving Sacramento's draft picks. One draft pick that can already be safely deemed a bust is the Kings' 2013 selection of Ben McLemore. The seventh overall pick still hasn't averaged more than 12.1 points over a full season and has seen his teams average less than 30 wins over his five-year career. In fact, the Memphis Grizzlies, who signed him after the Kings opted to let him walk away last summer, were 7-49 this season in games in which the Kansas product suited up.
4 San Antonio Spurs: Livio Jean-Charles (No. 28, 2013)
We go from the Sacramento Kings to the franchise that might as well represent their polar opposite. The San Antonio Spurs command so much respect as an organization that many fans often assume that they've unearthed a late, under-the-radar gem when they take a player who has generated little buzz. It doesn't hurt that that's often been exactly what happens. The Spurs will pick 18th in this June's draft, their first time inside the top 20 since taking Tim Duncan first overall in 1997. Since then, however, the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have still been added through the draft.
While the San Antonio brain trust of Gregg Popovich and RC Buford have added to their incredible track record in recent years by drafting the likes of Dejounte Murray, they haven't all been smashing success stories. As a matter of fact, the Spurs have spent two first round picks over the past five drafts on international prospects - Nikola Milutinov and Livio Jean-Charles - who have never reached the NBA. While Milutinov could still ultimately arrive at the AT&T Center, Jean-Charles was waived after failing to make an impression during a Summer League and G League stint in San Antonio back in 2016.
3 Toronto Raptors: Bruno Caboclo (No. 20, 2014)
If ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla is to be believed, maybe Bruno Caboclo is finally ready to take the NBA by storm. It was Fraschilla who reacted incredulously to the Toronto Raptors' selection of the raw Brazilian youngster with the 20th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, famously stating that he was "two years away from being two years away." That quote probably shouldn't be taken as a sign that Caboclo is set to arrive for the 2018-19 season. For one thing, he needs to find a team to latch onto first.
The Raptors were in the cushy position of being able to take a flyer on a long-term project back in the summer of 2014, hoping that Caboclo would unlock the abilities that lay within some incredible physical measurements. Unfortunately, not only did he never grow into his frame, but the 22-year-old hasn't stopped looking lost on a basketball court. The Raps have since moved on from the Caboclo experiment, sending him to Sacramento for Malachi Richardson this past season in a swap of first round disappointments. It has to sting Masai Ujiri and co to know that Rodney Hood, Clint Capela, Nikola Jokic and Jordan Clarkson were all taken after Toronto's off-the-board pick.
2 Utah Jazz: Dante Exum (No. 5, 2014)
The rise of rookie Donovan Mitchell this past season could not have been better timed for the Utah Jazz. His Rookie of the Year-quality campaign came as Gordon Hayward's free agent exodus left the club short on star power and looking unlikely to sniff the postseason, let alone reach the second round for a second year in a row. If all had gone according to plan, it would have been Dante Exum left to carry the bulk of the load for the Boston-bound Hayward.
The Aussie point guard was one of the most buzz worthy prospects of the 2014 draft as a 6'6" ball handler with the ability to make plays and create his own offense.
Despite the hype, the 22-year-old has never been able to get his career fully on track after a so-so rookie campaign was followed by a torn ACL that cost Exum the entire 2015-16 season. Since then, he has averaged less than 20 minutes of floor time as primarily a backup in Utah and lost the vast majority of his 2017-18 season to shoulder surgery. Instead of coming off of the first year of a dynamic young back court combination with Mitchell, the pending restricted free agent faces questions about his future in Utah and whether he will ever realize his draft potential.
1 Washington Wizards: Trading Rights To Jordan Clarkson (No. 46, 2014)
There are two rounds in the NBA Draft, although you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the annual selection process ends after the 30th pick. As with most sports leagues, there's a sharp drop in interest following the goings-on of the first round, where the best players are ostensibly taken. We barely blink an eye when we hear of the swap of second round picks, even when they are traded for mere cash considerations. But just as the first round can bring about stealthy moves and costly mistakes, so too can picks 31 through 60. The 2014 draft already serves as a great example of this.
We've already discussed late picks that have thrived in that draft, including No. 23 Rodney Hood and No. 25 Clint Capela. Go a little further and you will find Denver's absolute thievery of Nikola Jokic at No. 41 and Washington's selection of Jordan Clarkson at No. 46. Of course, Clarkson never played for the Wizards. Instead, his draft rights were sent to the Lakers in exchange for cash considerations. Had Clarkson stayed in the nation's capital, he would have offered valuable insurance behind the talented-but-injury-prone back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while bolstering the second unit of the depth-starved Wiz. But hey, I'm sure those couple thousand bucks helped too.
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