The 2018-19 NBA season is a month away from starting, and many are wondering which of this year's rookies will turn out to be superstars, and which ones will follow in the unfortunate footsteps of Anthony Bennett, Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely, and a dime-a-dozen other draft busts from the league's long history. And while there are many recent draft picks who still have a chance, from slim to good, of making good in the NBA despite their inauspicious beginnings, you can't deny that some of these recent picks already look like flops, even if the jury is still out.
For this list, we've come up with 15 young NBA players who have a chance of joining the list of all-time draft busts, but aren't 100 percent draft busts at this point in their career. We're including players who were lottery picks between 2014 and 2017 and are still in the league, which means we're leaving out players like Georgios Papagiannis (now playing in his home country of Greece) who aren't on any NBA team at the moment. We're also including five players from the draft class of 2018 who have higher bust potential than most – while they may have potential to become big names in the NBA, there are a few reasons or two why we believe they could end up on the other end of the spectrum and flame out of the league, or not live up to their draft billing.
20 Recently Drafted: D'Angelo Russell (No. 2, 2015)
When the Lakers and the Nets executed the trade that sent Russell to the latter team (along with Timofey Mozgov and his notorious albatross of a contract), the expectation was that Russell would finally get his time to shine. The promise was there at first, but he struggled upon his return from injury and found his starting job taken by a former second-round pick, Spencer Dinwiddie.
Russell's career numbers in three seasons (14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists) aren't really that bad, but they aren't what you expect either from someone who was picked second overall. Summing it all up, 2018-19 looks like put up or shut up time for this guy.
19 Recently Drafted: Thon Maker (No. 10, 2017)
Addressing the elephant in the room, many remain doubtful of Maker's true age – is he really 21, or is he closer to 25 or 26? Age debates aside, what's more evident is that the Sudanese-Australian big man is taking longer to develop than Bucks fans have hoped for.
Despite getting substantially more playing time in his second season, Maker's stats barely improved, as John Henson ended up with the inside track as Milwaukee's starting center. Brook Lopez's arrival makes him a near-shoo-in to start at the five, but with Jabari Parker now in Chicago, Maker could fight for a starting job at the four. Don't expect Henson to make it easy, though.
18 Recently Drafted: Frank Kaminsky (No. 9, 2015)
Instead of improving like he should have at this point in his career, Frank the Tank actually slid a bit in the 2017-18 season, as he averaged just 11.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 0.2 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. Must we remind you, Kaminsky is a 7-foot-tall, 240-pound power forward and center, and not a 6-foot-6 shooting guard.
The Charlotte Hornets might be the league's per-capita leader in top 5 draft flops at power forward and center. We've long accepted that Marvin Williams will never be more than a solid starter, and it's safe to say Cody Zeller's just entered bust status. Kaminsky isn't there yet, but if his 2018-19 season is as underwhelming as the last one was, he'll surely be in good company with Messrs. Williams and Zeller.
17 Potential Bust: Trae Young (No. 5, 2018)
Don't get us wrong. We're still hopeful that Trae Young will turn out closer in terms of talent rather than farther away from the player he's so often compared to, Steph Curry. However, you've got to wonder if the Hawks merely signed Jeremy Lin as a veteran to ease Young's transition before yielding the starting job early on, or if they want him as their starting point guard in 2018-19.
Many observers felt that no one in the class of 2018 was as boom-or-bust as Young was, and his poor performance in summer league play is worrying many Hawks fans, who fear he might turn out to be a dud. After all, it's one thing to lead the NCAA in points and assists, and another thing to deal with NBA point guards year-in and year-out.
16 Recently Drafted: Nik Stauskas (No. 8, 2014)
It doesn't seem like so long ago when Nik Stauskas was one of the better shooters in the draft class of 2014, if not the best. Four years into his career, he's literally a journeyman in the league, and he's preparing to play for his fourth team in four seasons, as he joins the Portland Trail Blazers as the likely backup to C.J. McCollum (He's trying, Jennifer).
Not even his once-sharp shooting can be called reliable anymore, as he has yet to shoot over 40 percent from the field in any of his four seasons. He'll probably explode off the bench from time to time, but don't expect much else from this one-dimensional long-range shooter who still, for what it's worth, has one of the league's best nicknames.
15 Recently Drafted: Trey Lyles (No. 12, 2015)
The good news is that Lyles posted career-best numbers after arriving in Denver following two disappointing seasons with the Jazz. The bad news? Well, you should know this by now, but the Nuggets received both Lyles and very seldom-used rookie Tyler Lydon in exchange for one of last year's top rookies, Donovan Mitchell.
