I recently did a similar article to this (Top 15 2015 NFL First-Round Draft Picks Who Look Like Busts), which I prefaced by saying no athlete should be judged on a single season. There are a lot of factors that can lead to an underwhelming or overwhelming performance by a player in a particular year, and this goes for any athlete, whether they’re a 20-year veteran or a rookie.
So this, like the aforementioned article, should not be seen as a dismissal of certain guys or an endorsement of others. Likewise, despite being knowledgeable writers, TheSportster’s contributors does not have a crystal ball on hand for us to peer into, and thus this should not be seen as an accurate prediction either. All of these guys had big college careers (even if they were brief), so they all have the potential for greatness, even if they stunk up their first year. By the same token, guys who had big rookie seasons might not go on to become superstars either.
Then why do this list? (An especially apt question for me, as it’s my second of this kind.) I assure you, it’s not because I enjoy the opportunity to bash guys five or ten years younger than me who have five or ten times the athletic ability that I’ll ever have (and that’s compared to the worst guys). Mostly because it’s important to evaluate draft picks as they mature, and it’s fun to try to predict the future. After all, if you’re right, you could end up looking like a freaking genius.
So, for better or for worse (hopefully better), here are the top 15 NBA rookies who already look like busts.
15. Frank Kaminsky
After being named College Player of the Year in 2015 with Wisconsin, Frank Kaminsky was rewarded with a ninth overall selection in the NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Hoping for a difference-making center, Charlotte has thus far only received a player capable of shooting 40.3% shooting and 32.9% on threes, with most of that production coming recently. If Kaminsky can keep up this level, he can turn his rookie season around. On the other hand, if this is an exceptionally high point, which could be entirely possible given his ups and downs thus far, Kaminsky could end up being viewed as a bust.
14. Justise Winslow
During his tenure at Duke, Justise Winslow played so well that he only stayed a year before declaring for the draft, and was picked 10th overall by the Miami Heat. Although scouts raved about Winslow’s ability to shoot from all over the floor in addition to touting strong defensive, that has yet to translate to the NBA. Thus far, Winslow is only putting up 6.1 points despite playing over 28 minutes per game, and is only shooting 25% on threes.
On the other side of the ball, 5.4 boards isn’t too bad, but his other defensive metrics leave something to be desired, especially as far as consistency goes. The 19-year-old Winslow likely has a long journey ahead of him, but it’s gotten off to a very slow start.
13. Nikola Milutinov
Signing an athlete with raw tools that require more conditioning is always a risk, especially when the player opts to continue his reps abroad. This was the case with center Nikola Milutinov, who was picked 26th overall by the San Antonio Spurs, then signed a three-year contract with Olympiacos of the Greek Basketball League. Sure, some players end up returning to the team that drafted them and have solid NBA careers, but it’s often a crapshoot, with some players never making it back to the NBA at all. The risk is especially apparent in this case, since Milutinov isn’t exactly tearing it up abroad, currently averaging only 5.1 PPG in 20 games.
12. Cameron Payne
Cameron Payne, the 14th overall pick out of Murray State, has had an interesting rookie year. On one hand, his stats will show only 5.1 PPG along with only 1.6 boards. On the other hand, Payne’s percentages for both FGs and 3-pointers has been high, but in limited playing time. While Payne was getting quality playing time before the All-Star break, he returned to find himself buried in the depth chart beneath the newly-acquired Randy Foye. And this was in addition to some time down in the Thunder’s D-League, where Payne had multiple stints. Are his stats reflecting inconsistent playing time? Or is the inconsistent playing time in response to his stats?
11. Terry Rozier
When the Boston Celtics drafted Louisville guard Terry Rozier 16th overall in 2015, they probably didn’t expect to send him down to their D-league, especially multiple times. Yet here we are in March, and Rozier had only played 23 games, with no starts, while only averaging 5.2 minutes per game. That all adds up to 119 minutes, in which he’s only managed 31 points (good for a 1.3 PPG average) with even worse defensive metrics. Sure, he’s still only 21, but if Rozier can’t turn his play around this season or next, he’s not likely to last much longer in the NBA.
10. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s NBA career has been hard to judge thus far. Since getting drafted 23rd overall by the Portland Trailblazers (and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets), the former Arizona standout has been good on defense and makes his field goals at a high rate, but fared much worse beyond the arc, and has only managed 5.2 PPG overall. He’s been given an average of 22 minutes per game, which would give him every opportunity to prove himself, but on December 7 was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in his right ankle, and would miss about two months. Three months later, Hollis-Jefferson is still waiting to return, and we’re still waiting to see if he’s a bust.
9. Justin Anderson
Dazzled by the improvement between his first two seasons at Virginia and his junior year, the Mavericks hoped to catch lightning in a bottle when they used their 21st overall pick on shooting guard Justin Anderson. However, in 39 games, Anderson has yet to come close to those stats, only is currently only making 28% of his threes with 2.9 PPG overall. Never a prolific scorer, Anderson hasn’t been great on defense either, with only 59 rebounds in that same amount of time. Part of Anderson’s issue is Dallas coach Rick Carlisle’s reluctance to play him, which could end up sinking both Anderson’s career and the long-term development of the Mavs.
