Over the past three decades a lot of big time stars have been drafted into the NBA. But then again, a lot of terrible players have also been drafted into the NBA. The majority of the guys picked however, have carved out decent careers for themselves, either as dependable bench guys, solid talents that stay in the rotation, unexciting but important starters, and of course journeymen players who populate the end of the bench and rarely see the court. If you draft a starter or a rotation guy, you can be happy. If you get an end of the bench, journeyman type, or worse, someone that is off your team and/or out of the league in just a couple of years then you know you made a mistake. Well here are some of the mistakes, five bad ones from the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. But here are also five ways these teams could have avoided those mistakes if they had a chance to re-draft their picks.
16 Los Angeles Clippers: Vince Carter (1998)
Original Pick: Michael Olowokandi
The Los Angeles Clippers have enjoyed a long and distinguished career of picking the wrong players with their first round draft picks. They have made some especially poor decisions when the pick is near the top, and of course they have managed to blow it on a few number one overall selections as well. In 1998 the Clippers did just that by choosing Michael Olowokandi with the first overall pick out of the University of the Pacific. Olowokandi did spend five seasons with the Clippers topping out at 12.3 points per game in his final season but averaging just under a double-double during his time in LA. Not bad for a late first rounder but for the number one overall selection it just does not do the job. Especially when the alternatives included at least three future Hall of Famers. They could have had Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce, but for a bit more excitement perhaps they should have grabbed Vince Carter who went number five to the Golden State Warriors who then shipped him to the Raptors.
15 Golden State Warriors: Kevin Garnett (1995)
Original Pick: Joe Smith
One very mediocre 1990s draft pick came in 1995 when the Golden State Warriors selected Joe Smith out of Maryland with the number one overall pick. Although he was named to the NBA All-Rookie team and spent over a decade in the league averaging over ten points and over six rebounds per game, Smith was a terrible choice considering who else the Warriors could have had. Antonio McDyess, who was taken number two would have been a marginally better selection, but the number three and number four picks, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, might have been even better. The best choice that the Warriors could have made, which of course they did not, was Kevin Garnett who went to the Timberwolves with the fifth overall selection. Despite getting a solid player who had a decent career, the pick was among the worst of the 1990s by virtue of missing out on three great players and one Hall of Fame player who they should have chosen instead.
14 Golden State Warriors: Tracy McGrady (1997)
Original Pick: Adonal Foyle
Although he hung around with the Golden State Warriors for a long time, Adonal Foyle was probably a draft pick the Warriors would want a shot at a re-draft if they could. After being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 1997 out of Colgate University he spent 12 seasons in the NBA, ten of them with Golden State. Unfortunately, he averaged just over four points, and grabbed just under five rebounds per game during his career, reaching 5.9 points and seven rebounds during his best season. The very next player selected would have been the much better choice for the Warriors. Tracy McGrady went to the Toronto Raptors with the ninth overall pick. McGrady played 15 seasons in the NBA, averaging just under 20 points per game while appearing in seven All-Star games.
13 Golden State Warriors: Kobe Bryant (1996)
Original Pick: Todd Fuller
After four years at NC State, Todd Fuller finished his senior year averaging over 20 points per game. He was then selected by the Golden State Warriors with the 11th overall pick. The Warriors held onto him for two seasons as he averaged four points per game. He ended up playing just five seasons in the league. Despite only having the 11th overall pick and missing out on Allen Iverson and Ray Allen, they still had an opportunity for four other All-Stars who came in the next six picks. They could have taken Peja Stojakovic who became a star for the Kings, Jermaine O’Neal who had five great years with the Pacers, or even multiple MVP winner and Suns legend Steve Nash. But the one player they really should have grabbed instead of Fuller was another multiple MVP and five time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
12 Interlude: Golden State Warriors
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Golden State Warriors could have drafted Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and then Kobe Bryant in three straight drafts? Then, when they finally did select someone good, Vince Carter, the year after they missed out on Kobe, THEY TRADED HIM AWAY!! That means that the Warriors could have had a team with Kobe, KG, McGrady, and Vince Carter from the end of the 1990s all the way through the early 2010s. If they managed to keep them all playing together, how many NBA championships would Golden State have won? All of them? One thing is for sure, if you worked in the Golden State Warriors front office during the second half of the 1990s, you should probably go into hiding.
