Despite how much time professional sports scouts spend evaluating talent and grading college (or even high school) players, they don’t always get it right. In fact, you could make the argument that more often than not, players are not selected in their respective drafts where they should have been. Of course, it’s always easier to look back on a draft in hindsight, but it’s always intriguing to see what the thought process was behind players that didn’t pan out.
What really hurts a franchise is seeing what they could have had instead of a player that didn’t help their franchise. Whenever there is a big bust, we tend to go back and look at those drafts to see who was selected afterward. Now, we want to look at the players that were taken immediately after these busts to see how much better it could have been.
We took the 15 biggest NBA Draft busts of all-time, and then looked at the next player that was drafted. From there, we ranked those players from the ones that didn’t offer up all that much improvement to the Hall of Fame talent that you’ll find in the top five. Here are the rankings for those 15 players drafted just after the biggest busts.
15 15. Dajuan Wagner Drafted After Nikoloz Tskitishvili
The 2002 NBA Draft was an exciting one, as there was intrigue as to who would get the top overall pick to select Chinese sensation Yao Ming. Houston won that lottery, but there was still some good international talent. The next international player taken was Nikoloz Tskitishvili from Georgia with the fifth overall pick by the Nuggets. After that bust, the Cavaliers had the sixth spot, taking Dajuan Wagner from Memphis.
Wagner was off to a good start in his career, but started to see some injury and health problems. Wagner was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, and his career suffered. After averaging 13.4 points per game in his rookie season, Wagner scored just 9.4 career points per game over four total seasons before calling it a career after the 2006-07 season.
14 14. Tyrus Thomas Drafted After LaMarcus Aldridge
After LaMarcus Aldridge came off the board with the second overall pick, the Bobcats (now Hornets) were up with the third selection. They decided to take the college sensation Adam Morrison from Gonzaga, though it wouldn’t end up being the decision they wanted. Injuries and inconsistencies plagued Morrison’s career, while Tyrus Thomas was selected with the next pick by Portland, and was then traded to Chicago.
Thomas played for four seasons with the Bulls, one with the Grizzlies and four with Charlotte, the team that skipped over him. Thomas most recently played in the 2014-15 season, and showed some signs of being a star before never materializing. Thomas finished with 7.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. His only accolade was making the 2006-07 All-Rookie Team.
13 13. Jason Williams Drafted After Robert Traylor
There were some big names that came out of the 1998 NBA Draft, including Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. There was also a fair share of busts, including Robert Traylor of Michigan. Traylor was selected by the Mavericks with the sixth overall pick, and was then traded to Milwaukee as part of a deal that brought Nowitzki to Dallas. The Mavericks clearly won this deal.
Taken immediately after Traylor was Jason Williams, the seventh overall pick by Sacramento. Williams played for the Kings, Heat, Magic and Grizzlies during his career that spanned for more than a decade. Overall, he averaged 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. Not fantastic numbers, but certainly better than what the Bucks got out of Traylor.
12 12. Reggie Williams Drafted After Dennis Hopson
The top of the 1987 NBA Draft was a no-brainer as the Spurs selected David Robinson, but then the rest of the draft was a rollercoaster. There were high expectations for Dennis Hopson, who was selected third overall by the Nets. Hopson was out of the league after the 1991-92 season, having averaged 10.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. The next pick went to the Clippers, who selected Reggie Williams.
Williams would have a longer and more productive career, and the journeyman played for six different NBA teams. The Georgetown product ended his career after the 1996-97 season, having averaged a total of 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while even adding 1.3 steals, but no All Star appearances.
11 11. Victor Oladipo Drafted After Anthony Bennett
The Cavaliers have had some pretty good luck at landing the top pick in the NBA Draft, and it usually seems to work out. The one time that it really backfired, though, was in 2013 when they selected Anthony Bennett out of UNLV with the top selection. Bennett has played for four teams in four seasons, proving to be one of the worst number one picks (if not the worst) in NBA history.
Victor Oladipo from Indiana was the second pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, and he has proven to be a much better selection that has a chance to climb the list. After three seasons with the Magic, Oladipo joined the Thunder for the 2016-17 season and has been right around his career average. So far in more than three seasons, Oladipo is averaging 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
10 10. Mike Bibby Drafted After Michael Olowokandi
We already took one look at the 1998 NBA Draft with Robert Traylor, and now we focus at the top of the draft with Michael Olowokandi. Coming out of the University of the Pacific, Olowokandi was supposed to help the Clippers turn around their fortune by being a dominant force in the middle. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, though, and the Grizzlies selected second, taking Mike Bibby.
Bibby was never an elite talent, but he did string together a very good NBA career that lasted for over a decade and saw his scoring reach upward of 21.1 points per game. Overall, Bibby finished his career after the 2011-12 season having averaged 14.7 points, 5.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He played for six teams, and the Clippers were not one of them.
9 9. Tyson Chandler Drafted After Kwame Brown
Three years after Michael Olowokandi, a very similar player came along at the top of the 2001 NBA Draft. Kwame Brown was the first overall selection out of high school by the Wizards, and he never reached star status. In fact, he averaged just 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds as a center that was supposed to be dominant.
Tyson Chandler was the second overall pick by the Clippers, who then sent him to Chicago. Chandler is still in the NBA and is on his sixth NBA team (Phoenix). Chandler has one All Star credit to his name, and has put together some very solid seasons. Overall, Chandler has scored 8.7 points with 9.4 rebounds per game, making the All-Defensive Team three times.
