The NBA Draft is the best way to acquire future superstars. Every team hopes their scouting department is good enough to figure out which prospects entering the draft will breakout to change a franchise in the future. The draft lottery is the biggest moment of the year for all losing teams dreaming of winning a high pick. Expectations are that the top two picks from a draft should be the best players from the class, but that is often not the case. Most teams will settle for moderate success given some of the horror stories. There have been enough examples of massive busts with the first or second pick to lead to teams wanting to avoid such embarrassment.
We will look at some of the most noteworthy moments of teams not only picking the wrong players with the top two picks but also missing out on a future superstar. These teams could have had their entire landscapes changed if they just made one different decision when it came to the draft. Meanwhile, other teams lucked out by getting their stars later in the draft. The thought process of “what could have been” will haunt fan bases forever when it comes to some of these blunders. Find out just how bad it was with the players that could have been taken in place of the busts. These are ten poor first and second overall NBA draft picks along with the players the teams wish they picked.
20 Poor first overall pick: Michael Olowokandi (1998)
The Los Angeles Clippers were an irrelevant franchise for many years in the NBA until Blake Griffin and Chris Paul arrived there to deliver some wins. One move that set the Clippers franchise back many years was taking Michael Olowokandi with the first overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft.
Centers were very important in the '90s as dominating the paint was the easiest way to score buckets. Olowokandi had great skill, but he could never materialize it in the NBA. The Clippers regretted taking Olowokandi with such an important pick for their future. He was never anything special and is remembered as an all-time worst first overall pick.
19 Better pick would have been: Dirk Nowitzki
History has shown us that Dirk Nowitzki was the best player to get selected from the 1998 NBA Draft. The Milwaukee Bucks selected Nowitzki with the ninth overall pick before trading him to the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki would become one of all-time great power forwards winning an MVP Award and NBA Championship playing only for Dallas.
Los Angeles Clippers fans would have had a great time seeing Nowitzki become a great part of their franchise. Another pick that some people felt should have been selected No. 1 in 1998 was Vince Carter. That would have been another superior choice to Olowokandi.
18 Poor second overall pick: Hasheem Thabeet (2009)
The Memphis Grizzlies felt great about drafting Hasheem Thabeet in the 2009 NBA Draft, but it turned out to be one of the worst decisions in franchise history. This was still when teams would value big men due to their size over the more skilled guards available.
Memphis put their stock into Thabeet becoming a superstar center to build the franchise around. Thabeet, however, turned into a bust right away. It only took a few seasons before Thabeet lost all his value as a possible future star. Memphis fans still feel the pain when watching a few later picks in this draft class dominating the league today.
17 Better pick would have been: Stephen Curry
The player that most Memphis Grizzlies fans wish the team believed in enough to take with the second overall pick was Stephen Curry. Not many executives believed in Curry’s style since there was the old belief that three-point shooting teams can’t win titles.
Curry proved that wrong by winning two MVP Awards and starting the Golden State Warriors dynasty. Another better pick would have been James Harden, who was taken one spot after Hasheem Thabeet. Memphis passed on two future Hall of Famers and MVP winners by preferring a big man with less skill. Curry is the main player that hurts Grizzlies fans reading the draft back.
16 Poor first overall pick: Kwame Brown (2001)
Kwame Brown is always referenced when looking back at the poor decisions Michael Jordan made as an NBA executive. The Washington Wizards gave Jordan power after he retired and drafting Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft was the first major decision from him.
Brown skipped college to join the NBA right out of high school. The Wizards realized Brown was going to be a bust right away. Jordan further ruined his confidence by frequently screaming at the teenager in practice. Brown would spend his NBA career as a role player and never came close to the top pick status.
15 Better pick would have been: Pau Gasol
The 2001 NBA Draft was a rather weak one, with not too many top stars coming from the lottery picks. Pau Gasol was the third overall pick in the draft by the Atlanta Hawks before getting traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Many draft pundits wanted Gasol to go first overall, but Michael Jordan believed Kwame Brown had more potential.
