Working as a general manager for an NBA team is harder than you think. Not only do you have to meet the expectations of fans, but you also have to veer away from bad decisions altogether. One major draft screw up or trade mishap can result in a change of job description.
A part of a general manager’s job is to lead the war room during draft night. GMs are usually in charge of making the decision of who the team should draft since they have full control of the roster construction. While suggestions may be thrown out by members of the front office, the final say will always come down to the general manager. There have been countless names known for drafting well, like Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors and Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but even those guys have had draft picks they regret even considering at the time.
Bad choices will always be part of a career; it should be juxtaposed with the good choices as it allows growth and better decisions in the future. This article will look at those bad choices and how they should have handled it at the time. Here are 10 former NBA top three draft picks and two players each whom their teams could have chosen instead.
30 Poor Pick: Jahlil Okafor (2015)
Jahlil Okafor was supposed to spearhead the return of centers playing with their backs to the basket. Okafor was a graceful post scorer in college as he was overpowering players down in the low post. Jahlil looked capable of being the main scorer for the 76ers in his rookie year.
The problem was Okafor indeed scored but he gave points back on the other end. The former Sixer was like a sieve defensively, often giving up easy layups and mid-range jumpshots to opposing bigs. Okafor was indeed a good scorer but the Sixers could have definitely drafted someone else.
29 Should Have Taken: Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis was taken a pick later after Okafor. The Latvian sensation was the big mystery heading into the draft as the 7’3" power forward seemingly came out of nowhere to be in consideration for a top-five pick. The 76ers had no interest in Porzingis since Okafor fell into their laps; Okafor was the safer pick and was considered the better prospect at the time.
If the 76ers gambled on the European standout, they could roll out a lineup of Ben Simmons, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid. Simmons and Embiid are deadly enough as a tandem and if you add KP’s shooting, it could take them to the next level.
28 Should Have Taken: Devin Booker
Devin Booker was never in consideration for a top-five pick, let alone the third overall pick. Booker was projected to be a good spot-up shooter coming out of Kentucky and nothing more. The Sixers never even looked at going with Booker just because there were other guards considered better than him at the time.
If Booker joined the 76ers, he would have given them a secondary ball handler and another option offensively. More likely than not, he would have been the focus of their offense, as he is a slightly better scorer than Embiid and definitely a better scorer and shooter than Simmons.
27 Poor Pick: Marvin Williams (2005)
Marvin Williams has an argument for the greatest one and done career in the NCAA. As a member of the North Carolina team back in 2004-2005, Williams was named ACC Rookie of the Year and he helped propel the Tar Heels to the national championship. Williams made a game winning tip in the final minute of the game against Illinois, breaking a 70-70 tie.
Williams was a good player and nothing more; the problem is that you do not draft someone second overall to be a good player only. The former Atlanta Hawk did not do anything noteworthy in his time with the franchise; in fact, he never averaged more than 15 points per game in seven seasons playing for the Hawks.
26 Should Have Taken: Deron Williams
Shortly after Williams, the Utah Jazz took Deron Williams from Illinois. No one batted an eye when the Hawks took Marvin since his team won over Deron’s; plus, that era was littered with highly skilled wings whereas the quality of point guards was questionable.
The Hawks’ guard rotation was weak at the time and Deron Williams could have helped the team big-time. Williams was in consideration for best point guard as early as his fourth season, the time when the league was shifting towards having their best player play the position. Deron’s career ended much sooner than expected, but during his prime, he was one of the best in the NBA.
25 Should Have Taken: Chris Paul
The same reason why the Hawks passed on Deron Williams can be applied towards Chris Paul. At that time it was easy to pick the 6’9"-6’10" wing over the 6’0"-6’1" point guard. Paul was phenomenal in his two years at Wake Forest but the Hawks had their eyes set on Marvin Williams.
If the Hawks took Chris Paul, they might have won a championship at least once. Teaming him up with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Jamal Crawford could have propelled the Hawks to the finals in 2010 and who knows, maybe that group alone could have been enough to topple the Los Angeles Lakers.