8 8. Antonio McDyess Drafted After Joe Smith
In the 1995 NBA Draft, four of the first five selections were either named to an All Star squad at some point in their career or made the Hall of Fame. The only one that didn’t, was the first overall selection. The Warriors had that pick, and they used it on Maryland sophomore Joe Smith. Smith had a mediocre career that lasted for a long time, but not something you’d want out of the first overall pick.
The second overall pick was Antonio McDyess (Pictured Middle), who was traded to Denver after hearing his name. McDyess made one All Star appearance and topped 20 points per game in two different seasons. Overall, he finished with 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. McDyess played with five teams in his career, but that’s nothing compared to Smith who played for 11 teams.
7 7. Wally Szczerbiak Drafted After Elton Brand
Although Elton Brand wasn’t the best top overall pick in NBA history, he wasn’t close to being the biggest bust in the 1999 NBA Draft. That honor would go to Jonathan Bender, a pick straight from high school that was selected by Toronto with the fifth spot and then shipped to Indiana. Bender never even showed flashes of greatness like some of the other eventual busts, averaging just 5.5 points per game in his career.
The next pick saw his stock rise after helping Miami (OH) make a tournament run, and that was Wally Szczerbiak. Minnesota was the team that called his name, though Szczerbiak would also play for three other teams. Overall, the solid shooter would average 14.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, making one All Star appearance along the way.
6 6. Sean Elliott Drafted After Pervis Ellison and Danny Ferry
If you are looking for a list of best NBA Draft classes, you might want to stay far away from 1989’s edition. The first two picks were uninspired, starting with Pervis Ellison at the top spot and then Danny Ferry with the second selection. After those two, Sean Elliott would be selected third overall out of Arizona by the Spurs. It ended up being possibly the best pick of that year’s draft.
Elliott spent all but one year of his 12 NBA seasons with the Spurs, making two All Star appearances. Elliott would even score up to 20 points per game, though his career average was 14.2, while adding 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Elliott was an important part of the Spurs winning the title in 1999, his only championship with the franchise.
5 5. James Harden Drafted After Hasheem Thabeet
You will notice that the leap from the rest of the list to the top five is quite extraordinary, and it starts with the 2009 NBA Draft. After the Clippers took Blake Griffin overall, the Grizzlies took UConn star Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet was supposed to be a defensive dominant force, but he lasted for just five seasons where he averaged 2.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game.
The Grizzlies could have had James Harden from Arizona State, the third overall pick by Oklahoma City. So far in his career, Harden has been named an All Star five times (consecutively) and is frequently in the MVP conversation. With plenty of time left in his career, Harden has averaged 21.9 points per game, with a total of 27.3 as a member of the Rockets. Throw in 7.4 assists per game and 5.8 rebounds, and we wonder why Thabeet was ever valued more.
4 4. Carmelo Anthony Drafted After Darko Milicic
The 2003 NBA Draft will certainly go down as one of the best, especially when you look at the top five. There are four surefire future Hall of Fame players, starting with LeBron James, who was taken with the top pick. The second pick belonged to the Pistons, and they selected Darko Milicic from Serbia. Milicic played for six teams in his decade-long career, averaging just 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Detroit could have had Carmelo Anthony from Syracuse instead, and his accolades speak for themselves. He has been named an All Star 10 times while making six All-NBA teams and winning gold medals at the Olympics. Though Anthony doesn’t have a title, he has averaged 24.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists in his long career. Even the next two picks (Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) were home runs.
3 3. Bob McAdoo Drafted After LaRue Martin
Portland held the top overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft, and they used it to select LaRue Martin from Loyola (Illinois). Though young fans don’t know his name, he is undoubtedly one of the biggest draft busts as he played just four NBA seasons. Those seasons weren’t productive, either, as he averaged 5.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. The next selection was a Hall of Famer, though, as Bob McAdoo became a Buffalo Brave.
McAdoo won two NBA titles during his career, while being named to five All Star teams. Playing for seven different teams, McAdoo would average more than 30 points per game three times in his career. He finished with an average of 22.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
2 2. Kevin Durant Drafted After Greg Oden
After spending his lone college season at Ohio State, almost everyone was convinced that Greg Oden was a surefire NBA superstar. Injuries would beg to differ, as Oden struggled to stay on the basketball court with Portland (and eventually Miami). Oden played in just 105 career games before calling it quits, and says he won’t be back. Meanwhile, the next pick belonged to Seattle (now Oklahoma City), and they used the pick on Texas star Kevin Durant.
Now, Durant is one of the best players in the NBA and will go down as an elite generational talent. Durant has been to eight All Star Games, has been named to six All-NBA teams, won the 2008 Rookie of the Year and even the 2014 League MVP Award. So far, Durant is averaging 27.2 points with 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
1 1. Michael Jordan Drafted After Sam Bowie
Poor Sam Bowie will always be the answer to the trivia question “Who was drafted between Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft?” Bowie, of course, was the second overall selection and continues to show the bad luck that Portland has had as a franchise as the top three players on our list were all taken after Blazers busts.
The Bulls selected Jordan with the third pick, and we all know what happened from there. He won six NBA titles with Chicago, and made a total of 14 All Star teams during his Hall of Fame career. The numbers are also ridiculous, as he averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Many consider him the best player of all-time, and it’s crazy to think where Portland would be if they selected one of the top three players from our list.
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