Every June, the NBA draft sees a select few athletes chosen to make the leap to the highest level of competition. Draft night is always a high pressure situation for everyone involved. There’s big money and jobs at stake on all sides, from players and agents to scouts and executives. The right pick can save a franchise, but on the flip side, one false move can doom a promising team to continued mediocrity and alienate its fanbase. This is all to say that there’s a huge incentive to get these picks right, so executives spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars scouting and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of young players around the globe. And while international prospects continue to steadily increase their presence, NCAA Division I college teams remain the no.1 source for high-level young hoops talent.
Or at least, potential high level hoops talent. Different players develop at different rates, and the draft is an exercise in calculated risk. This can lead to some decisions that appear puzzling to outsiders, who fail to distinguish between evaluating an athlete as a current player vs. future prospect. NBA talent evaluators have to consider things like age, strength of competition, and translatable skills, which means some of the most accomplished college athletes often show up confusingly late on draft boards. A player putting up 20 and 10 as a 24-year-old 5th year senior in the Sun Belt Conference just doesn’t have the same appeal as a 19-year old jumping jack freshman, even if he’s only playing 15 minutes a night. Later picks are even more of a crapshoot, with teams often swinging wildly for the fences on prospects they don’t even plan on ever signing. This has resulted in some hilariously unproductive players hearing their names called on draft night, with varying degrees of future success. Some have gone on to have long careers featuring All Star appearances; others became the butt of jokes, or worse, faded into anonymity. Regardless of how they turned out, these 15 former draft picks represent the worst of what it means to be a student-athlete.
15. Corey Maggette – Duke (13th pick, 1999)
Stats: 39 G, 10.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 APG
Maggette actually played quite well – when he was on the floor. With powerhouse Duke, minutes were hard to come by for the freshman, who saw less than 18 minutes of action a night. Along with future NBA players Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, and William Avery, he helped lead Duke to the National Championship Game, where they would lose a nail-biter to Connecticut. Maggette’s Duke pedigree, youth, and chiseled, athletic physique likely helped him secure a spot in the lottery picks despite not putting up huge numbers, and he actually lived up to his lofty position by becoming a reliable wing scorer for many years. He represents one of the success stories on this list, a player who surpassed the admittedly low standard set by his college career. Some others on this list did not fare so well.
14. Tate George – UConn (22nd pick, 1990)
Stats: 128 G, 9.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.3 APG
After a solid freshman year where he averaged 10 points and 6 assists, Tate George’s development stalled and he never really progressed. His minutes dropped for the next two years, and while his efficiency improved somewhat his statistical contributions remained underwhelming. I cut him a bit of slack for hitting a game-winning shot against Clemson to send his team to the 1990 Elite 8, but docked points for the fact that his team didn’t even make the tournament in his first three seasons.
While his NBA career was short-lived and unremarkable, Tate did make headlines recently when he was given a nine-year sentence for masterminding a real estate Ponzi scheme. If I were a Nets fan, I’d be laying additional charges for the way he conned New Jersey into wasting a first round pick on him. George also spent some time with the Milwaukee Bucks before he was out of the NBA.
13. Von Wafer – Florida State (39th pick, 2005)
Stats: 61 G, 10.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG
Despite being the consensus #11 ranked recruit in a loaded 2003 high school class featuring the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Wafer failed to live up to the hype in his two years at Florida State. For a player known as a scorer, he didn’t exactly shoot the twine off the hoop (career 10.1 PPG, .405 FG%), and failed to contribute much else on the court. His off-court behavior was even worse, as he was suspended by his school for two games of his sophomore season for disciplinary reasons. Despite all this, the Lakers took him 39th overall in the weak 2005 draft but he failed to stick, playing for seven teams in his six seasons as an NBA player. The only newsworthy thing he’s done since is throw a temper tantrum in the Chinese Basketball Association that garnered him a six-game suspension. To be honest, when you combine Wafer’s behavioral issues with lackluster production, it’s a miracle he’s been able to find even a small measure of success.
12. Gerald Wallace – Alabama (25th pick, 2001)
Stats: 36 G, 9.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.5 APG
If there’s one word that could sum up Gerald Wallace as a freshman prospect it’s raw. In his lone season with the Crimson Tide, Wallace displayed tantalizing abilities with his physical gifts and motor, which unfortunately didn’t always translate into actual production. Like a lot of guys on this list, he probably could have become a good college player with a little more seasoning, but opted to strike while the iron was hot and his youth still gave him an aura of raw potential. The Kings took him late in the first round, but on a loaded squad, playing time was limited. It wasn’t until Wallace was drafted a second time by the Bobcats in their expansion draft that he got the opportunity to shine.
