Whenever NBA teams draft a NBA player, a major factor for drafting a player is based upon their future potential. The lower the ceiling, the more they drop in the draft, and the higher their ceiling, the more they climb in the draft. Unfortunately, just because a player has a lot of potential, it does not mean they can actually reach it. In fact, even the players that do succeed in the NBA, do not necessarily reach their maximum potential.
Take Rasheed Wallace for example. By all accounts, Sheed had a great career. He played 18 long years in the NBA. But when you think about the amount of skills that he possessed, Sheed should not have been a mere All Star, but a shoe-in Hall of Famer and the best power forward to ever play the game. Sheed was a hybrid of two of the best power forwards to ever play the game in his generation – Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Sheed possessed the post game of Tim Duncan and had the 3-point shot that Kevin Garnett failed to even developed.
Yet, he only averaged 20.0 points per game for 1 out of the 18 seasons he was in the NBA and only averaged 14.4 points per game for his entire career. He also never averaged more than 8.2 rebounds per game or 2 blocks per game. But he was always able to give Duncan and Garnett fits whenever he went up against them. Sheed was a good player by all accounts, but he was never quite a great player. The following is a list of players that were talented like Sheed, but were never able to fully optimize the potential that they had.
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24 J.R. Rider
To give you an idea of how short J.R. Rider’s shelf life was, the high flyer only played 9 seasons in the league. Rider was selected with the 5th overall pick and his game screamed out potential. The high flyer won the dunk contest in 1994 and was even 8th in 3-point field goals made in ’97-’98. He had a combination of athleticism and shooting, but Rider only averaged 16.7 points per game for his entire career and never made an All Star Team.
23 Andrei Kirilenko
The multi-talented small forward/power forward stands at 6’9” and has a wingspan over 7-feet long. However, he was only able to put together 4 outstanding seasons out of the 12 years that he has been playing. Last season, AK47 only averaged 5 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game.
22 Ricky Davis
If Davis was a bit more right between the ears, he could have been a perennial All-Star player. Davis could create his own shot, could explode off the dribble, and had an above average 3-point shot. But because of his propensity to do stupid things like stuff his stat sheet for a triple-double, Davis was always about himself rather than about his teammates, and it altered the course of his career. Otherwise, he could have won rings with a young LeBron in Cleveland if they were able to work together.
21 Steve Francis
Despite having a difficult past, Steve Francis was able to overcome a lot of difficulties throughout his childhood and make it to the NBA. The little point guard had rockets on his shoes and could soar over defenders a foot taller than him. The only problem is that Stevie Franchise was never able to shed his street ball game from him, which often resulted in him going one-on-one too much and over dribbling.
20 Darko Milicic
You have to feel bad for Darko. He was sandwiched between LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The expectation levels on this young teenager were sky high from the beginning. You have to think that if the left handed big man was in a better situation, he may have been able to flourish instead of finishing with a paltry 6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
19 Sam Bowie
Bowie gets a bad rap for being selected before Michael Jordan, but he was able to put up a decent career. It is just that it was not as great as everyone thought it was going to be, especially compared to Jordan’s career. Bowie averaged 10.9 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game for his entire career. If the big fella was healthy, he had the tools to average 20 and 10.
18 Jason Williams
White Chocolate brought And 1 into the NBA. From his elbow passes to his crazy crossovers, J-Will had the ability to wow fans in every arena. But his undisciplined game and constant gambling always had his coaches on the edge of their heels. Williams only averaged 5.9 assists per game when he should have averaged closer to 9 assists per game with all of his talents and full court vision. Had Williams been under more disciplinary coaches, he really could have honed his game to become more polished.
17 Stephon Marbury
The pride of Coney Island made it to the pros, but Starbury was always expected to become one of the greats. Any player that can score 40-50 points in a game multiple times, has the capability of being a Hall of Famer. But Starbury could never get it right in the head, and his mental and emotional instability left him an unwanted teammate.
16 Glenn Robinson
Big Dog was the best player in the country when he was in college. He was Melo before Melo was Melo. Robinson averaged over 20 points per game 8 out of the 11 seasons he played in the NBA. He was a scoring machine, but never had much to show for it, other than the 1 ring he got riding the coattails of the San Antonio Spurs.
15 Amar’e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire averaged almost 40 points per game against the San Antonio Spurs in the ’04-’05 playoff season. Stoudemire was a force. He could dunk over anyone and shoot the 15-footer with his eyes closed. However, after his departure from Steve Nash, when he moved to New York and a slew of injuries, Amar’e was never the same player again. New York gave him a huge contract and he found out that Raymond Felton isn't Steve Nash.
15. Hedo Turkoglu
When Hedo Turkoglu entered the league, he was a 6’9” point guard that could do it all, despite being a little raw. However, as the years went by, he really developed into a very good all around player. But his lack of discipline and some weight gain really prevented him from reaching his full potential. He got a big contract with Raptors, but never really fit in up north.
