The NBA Draft represents a valuable opportunity for teams to add young and affordable talent to their roster and building through the draft is often regarded as one of the best paths to future success. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder completely turned their fortunes around by choosing wisely at the top of the draft, taking foundational talents Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden over three consecutive seasons while choosing in the top-4 from 2007 through 2009.
While choosing at the top of the draft for several seasons in a row can take a team from the lottery to the top of its conference in just a few seasons as it did for the Thunder, there are plenty of teams that had the opportunity to take a franchise-caliber player but missed out for a variety of reasons. Whether the team’s talent evaluators mistakenly ranked one player ahead of another, or they simply hold the philosophy that it is best to draft based on need, there are a number of examples in which teams missed out on a golden opportunity to build around a franchise player.
These examples can be seen all over the league today, as just the last decade of NBA Draft classes are full of examples of missed opportunities. Evaluating a draft with the benefit of hindsight certainly makes things much easier, but some of the decisions that appear on this list were questioned on draft day as well. Others may not have been so easy to predict, but the fact remains that the following 15 blunders are the very worst of the past decade and have helped keep certain franchises from elevating their NBA fortunes through the draft.
15 Draymond Green Falls to the Second Round
After a successful career at Michigan State, teams passed on Green due to his status as an undersized forward while questioning his athleticism and his abilities as a defender. Green fell to the second round and was ultimately taken by Golden State with the 35th overall pick, and, in the seasons since then, Green has silenced all of his critics with his impressive all-around game. If the 2012 NBA Draft were held today with the benefit of hindsight, Green would be one of the very first players taken.
14 Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely Selected Before Kawhi Leonard
The 2011 NBA Draft featured several teams in need of talent on the wing, and two of those teams – the Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves – took a pair of big combo forwards in Derrick Williams and Jan Vesely, passing on Kawhi Leonard, who was taken 15th overall. The T’Wolves selected Williams second overall while the Wizards opted for Vesely sixth, and neither player has had anywhere near the success that Leonard has had with the Spurs. Leonard just finished a season in which he averaged 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game, earning a selection to the NBA All-Defensive Team for the second straight year.
13 Seven Big Men Selected Before Rudy Gobert
The 7-2 Frenchman nicknamed “The Stifle Tower” lasted until the 27th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft despite impressive measurables that included a 9-7 standing reach and a 7-9 wingspan. Seven other big men were taken ahead of Gobert, including Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Lucas Nogueira and Gorgui Deng, and even the Nuggets, who selected Gobert with the 27th pick, did not know that they had, trading the center out of France for just a 2nd round draft pick (Erick Green) and cash. Gobert has solidified the interior for the Jazz, blocking 2.3 shots while averaging 8.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in just his second season in Utah.
12 Kings Miss Out on Andre Drummond in Favor of Thomas Robinson
The Sacramento Kings’ selection of Robinson in 2012 made very little sense at the time, as the University of Kansas product was considered NBA-ready but hardly possessed a skill set that would complement that of his frontcourt mate in DeMarcus Cousins. If the Kings truly needed another big man to pair with Cousins, they would have been much better off taking Andre Drummond -- the rim-protecting center who fell to the Pistons in the 9th spot -- with the 5th pick instead of Robinson. In taking Robinson, the Kings also passed on Damian Lillard, who went 6th to Portland.
11 Cavs Take Anthony Bennett First Overall, Pass on Victor Oladipo
With the top overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett, then a talented freshman out of UNLV. He struggled mightily as a rookie in the NBA and did not fare much better in his second season after a trade that sent him to Minnesota. In the 2013 draft, the Cavs could have taken Victor Oladipo, an athletic combo guard who went to Orlando with the second overall pick. Oladipo has averaged 15.8 points and 4.1 assists in his two NBA seasons, and Cleveland could have paired him with Kyrie Irving to form one of the most formidable backcourts in the league.
10 Golden State Picks Ekpe Udoh One Spot Ahead of Greg Monroe
The Golden State Warriors have been wildly successful with their recent draft classes, adding Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and others via the draft. The 2010 NBA Draft, however, included the team’s most glaring mistake, as the Warriors took Ekpe Udoh, a power forward, with the sixth pick, leaving Greg Monroe, also a power forward, for the Detroit Pistons with the seventh pick.
Udoh has since bounced around the league, playing with the Bucks and the Clippers after spending just a season and a half with the Warriors, posting career averages of 4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Monroe, on the other hand, averaged a double-double over the course of the 2014-15 season, putting up 15.9 points per game while grabbing 10.2 rebounds. The Warriors have drafted undeniably well in recent seasons, but the choice of Udoh over Monroe was clearly an error in judgment.
9 DeAndre Jordan Falls to the Clippers in the 2nd Round
Despite clearly possessing the type of talent, size and athleticism that NBA GMs typically step over each other to get, Jordan’s stock tumbled due to questions over his maturity after his freshman season at Texas A&M. Those questions kept Jordan on the board until the 35th overall pick, where he was taken by the Los Angeles Clippers. Jordan, a First Team All-Defensive selection and a Third Team All-NBA selection in 2014-15, was taken after seven other centers: Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Alexis Ajinca, Kosta Koufos and Nikola Pekovic.