8. Delon Wright
Delon Wright, the Toronto Raptors’ 20th overall pick out of Utah, has yet to catch on in the NBA. Part of this issue is his multiple assignments to the Raptors’ D-League team – and also the fact that he’s deep on the depth chart – which has limited him to only 17 games. Even among these, Wright has only played 75 minutes, so it’s no surprise he only had a paltry 1.6 PPG average. It’s worth noting that in a rare 30 minutes of game time on February 28, Wright managed 13 points, 6 assists, and 3 assists, but it’s hard to tell if that’s simply an outlier, or a sign that he’s finally ready for serious playing time in the NBA.
7. Joel Embiid
Are we allowed to call Joel Embiid a rookie? The Cameroonian center declared for the draft in 2014 and was picked third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, despite having a broken navicular bone in his foot that would cost him the entire 2014-15 season. Worrisome, sure, but it happens, and the 76ers knew that. However, on June 13, 2015 it was announced that Embiid had suffered a setback and would require additional surgery that eventually ruled him out for all of 2015-16 as well. Again, injuries happen, but this is the same kid who missed the Big 12 tournament in his final year at Kansas due to a stress fracture in his back. Are these just freak injuries, or a long-term trend?
6. Kevon Looney
As far as first year injuries go, Kevon Looney’s NBA career has been a mess so far. Prior to being drafted 30th overall by the Golden State Warriors, whispers about Looney’s hip surfaced, but were denied by his camp. Suspicions aside, the Warriors committed to him and any treatment he might need, which ended up being a right hip arthoscopy to repare of torn labrum on August 20, 2015, which would cost him four to six months. Right on schedule, Looney returned on January 4, 2016, but it remains to be seen how the injury did or did not affect him.
Thus far, he started 2016 with a D-League assignment, followed that with a call-up on January 24 (in which he managed two points, two assists, two rebounds, and one steal in only six minutes), and has since seen two more D-League trips. Only 20 years old, Looney has a lot of time to develop, but how much will be spent in Santa Cruz, and will his degenerative back and hip conditions pop up again?
5. Tyus Jones
Former Duke guard Tyus Jones is only 19 years old, so it’s no surprise that he’s gotten off to a slow start. (And also considering the fact that he’s fourth on the Timberwolves’ depth chart.) However, as the 23rd overall draft pick of 2015, Minnesota expects a certain level of production, and it’s probably more than 36.5% on field goals and an average of only 1.8 boards per game. And that’s when he’s actually playing. Jones has been back and forth between the D-League (where he has dominated) and the NBA (where he has squandered his few opportunities). He’s up now, and a strong finish could easily push him out of bust territory.
4. Rashad Vaughn
While at UNLV, shooting guard Rashad Vaughn completed over 38% of threes on his way to a 17.8 PPG average. But since being drafted 17th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, Vaughn is 31% on threes in 56 games with a solid amount of minutes, which wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t averaging the same on field goals too. He hasn’t been too much help to his teammates either, grabbing only 61 rebounds and 26 assists in the same span. Then again, his teammates buried him on the depth chart for the first half of the season, so who wants to help those guys anyway?
3. Sam Dekker
The first blow of Sam Dekker’s career came just after he signed his rookie scale contract with the Houston Rockets, when the former Wisconsin forward missed the entire NBA Summer League with a back injury. After returning to play in all eight preseason and three regular season games (and three in which he did not play), it was discovered Dekker required back surgery, which would sideline him for three months. On February 19, Dekker was assigned to the Rockets’ D-League, and was recalled on the 22nd. However, he has been back and forth numerous times since. Is this just an isolated speedbump and an example of a kid who needs more reps, or the start of a trend?
2. R.J. Hunter
The Celtics picked shooting guard R.J. Hunter of Georgia State with their 28th overall draft selection, and they probably figured by March he’d have more than 30 games of experience. Yet Hunter has spent an awful lot of time with Boston’s D-League affiliate after a less-than-promising start and has had a couple injuries as well. Currently he has about 260 minutes of playing time, with only 67 points to show for it, and an average of 2.4 per game, thanks to a 31% rate on field goals and 23% beyond the arc. Hunter was just recalled and will soon get another shot to prove himself, but how much time will be actually be given on the court? And, more importantly, will he actually take advantage of it this time?
1. Jarell Martin
Only four days after being selected 25th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, former LSU forward Jarell Martin revealed he had a stress fracture in his foot that would prevent him from playing in the Summer League. Not a good sign, but it happens, and that didn’t stop the Memphis Grizzlies from signing him to a rookie scale contract. But less than two months later, Martin suffered another (unrelated) foot injury that sidelined him for two months. Finally, on December 18, Martin made his NBA debut, but his lack of reps showed, and he has since bounced back and forth between the NBA and the D-League. Recently he was given more opportunities to showcase his skills and now has over 60 minutes under his belt, but he has only managed a total of eight points and two assists during that time.
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