Basketball, like many other sports, is a team sport. That being said, basketball is also a sport where the star players are expected to be a reflection of their team’s success. The greatest players in basketball are supposed to do it all. They are elite on both offense and defense and they hit the clutch shots that win you the game. Your team goes where your star players take you. David Ortiz, one of the greatest hitters in baseball in the last 15 years and a future Hall Of Famer, hardly ever had to play defense because of his role as a designated hitter. The only other places in sports that this pressure is comparable are goalies in hockey and quarterbacks in football. Aside from that, star players in other sports don’t have the same expectations as those in the NBA.
There have been many players who entered the NBA with the expectation that they would turn into these star players. Many of them, however, would turn out to be busts. Players like Greg Oden, Adam Morrison, and Darko Millicic were selected near the very top of the draft, but were out of the league in only a few years. However, this list is not about the infamous draft busts that never made any impact.
This list focuses on players who showed that they did in fact have the potential to be superstars. Many of these players made an impact in the NBA and showed flashes of super-stardom in their careers. Almost all of these players are still in the league today, some even being starters with important roles on their team. Some players were household names before they even entered the NBA, having been stars in college. While it may be unfair to hold such high expectations for players who have succeeded in the NBA, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if these players were drafted to different teams, developed differently, and ultimately reached their ceilings.
20. Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert is one of the youngest players on this list and was not a high profile player coming into the league out of Georgia Tech. He began to make a name for himself during his rookie year with the Knicks, where he made the All-Rookie Team, and was the only rookie to receive Defensive Player of The Year votes. Shumpert also showed a lot of potential on offense, with smooth handles, a good jump shot, and great athletic ability that landed him a spot in the dunk contest in 2012. However, the offensive part of his game never fully developed, and his 9.5 points per game he averaged during his rookie year remains his career high.
19. Marvin Williams
Marvin Williams was a five-star recruit out of high school and proceeded to help lead the University of North Carolina win a National Championship in 2005. After being drafted second overall, many saw being him able to use his 6’9″ size and ball handling skills to become a match-up nightmare on the wing, much like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. His success on the previous two levels of competition also appeared to serve as hope that he would continue to thrive. Williams never became that go-to leader in the NBA, and has taken the role of a solid defender and rebounder who can shoot while coming off of the ball.
18. JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee seems to always have been labeled as a “project,” which is a testament to just how much raw potential he had. At 7’0″ tall, he has always had great size and tremendous athleticism. His career has been plagued by both injuries and a lack of focus. You have to wonder what kind of player he could have been had he been able to stay on the court early in his career and polish his offensive game. His game is now mostly limited to blocking shots and dunking the ball underneath the basket.
17. Tyler Hansbrough
“Psycho-T” Tyler Hansbrough was already a household name when he entered the draft, having won a National Championship and receiving the Naismith College Player of the Year award while playing at the University of North Carolina. That tremendous success never quite translated in the NBA. In fact, you could argue that the peak of his career was his time in college because of how successful he was then. He has settled in the NBA as a scrappy role player, who typically focuses on rebounding and battling for loose balls.
16. Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut has had a successful career, but not one you would equate to a successful number one overall pick. He showed a lot promise while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, and even earned All-NBA Third Team honors in 2010 by averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. That year, however, was Bogut’s peak. His career was derailed in large part due to injuries and he lost a lot his offensive ability. He still remains a very good rim protector and is now a starter on the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
15. Jeff Green
I truly believe that Jeff Green never took a more prominent role in this league because of how talented the entire team that drafted him was. He made the All-Rookie First Team along with his teammate, Kevin Durant. In his sophomore year in the NBA his team drafted Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and the following year, drafted James Harden. Green showed a ton of promise in his first few years, but unfortunately for him, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were already just as good if not better, and he was dealt to the Celtics, where he began to struggle. He has still made a name for himself as a smooth scorer, but never developed an elite all around game like his former teammates.
14. Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson is one of the youngest players on this list. At just 25 years old, it might be unfair to think he can’t still develop into a star player, but I don’t see it happening. Drafted fifth overall out of the University of Kansas, Robinson was an athletic force at the power forward position. I saw Amar’e Stoudemire written all over him. Robinson hasn’t been able to get comfortable in the NBA, and in just his third season is already on his fifth team. I do think that this instability is a major factor in his development being stunted. I think he can still take another step and become an effective starting power forward, but I don’t see him getting farther than that.
13. Wesley Johnson
Unfortunately for Wesley Johnson, he was picked right before DeMarcus Cousins, and that will forever be attached to his NBA legacy. At 6’7″, 215 lbs, he has all of the physical tools to be a strong and agile wing player. After two years at Iowa State, Johnson played his senior year at Syracuse where we was a workhorse, and improved his three-point shooting percentage to 42%. Johnson just couldn’t seem to handle the same workload in the NBA. While playing in Minnesota early in his career, coach Rick Adelman tried to make him the focal point of the offense, but it never worked out, and Johnson has since continued his NBA career as a role player.
12. Nick Young
Nick Young has always had incredible talent on offense. Both his size and his game have always reminded me a lot of Tracy McGrady. Yet he also always seemed to be the type of player who was content with his game. He has all the talent in the world, but he doesn’t seem like he has ever cared about taking that next step. He has averaged over 16 points per game three different times in his career. His defensive skills were never anywhere near his abilities on offense. He has always seemed to be more enamoured with his image of being “Swaggy P” rather than becoming a hard working leader.
11. Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor came into the league with a bang, and won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award by averaging 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. He was drafted second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats, who seemed to have found their franchise cornerstone. While Okafor didn’t seem to lose his abilities, his stats never showed any drastic improvements and they remained similar throughout his first couple of years in the league. Part of his lack of development was without a doubt the mess that was the Charlotte Bobcats franchise. Once he left Charlotte, he turned into a role player known for his defense and rebounding.
