More than any other of the four major professional sports in the United States, the first round of the NBA Draft is the most top-heavy. It seems that almost all of the top superstars in the NBA were drafted in the first 10, if not the first five, selections overall.
There are a few later in the first round and the second round that break out, especially in their rookie season. When that happens, the fan bases think that they have a superstar in the making that can end up being the cornerstone of the franchise. No matter what spot you were selected in during the draft, the expectations are high after a good rookie season.
Some players weren’t able to capitalize on their hype after their first year in the league and seemingly fell off the face of the Earth. Here are 15 players that produced a lot of excitement in their first seasons, only to not meet expectations later on in their careers.
15 Christian Laettner
While he was at Duke, everyone knew who Christian Laettner was and most people hated him. Laettner was selected third overall by the Timberwolves in the 1992 NBA Draft and had a strong rookie season where he averaged 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. It looked like his dominance was going to translate to the NBA, but he only had one season that was as good as his rookie year, making one All Star Game in 1996/97. Laettner became somewhat of a running joke about how college athletes can drop off in the pros, but he did play until the end of the 2004-05 season.
14 Al Thornton
With the 14th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Clippers scooped up Al Thornton out of Florida State. In his rookie season, Thornton played well enough to make the All-Rookie First Team and the Clippers (who were in a rebuilding process) thought they might have found a big piece to work with moving forward. Instead, Thornton only had one more decent season (which happened to be his second year) and then fell off the map. Thornton couldn't get back to form and he played a total of just three seasons in L.A. before spending two seasons with the Wizards and one with the Warriors before starting an international career. In the 2015-16 season, Thornton was playing with the NLEX Road Warriors. As to what that is, your guess is as good as mine.
13 Landry Fields
There were absolutely no expectations for Landry Fields coming out of Stanford in 2010 as he was the 39th overall pick by the Knicks. However, Fields had a solid rookie season, playing in all 82 games and averaging 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The Knicks thought they got a steal and the potential was through the roof for Fields, but those would end up being his career highs. Fields played 56 games over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with Toronto, barely putting up any numbers and didn’t play this season.
12 Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans was part of a strong Memphis squad in college and left after his first season to be drafted in 2009 with the fourth overall pick by Sacramento. Evans was explosive in his first season, averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game en route to a Rookie of the Year award. Since then, Evans hasn’t been able to score nearly as many points and has become more of an afterthought on the Pelicans roster. He isn’t bad by any stretch, but the hype has all but disappeared.
11 Jonny Flynn
Coming out of Syracuse in 2009, the Timberwolves used the sixth overall selection in the draft to take Jonny Flynn. Flynn impressed in his first season, scoring 13.5 points per game while adding 2.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists en route to an All-Rookie second team appearance. After a hip surgery, Flynn lost a step and went on to regress quickly. Flynn would only play in 82 more games over two more seasons and was out of the league after the 2011-12 season. Flynn spent some time in Australia and Italy and is now without a job in professional basketball at just 27 years old.
10 O.J. Mayo
At one point in time, O.J. Mayo was the most celebrated high school basketball player in the nation. It was a big deal when he went to USC for a season (even if it wasn’t a great one). Mayo was still drafted third overall in 2008 by the Timberwolves and traded to the Grizzlies with a lot of expectations. Mayo made the All-Rookie team with 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Mayo has not average more points or rebounds in a season since then and has only topped his assist mark from his rookie season once. Mayo played the 2015-16 season with the Bucks, starting just 24 games.
9 Ray Felix
There is always pressure on the first overall pick and some can’t live up to the hype. Ray Felix was one of the originals, as the Bullets selected him first in 1953 out of LIU Brooklyn. Felix stormed onto the scene, winning the Rookie of the Year award with 17.6 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. Those would end up being the career highs for Felix as he never made another All-Star Game afterward, playing for three different teams and retiring at 31 years old.