While the Nuggets drafted a potential steal this year in Michael Porter Jr., there's a chance he might be shut down for his entire rookie year as he recovers from nagging injuries. That should give Lyles a chance at posting further improvements in his fourth season, but who knows? The team just might go with natural SG Will Barton at the three, given how well he played last year.
14 Recently Drafted: Emmanuel Mudiay (No. 7, 2015)
With Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Will Barton all playing better than him, the inconsistent Mudiay was demoted to the bench in his second season, and in his third, he didn't even get to start at all for the team. He did, however, start 14 of 22 games after he was traded to the Knicks, but that leads us to why he's in this list.
Playing in a Knicks point guard rotation with fellow draft bust Trey Burke and disappointing-thus-far Frank Ntilikina, Mudiay was the least impressive. He has trouble shooting 40 percent, commits too many turnovers, and his defensive awareness leaves a lot to be desired. And to think everything started out so promising for him as a rookie.
13 Potential Bust: Wendell Carter (No. 7, 2018)
In a way, we can understand why the Bulls drafted Carter seventh overall in June. Robin Lopez, while not a bad player, is not exactly an elite center, and Carter had great per-36 numbers on both ends while playing for Duke. However, he might not only be playing behind Lopez; he might also have to contend with Bobby Portis for minutes playing behind Lauri Markkanen at the four.
There's also the perception that Carter doesn't have the upside to be anything more than an above-average NBA big man nor the elite athleticism to compensate for his slight lack of height at center. Of course, he could prove all his doubters wrong, but for now, we're listing him due to his high boom-or-bust potential.
12 Recently Drafted: Zach Collins (No. 10, 2017)
The concern with Collins after he declared for the 2017 NBA draft with just one season at Gonzaga under his belt was quite obvious – the kid simply wasn't ready. Sure enough, he responded with rather pedestrian averages for a 10th overall pick, finishing the 2017-18 season with 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
At this point in his career, it would seem as if Collins is looking more like Meyers Leonard v2.0 than anyone else. And that should not be confused with being a good thing – Leonard was the No. 11 pick in 2013, but after five seasons in Portland, he's mostly been used off the bench as a soft big man who could shoot some threes, but do little else.
11 Recently Drafted: Stanley Johnson (No. 8, 2015)
A few years ago, it would have been a no-brainer – if the Pistons had to choose between Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock as their starting three, they'd go with the former. But when Detroit traded for Blake Griffin and sent Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to the Clippers, it was Bullock, the former 25th overall pick, who was the main beneficiary.
As for Johnson, who was picked eighth overall in 2015 and showed so much promise in his rookie season, he did, at least, rebound stats-wise after an unfortunate sophomore slump. Still, that's far from enough as far as living up to his draft billing is concerned.
10 Recently Drafted: Dragan Bender (No. 4, 2016)
We can almost refer to Bender as a throwback to a time when there were more busts than stars from Europe as NBA teams tried in vain to draft the next Dirk Nowitzki. In Bender's case, many were hoping he'd become a taller version of the player he idolized while growing up – former Chicago Bulls star Toni Kukoc – but we've yet to see him come anywhere close to doing so.
With Ryan Anderson now in Phoenix following a trade that sent Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Rockets, the onus is on Bender to supplant the fading veteran (as opposed to a fellow youngster like Chriss) as the Suns' starting four. But for now, he's looking like a waste of a fourth overall pick.
9 Potential Bust: Mo Bamba (No. 6, 2018)
The recent rumors suggesting that the Magic are shopping Nikola Vucevic point to the team being quite high on first-round pick Mohamed Bamba's potential. While he has an otherworldly wingspan and an uncanny ability to block shots, we worry about him because of his offensive game. Or lack thereof.
Throughout the years, we've seen defensively sound centers get picked in the top 10 of the draft, only for them to have long, yet disappointing careers where they were used exclusively as defensive specialists due to their poor offense. Adonal Foyle, DeSagana Diop, and Bismack Biyombo all fit this mold. Could Bamba possibly follow in their footsteps? Hopefully not.
8 Recently Drafted: Noah Vonleh (No. 9, 2014)
The Charlotte Hornets could have had yet another disappointing lottery pick playing the big man positions had they not dealt Noah Vonleh after his rookie season. Since then, he's spent a few years with the Portland Trail Blazers and about a quarter of a season with the Chicago Bulls.
With Vonleh having signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks, it looks like he's headed for journeyman purgatory for the rest of his career. Don't expect him to provide much more than a few rebounds and about as many points per game as he comes off the bench for Kristaps Porzingis (Or starts while he recovers from injury).