Gasol is still in the league all these years later, with many great accolades. The Los Angeles Lakers acquiring Gasol made him the perfect second All-Star alongside Kobe Bryant to win two NBA Championships together. Gasol would have been the pick that Washington fans would have loved to see looking back at it today.
14 Poor second overall pick: Marvin Williams (2005)
The 2005 NBA Draft was rather weak looking back at it today. Only a handful of players from this draft class are still going today. Marvin Williams was selected as the second overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks. The superb college basketball play of Williams at North Carolina, despite his sixth-man status, made fans and some experts believe he would become a future All-Star.
Williams never came close to becoming a top-level player in the league. Atlanta fans were upset about how his career turned out. Williams is still playing today for the Charlotte Hornets as a solid role player, but he was a huge disappointment given the draft position.
13 Better pick would have been: Chris Paul
The best player from the 2009 NBA Draft from the early years and still today is Chris Paul. A few teams passed on Paul due to his smaller size and he fell to the fourth overall pick of the New Orleans Hornets. It only took a few seasons for Paul to become the face of the franchise.
Future runs with the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets would add more great moments to his Hall of Fame career. Paul is a top-ten all-time point guard that will be remembered as one of the best of the current era. Atlanta Hawks fans feel the heartbreak of realizing their team picked Marvin Williams over him.
12 Poor first overall pick: Joe Smith (1995)
Most fans of today may be surprised to realize Joe Smith was once a top overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Smith didn't have an embarrassing career like a lot of the other worst first overall picks. However, he never fulfilled the hopes of becoming a top star like Golden State expected.
Smith deserves credit for spending 16 seasons in the NBA. The problem is that he only served as a role player when the expectations were that he would become a future superstar. Golden State missed out on a couple of better future stars when taking the chance on Smith.
11 Better pick would have been: Kevin Garnett
The best player from the 1995 NBA Draft class was Kevin Garnett. Many scouts believed Garnett was the most talented player in the 1995 Draft and history would prove them right. The reason that a few teams passed on Garnett is that he was coming out of high school and many teams felt that would lead to failure.
Garnett, however, proved them all wrong by becoming an All-Star for the Minnesota Timberwolves after they picked him fifth in the draft. The evolution of Garnett would see him become arguably the best power forward in the league. Garnett won an MVP Award and an NBA Championship to show just how much he accomplished as a superstar. Golden State fans don’t feel as much pain these days with their current super team, but it was a huge regret for many years that they took Joe Smith.
10 Poor second overall pick: Michael Beasley (2008)
It became apparent that Derrick Rose was going to be the top pick of the 2008 NBA Draft before the draft lottery. The Chicago Bulls lucked out by winning and getting the chance to draft Rose. It was the Miami Heat that had the second pick and made the call to pick Michael Beasley with it.
Beasley showed great potential in college, but he never could bring that to fruition in the NBA. The pick turned out to be a huge disappointment as Beasley had the ceiling of a role player. To make matters worse, there were a few great picks selected right after him.
9 Better pick would have been: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook was selected a few picks later out of UCLA by the Seattle SuperSonics right before they transitioned into the Oklahoma City Thunder. Miami would have had the backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Westbrook to build the future around.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team a little later. Some would argue that maybe this big three would not have formed with Westbrook there, but James wanted to team with Wade badly. They could have found a way to get the big three while keeping Westbrook on a small contract before he was due for a big payday. The loyalty from Westbrook may have kept him in Miami to this day if they picked him over Michael Beasley.
8 Poor first overall pick: Greg Oden (2007)
The Portland Trail Blazers made one of the most heartbreaking draft blunders when selecting Greg Oden with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden showed incredible potential in college and was the most hyped big man to enter the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal.
Portland believed Oden would be the man that would have led them into the future and would still be carrying them today. Oden, however, never got the chance to prove his skills. Injuries ruined his career before it could get off the ground. Portland could not get Oden on the court long enough without another injury surfacing. This pick is remembered as an all-time bust.