8 Salim Stoudamire
The Stoudamire name is a memorable one in the NBA, but perhaps the most forgotten of the Stoudamire family is Salim. Salim was drafted with the first pick of the second round at the 2005 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks and had a surprisingly good rookie season with 9.7 points per game, including 82 made three pointers. Stoudamire’s use by the Hawks waned quickly and after two more seasons of being a bench player, he was out of the league. Stoudamire last played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League in 2013 and is now semi-retired.
7 Terry Dischinger
Terry Dischinger grew up in Indiana and attended Purdue, before he was drafted eighth overall in 1962 by the Chicago Zephyrs (who would become the Baltimore Bullets). Dischinger put up his best season in his rookie year with a phenomenal 25.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Those numbers would drop dramatically by his third year, but he was still able to make the All Star Game in his first three seasons. Dischinger’s drop off would become more dramatic and he played his final season with Portland in 1972-73, whre he averaged just 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
6 Adam Morrison
Adam Morrison is in the Christian Laettner class of players that peaked in college, but Laettner’s NBA career was actually much better. Morrison was a star at Gonzaga and was drafted third overall by the Bobcats (now Pelicans) in 2006. With 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, Morrison was able to make the All-Rookie second team, but then missed his second season with a knee injury. Morrison was never able to improve on his numbers and was quickly forgotten, maxing out at 4.0 points per game in a season after his rookie year. Morrison retired after the 2009-10 season after winning an NBA title with the Lakers (which is a cruel joke to players like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and any other great to never win a title).
5 Clark Kellogg
Every basketball fan born after the mid 1980s knows Clark Kellogg as an analyst for college basketball on CBS Sports. They might not know that he was a standout at Ohio State that was drafted eighth overall in 1982 by the Pacers. Kellogg was on the All-Rookie team with 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, and it seemed like he was set to dominate the league. However, Kellogg couldn’t get back to those numbers and chronic knee problems pushed him into early retirement after the 1986-87 season at the age of 25.
4 MarShon Brooks
MarShon Brooks was a scoring machine at Providence, being named an All-American in his senior season with the Friars. Brooks was then drafted 25th overall by Boston in 2011, and averaged 12.6 points with 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in his rookie season. Brooks seemed set to get more playing time, but was traded to Brooklyn and only averaged 12.5 minutes per game while he was there. Brooks struggled mightily and bounced around between NBA and D-League teams before leaving the United States. Brooks now plays for the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association.
3 Phil Ford
Back when the Kings were still in Kansas City, they drafted Phil Ford with the second overall pick in 1978 out of North Carolina. Ford was set to be the cornerstone of the franchise, especially after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1979, even making the All-NBA Second Team. Those would be the highest honors that Ford would win in his career, as he finished with a total of just 11.6 points and 6.4 assists per game. Ford was out of the Kings organization by 1982 and he bounced around with three teams before calling it a career in 1985.
2 Richard Dumas
The Phoenix Suns selected Richard Dumas 46th overall in the 1991 NBA Draft. The 23 year-old rookie wasn’t expected to make much of an impact, but Dumas proved to be a strong piece for the Suns early on in his career. Averaging 15.8 points per game, Dumas received NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors. His future looked bright and it would’ve been had substance abuse problems not derailed his NBA career. He was suspended for the entirety of the 1993-94 season and couldn’t manage to recapture the magic of his rookie year when he came back to Phoenix the following season. After a one year stint in Philly, Dumas’ NBA career was over.
1 Ernie DiGregorio
A lot of younger fans are wondering who in the world Ernie DiGregorio is. DiGregorio was the third overall pick by the Buffalo Braves (yes, that team existed) in 1973 out of Providence. DiGregorio started off great, scoring 15.2 points per game in his rookie year while also averaging 8.2 assists (which led the league). In fact, DiGregorio still has the record for most assists in a game for a rookie that season with 25. After that magical year, though, DiGregorio would only play in one more full season and he never came close to putting up those numbers. After a knee injury, DiGregorio was out of the league in 1978 at just 27 years old.