11 Milwaukee Bucks: Paul Pierce (1998)
Original Pick: Dirk Nowitzki traded for Robert Traylor
One of the worst draft mistakes of the 1990s was unique in that in order to get the guy they wanted who ended up being a big mistake, they had to actually use their draft pick on a guy they should have kept to begin with. The Milwaukee Bucks wanted Robert Traylor out of Michigan. They did not think he would make it to the number nine pick which they held. So they offered to trade their pick to the Dallas Mavericks who selected Traylor with the number six pick. All the Bucks had to do was then pick someone for the Mavericks with the number nine pick. That someone was Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously the Bucks picked the right guy. But wanted the wrong guy. So Nowitzki was sent packing to Dallas. Now if the Bucks really did not like Dirk, they should have just scrapped the trade and used their pick to select someone totally different, who will also probably end up in the Hall of Fame, like Paul Pierce who went with the very next pick to the Celtics.
10 Detroit Pistons: Dwyane Wade (2003)
Original Pick: Darko Milicic
The most obvious worst pick of all three decades was Darko Milicic who was drafted with the second overall selection in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. Now if they would have had the number one overall pick and still chosen Milicic then everyone associated with the team at the time should be banished from the NBA for skipping over LeBron James. As it happened, LeBron was already gone so they simply passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. The horror of the Pistons choice also overshadowed by the underrated fact that the fifth overall pick, Wade, was the first player to win an NBA championship, and an important reason why the first and fourth pick won theirs as well. In re-drafting for the Pistons, perhaps that fact should weigh most heavily, and a do over should go with Wade to the Pistons instead of the guy whose name is now synonymous with NBA busts: Darko.
9 Portland Trailblazers: Kevin Durant (2007)
Original Pick: Greg Oden
Hold on did I say the worst draft pick in all three decades was Darko Milicic? Yeah, maybe I was wrong. In the 2007 NBA Draft the Portland Trailblazers used their number one overall pick to take Greg Oden. Now Oden’s main problem was not skill or ability, but the more dismal problem of terrible injury luck. Ultimately Oden played two seasons in Portland averaging just under ten points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He added a final season in 2013 where he made it to the NBA Finals with the Heat. Even if Oden was never injured however, and had a long great career, he may have still been a bad choice, as the number two overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics was Kevin Durant. Already an eight time All-Star and the 2014 MVP, he is hoping to get a ring with the Warriors next. Even if the Warriors blow another 3-1 lead in the Finals though, Durant should claim a championship at some point soon. Needless to say Durant would be the guy to re-draft if the Blazers had a chance.
8 Denver Nuggets: Amar’e Stoudemire (2002)
Original Pick: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Another case of a better player coming just a few picks after a legitimate bust came in 2002 when the Denver Nuggets selected Nikoloz Tskitishvili out of Georgia (the country, not the University) with the fifth overall pick. Tskitishvili only lasted four seasons in the NBA, three with the Nuggets. He averaged under three points per game before returning to his international career. Another forward/center type who the Nuggets could have taken was Amar’e Stoudemire who had declared for the draft right out of high school. Stoudemire had an outstanding eight year career with the Phoenix Suns winning Rookie of the Year in 2003 and being selected for six All-Star games. He had a few more solid season with the Knicks before injuries slowed down his career.
7 Washington Wizards: Pau Gasol (2001)
Original Pick: Kwame Brown
Despite having a 12 year career in the NBA, Kwame Brown is still considered a bust from the 2000s. Selected with the number one pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, directly out of high school by Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards, Brown started slowly but looked to be developing by his third season. Unfortunately that was his best season in the league as he regressed from then on. Of course being the number one overall pick meant the Wizards could have had anyone else that was available. Tyson Chandler went second to the Clippers and Tony Parker went 28th to the Spurs, but the guy they should have taken was Pau Gasol who was the third overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks who traded him to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Gasol eventually made his way to the Lakers where he won a couple of championships with Kobe Bryant and is now pursuing another with the Spurs.
6 Memphis Grizzlies: Stephen Curry (2009)
Original Pick: Hasheem Thabeet
After earning second team All-American honors in 2009, and leading Connecticut to the Final Four, 7-foot-3 inch Hasheem Thabeet was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Thabeet played in 68 games during his rookie season before being sent to the D-League. He spent one more season with the Grizzlies before bouncing to three other teams as well as the D-League again during his five years in the league. The Grizzlies could have done much better with the number two overall pick especially considering they already had two great young big men in Zach Randolf and Marc Gasol. If they would have gone with a guard they could have had DeMar DeRozan or James Harden. But with the way Gasol and Randolph developed their outstanding inside game, having a stellar passing point guard who could also shoot the lights out like Steph Curry probably would have transformed them into and NBA Finals team before long.
