NBA Draft Busts

Published: 21st November 2019
Author: Joe Kizlauskas
Last Updated: 8th February 2021

If you’re a fan of basketball, you’ll know there have been some questionable draft decisions in the recent past. We’ve gone through the last few years for you and looked at some old NBA drafts. It’s quite interesting to look at what some teams have drafted together in recent yearsDraft busts have pretty much been at the heart of every NBA franchise record. At the time of the draft, many players with excellent college stats were, in principle, a good choice as well. However, the full extent of a draft bust usually comes out later, and the motto is, of course, “you’re always smarter after the event” 

There is a lot to discuss and analyze after the wrong player selection in the NBA Draft. But some examples may seem unbelievable when you look at the players who have NOT been picked and the teams instead have chosen mediocre players or even total failures. Of course, there are no guarantees. It doesn’t matter how good the scouting is, what college stats the candidate brings, what values ​​he scores in the Draft Combine, or even what he’s doing in the Summer League, a good season isn’t a given. In the end, of course, only the performance in an NBA team in an NBA season counts. There are also numerous examples in which the drafted player played mediocre in his rookie year – but has improved a lot in the course of his career.  

Many top stars as rookie tend to only average 

A good example here is certainly Kobe Bryant, who only scored 7.6 and 15.4 points per game in his first two NBA years. The fact that he raised these numbers later to just under 30 points and evolved to the legendary player he became, couldn’t have been predicted in his first two seasons. James Harden’s points average in his first three NBA seasons was 9.9, 12.2 and 16.8 per game. Rather modest, if you take into account that he is probably the best isolation guard in NBA history today. 

Kawhi Leonard stayed below 13 points per game in his first three seasons. Giannis Antetokounmpo, eventually MVP of the season 2018/1019, totalled just 6.8 points in his rookie season and 12.7 points on average in the next season. These examples are typical of developments that big players undergo. Most teams hope for that if the bubble doesn’t burst during the rookie season. Sometimes, however, they work quite well in the rookie year – 28.2 points per game on average – so began a certain Michael Jordan in his NBA career.  

Greg oden

College Statistics are Just a rough guide 

Sometimes it’s almost unbelievable which players with an available high pick are simply ignored. If we ignore Greg Oden, Trail Blazers’ 2007 Pick-1, Oden was a mega-talent, but due to injuries, he had to end his NBA career. Of course, the Trail Blazers missed out on Kevin Durant, but Oden was a good choice at the draft time. Nobody could foresee the development with Oden and it was simply bad luck. However, if you take a look at other high draft picks in the past few years, you have to wonder what exactly the scouts of the NBA teams actually do full time. 

Let’s take the example of Draft 2009: the Memphis Grizzlies pulled a certain Hasheem Thabeet in position 2. Who? Exactly. Nobody knows. More importantly, at the time, both James Harden and Stephen Curry were still standing for selection. Even DeMar DeRozan would have been available. Thabeet is a 2.21m (7’3) big centre from Tanzania with a 2 point average and 2.7 rebounds over a total of five NBA seasons. His statistics at college were pretty good for a defensive Big-Man with 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game. However, he could not even reach that in the NBA. In the end, you really have to ask yourself, who commits to a player like that? After all, we are talking about professional basketball in the best league in the world. 

 “Afterwards you are always cleverer” 

Another extremely questionable rookie engagement was that of Anthony Bennet in 2013 as Cleveland Cavaliers’  Pick 1. 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds on average in a total of four years in the NBA – as a number one pick. The Cavaliers renounced Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert or Victor Oladipo. Charlotte drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the year before and “renounced” the services of Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal. In 1998, the LA Clippers picked their number one pick, Michael Olowokandi – a 2.13m centre that started playing basketball at the age of 17. At the time of the draft, the Clippers on centre had more average players such as Lorenzen Wright, Keith Closs or Isaac Austin – and in the league, numerous dominant centres such as Shaq, Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon played at this time.  