Though his career eventually sputtered due to numerous injuries, Wallace became an All-Star and one of the most exciting players to watch due to the same relentless energy and jaw-dropping athleticism that endeared him to scouts in the first place. Wallace is a shining example of a player who overcame early struggles through hard work and seizing opportunities.
11. Greg Ostertag – Kansas (28th pick, 1995)
Stats: 127 G, 7.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.3 APG
Unlike the last couple players on this list, Ostertag decided to stay in school to hone his craft. Unfortunately, “honing his craft” meant getting older while still kind of sucking. To be sure, the hulking center had some things going for him, namely his enormous bulk and the rebounding and shot-blocking numbers to back it up. But in his four years he averaged double-digit scoring only once, and was the definition of a black hole on offense: 41 career assists to 176 turnovers, which basically means he was over four times better at giving the ball to the other team than he was his own teammates.
Fortunately for “The Other Big O”, giant white guys were still in vogue in the ‘90s and Utah snagged him with their first round pick where he would spend the rest of his 11-year career blocking shots and not passing. Clearly, first appearances are not always deceiving.
10. Mark Blount – Pitt (54th pick, 1997)
Stats: 56 G, 6.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.7 APG
Seven-footers who don’t shoot 3s should be expected to make more than half their shots, right? Well, Mark Blount doesn’t care for your expectations! In fact, he shot terribly across the board, resulting in an abysmal .484 true shooting percentage for his college career. Add to that some very pedestrian rebounding and three times as many turnovers as assists, and you have essentially the worst possible center prospect imaginable. In spite of this, he thought he was good enough to go pro after just two years, and Seattle miraculously obliged by using one of the last picks in the draft on him.
However, the high of getting drafted was quickly followed by a downturn in fortune, as he unsurprisingly failed to make the team and bounced around minor leagues until the Celtics scooped him up three years later. He would carve out a nine year career in the league, frustrating fans everywhere he played with his subpar effort.
9. B.J. Mullens – Ohio State (24th pick, 2009)
Stats: 33 G, 8.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.3 APG
A highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, Mullens was thought by many to have the most potential of anyone in his class, but concerns about his effort level tempered expectations. Unfortunately for Ohio State fans, these worries proved well-founded, as Mullens failed to have the same sort of impact as their previous one-and-done centers, Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos. Regardless, Mullens showed enough promise and retained enough shine based on his raw physical abilities that he still squeaked into the first round.
Some old habits are hard to break though, and he never managed to shake his poor work ethic or develop the skills necessary to become an elite interior presence. Many consider Greg Oden to be one of the biggest busts of all time, but honestly, I’d still take his career in a heartbeat over what Mullens has accomplished.
8. Taylor Griffin – Oklahoma (48th pick, 2009)
Stats: 129 G, 6.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 APG
Does that name sound familiar? You guessed it, Taylor is the brother of one Blake Austin Griffin, who presumably overtook his older, much less heralded brother in one-on-one driveway games pretty early on. I guess the ferocious sibling rivalry didn’t sour their relationship too much, as the younger Griffin followed Taylor to Oklahoma where they played alongside each other for two seasons. That’s pretty much where the similarities end; while Blake was turning himself into an AP Player of the Year and #1 overall pick, Taylor was left scrapping for minutes. Luckily for him, some of his brother’s shine must have worn off on him, as Phoenix decided to take a chance on his genetics. That’s pretty much where his dream ended, with Taylor playing just eight games before bouncing around the D-League and overseas. At least he hasn’t punched an equipment manager (that we know of) so he’s got that to brag about at the dinner table.
7. Paul Grant – Boston College and Wisconsin (20th pick, 1997)
Stats: 116 G, 6.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.4 APG
Grant was drafted on the strength of his senior campaign where he “exploded” for 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game after transferring from Boston College to Wisconsin. Because the transfer forced him to redshirt a year, Grant was already 24 when Minnesota took him 20th overall. Normally, being 24 years old is bad enough to give any prospect’s draft stock a terminal case of “senior-itis”, but it’s all the more astounding in light of Grant’s middling numbers. His sudden improvement from “borderline unplayable” in his first three years to “solid starter” should have raised some red flags about whether it was a fluke, and his supposedly “good” season wasn’t even very good. Unsurprisingly, Grant ended up having an essentially non-existent NBA career, playing a whopping 16 total games in two seasons separated by five years.
6. Gary Leonard – Missouri (34th pick, 1989)
Stats: 132 G, 6.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Leonard was yet another lumbering 7-foot senior whose draft stock had more do with his physical statistics than on-court ones. We’ve seen that mistake made by teams time and time again. Fortunately today, more teams seem to have learned that size doesn’t guarantee anything in the NBA. While he was a key player on a Missouri team that made the Sweet 16 his senior year, he was only the fourth leading scorer and third leading rebounder. However, the old school sentiment at the time of “you can’t teach size” made pretty much anyone over seven feet tall who could walk in a straight line a hot commodity. This prevailing ideology worked in favor of guys like Leonard, who got to make a few (hundred thousand) bucks to sit on a bench. If nothing else, he has a pretty good story to tell his grandchildren.
