The NBA Draft is one of the best sporting events of the year. It may not be a game in the athletic sense of the word, but it’s most certainly a competition. The draft provides bad teams with the chance to add a new star to their roster, an opportunity to revitalize a struggling franchise or continue to build on a promising foundation. It’s a time of hope for fans, coaches and General Managers. However, it’s also a time for terrible mistakes, hilarious errors and legacy-defining blunders.
Taking the wrong player can hurt, but taking a total bust can kill your franchise for years to come. It’s hard to scout these players. This is not a science. One scout may love the power forward that stretches the floor, while another might see that his range doesn’t really extend to the NBA three-point line. Nobody knows who is right until that player steps onto an NBA court.
The college and international games are very different from the NBA, and a lot of players can’t handle the transition. Some players don’t have the skills, some don’t have the mental makeup. Some guys just think they’ve made it once they’re drafted and open up car dealerships in their home towns. There have been a lot of bad draft picks in the NBA lottery (the first 14 picks of the draft) over the years. Here are the 15 worst in the last 10 years:
15. Michael Beasley
The 2008 NBA Draft saw a debate over which player the Chicago Bulls should select with the top pick. On one side you had Derrick Rose, the hometown kid that had just led his college team to the National Championship Game. On the other side, you had Michael Beasley, the collegiate National Player of the Year and a forward that had put up gaudy numbers at Kansas State.
Chicago ended up going with Rose, leaving Beasley to the Miami Heat at number two. Miami took the former Wildcat, teaming him with Dwyane Wade in the hope of an inside-outside punch that would give opposing defenses fits. However, Beasley quickly showed himself to be immature and unprepared for the pro game. He couldn’t bully opponents physically like he did in college and his poor attitude cut his tenure in Miami to just two seasons. Beasley never became the star he looked destined to be in college and to make matters worse Kevin Love went just three picks later in the same draft.
14. Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers came out of high school with the hype machine by his side in full swing. He had a flashy offensive game that had dominated the high school level and he was headed to one of the most prestigious college basketball programs at Duke. To top it all off, he was the son of Doc Rivers, a well-known former NBA player turned head coach. Austin’s first game for the Blue Devils was heavily-covered, but the youngster quickly proved to be more sizzle than substance. He certainly acted the part, walking around the court like he owned it, but his play did not measure up. During his lone year at Duke, Rivers went from a contender for the top pick in the draft to eventually being selected by the New Orleans Pelicans 10th overall. Still, a lot of people had hope that this big name would eventually figure it out.
His rookie season was abominable, as he shot under 38% from the floor and posted a putrid PER of 5.9. New Orleans quickly tired of his poor play and entitled attitude, he eventually found his way to his father’s team in Los Angeles, where he continues to play bad basketball.
13. Xavier Henry
Xavier Henry was another big-time prospect coming out of high school. He looked like the prototypical shooting guard that could fill it up and develop into a star. His one season at Kansas was a bit underwhelming, but a three-point shooting percentage of nearly 42% was extremely promising and the Memphis Grizzlies decided to use the 12th pick in the 2010 Draft on him.
Henry looked extremely overwhelmed during his rookie season, though. He lost his shooting touch, hitting threes at a dismal mark of 11.8% and he didn’t contribute in any other way than scoring. Memphis shipped him out of town after one season and he was unable to find his footing in New Orleans. A halfway decent 2013-14 season with the Lakers revealed a glimmer of hope, but that glimmer was quickly snuffed out and he was out of the league a year later.
12. Terrence Williams
Terrence Williams had flashed a versatile game at the collegiate level, the kind of skills that could have had him flirting with triple-doubles on the pro level, leading the Nets to choose him 11th overall in 2009.
His rookie season was a bit inefficient, but he showed all-around promise. However, that was the crest of his career arc and it quickly went downhill from there. Williams only played in ten games for the Nets the next season and was eventually moved to Houston. He played in all of 23 games over two seasons for the Rockets before becoming a pinball player and bouncing from team to team. At each stop, there was a coaching staff that thought they could coax production out of this talented player, but nobody could.
11. Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson was actually in the conversation for the second overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft right up until Charlotte used it to select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist instead. Robinson ended up falling to the fifth pick, where he was welcomed to the basketball wasteland that is Sacramento. The Kings have been one of the most dysfunctional NBA franchises for years and they certainly did not do Robinson any favors. Robinson was really good in college, posting a fantastic junior season at Kansas that included averages of more than 17 PPG and nearly 12 RPG. He seemed like a good bet to be a double-double power forward that you could count on to be a high-energy guy.
Robinson fashioned himself a star and fancied himself much more of a perimeter player than he was capable of being. He didn’t even make it through his rookie season in Sacramento before being jettisoned to Houston, and he’s never found a foothold in the NBA. The next pick in the 2012 draft? Damian Lillard. As always, a bang-up job by the Kings.
10. Jimmer Fredette
Jimmer Fredette was a sensation in college. The guy rained down threes on Mountain West opponents and looked like an unstoppable offensive force. He was selected with the 10th pick in the 2011 Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and traded to the Sacramento Kings. You can’t make this stuff up.
Jimmer was a flawed prospect and many teams saw that, but the Kings fell in love with the hype, as they always seem to do. Fredette simply could not play defense, like none at all. Add in a shooting percentage of less than 39% in his rookie season and the offensive maven was not giving the Kings much. He has never found a way to gain playing time in the league, with stints in the D-League along the way. He’s the classic case of a great college player that couldn’t make the transition to the NBA.
One pick later the Golden State Warriors selected a much less heralded player by the name of Klay Thompson. Yes, between 2011 and 2012 the Kings could have drafted a backcourt of Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson. It’s time to give up the crown.
9. Ekpe Udoh
Ekpe Udoh had bust written all over him from day one. He nearly averaged a double-double during his junior season at Baylor, but he always looked like more of an athlete than a basketball player. That’s fine for a guy that you take a flyer on somewhere in the 20s, but the Golden State Warriors decided Udoh was worthy of the sixth pick in the 201o Draft.
Udoh had a lot of defensive potential, but his lack of offensive skills or a genuine feel for the game of basketball really hurt him. He didn’t even last two full seasons in Oakland before being shipped to Milwaukee, where he continued to struggle. He spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging four points and just north of three rebounds per game for his career. While Udoh went sixth in that draft, Gordon Hayward went ninth and Paul George went tenth. Ouch.
8. Jonny Flynn
Do you remember David Kahn? If you’re a Minnesota Timberwolves fan you do; he’s the reason you wake up with night sweats, even years later. David Kahn thought he was smarter than everyone else, which is a dangerous way to operate, especially in a league filled with intelligent people. Kahn and the T-Wolves had back-to-back lottery picks at number five and six in the 2009 draft, an opportunity to rebuild the roster in the post-Kevin Garnett era of the franchise.
Kahn used the fifth pick to select flashy Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio. He then used the next pick to select ANOTHER point guard in Johnny Flynn in one of the more perplexing draft decisions in the history of the league. Kahn claimed that the two point guards could play together, which proved to be blatantly false. Flynn’s career would be derailed by injury, but his size and lack of court vision hampered him as well. The next player to be drafted in 2009 was none other than reigning MVP Steph Curry. Kaaaaaaahhhhhhhn!
7. Yi Jianlian
Yi Jianlian was the mystery man of the 2007 NBA Draft. Hailing from China, not much was known about the seven-footer and there were even disputes about his actual age. Rumor had it that he was extremely skilled for a man of his size, something that always piques the interest of NBA teams. Everyone is looking for the next Dirk Nowitzki. However, Yi was not the next Dirk Nowitzki. During the pre-draft process, a video of Yao shooting jump shots over chairs surfaced in a kind of marketing ploy by his agent. Chairs, just regular-sized chairs. And it was then that “The Chairman” was born.
Yi ended up going to Milwaukee with the sixth pick, but he only lasted a season with the Bucks. He never did much of anything in the NBA, but he did teach scouts that chairs are not reliable defenders in basketball workouts. Apparently that needed to be tested out.
6. Derrick Williams
The debate raged leading up to the 2011 Draft: Derrick Williams or Kyrie Irving? It was Cleveland’s first big decision in the wake of LeBron’s departure and they opted for Irving in what turned out to be a great move. This left Williams sitting there for the Minnesota Timberwolves and….David Kahn.