Thus, the thought process behind the Clippers actions is quite understandable, and Olowokandi brought quite a lot of athleticism along with good statistics. His third year of college ended Olowokandi with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on average. Very good values ​​for a centre. Nevertheless, it has not been enough for the “Kandi Man” in the end for an outstanding NBA career. 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in ten NBA years – that’s the way it goes. Nevertheless – the decision of the Clippers at that time is absolutely understandable in retrospect – even though, of course, numerous franchise players would have been available in the draft vintage of 1998 – for example Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce. But as mentioned earlier, in the NBA Draft is still the motto: “After you are always smarter”. 

sacramento kings

 The Sacramento Kings and the NBA Draft 

But some decisions stand out in the rather poor selection of their rookies by the consistency of performance. For years, the Draft becomes – with a few exceptions – farcical for teams like the Sacramento Kings. At least in retrospect. The Sacramento Kings are particularly noteworthy and have established themselves as probably the worst draft franchise in NBA history. Considering the potential these draft picks had in hindsight, it’s hard to imagine what the Sacramento Kings would look like today.  

What Matters is Who You Have NOT Drafted  

It must be remembered that the Kings rarely had the first pick. Seeing which players have NOT chosen the Kings but their respective picks bring tears to the eyes of every fan. And that’s enough – as in the case of the Kings back to the 1970s. If the drafted players do not deliver what was expected at the time of the draft, that is disappointing. However, it is much worse if a franchise is simply consistently overlooking great talent in the draft. Whoever made the final decisions for the Kings’ draft picks – definitely failed!  

Here are some highlights from the past Drafts of the Sacramento Kings and which players could have been drawn instead: 

  • 2017 pick 10 Zach Collins instead of Donovan Mitchell 
  • 2015 Pick 6 Willie Cauley Stone held Devin Booker 
  • 2014 Pick 8 Nik Stauskas instead of Nikola Jokic 
  • 2013 Pick 7 Ben McLemore instead of Giannis Antetokounmpo 
  • 2012 Pick 5 Thomas Robinson instead of Damian Lillard 
  • 2011 Pick 7 Bismack Biyombo instead of Kawhi Leonard 
  • 2009 Pick 4 Tyreke Evans instead of Stephen Curry 

If you go further back in the Sacramento Kings, you will see a similar picture. Comparing the drafted and NON-obligated players, the result is quite sobering. Here are some more Kings Draft-Pick examples best forgotten: 

  • 1996 pick 14 Peja Stojakovic instead of Steve Nash 
  • 1991 Pick 3 Billy Owens instead of Dikembe Mutombo 
  • 1989 Pick 1 Pervis Ellison instead of Glen Rice 
  • 1987 Pick 6 Kenny Smith held Reggie Miller 
  • 1986 Pick 17 Harold Pressley held Dennis Rodman 
  • 1985 Pick 6 Joe Little instead of Karl Malone 
  • 1984 Pick 9 Otis Thorpe instead of John Stockton 
  • 1978 Pick 2 Phil Ford instead of Larry Bird 

Examples of Bad Draft Picks:  

  • 2013 Pick 1 – Anthony Bennet, Cleveland Cavaliers
    Missed: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Rudy Gobert, CJ McCollum 
  •  2012 Pick 2 – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
    Missed: Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal
  • 2011 Pick 2 – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves Missed: Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler
  • 2010 Pick 2 – Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76s
    Missed: Paul George
  • 2009 Pick 2 – Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies
    Missed: James Harden, Stephen Curry
  • 2008 Pick 3 – O.J. Mayo, Minnesota Timberwolves
    Missed: Russell Westbrook
  • 2007 Pick 1 – Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers
    Missed: Kevin Durant
  • 2005 Pick 1 – Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks
    Missed: Chris Paul
  • 2003 Pick 2 – Darko Milicic, Detroit Pistons
    Missed: Dwyane Wade
  • 2001 Pick 1 – Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards
    Missed: Pau Gasol, Tony Parker
  • 1998 Pick 1 – Michael Olowokandi, L. A. Clippers
    Missed: Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce
  • 1984 Pick 2 – Sam Bowie, Portland Trail Blazers
    Missed: Michael Jordan
  • 1978 Pick 2 – Phil Ford, Sacramento / Kansas City Kings
    Missed: Larry Bird 
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About Joe Kizlauskas

Joe is a seasoned iGaming copywriter and speaker who has been in the business since 2015. He's written more words on all elements of iGaming than he likes to remember, and he's contributed material to a number of well-known brands. Joe may be seen playing 5 a side, at the gym or playing games on his Playstation when he is not writing.