5. Skal Labissière – Kentucky (28th pick, 2016)
Stats: 36 G, 6.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.3 APG
We can’t yet be sure how the “Haitian Sensation” will fare in the big leagues, but we do know how he did at the college level. Unfortunately, the answer is, “not great.” Labissière played less than 16 minutes per contest, mostly due to the fact that he still managed to also average 3 fouls. Basically, even in limited minutes, he was always in foul trouble, not a great sign now that he’ll be facing bigger, faster, more physical opponents on a nightly basis. Formerly a serious consideration for the top overall pick, Labissière’s epic slide throughout the year to almost out of the first round could be a blessing in disguise, as he won’t have the pressure of expectations. Unfortunately, he’ll be in the worst team situation possible, joining a dysfunctional Kings franchise that seems hellbent on stockpiling Kentucky big men. Still, given his incredible backstory as an earthquake survivor, it’s hard not to root for the kid, and hopefully he has the kind of success that will allow him to give back to his impoverished, still-rebuilding community back home in Haiti.
4. Sasha Kaun – Kansas (56th pick, 2008)
Stats: 135 G, 6.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.3 APG
Yes that’s right, newly minted NBA champion Sasha Kaun had surprisingly humble beginnings! His benchwarming skills were initially honed at the hallowed halls of Allen Fieldhouse which culminated in a reserve role for a successful title run his senior year. If nothing else, Kaun might be the luckiest player on this list since winning seems to follow him everywhere he goes. His impressive résumé includes an NCAA Championship, multiple Russian League titles, a bronze medal, and of course an NBA Championship in his long-delayed rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kaun saw limited action this season with the Cavaliers, and didn’t play a single game for them in the playoffs. He still got his ring though. Just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to be lucky. Even if Kaun’s career in the NBA never picks up, he already has what all players strive for.
3. Josh Selby – Kansas (49th pick, 2011)
Stats: 26 G, 7.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.2 APG
Another former Jayhawk cracks the top 5! After a McDonald’s All American-caliber high school career, Selby’s NCAA career got off to a rocky start when he was suspended for 9 games due to eligibility concerns. When he finally got on the floor, the results weren’t exactly worth the wait. Billed as an undersized, but explosive scorer, Selby shot an abominable .373 from the field and barely got to the line, resulting in just 7.9 points per game. With nearly as many turnovers as assists, Selby also lacked the passing acumen to mitigate his lack of size and shooting woes. A foot injury part way through the season didn’t help matters, but come draft night, the Grizzlies decided to look past Selby’s poor season in the hopes that he’d regain his old form. Unfortunately for both parties, he did not, and found himself out of the league after just two seasons. At only 25 years old, he still has time to make a comeback, but he may never again find the success of his high school days.
2. Cheick Diallo – Kansas (33rd pick, 2016)
Stats: 27 G, 3.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.0 APG
Okay, either Kansas is doing something very right, or very wrong, because their players keep getting picked, but only after having some pretty horrendous seasons. But don’t get mad at me for roasting your new pick, Clippers fans. Whether Diallo becomes the next Gerald Wallace or Taylor Griffin is up to him, and by all accounts, he has the work ethic and athletic ability to turn out closer to the former. That being said…boy, does he have a lot of work to do. Like Selby, Diallo was a highly regarded high schooler who started his lone season as a Jayhawk sitting out over eligibility concerns. When he was finally cleared to play, he barely saw the floor anyway, averaging a shockingly low 7.5 minutes of playing time. To be fair to Diallo, it’s hard to really call him a bad college player based on such a limited sample size, but actually playing meaningful minutes is kind of a prerequisite for making a positive contribution to your team.
1. John Turner – Georgetown (20th pick, 1991)
Stats: 32 G, 6.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.9 APG
Our “winner” of the title “Worst College Player Ever Drafted” is another classic one-and-done story, only worse. For starters, Turner wasn’t even good enough to play Div I hoops out of high school, spending a couple years in JUCO before entering Georgetown as a 21 year old freshman. It proved to be a short stay, as he was kicked off the team for spending too much time getting cosy with convicted drug kingpins. He would spend the next two seasons at tiny Phillips University playing against other schools not good enough to play in the NCAA, and before you know it he was in the NBA. Wait, what? Apparently, Turner blew people away so much during the pre-draft process that Houston felt compelled to draft him 20th overall.
His stock was further boosted by the recent success of fellow small-school stars Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen. Needless to say, John Turner never became a household name or NBA champion, and was never able to live down his status as the worst college player ever drafted.
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