10. Evan Turner
Evan Turner won the Naismith Player of the Year Award during his last season at Ohio State University. Turner showed great versatility, playing a lot at small forward and even running the offense at point guard. His all-around game and accomplishments in college led him to being the second overall pick in the draft. Turner has applied his all-around skills to the NBA, but hasn’t reached the same level that many thought he could. He always struggled with his shot and has never been able be a dominate player. His versatility has allowed him to turn into a good complimentary player.
9. Derrick Williams
Derrick Williams is the youngest player on this list. He was a monster coming out of college when the Minnesota Timberwolves took him second overall. He is a big imposing forward, but also shows great quickness for someone his size. His size and freakish athleticism is very similar to that of LeBron James, but he has never gotten anywhere near LeBron’s level. Williams has struggled tremendously in the NBA, especially on defense, and has become more of an offensive threat off the bench. He has made recent strides while playing for the New York Knicks and, at only 24 years old, he still has time to develop.
8. Andrea Bargnani
Andrea Bargnani drew obvious comparisons to fellow European big man Dirk Nowitzki when he entered the NBA because of his combination of height, shooting ability, and ball handling. Those attributes did in fact translate to the NBA, where Bargnani proved he could average over 20 points a game in a season with his outside shooting ability. It was the other facets of his game that hurt him. He was a terrible rebounder for his size and statistically was always one of the worst defenders in the league. He earned a reputation for being a soft player and never had any sort of killer instinct or desire to win.
7. Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert came into the league as a project. He was a raw player, but possessed great size. He began to develop into a defensive force with the Indiana Pacers. He was one of the best rim protectors in the NBA and it earned him two All-Star appearances. He was an integral part of some very good Pacer teams that went deep into the playoffs. However, towards the end of his stint with the Pacers, Hibbert wasn’t the same player. His efficiency ratings went down and all of his stats began to drop. Hibbert hasn’t been able to regain his All-Star form and it seems at just 29 years old he’ll remain a shell of the player he once was.
6. O.J. Mayo
What a rookie season it was for O.J. Mayo. He was a sharpshooting offensive force averaging 18.5 points per game. Both his stats and his playing style were very reminiscent of a young Ray Allen. It looked as though Mayo was poised for NBA stardom. But those shooting numbers in his rookie year have ended up being his best numbers to date. His sophomore year saw only a slight dip, but after that he has consistently managed just around 11 points per game. Not being able to breakout and earn a consistent starting role in Memphis may have hurt his development, and he is now solidified in the league as nothing more than a borderline starting shooting guard.
5. Carmelo Anthony
This one was the hardest to write because Carmelo Anthony is on a much higher level than any other player on this list. A nine time All-Star, along with two All-NBA Second Team and four All-NBA Third Team appearances, Carmelo Antony could very well be in the Hall of Fame when he retires. His talent is as good as anyone who has ever played in the NBA, but that is why he is on this list. It may be unfair to hold people to such a ridiculously high standard, but I see guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, and no one ever questions their legacies. They are guys who have led their teams deep into the playoffs and used their superstar talent in every part of the game. Carmelo has earned a reputation for being as good as anyone in the league at scoring the basketball, but his defense has always been average. The fact of the matter is, at 31 years of age, Carmelo can no longer be the best player on a championship team. He will go down in the history books with players like Tracy McGrady and Dominique Wilkins, as opposed to players like Lebron, Kobe, and Michael Jordan.
4. Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans had one of the most impressive rookie seasons in the history of the league. The Rookie of the Year averaged 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game. His ability to score at will by attacking the rim, along with his lack of outside shooting, reminded us of how Dwyane Wade plays the game. However, he was a member of a very dysfunctional organization in the Sacramento Kings, and I think that hurt his development. His ability to drive and distribute made him able to play point guard, but his height put him on the wing playing either the two-guard or small forward position, where his lack of shooting began to hurt him. Tyreke has developed into a very good player, but still has never had a clearly defined position. You have to wonder how he would have developed had his team run the offense through him and used his strengths early in his career.
3. J.R. Smith
When watching J.R. Smith highlights, you’ll see ankle breaking crossovers, deep fade-away three pointers, and windmill dunks. His game is just as exciting as players like Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. The thing with J.R. is that he has always been his own worst enemy. He is a player notorious for being lackadaisical on defense and often ends up taking more bad shots than good ones. Off the court, he has been known to go clubbing the night before games. He has as much talent and athleticism as many of the greatest players to ever play, but he has never had that killer instinct and hunger to win that NBA legends must have.
2. Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings made a ground breaking decision to forgo college and play professionally in Europe for a year before declaring for the NBA Draft. Once he made it into the league, he looked like the steal of the draft. In just his first few weeks of the season Brandon Jennings constantly flirted with triple-doubles and in his seventh career game he dropped 55 points, the most points in a game by a rookie since Earl Monroe scored 56 in 1968. People were unsure of his abilities because he did not play a lot in Europe and it seemed that he was a superstar that had flown under the radar. However, Jennings’ game never evolved and he is now a high-volume shooter who has seen less and less minutes every year he has played.
1. Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley’s talent was as exciting as any player that has ever entered the league. An ambidextrous, 6’10” wing player who could handle the ball like a guard and possessed a nice outside shot. He was a match-up nightmare anytime he stepped onto the floor. He showed his potential in spurts, as he dropped over 30 points and double digit rebounds multiple times. A lack of focus and desire to improve his game, seems to be what haunted Beasley. He has had numerous occasions of being caught with marijuana and even had to check into rehab. Now a role player on the Houston Rockets, you have to wonder what kind of player Beasley could have been had he received proper guidance and was able to unlock his full potential.
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