Having a long-lasting career in the NBA is a feat just in itself. Basketball is a fast-paced game and thus all too easy for guys to burn out quickly. Speed and skill are always the top choices in a player while height is an obvious help. But injuries can cut short any promising career as too many guys are hit by a bug at the worst time. Derrick Rose is a fine example of a guy who could have been a champion without so many injuries. That’s not to mention the risks and temptations of fame going to a rookie’s head and his ego soon turning him into his own worst enemy. It’s sad how so many guys with decent careers can last long and even have titles while so many promising stars get hit by bad luck.
Some cases are rookies who had a stellar first year but couldn’t handle the pressures of the pros. Other cases are guys who had okay careers, burst out with a sensational season, but couldn’t follow through on it. Just because a guy has a ring doesn’t mean he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame, as too many bench-warmers just can’t click overall. It’s amazing to see just how many guys in the NBA have had just one really good season but the rest of their careers can’t come close to measuring up to it. It may not be fair but it happens a lot more than folks think as one day you’re a hometown hero and the next you’re forgotten. Here are 20 NBA stars who had one great season but not much else to back it up to show how tricky the game is.
20 Bryant Reeves
To many of his teammates, Bryant Reeves was the walking embodiment of every cliché of a small-town guy. He made history as the first ever draft pick by the Vancouver Grizzlies. His rookie year was solid but the next two were great as he averaged 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.08 blocked shots a game. He also scored a career-high 41 points in a game against the Celtics.
However, issues of his weight took their toll on Reeves, causing his numbers to drop as his play time became more limited. A famous image was how he collapsed during the 2011 preseason and they needed two stretchers to carry him. He retired afterward to show how some guys really are too big for the game.
19 Antoine Carr
A journeyman for the 1980s and ‘90s, Antoine Carr was best known for the huge goggles he wore on the court. After a good college career in Wichita, Carr was drafted by the Pistons in 1984 but instead played in Italy. He then spent six years with the Hawks with decent but not quite stellar numbers.
He was traded to Sacramento in 1989 and blossomed there.
He averaged 20 points a game and even scored 1,551 points that season. He could have been the star the Kings needed in the ‘90s but they made the idiotic decision to trade him to San Antonio after just a year. While he had success with them and later the Jazz, Carr never came close to those great numbers and perhaps his career might be more noteworthy had he stayed in Sacramento.
18 Derek Anderson
Derek Anderson was selected by the Cavs in 1997 and saw limited time before they traded him to the Clippers. L.A. seemed to click with Anderson as in 1999, he averaged 16.9 points, 3.4 assists and .438 field goal percentage. He jumped to San Antonio for another strong season but a move to Portland coincided with him hit by the first of many knee injuries. He would have decent games but spent too much time on the bench or at home recuperating.
He was actually part of the Heat team who won the title in 2006 but his actual playing time was limited. Sadly, aside from that one great year, Anderson usually pops up on lists of “most underserving players with a ring” as well as the first player waived by the luxury tax clause.
17 Josh Howard
Josh Howard was courted by the NBA thanks to his great play at Wake Forest but decided to be the first member of his family to graduate college. He was the ACC Player of the year and led his school to their first championship. He was taken in the first round of the 2003 Draft by the Mavericks, showing good promise from the start.
He really broke out in 2007-18, averaging 19.9 points, 7 rebounds and .813 free throw percentage. Sadly, Howard was hampered by bad knees that led to injuries and his numbers declined.
He was traded to Washington and later Utah and Minnesota, where he floundered. At least he was smart enough to get a college degree first before jumping to the NBA for a rough career.
16 Jonny Flynn
At Syracuse, Jonny Flynn was a standout player, the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2008 and the MVP of the 2009. That pushed Minnesota to take him sixth overall and his very first game was a great comeback win. Over that rookie year, he averaged 13.5 points, 4.4 assists, and a .846 free throw percentage. While the Timberwolves had a bad season, Flynn was a key highlight and most thought he had a great career was ahead of him. However, hip surgery over the offseason seemed to affect him as his numbers got cut in half.
He was traded to the Rockets for draft picks, then dealt to Portland. His entire NBA career would last only three seasons. It’s amazing to see such a promising career cut short so fast after a good start.