14 Christian Laettner
Laettner may go down as one of the most popular college players to ever play basketball. He was selected to join the ’92 Dream Team, which was a tremendous honor for a college student, but it also may have been the worst thing that could have happened to him. Maybe it was all the hazing or getting bullied by Charles Barkley in practice, but Laettner never became the player that everyone thought he was going to be in the NBA.
13 Rudy Gay
There are very few players that have the genes of Rudy Gay. Gay is almost 6’9” and has an outstanding vertical leap. He can get his shot up over anyone and has proven that he can be a lethal scorer. Yet, for all of Gay’s talent, he has a very lopsided game. He is an average rebounder, very poor passer, and a careless defender.
12 Michael Olowokandi
Candy-Man was always a project and should have never been the first pick in the NBA draft, but he wasn’t a scrub either. He had great size and speed for a seven-footer. In fact, he came close to averaging a double-double for his career (8.3 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game), however, he was never able to put it all together because of injuries and simply a lack of desire to get better.
11 Jason Richardson
J-Rich could never explode off one foot, since he was more of a two-foot leaper, but he was as explosive as any athlete the NBA has seen. He was also a very good marksman. However, he never developed a dribble-drive game, which really prevented him becoming a playmaker. As talented as he was, he was always dependent upon other people making the plays for him.
10 Corey Maggette
Corey Maggette looked more like a body-builder than a basketball player with his biceps and triceps. He was strong, quick, and had a very soft touch from the free throw line. But teammates never liked playing with him because he was so selfish with the ball and he often liked to draw contact, so he could puff his stats up rather than trying to attack the rim and pass it to a cutting teammate.
9 Joe Smith
Joe Smith was the number one pick in the draft, but he never became the player that many thought he would become. He had great length for a power forward, had a respectable 15-footer, and had decent amount of athleticism. He was an absolute tour de force in college, but his lack of strength made him a poor defender and he was never able to develop a great post-game.
8 Larry Johnson
LJ was a beast when he was running with the Runnin’ Rebels in college. He was a bully in the paint with his power, but he also proved that he could hit the 3-point shot later in his career. However, due to some back injuries, LJ never became the type of player that many thought he would be. Couple that with his lack of post-game moves and inability to block shots, and LJ was just another power forward that had a few decent seasons, but not a great career.
7 Allan Houston
Houston was silky smooth. His jumper was as pure as Ray Allen’s. His dribble-drive game was also underrated. Houston played 12 seasons in the NBA, but only scored above 20 points per game twice in his NBA career. He also averaged less than 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. With Houston’s skill set he should have been closer to 25 ppg, 4 rpg, and 4 apg.
6 Yao Ming
The 7’6” Great Wall only played 7 seasons in the NBA and in 4 of those seasons he played 57 games or less. Giants are not supposed to have the footwork and shooting ability that Yao had. In fact, the Rockets made Yao shoot their technical free throws. But due to some major foot problems, Yao was never able to become the player that he could have become; all that weight could not be supported by his two feet.
5 Baron Davis
B-Diddy looks more like a tight end than a point guard. Baron has always been a freak athlete despite being quite girthy. However, his poor shot selection and the natural fade to his jumper has always made him an inconsistent shooter. If he devoted as much time to the game as he does to his other interests, Davis could have been one of the best point guards to ever play the game.
4 Grant Hill
Some called him the heir apparent to Michael Jordan and Hill looked like it for a time. Hill was as multi-talented as the league has ever seen. He could bring up the ball, he could create for his teammates, and he had an underrated above the rim game. In many ways, he was LeBron James before LeBron James was. Due to his hard work and dedication, Hill was able to play almost 20 years in the NBA, but he never fully recovered from the multiple ankle injuries that he received.
3 Vince Carter
In all likelihood, Air Canada is going to make the Hall of Fame. So, what is a Hall of Fame player doing on this list? Vince had the tools and the skills, not only to be a great NBA player, but to be one of the best that has ever played the game. He is by far the best dunker that the NBA has ever seen and his 3-point shot has become quite reliable with his aging legs. However, a player of his magnitude could have been in the top 20 to ever play the game.
2 Penny Hardaway
I can’t help but shake my head with sorrow whenever I think about Penny Hardaway. He was supposed to be Magic Johnson, but with athleticism. He was 6’9” and a legitimate point guard, not a point forward. He could shoot, create off the dribble, and explode in the paint. He had it all. And then he lost it all with his knee injury. Penny managed to play 15 seasons in the NBA, but after his first 4 years, he was never quite the same type of player ever again.
1 Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom played center for Team USA in the World Games one year. That is how talented this small forward/power forward/center was. He was long, left-handed, and could even play defense. But his off the court problems and outside interests really prevented him from becoming a perennial All Star. I would venture to say that Odom was so talented that he could have become a borderline Hall of Famer if he had more accountability and Kobe as his teammate for his entire career.
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