24 Poor Pick: Michael Beasley (2008)
Michael Beasley was nothing short of spectacular in his lone season at Kansas State. Beasley was one of the best players in college as a freshman, averaging 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. The Miami Heat was desperately searching for a guy that will support Dwyane Wade, who was injured the year prior, and they were instantly sold on Beasley.
Beasley had a good career playing for the Heat but it does not warrant him being taken second overall. Maturity issues, off-court behavior, and flat-out laziness were the downfall of Beasley. If he had taken his career seriously he could have had an All-Star career worthy of a second overall pick.
23 Should Have Taken: Kevin Love
Kevin Love was a high school standout and considered one of the best of his class but the hype surrounding him fell flat in his time with the UCLA Bruins. The talent was clearly there as he won PAC-10 Player of the Year, but Beasley outclassed him in every single aspect, including potential.
Love turned into one of the best players in the NBA years after the 2008 draft. Love even had a 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds per game season back in 2011, where he was considered the best power forward in the league. Surely, the Heat could have made been more relevant before LeBron James joined had they taken Love.
22 Should Have Taken: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook was the surprise pick back in 2008. In his time with the UCLA Bruins, Westbrook was more of a defensive-oriented point guard who was once overshadowed by Darren Collison, so when the Seattle SuperSonics took him fourth overall, it was quite the shock for the fans in attendance.
A decade later, Westbrook is a league MVP and the second player in history to average a triple-double in a season after Oscar Robertson. If the Heat took him back in 2008, we could have potentially seen a lineup of Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. On paper, it has the potential to be the most talented four-man lineup in the history of the sport.
21 Poor Pick: Wesley Johnson (2010)
Wesley Johnson was the prototypical 3-D wing when he played in college. Johnson started his career at Iowa State but the transfer to Syracuse was the reason he was considered a top-five pick back in 2010. Johnson showed great defensive instincts to go along with a sweet shooting stroke and the Minnesota Timberwolves needed both.
Johnson went on to have an extremely disappointing two years with the Timberwolves. His rookie year was promising but a little disappointing and his sophomore year was a clear sign that Johnson did not have what it takes to be the second option for a team, as he never averaged double digits and the shooting he showed in college was negated by good NBA defense.
20 Should Have Taken: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins had all the talent in the world playing for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, but he still fell to fifth due to his on-court behavior. Cousins was seen as a hot head and downright immature as he often argued with officials and threw what can only be described as tantrums. The Wolves wanted a fresh start and they did not want such unwarranted emotional outbursts from a young player.
Cousins was, of course, hailed as the best center in the league in only a couple of years. If he had been paired with Kevin Love at the start of his career, Cousins could have helped the Timberwolves make the playoffs as early as 2012.
19 Should Have Taken: Paul George
With hindsight, it is funny how some things work out. The Timberwolves wanted a 3-D wing to help Kevin Love and they passed on probably the best in the NBA today in Paul George. At the time, the lack of shooting was a big red flag when it comes to George, so he was not even in consideration for a top-five pick.
It is a testament of how hard he has worked that Paul George is now one of the best shooters in the NBA. If he had the chance to play with Kevin Love, the two could have formed a formidable 1-2 combination.
18 Poor Pick: Anthony Bennett (2013)
A lot can be said about Anthony Bennett and his NBA career but at one point in his life, Bennett a productive power forward for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. Bennett was never in consideration for the first overall pick but he was shoe in for a top-10 selection. Bennett provided a bruising style of basketball, as he thrived in physicality down in the post and underneath the rim.
It did not take long for Bennett to be exposed as a bust. In his first five NBA games, Bennett tallied only one field goal in 20 attempts. Bennett’s downfall was quite the story; in fact, it was so sudden and tragic that one could easily direct a film centered around the curious incident.
17 Should Have Taken: C.J. McCollum
Back in 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers still had Dion Waiters, so taking a shooting guard like C.J. McCollum was out of the equation. Of course the Portland Trail Blazers took that chance and picked McCollum to form a back court consisting of two point guards and it has worked out for both McCollum and the Blazers.
Had the Cavaliers took the same risk, we might have seen a fun dynamic between Kyrie Irving and McCollum. It is not a guarantee that it would have worked as it did for Damian Lillard and McCollum, but the idea sure is interesting. Most likely than not, the Cavaliers still trade C.J. for Kevin Love, though.