7 Better pick would have been: Kevin Durant
The big debate ahead of the 2007 NBA Draft had every national sports show trying to pick between Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Both players had massive potential and hype around their NBA future. The argument for Oden was that centers impacted the game more and Durant was quite skinny.
Durant fell to second overall for the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder to pick him as the new face of the franchise. The scoring ability of Durant made him a standout talent right away before rising to the top of the league. Durant is still a top-two player today while Oden is a forgotten man. Portland fans are still dreaming of what could have been.
6 Poor second overall pick: Darko Milicic (2003)
The 2003 NBA Draft is remembered as an iconic one for many reasons. LeBron James was the easy choice for the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top pick. The biggest decision came from the Detroit Pistons with the second overall pick. Detroit owned Memphis’ pick here to draft a potential future star, but they were already contending for an NBA Championship.
The pick would see Darko Milicic join the Pistons after coming to the league from Serbia. Milicic did not have much success in the league and never reached star level. The skills of Darko never materialized into anything special. Detroit passed on three future Hall of Famers to take Milicic.
5 Better pick would have been: Carmelo Anthony
Dwyane Wade was technically a better player than Carmelo Anthony when looking back at their careers, but Anthony would have fit into the Detroit Pistons rotation better. The Detroit Pistons would win the NBA Championship the following season in 2004, so it is hard to say the change would have been good.
Anthony likely would have come off the bench for this rookie season as a scorer despite the immense talent. Detroit’s one slight weakness was the small forward position, as Tayshaun Prince was not as great as the other four starters. Anthony would have eventually taken over and given the Pistons a scoring option they lacked, to possibly contend for more titles.
4 Poor first overall pick: Anthony Bennett (2013)
Anthony Bennett was selected not too long ago in 2013, but he is already considered one of the biggest busts in league history. The Cleveland Cavaliers took Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Bennett is already out of the league while most of the other top stars from his class are now entering their prime.
Cleveland lucked out by getting LeBron James back the following season and trading Bennett, along with Andrew Wiggins, for Kevin Love. We will look at it from Minnesota’s point of view when breaking down what the fan base would have wanted instead of Bennett. Unless Bennett can somehow make it back to the NBA, he will be the biggest number one pick flop in league history.
3 Better pick would have been: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The best pick to come from the 2013 NBA Draft was clearly Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not many lottery teams took interest in Antetokounmpo since he was a gamble. The Milwaukee Bucks were the franchise ready to risk it when selecting him with the fifteenth overall pick out of Greece.
Anthony Bennett was a stunning pick by Cleveland that most expected to fall significantly lower. They may as well have taken Antetokounmpo if they felt this draft was worthy of a risky play. Antetokounmpo would have been sent to Minnesota in that trade could be part of a new dynamic duo with Karl-Anthony Towns right now. Timberwolves fans are paying for the Cavaliers Poor mistake.
2 Poor first overall pick: Sam Bowie (1984)
The 1984 NBA Draft will always hurt the feelings of any longtime Portland Trail Blazers fans who lived through the regret. Hakeem Olajuwon was selected with the first overall pick by the Houston Rockets which made sense. The stellar play of Olajuwon made the pick a success.
Portland had a huge decision to make with the second overall pick. Sam Bowie would be the player that Blazers management expected to lead them to success. The career of Bowie was extremely mediocre. Injuries diminished his potential, but Portland picking Bowie is a bigger heartbreak for another reason to come in the next entry.
1 Better pick would have been: Michael Jordan
The Portland Trail Blazers passed on the greatest player of all-time to draft Sam Bowie. Michael Jordan fell all the way to third to the Chicago Bulls. The sport changed forever with Jordan taking it to new heights. Chicago enjoyed the rewards of six iconic NBA Championships, as Jordan was unstoppable at his best.
Houston fans even regret not getting Jordan, but they at least drafted a legend, Hakeem Olajuwon, who helped them win multiple NBA Championships. Portland fans live with the pain of knowing they passed on Jordan for Bowie. Between this and Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, no fan base has felt as much draft heartbreak. The Trail Blazers had the second overall pick and let the G.O.A.T. pass them by.