5 Sacramento Kings: Klay Thompson (2011)
Original Pick: Jimmer Fredette
Sometimes you just choose the wrong guy. There are times when a team is going for a very specific type of player, like for instance a shooter who can get going from three and give your team some scoring burst. Then the team drafts someone who they are certain is the player that fits what they are looking for. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. But the worst times are when the exact player you are looking for, is the guy who you did not choose, but who went with the very next pick. Although he was drafted by the Bucks, it was the Sacramento Kings who traded for Jimmer Fredette with the number ten overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, hoping to get a great three point shooter and scorer. Fredette has yet to average more than eight points per game in his five seasons in the NBA, and hits 38% of his threes. The very next guy to be drafted however was Klay Thompson, who is known to rain fire from deep when he gets hot and has averaged almost 19 points per game while shooting over 41% from three during his six year career with the Warriors.
4 Cleveland Cavaliers: Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013)
Original Pick: Anthony Bennett
One of the ways that taking Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft worked out for the Cavaliers is that because he was not any good, they managed to get the number one pick in the 2014 NBA Draft as well, which netted them Andrew Wiggins. They then used both Wiggins and Bennett to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. That meant two Finals appearances and one championship so far. Imagine if you will however, that the Cavs picked the player who has become the biggest star from the 2013 draft instead, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis would not have prevented the Cavs from getting the number one pick again in 2013 and perhaps the Cavs could have kept him out of the Wiggins-Love trade. Now imagine if you will, a lineup of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Maybe the 73 win Golden State Warriors blow a 3-1 lead in the 2015 NBA Finals instead, and then get swept in 2016. And maybe Kevin Durant realizes leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State is not going to improve his chances at a ring much at all and we get to watch an amazing Cavs-Thunder rivalry develop over the next five years.
3 Philadelphia 76ers: Kristaps Porzingis (2015)
Original Pick: Jahlil Okafor
There were two players who everyone knew were going to become great NBA players in the 2015 NBA Draft and two players who everyone hoped could become great NBA players in 2015. Karl-Anthony Towns who went number one to the Timberwolves, and Jahlil Okafor who when went number three to the 76ers were the safe picks. D’Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis were the risky shots that could have a big upside. Towns has come through with flying colors, Russell looks like he should be good but it is still a bit early to tell, Okafor has disappointed, and Porzingis has been the big surprise. The bad pick was obviously the 76ers taking Okafor instead of Kristaps. But the bigger mistake may have been made by Porzingis instead. In the lead up to the draft, Proznigis refused to work out for the 76ers, apparently not wanting to play for them. But in so doing he has ended up with the disaster that is the New York Knicks. If Kristaps would have made an effort for the 76ers and impressed them, he may have become part of team unicorn, with four players 6 foot 10 and taller who can all shoot from deep, drive, and defend everywhere in Joel Embiid, Kristaps, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. So as much as the 76ers would want a chance to re-draft Porzingis, Porzingis would probably also want another chance to work out for Philadelphia.
2 Golden State Warriors: Paul George (2010)
Original Pick: Ekpe Udoh
After playing his college hoops at Michigan and Baylor, Ekpe Udoh was drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Udoh spent six years in the league, but only lasted two with the Warriors, averaging just under five points per game. Once again Golden State not only grabbed the wrong guy but grabbed someone that did not even last that long with them anyway. If the Warriors insisted on going with a big man with their pick they could have had Greg Monroe who went to the Pistons with the very next pick instead. Two picks later however, Gordon Hayward and Paul George came off the board. Either player would have been a great choice, but Paul George developed a bit sooner than Hayward so he would probably be the best guy to re-draft.
1 Sacramento Kings: Damian Lillard (2012)
Original Pick: Thomas Robinson
Despite being named consensus first team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year in 2012, since Thomas Robinson arrived in the NBA he has yet to break out. Looking like a surefire star, the Sacramento Kings selected Robinson with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Over his five seasons in the NBA he has played for six teams and has averaged just less than five points and less than five rebounds per game. It seems like he should be so much better but it just has not happened. If the Kings had a chance to re-draft this pick they could have done a lot better and gone with the player who went with the very next pick, Damian Lillard. Dame has proven himself to be a cold-blooded killer in the NBA, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2012, leading the Portland Trailblazers to the playoffs three times so far, and of course hitting a buzzer-beating, series winning three pointer against Houston in 2014.