16 Should Have Taken: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo was a big question mark heading into the draft. No one had a clear idea of how Giannis will turn out, as he seemed too young and too raw to play in the NBA and the spot he got picked was a testament to that. The Greak Freak was most definitely not in the vicinity in terms of whom the Cavaliers were looking at back then.
If the Cavaliers took the Greek forward, then an Irving, Giannis, and LeBron core would have won more than one championship. Had those three played together, we might even see LeBron stay in his hometown.
15 Poor Pick: Derrick Williams (2011)
If one is to describe how Derrick Williams played in college, it would be “athletic freak.” Williams at one point looked too good to be playing college ball, as he was towering over defenders and literally jumping over some of them; this was paired with outside shooting and an overall good skillset. The Minnesota Timberwolves saw him as a potentially great partner for Kevin Love.
Being brutally honest, it is hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong with Derrick Williams. He had all the tools and he seemed committed to improving. However, the athleticism he showcased playing at Arizona seemed average compared to some of the finer athletes in the NBA.
14 Should Have Taken: Jimmy Butler
As a junior at Marquette, Jimmy Butler never really stood out among his draft peers. Drafted with the last pick of the first round, Butler was nothing more than an afterthought among the NBA circles as the draft was considered a two-man draft with Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams.
A pairing of Kevin Love and Jimmy Butler could have definitely been a solid young core to build around. During his time with the Timberwolves, Love badly needed a scorer to compliment his game and Butler would have been the perfect partner.
13 Should Have Taken: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard falling to 15th was quite surprising during draft night in 2011. Leonard was a talented wing, especially on the defensive side of the court, for the San Diego Aztecs and he was mock-drafted as early as the top-five. Leonard had a lot of questions, especially when it came to his shooting, and quite frankly Derrick Williams looked better in college.
Had the Timberwolves taken Leonard, they would have drafted a franchise player and Love would have been relegated as the sidekick. Winning always follows a talented player like Leonard and during Kevin Love’s time, the Minnesota faithful were desperate for wins.
12 Poor Pick: Darko Milicic (2003)
In 2003, the demand for a talented big was still relatively high compared to the '90s. Teams were looking for guys that can anchor their team defensively while leading the scoring on the other end. Darko Milicic had the potential to do both as he was solid defensively and was a savant offensively. The Detroit Pistons were not the only ones who fell inlove with Darko as a player as the experts following the draft seemed to agree that he was the second or third best player of the class.
Maturity issues and lack of desire were the downfall of Darko, as he could have been so much more than a punchline today.
11 Should Have Taken: Chris Bosh
The consensus back then was the top three would be LeBron James, Darko Milicic, and Carmelo Anthony, so picking Chris Bosh second overall would have been a reach and a major disappointment. Bosh was a great defensive player but his limited offensive game was apparent in his time at Georgia. The Pistons were looking for someone that can contribute immediately while maintaining potential worthy of being a franchise player and Bosh did not meet the criteria back then.
If the Pistons took Bosh, they would have won more championships. Adding a talented player in Bosh to a championship team would have only made them better as Darko barely contributed in his time with the Pistons.
10 Should Have Taken: Dwyane Wade
The hype surrounding Darko was so big that the Pistons did not consider both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Wade was an undersized shooting guard who had no jump shot, not to mention he played the same position Rip Hamilton did, meaning Wade to Detroit was never in play.
Looking back now, the Pistons could have formed a dynasty if they had added Wade. The former Finals MVP would have been the starting shooting guard while Rip would come in with the second unit. Instead of having a formidable rotation completed by an all-time great, the Pistons missed out big time with this one.
9 Poor Pick: Hasheem Thabeet (2009)
In 2009, the Memphis Grizzlies were still figuring out what team they wanted to be. Obviously looking for someone to help form an identity, the Grizzlies took Hasheem Thabeet, with hopes of being a gritty defensive team. Thabeet was considered a Dikembe Mutombo clone due to their similarity on the defensive end, where Thabeet exceled in college.
The NBA circle quickly found out that Thabeet’s defensive efficiency in college was solely because he was taller than everyone else. Thabeet was outmuscled and outsmarted by opposing players and he never made any significant impact with the Grizzlies or with any team for that matter.