15 Jerome James
At Florida A&M, James was the national leader in blocks per game. He was drafted by the Kings in 1998 but due to the lockout, actually played for the Harlem Globetrotters. He spent time in Europe before heading to Seattle and had a good year in 2004-05. In the playoffs, he really showed his stuff, averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in 11 games against the Kings and the Spurs. That was enough for the Knicks to shell out $29 million for a huge contract. What did they get for that cash? A guy showing up for camp out of shape, averaging 3 points and 2 rebounds amid various injuries. Many Knicks fans cite this as one of the worst deals Isiah Thomas made with the team.
14 Darius Miles
One of the more famous cases of a guy who decided to forgo college for the pros, Darius Miles is also a prime example of why there were so many failures in that category. After standing out in St. Louis, Miles was the third overall pick in 2000 by the Clippers and averaged nine points a game in his rookie year, playing an exciting style.
His play suffered a bit when he got traded to the Cavs.
He later made his way to Portland where he famously got into battles with his coach. But in 2005-06, Miles also had a great year, averaging 14 points a game and four rebounds. But he then gained more infamy for a knee injury that essentially ended his career.
13 Bobby Simmons
A second-round pick by Seattle in 2001, Bobby Simmons was traded quick to the Wizards. That didn’t last long as he moved to the Clippers and looked to be the typical journeyman player. In 2004-05, he broke out huge, averaging 16.4 points a game, .466 shooting average and nailing 50 three-pointers over the course of the season. Named Most Improved Player, Simmons was terrific and used that clout to sign with the Bucks. However, he couldn’t come close to those same numbers and an injury in 2006 just made it worse. He spent the next five years bouncing around the league before finally quitting in 2012, making another entry to the “Most Improved” guys who can’t make it last.
12 Jamaal Magloire
An okay player at Kentucky, Jamaal Magloire was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 2000. He was usually a bench guy and known for his rough play as the Hornets made the move to New Orleans. When James Mashburn went down in 2003-04, Magloire stepped up as the team’s star. He averaged 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game which made him only the second Canadian All-Star ever. He did well in that game, leading the Eastern Conference team with 19 points and eight rebounds. But the next year, Magloire got hit by an injury and was never quite the same afterward.
He was soon bouncing around, never scoring more than nine points a game in Portland and posting worse numbers in New Jersey, Dallas and Miami (where he was back to being an enforcer type). He finished it up in Toronto, making him a brief star from the Great White North.
11 Dana Barros
A good player whose number was retired by Boston College, Dana Barros spent the first four years of his career in Seattle as mostly a reserve guy. In 1994, he was traded to Philadelphia and blossomed majorly.
Averaging 20.6 points and 7.5 assists was good but even better was Barros being skilled at three pointers with a .464 percentage. He was named to the All-Star Team and voted Most Improved Player.
He signed with the Celtics which was expected to boost him more but couldn’t quite match those same numbers. Instead of a star, he became a role player and his output decreased. He later ended up with Dallas before retiring and showing Philadelphia may have been the better place for him then playing for his hometown.
10 Don MacLean
Going back a bit for this pick, Don MacLean still holds the record for most points scored at UCLA (2608) which meant he knew how to handle a ball. He was drafted by the Pistons in 1992 but immediately traded to Washington. In 1994, the Bullets looked good thanks to MacLean’s great production, averaging 11 points a game and named Most Improved Player. But immediately after that year, he was traded to the Nuggets and his numbers faded. He had a comeback later with the Suns but gained infamy after a suspension. Today, MacLean is doing well in retirement as an analyst for pro and college games and better than in his playing day except that one year.
9 Devin Harris
He’s still playing but sadly, Devin Harris has yet to fully live up to his amazing potential. He started with the Mavericks and showed promise, ranking 2nd in the league in steals. He was traded to the Nets in 2008 and in his first full season in New Jersey, he was averaging 21 points and a .438 shooting percentage. He hit 47 points in one game and scored 41 against his former team with the New Jersey fans sarcastically chanting “Thank You, Cuban!” He was named All-Star and soon became team captain. However, injuries would force him to ride the bench more and curtail his heat.
Basically, his body was giving up on him, robbing him of the speed that gave him an edge. He bounced around the NBA, including a return to Dallas and he's currently with the Nuggets but it appears his days as a star are gone.
8 Larry Hughes
Larry Hughes was one of the wave of young guys in the late ‘90s jumping to the pros after just one year in college. Drafted by Philadelphia, he had decent numbers but nothing major before heading to the Golden State Warriors. He later moved to Washington, where his free throw percentage was .777, he averaged 6.3 rebounds and led the league in steals in 2004-05.
He joined the Cavs to help a young LeBron James and was producing before a finger injury curtailed his efforts.
