A plethora of unforgettable talent at the point guard position has been inducted into the NBA through a first-round selection.
For every success story, however, there are countless examples of any team’s shot-callers making terrible decisions on draft night.
Whether in the 1970s or 2010s, there are one or two teams that step on the land-mine that is Wiley Peck or Tyler Ennis. There is no avoidance of stepping into a backcourt mud puddle and going in with the assumption that your selection will make a positive impact on the roster. Draft analysts have poured over these players, proclaiming how transformative they can be and plotting out their potential usefulness at the next level. Hindsight’s notorious 20/20 vision can clear up plenty of prior mistakes, but only creates a veil of hypocrisy when speaking about these athletes.
It is not possible for every point guard to have a career like Magic Johnson’s, but it seems even being a lesser-version of Speedy Claxton was too much to ask of these ball-handlers. Instead of finding a spot as a role player or 15th man, none of these ballers could manage to find their footing with a club.
No one expected all of them to be fantastic, but the grim truth about these point guards shocked just about everyone who followed them through college.
15. Tyler Ennis
Michael Carter-Williams has been one of the most well-traveled players in the past three seasons, but his fellow Syracuse Orange alumnus, Tyler Ennis, has had it much rougher in the NBA. Despite his best efforts, the Phoenix Suns selected what they imagined would have been a point guard that could give them solid minutes in a reserve slot. While that never fermented, Ennis has been passed around the league at an alarming rate. His two years with three teams is evidence that not only is his future bleak, no one seems to envision the Canadian as a piece of the future. At just 22 years old, his professional career prospects are beginning to rapidly shrink in scope.
After being traded from the Suns to the Bucks in the Brandon Knight trade, Milwaukee soon swapped their newly acquired guard for Michael Beasley in the offseason. With a surplus of backcourt of talent and increasingly forward-thinking from head coach Jason Kidd, the need for an underwhelming ball handler decreased dramatically. Houston declined Ennis’s fourth-year option on his rookie deal, essentially giving up on the young, wilting guard. He is averaging career lows across the board with the Rockets so far this year. Gary Harris and Rodney Hood were drafted after Ennis, compounding the frustration that Phoenix must still be feeling to this day.
14. Marquis Teague
Like his brother Jeff Teague, Marquis was a late first-round draft pick. Unlike his elder sibling, Marquis flamed out after just two seasons. His paltry 4.8 PER is one of the lowest on this list but Teague never played more than 50 games in either of his seasons with the Bulls or the Nets. Debuting just three years after Jeff, it was expected that the former Blue Blood point-man would be able to come in and helm the offense in lieu of Derrick Rose’s absence. Rather than live up to expectations, the 23-year-old was out of the NBA after two years. First-round picks are valuable in the NBA, and several gems have been found in the past at the rear of the pack.
To highlight the poor decision-making of Chicago’s scouts and front office, several players taken behind Teague have made All-Star and All-NBA teams. Looking at what could have been is a perpetual nightmare, but always a fun exercise. Bulls fans might want to prepare themselves for heartache, however. Taken in order, Festus Ezeli, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, and Will Barton have all proven themselves as budding stars, yet the Bulls saw something in Teague that just was not there. Whether coach Cal made the sales pitch of the century on his former Wildcat or the Bulls just whiffed, it no longer makes any difference. This bust is in the books and long gone.
13. Nolan Smith
The Chapel Hill standout was destined for greatness but only found out how difficult it was to find playing time in the league. Drafted one season before Damian Lillard arrived on the scene in Portland, Nolan Smith lasted just long enough for the Blazers to understand that there was no future for him in the NBA. The former ACC Player of the Year enticed several organizations in the draft, despite his status as a fourth-year player. Not only is it rare for a senior to draw positive attention in June, it is damn near improbable that one would be selected in the first batch of teams.