Shocking revelation: a guy drafted by David Kahn was a disappointment. Williams quickly proved to be a tweener, too small to play the floor and not skilled enough to play the three. He liked to shoot threes; the problem was that he couldn’t make them. He was like a terrible version of Thaddeus Young, unable to understand his strengths and limitations the way Young did. Williams has played for a multitude of teams now, never showing any real progress. His days in the NBA really should be numbered, but teams may keep rolling the dice on the talent he flashed at the University of Arizona.
5. Joe Alexander
Joe Alexander looked the part in college. A really good junior season at West Virginia coupled with an exciting NCAA Tournament run had him skyrocketing up draft boards, which can often be a reason for pause. In this case, it turned out to be.
Alexander was drafted by Milwaukee with the eighth pick in 2008. He had elite athleticism and a great NBA body, but the team had to be shocked by how poorly he played once he got court time. Alexander had not been playing basketball all that long, and it showed when he couldn’t use his athletic gifts as an incredible advantage anymore. His inability to shoot from distance also really hurt him as a small forward. After one season in Milwaukee he moved on to Chicago, and that was all she wrote. Two years in the league for the eighth overall pick is a remarkably short career.
4. Jan Vesely
Whiffing on a lottery pick is bad, but whiffing on a top six pick is really bad and can seriously slow down a rebuilding effort. Jan Vesely was a highlight machine from the Czech Republic that had people comparing him to Blake Griffin for his monstrous dunks. The Washington Wizards were sold to the point that they made him the sixth pick in the 2011 Draft.
Unfortunately for the team, Vesely may not have been able to do anything besides dunk. He had little feel for the game and consistently looked baffled on the court. After two-and-a-half terrible years in DC, the Wizards moved him to Denver for his NBA career’s death rattle. He averaged less than four points and four rebounds for his career, a massive bust. Seeing players like Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard go after him has to sting Wizards fans, but almost anyone would have been a better pick than Vesely.
3. Hasheem Thabeet
At 7’3″, Hasheem Thabeet was a tantalizing player when he arrived at the University of Connecticut. It took him a little while to find himself on the court, but when he left UConn he looked destined to be the next great rim protector in the NBA. He’d averaged more than four blocks per game in each of his last two seasons for the Huskies and the Memphis Grizzlies used the second pick in the 2009 Draft on him.
A big problem with Thabeet turned out that he couldn’t really move. He was painfully slow and he couldn’t get himself into defensive position quickly enough in the pro game. He still got his hands on some shots when he was in the game, but he could never find a way to earn consistent minutes. When you consider that the Grizzlies could have had James Harden, Steph Curry or DeMar DeRozan instead of Thabeet, the pick becomes that much worse. Thabeet turned out to be the prototypical tall stiff.
2. Anthony Bennett
The 2013 NBA Draft did not have a consensus number one pick. Cleveland had landed the top selection yet again and there was not even a clear-cut group to choose from. Still, it came as a surprise to many when the Cavs tapped the UNLV product as the first pick in the draft. Bennett was coming off a good year for the Rebels, but his body and game screamed tweener. Sure, Nerlens Noel was coming off an injury, Alex Len had bust potential and Victor Oladipo didn’t seem to be a star-in-the-making, but any of those picks would have been better than Bennett.
Bennett showed up to camp overweight and looked really bad pretty much every time he got on the court. After one season he was traded along with Andrew Wiggins in the deal that brought Kevin Love to Cleveland and he didn’t do much better in Minnesota despite getting into great shape. At the time it would have seemed borderline insane, but the right pick for the Cavs was Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka The Greek Freak.
1. Greg Oden
Anyone who follows the NBA knows about Greg Oden. Oden was supposed to be the next great big man, continuing a long line of dominant centers in the history of the league. Oden was massive, a physical specimen that towered over opponents. He had a very good year that failed to live up to impossible expectations at Ohio State, but he was essentially a consensus number one pick at the time.
You’ll hear people say that they knew Kevin Durant was a better pick, but pretty much everyone was taking Oden first. Injuries derailed what seemed destined to be a great career, as Oden looked the part of a dominant big man when he was healthy. To make matters worse for Oden and the Blazers, Durant went on to become one of the best players in the league, and he still is today. Durant has multiple scoring titles and an MVP award, while Oden played in a total of 105 games.
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