While he was noted for a good attitude, Hughes couldn’t do as much on the court and was soon bouncing around the league before quitting in 2012. He wasn’t as bad overall as some guys on the list but just couldn't match that one great year.
7 Tyreke Evans
Going into the 2009 draft, Tyreke Evans was supposed to be a major grab. His single year at Memphis had him averaging 29 points and .455 shooting average. He was picked fourth overall by the Kings and had a terrific rookie year. He averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, numbers only matched in rookie years by Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James and was easily the Rookie of the Year. He did suffer some injury issues to push him down so while his numbers were good, they were never as high as his rookie season. He was traded to New Orleans, back to Sacramento, then landed in Memphis. He's still grown to be a solid player, but he's never lived up to his rookie year.
6 Aaron Brooks
Size matters in the NBA which was why Aaron Brooks was so unique on the court. His frame (161 pounds total) was seen as a liability for the pros. He was a bench player for the most part for the Rockets but in his third season, astounded many after breaking out. He averaged 20 points and five assists a game, and was named Most Improved Player with a .432 shooting percentage. But just as Brooks was rising, a bad leg injury cut his time down and he was traded to the Suns. He gained infamy playing in China during the 2011 lockout and was soon bouncing around with stops in Houston, Denver, Chicago, Indiana and currently Minnesota.
5 Larry Sanders
A later starter to basketball, Larry Sanders soon stood out majorly in high school and then college. He was drafted by the Bucks in 2010, doing okay in his first two years but nothing really special. In 2012, he became a starter and took off majorly.
He posted a .506 shooting average, boosting Milwaukee nicely and a highlight to an otherwise rough season for the Bucks. They thus signed him to a four-year, $44 million extension, figuring he would continue to rise.
At first, Sanders seemed to live up to it but in 2013, suffered a non-basketball injury, cracking his orbital bone. The next year found him suspended and in early 2015, the Bucks decided to just buy out his contract. He had a forgettable stint with the Cavs in 2017 and it appears his personal problems prevented him from adapting to the NBA life.
4 Richard Dumas
For a brief year, it looked like Richard Dumas would be a great feel-good story for the NBA. He was drafted in 1991 by the Suns but suspended at the start of the 1992-93 season. When he came back, he was soon boosting great numbers, averaging 15.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. He was a key reason the Suns won 62 games and made it to the NBA Finals (where they lost to the Bulls). But another sabbatical would hurt Dumas badly as he was doing little more than 5 points as an average. He later went to the 76ers and then to Europe before retiring in 2003. Dumas has been better known for various run-ins with the law to show another sad case of a promising rookie who couldn’t handle the major life of the pros.
3 Mike James
By the time he reached Toronto, Mike James was believed to be over the hill and the twilight of a journeyman career. He’d won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 but really nothing special in his career. At 30, it was expected that Toronto would be a last stop for him before he faded away. Instead, James had a great year in 2005-06, averaging 20 points, 6 assists and 3.3. rebounds and shot 47% from the floor. But even then, there were warning signs with accusations of him not being a team player and one-dimensional.
Those fears were realized as James never came close to that number again. He bounced around before finally hanging it up and thus one of the more notable guys with a ring that may not be deserved.
2 Don May
We're reaching back a bit for this one as Don May a third-round pick for the Knicks in 1968. While he was part of the Knicks team that won the NBA title in 1970, his actual court time was pretty limited. He then joined the Buffalo Braves as part of the expansion draft and took advantage of the fresh start to erupt. He finished the season averaging 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. At just 25, it looked like May would have a long career ahead of him. However, a trade to the Hawks cut down May’s abilities and within a few seasons, he was down to just two points. He retired in 1975 and while he may have a ring on his finger, his career hardly proved worthy of it.
1 Jeremy Lin
Ah, Linsanity. For a brief period in 2012, Jeremy Lin was the talk of the NBA. He broke out in that year with the Knicks, as in just 26 games, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists. He was an instant hit with the New York media, fans flocking to game to see him and he took majorly. He even found a spot on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list, beating out slews of more deserving NBA stars.
The Rockets shelled out big time to get him, figuring he would lead them to glory. Instead, within a full season, Lin just couldn’t match the same numbers. Injuries didn’t help as he was soon riding the bench more than on the court and the fan fever faded. He was traded to the Lakers and has since bounced around. But “Linsanity” has died out as Lin is no doubt the biggest flash in the pan of the modern NBA.