After wrapping up his short stint in the league, Smith moved onto a coaching opportunity with his alma mater. Coach K was excited to announce the move, and had only phenomenal things to say about his former player. When playing no longer works, the connections made during college and the pros help those retirees find job opportunities elsewhere. In light of Smith’s successes as a coach, there was a scary moment in 2015 that almost cost him his life. While participating in a Coach K basketball camp, the former UNC star was pulled over by police and had guns drawn on him by the officers. Those same first-responders then asked Smith for his autograph. Needless to say, the gun-toting cops walked away empty-handed while Nolan aired his grievances on social media the next day.
12. Jonny Flynn
Jonny Flynn will always be associated with the success of Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. When the Timberwolves picked back-to-back point guards in the 2009 NBA Draft with the 5th and 6th selections, an entire nation started scratching their heads. Flynn’s designation behind Ricky Rubio not only made no sense, but it cost them a shot at a generational talent in Curry. It is not entirely the former Syracuse star’s fault that he fell well short of expectations, however, as Minnesota took him far too soon in the first round. Flynn was overrated by all the experts and the T-Wolves took the bait, setting him up for a career of disappointment.
Despite Jonny’s stellar play under coach Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, his transition to the professional level was conversely terrible. As the focal point of the Orange’s six-overtime win against UConn in the 2009 Big East Tournament, Flynn was regarded as the leader of what many considered to be a favorite headed into March Madness. After two years and three organizations, however, there was no room for Flynn in the NBA. An injury to his hip after a solid rookie season in Minnesota curtailed what could have been a reasonably productive career, and cemented him as an under-sized, slow guard. This cautionary tale will always be at the forefront of the worst point guards taken in the first round.
11. Acie Law
Another rarity among first-round picks, this senior out of Texas A&M was a major scoring threat at his alma mater, but could not find ways to bring that game to the Atlanta Hawks. Acie Law averaged just 3.9 points per game over his ponderously-long four-year career, never quite adapting to the league’s pace and size. One-and-done players have become more appealing thanks to the failures of seniors like Law. The 2007 draft had nothing spectacular to offer outside of Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah, so pickings were extremely slim, especially when it comes to point guards.
Law left the league and began plying his trade overseas where he found much more success. His back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2012 and 2013 were largely attributed to the efforts of the ex-Aggie, but he has since found himself wandering down a different career path. Law has since come back to the United States after ending his professional basketball days, choosing to become a contributor for a Texas A&M sports publication. With some background in writing, Acie should be able to have a solid career discussing the sport he has grown up with.
10. Troy Bell
If you’re looking for a career destroyed by injuries, Troy Bell is your guy. What appeared to be a promising young point guard out of Boston College in 2003 transformed into less than half of a season with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Celtics dodged one of the biggest draft bullets in modern league history by swapping Bell for what should be considered a king’s ransom with what unfolded over the length of those players’ careers. Bell and Dahntay Jones, who had a nice 12 year stint in the league, were dealt to the Grizzlies in exchange for Marcus Banks and Kendrick Perkins. Perkins was a fantastic role player in the Celtics’ championship-run during the 2007-08 campaign, adding more to the team than what showed up on the stat sheet.
Bell appeared in just six games during his NBA stint, then bounced around the D-League and Euroleague. He never quit on his pro career, but the Grizzlies traded away a lot to obtain the fools’ gold that Bell turned out to be. Sporting a -4.5 PER might not be fair to attribute to the injury-riddled guard, but the numbers do not lie.
9. Jay Williams
One-and-done is a popular trend in college basketball but vastly disappoints on the pro level, causing GMs to lose their job and fans to lose their faith. Jay Williams lit up the NCAA, winning championships, Wooden Awards, and Naismith Trophies galore. With the second selection of the 2002 draft, however, the Chicago Bulls set themselves back several years by whiffing on Williams. What could have been an intriguing career was crippled by a gruesome motorcycle accident, helping set the precedent on teams to restrict their athletes from partaking in activities that could injure them.