7 Recently Drafted: Mario Hezonja (No. 5, 2015)
Due to injuries to Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja got some additional chances to show the Magic that they weren't wrong to pick him over guys like Devin Booker, or even Justise Winslow. To his credit, he often made the most out of them as he averaged career-highs in almost every stat in 2017-18. But that doesn't change the bigger picture – this Mario hasn't been as "super" as expected since entering the league.
For the 2018-19 season, Hezonja will be getting a fresh start in New York, where he could have a chance to start at small forward. But it might not be a long-lasting gig at the end of the day if 2018 first-rounder Kevin Knox lives up to the hype and starts sooner in the season than later.
6 Recently Drafted: Dante Exum (No. 5, 2014)
We've covered the case of Dante Exum so often that you probably don't need a refresher. But if you should need one, here goes – he was a highly-touted rookie point guard from Australia whose poor shooting held him back as a rookie, but whose defensive potential was always worth considering. Then he tore his ACL and missed all of 2015-16. And missed all but 14 games last season due to shoulder surgery.
Despite how the Jazz have a solid starting backcourt with Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell, Utah re-signed Exum for another three years, reportedly for $33 million. Few teams are willing to pay injury-prone backup point guards so much, but the Jazz were.
5 Potential Bust: Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14, 2018)
He could either turn out to be the biggest steal of the 2018 draft or injuries could rear their ugly head and he could also turn out to be a huge waste at No. 14 overall. He probably won't have as much of an upside as Kevin Durant, but as one of the top high school players of the class of 2017, he's a long, athletic forward who still has serious potential for superstardom.
Then again, there's also the concern that his back injuries might be too serious for him to overcome. The last thing anyone wants is for him to miss the mark entirely as a pro, so the Nuggets will have to make absolutely sure he's healed up before activating him for the first time (if at all?) in the 2018-19 season.
4 Recently Drafted: Jahlil Okafor (No. 3, 2015)
Did Jahlil Okafor have such a good rookie year because it was he who was (mostly) healthy, while Joel Embiid wasn't? Sadly, that might have been the case. With Embiid finally getting to play in 2016-17, injuries began to take their toll on Okafor, and while he still averaged double figures then, the bottom fell out in 2017-18 when he couldn't even play significant minutes for the struggling Brooklyn Nets.
Because he's young, tall, and a former third overall draft pick, teams are still giving Okafor a chance, and that's what happened when he signed for the New Orleans Pelicans this offseason. Unless Anthony Davis or Julius Randle get hurt, don't expect him to play much.
3 Recently Drafted: Marquese Chriss (No. 8, 2016)
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
As one of two big men picked by the Suns in the top 10 of the 2016 draft, Chriss showed the greater upside, showing several flashes of brilliance that suggested he could go places in 2017-18. Unfortunately, "go places" meant "go down," because Chriss was in and out of the starting lineup in his sophomore year, with his stats mostly going down across the board.
As the Phoenix Suns traded Brandon Knight and Chriss to the Houston Rockets for Ryan Anderson and 2018 second-rounder De'Anthony Melton, that should at least give him a chance to start fresh. But don't be surprised either if the undersized P.J. Tucker starts ahead of Chriss, or if Chriss fails to crack double-digit scoring in a team with Harden, CP3, and Melo.
2 Recently Drafted: Markelle Fultz (No. 1, 2017)
The Philadelphia 76ers got maximum mileage out of a first overall draft pick in the 2017-18 season, but that draft pick's name was not Markelle Fultz. After sitting out what should have been his rookie year due to a broken foot, 2016 top pick Ben Simmons had an almost Magic Johnson-esque season and won 2018 Rookie of the Year honors. As for Fultz?
Let's just say Fultz's situation was more than a little unusual, as the Sixers' second consecutive first overall pick played just 14 games and had a really rocky, awkward shooting form when he did get to play. Of course, it's still too early to give up on him, but he'll have his work cut out for him as he likely starts out 2018-19 playing behind J.J. Redick.
1 Potential Bust: Marvin Bagley III (No. 2, 2018)
Yes, you've heard about it before – Marvin Bagley was a "safe" pick for the Kings, an explosive athlete who dominated for Duke, and he has an easy path to the starting lineup with only 37-year-old Zach Randolph nominally ahead on the depth chart at the four. What could possibly happen on the way to NBA stardom?
Well, there's always the possibility his lack of defense will make him more liability than an asset. He'll also need to work on his outside shooting and passing if he wants to increase his chances of succeeding in the new era of positionless, "unicorn"-friendly basketball. If he doesn't, he could project as a more athletic Christian Laettner, which would, to many, barely place him in bust territory.