8 Minnesota Chooses Shabazz Muhammad Over Giannis Antetokounmpo
To be fair, there are a lot of teams that missed out on Antetokounmpo, who wound up being taken 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013. The fact that the Wolves, picking at 14th overall, chose a wing player just one spot ahead of the Greek Freak makes the mistake all the more glaring. While Muhammad is coming off a decent but injury-plagued second season in Minnesota in which he averaged 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in just under 23 minutes of playing time, imagine what the Wolves would look like with Antetokounmpo on the wing opposite Andrew Wiggins for the foreseeable future.
7 Memphis Passes on James Harden to Select Hasheem Thabeet
Picking second overall, the Memphis Grizzlies went big and selected 7-foot center Hasheem Thabeet out of UConn. When the Grizzlies made their selection, the top two finishers of the 2014-15 NBA MVP voting were still on the board in James Harden and Stephen Curry. While missing out on two future MVP candidates is bad enough, Thabeet is already out of the NBA and was last seen playing in the D-League. The 7-footer did not see much floor time with the Grizzlies and was traded after just a season and a half in Memphis.
6 Klay Thompson Drops to Warriors After Kings Make Draft-Day Trade for Jimmer Fredette
In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings were looking for smooth-shooting guard who could score in bunches, so the team orchestrated a three-team trade that netted them Jimmer Fredette, the 10th overall selection in the draft. Still on the board at the time was Klay Thompson, who has obviously proven to be the better NBA talent at this point in their respective careers. Fredette has yet to carve out a meaningful role in the NBA and has already suited up for three different franchises, while Thompson, an All-Star who put up 21.7 points per game in 2014-15, is currently one-half of the best shooting duo in the NBA.
5 Andrea Bargnani Chosen First Over LaMarcus Aldridge
Andrea Bargnani has enjoyed a productive career in the NBA, but as the top overall pick he has failed to live up to expectations. There were questions over how well Bargnani’s game would translate to the NBA, and the Raptors had their choice of Bargani and LaMarcus Aldridge, a more traditional big man out of the University of Texas. Toronto went with Bargnani, who has had some very solid years in the NBA, but Aldridge has been the far superior player of the two. A four-time All-Star with Portland, Aldridge has earned MVP consideration in the past two seasons and is coming off a 2014-15 season in which he averaged 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
4 Grizzlies Trade Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo Shortly After Draft
If this were a straight one-for-one trade, the Grizzlies would have clearly ended up getting the worse end of the deal just by trading Kevin Love, the fifth overall pick, for O.J. Mayo, the third overall pick. The Grizzlies, however, did not just send Love to Minnesota, as they also took back some bad contracts while giving up other useful pieces in the deal by sending Mike Miller to the Wolves and taking back Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner. That’s a high price to pay for the right to give up the best player in the deal, as Love has since established himself as one of the league’s best players.
3 Utah Jazz Take Deron Williams Over Chris Paul
The most popular debate that raged in advance of the 2005 NBA Draft surrounded the top point guards available, with many arguing whether Chris Paul or Deron Williams would be the better pro. Paul was the more skilled player coming out of college, but Williams’ size seemed to win over NBA executives and it was the University of Illinois point guard who was taken third overall by Utah, one place before New Orleans took Paul with the fourth pick. For a few years after the 2005 Draft, the Paul vs. Williams conversation continued to be a popular topic, but Paul has clearly had the better pro career after 10 seasons in the NBA.
2 Portland Makes Greg Oden Top Overall Pick Instead of Kevin Durant
In hindsight, the selection of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant looks astonishingly terrible, but it was widely believed at the time that Oden was every bit as likely to be as successful as a pro as Durant has been. Multiple injuries have forced Oden out of the league and repeated comeback attempts have yet to prove fruitful for the former top pick out of Ohio State. Durant, on the other hand, has won an MVP Award and has led his team to the NBA Finals, establishing himself as one of the game’s greatest players.
1 Timberwolves Select Two Point Guards Ahead of Stephen Curry
When the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio on draft day back in 2009, the team was subjected to immediate criticism for a variety of reasons. With two back-to-back lottery picks at fifth and sixth, the Wolves could have filled multiple positional needs if that was their wish, so taking two point guards with those picks was questionable at best. The fact that neither of those point guards was Stephen Curry makes this the most glaring error of the last decade of the NBA Draft.
Curry, the MVP of the league in 2014-15, may not have been the most highly regarded prospect of the 2009 Draft, but few believed that Flynn was the better point guard at the time. The choice of Flynn over Curry looks even worse considering the fact that the former Syracuse point guard has not even played in the league since the 2011-12 season. Rubio is certainly an entertaining ball-handler and distributor, but the fact that the T-Wolves had not one, but two chances to take Curry and passed makes this one of the most regrettable drafts in Minnesota’s history.