Williams is now one of the most beloved college basketball analysts and announcers, calling plenty of classic March Madness matchups and entertaining fans in a different manner. Jay did not immediately give up on his NBA dreams, however, but was cut by every team that took him on before any regular season started. The road to recovery from the crash was not easy, but Williams rebounded nicely from a life-changing incident that could have discouraged anyone else.
8. Randolph Childress
Outside of the legendary Big East, the next-best conference in college basketball history has to be the Atlantic Coast Conference. The teams and players that have helped build the legacy of the ACC will always maintain their place in basketball lore in Springfield, MA in some cases. Randolph Childress was one of the most prolific players to walk through the halls of Wake Forest, challenging both Tim Duncan and Chris Paul for being called the best Demon Deacon ever.
The hot shooting that Randolph became known for during his college years evaporated right in front of our eyes. With just 51 games played in the NBA, the 19th pick in the 1995 draft became a scapegoat in Portland and in Detroit. Like most players on this list, Childress ditched hope for his professional playing career and eventually took on a coaching position in Winston-Salem. His recruiting efforts have been phenomenal of late for the Demon Deacons, and it appears Wake Forest will be a program on the rise this season and for seasons to come.
7. Randy Woods
For a franchise that struggled for so long, more than a few things had to go awry to cause such a colossal failure for so long. Randy Woods epitomized the Los Angeles Clippers throughout the 1990s, despite his three seasons with the organization. Nicknamed ‘Ripper’, Woods slashed any chance L.A. had at finding an effective point guard to lift them out of the muck that they had been stuck in since the club’s inception. The Clippers gave three quarters of a decade to a player that averaged 2.4 points per game over the length of his career.
In year four, Woods was dealt to the Denver Nuggets along with Antonio McDyess for Rodney Rogers and Brent Barry. Mark Jackson and Gary Grant both soaked up playing time at the point during Woods’ rookie season, and with good reason. With limited time to get in-game experience, Ripper floundered. When he did find himself in a game, however, the shooting stroke was conspicuously absent, giving even more of a reason for the Los Angeles executives to give up on their first-rounder. To rub in the pain, several players taken after Woods include Doug Christie, Tracy Murray, Hubert Davis, Jon Barry, and LaTrell freaking Sprewell. Ouch.
6. David Rivers
Another Los Angeles failed experiment came in the form of the 25th overall pick in the 1988 draft, David Rivers. This time, however, the Showtime Lakers picked up the sputtering point guard and if anyone could suffer through a disappointing first-round pick, it was Pat Riley and Magic Johnson. After just a single year with one of the most illustrious dynasties in the history of the sport, Rivers was shipped off to the crosstown losers. Even the lowly Clippers could not find a prominent role for the former Notre Dame standout who averaged 22.0 points per game during his senior season.
The man never gave up on the professional game, however, and made a name for himself overseas in France, Greece, Turkey, and Italy. Despite Rivers’ poor NBA playing career, he found an assistant coaching spot at Kennesaw State in 2014, 22 years after the league had enough of him. For Rivers that assignment is a dream come true, and he will look to eventually build up his coaching career into something more grandiose. For a high-profile basketball talent such as himself, becoming a head coach in the near future could be a simple formality given enough time.
5. Stewart Granger
Stewart Granger was a part of those underdog Villanova teams in the late-70s and early-80s that were just starting to turn the page. The 1985 championship team was able to piggyback off the successes of their predecessors, and Stewart stood chief among them. Upon his entry into the league, however, the Cavs were unprecedentedly awful and were ultimately an inhospitable place for a rookie to launch a favorable career. His shooting was suspect and Granger’s passing and defense proved to be unreliable, creating a scenario that saw the former first-round pick jettisoned from the squad.