8 Should Have Taken: James Harden
James Harden was a good all-around shooting guard in his time with the Arizona State University Sun Devils. Unfortunately, Harden played the same position as O.J. Mayo, who at the time was considered the franchise player in Memphis, so Harden was not in the Grizzlies’ radar.
If the Grizzlies took Harden, he would have been a part of the Grit n’ Grind Grizzlies along with Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. That team was desperate for a go-to scorer especially in the playoffs, and Harden would have immediately provided big scoring.
7 Should Have Taken: Stephen Curry
In 2009, Mike Conley was about to enter his third season in the NBA; Conley showed a lot of promise in his first two seasons and the Memphis organization put their trust on the young point guard going forward. Steph Curry was a sensation coming out of Davidson and he was almost the same age as Conley, so it was deemed pointless to draft Steph as high as number two.
A Curry-Conley backcourt could have potentially worked, but if it did not work for Conley, then the Grizzlies still would have had the greatest shooter that has ever graced the hardwood. If Steph was in town, Memphis could have hoisted a Larry O’Brien Trophy for sure.
6 Poor Pick: Marcus Camby (1996)
Way back in 1996, the Toronto Raptors were still a relatively new team so they had to pick the best player available. During draft night, the best player available was center Marcus Camby; Camby was considered a workhorse and a defensive genius coming out of college, so it was only fitting that he was paired with an offensive-minded point guard in Damon Stoudamire.
Camby was a great defensive player even in the NBA, where he won Defensive Player of the Year back in 2007, but he was never worthy of being taken second overall, considering the greatness of some of the players selected later.
5 Should Have Taken: Steve Nash
Like we mentioned earlier, the Raptors already had a lead point guard in Damon Stoudamire so picking Steve Nash would have enraged Raptors fans. Nash was an old point college guard who had no business being as good as he was in his career. The level he played at greatly exceeded what people expected of him coming out of Santa Clara.
If Nash was to play for his home country, he would have played with Vince Carter. Of course, the two played together in Phoenix for the Suns but by then, the two were past their primes. A Nash-Carter backcourt could have easily made the Finals.
4 Should Have Taken: Kobe Bryant
Coming out of high school, Kobe Bryant was showered with praise for his talent and skills but people had their doubts on how he would play against grown men in the pros rather than high school students. Unlike Kevin Garnett the year prior, Kobe was not considered a top-five pick, so picking him second overall would have been ludicrous.
We all know how Kobe turned out and if he had the chance to play with Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, the three could have turned the league on its head solely on their athletic and scoring abilities alone. A talented trio like that had the potential to become a dynasty.
3 Poor Pick: Sam Bowie (1984)
In 1984, Bill Walton was long gone from the Portland Trail Blazers and they were desperate for a replacement. Sam Bowie made a lot of sense for the Blazers back then as he provided much-needed talent at the center position, especially since they already had Clyde Drexler manning the shooting guard position.
The Blazers as a franchise had been riddled by the injury bug, and Bowie was not an exception. Bowie suffered several nagging injuries which prevented him from playing to his full potential. Eventually, Bowie became nothing more than the guy that was picked before you-know-who.
2 Should Have Taken: Charles Barkley
During his college career, Charles Barkley played the center position despite being only 6’6" with shoes. Barkley was an amazing rebounder and an intense offensive player, punishing small centers underneath the basket with his compact build and deceptively quick first step.
The Blazers had their eyes set on Bowie, but if they took Barkley, they could have won a championship in the '80s. Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley would have made one of the greatest duos in the history of the NBA; of course, we saw the two pair up in Houston, but they were already slightly past their primes.
1 Should Have Taken: Michael Jordan
Was there any doubt? The aforementioned “you know who,” Michael Jordan is still the greatest player to play the game of basketball. At the time, the Blazers needed a center and they already had a franchise player in Clyde Drexler, so it made sense to pass on the talented Jordan.
Even to this day, people still talk about the Blazers passing on Jordan which is a testament to how badly they messed up. Jordan would have elevated the Blazers to legendary status in the '80s until the '90s. Not only did the Blazers miss out on the greatest of all-time, but they also missed out on being the team for two decades.