He would go onto play for the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks, spending some time outside of the United States’ borders as well. In what has become a typical move, making a transition to the Euroleague and its previous incarnations has proven to be a beneficial decision for those that cannot hack it in the NBA. When the Cleveland Cavaliers think back on their championship drought, they can blame it largely on the poor decision-making of the organization in the 1980s.
4. John Duren
John Duren was a rock-solid point guard for the Georgetown Hoyas, and by extension became the first-ever Hoya selected in the first round of the NBA draft. This special designation created a buzz of excitement around a player which was heavily depended upon by the ever-sweaty John Thompson. The 19th pick in the draft flopped hard during his stint in the Association, however, waived by Utah and Indiana after just three seasons. Despite his statistical growth from year-to-year, Duren was not able to convince anyone that he could be a worthwhile investment.
Some players left on the board after Duren included Rick Mahorn and Kurt Rambis, two individuals that would go on to play massive roles on several teams in the league. The worst part about it is that so many teams skipped over these two talents. Rambis, who would go on to play 14 years in the league and play a massive role in the Lakers’ championships during the 1980s, was taken in the third round. Mahorn, who would eventually become an essential part of the Pistons’ Bad Boys era, played 18 strong seasons in the Association.
3. Chad Kinch
In the same draft year, Chad Kinch was taken three spots lower than Duren, but the consequences surrounding his selection changed the course of basketball. Due to the unrest of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their sub-par management, smart choices were not part of the modus operandi. The Los Angeles Lakers swindled the Ted Stepien-led Cavaliers into surrendering multiple back-to-back draft picks to obtain the doomed-to-fail Kinch. Los Angeles sent Kinch’s draft rights and Don Ford to Cleveland in exchange for Butch Lee and the Cavs’ 1982 draft pick. As it turned out, that pick they sent over in the trade wound up being the first-overall. Rather than James Worthy falling into the Cavaliers’ lap, the rich got richer in Los Angeles and Magic Johnson found another Hall of Fame running mate.
Kinch was out of the NBA after one season, but the all-important Stepien Rule was established. It would go onto stop idiotic owners from distributing every draft pick in the franchise’s future, creating a more balanced league overall. While millionaires and billionaires love to think they can do no wrong, everybody needs to be saved from themselves once in a while. Ted Stepien can fairly be considered the worst owner in league history, although Donald Sterling gives him a run for his money.
2. Roy Hamilton
In two seasons Roy Hamilton played 73 games, but just one in his second with Portland. The former 10th overall pick in the 1979 draft was a hot commodity coming out of UCLA, where other transcendent talent like Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Bill Walton built their brand. Playing under coach John Wooden gave players coming out of the Los Angeles institution a fantastic reputation, but in this case it setup a false expectation. The Detroit Pistons found nothing but disappointment in the point guard after taking him so early in the selection process.
Hamilton eventually secured a job in sports broadcasting, and became a producer with CBS and Fox Sports Network. He contributed in productions of NFL, NBA, and NCAAM basketball games. In comparison to Magic Johnson, who was chosen first in the 1979 draft, everyone in that class pales in comparison. Hamilton would be the furthest from Johnson in terms of talent in the first round of that draft.
1. Nemanja Nedovic
Traded to the Golden State Warriors on draft night of 2013, Nemanja Nedovic had one of the briefest stints in recent NBA history. After 24 games he and his agent, Misko Raznatovic, asked the Warriors for a release to be able to gain more playing time overseas. With no positive outlook on the Serb’s return, it appears Steve Kerr and company are walking away empty-handed from what many consider the worst draft class since the abysmal turn-of-the-century classes.
The only buyer’s remorse here is the fact that instead of trading for the rights of a stash-and-see player the Warriors could have made a move on Allen Crabbe, the first pick of the second round and one of the best talents in this draft. Nedovic continues to play in the Euroleague, but the odds of him returning and actually impacting the Warriors in any significant fashion remain remote. His laughable -1.7 PER and 20% field goal percentage are among the worst in league history.
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