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Ranking the 10 Biggest Busts in NBA Draft History
Nobody ever wants to be considered one of the biggest NBA Draft busts of all-time.
On one hand, it’s a compliment. These players were supposed to be great, and they had enormous potential. On the other, they failed miserably.
Unfortunately, there are times where highly touted prospects just don’t pan out. There are usually a few different factors at play, but injuries and poor scouting stand out.
At the time, it’s hard to believe these highly rated NBA Draft prospects failed to live up to the hype. However, now we look back and think, what were they doing?
Regardless, there’s no going back in time. We can just marvel at how things went so horribly wrong. Here’s a breakdown of the 10 biggest busts in NBA Draft history, and why they didn’t succeed.
10. Adam Morrison (Charlotte Bobcats)
In Adam Morrison’s defense, he does have two NBA Championships. That’s not something any other player on this list can say.
Morrison spent three seasons at Gonzaga University. He improved between his freshman and sophomore years, but his junior year is when he put himself at the top of draft boards.
He led the nation with 28.1 points per game. Morrison scored over 40 points five times, including a career-high 44 points against Loyola Marymount. Morrison also shot 42.8 percent from three-point range.
The mustachioed Morrison was a college basketball icon, an unstoppable scorer, and a guy that wore his heart on his sleeve.
To top things off, he shared the National Player of the Year award with J.J. Reddick.
The Charlotte Bobcats drafted Morrison third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft.
When it comes to scoring, Morrison had a solid rookie season. He scored over 20 points 12 times, including a career-high 30 points against the Indiana Pacers.
While he did average 11.8 points, his shooting numbers were way down.
- 37.6 field goal percentage
- 33.7 three-point percentage
- 71.0 free throw percentage
Because of his poor shooting and putrid defense, the Bobcats removed him from the starting lineup in the second half of the season. Even so, he still made the All-Rookie Second Team.
The following season, Morrison suffered a torn ACL during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers, causing him to miss the entire 2007-2008 season.
He only played in 44 games with Charlotte the following season, averaging just 4.5 points.
Morrison spent the final two seasons of his career riding the bench with the Lakers. He played in just 39 games, but he did win a championship in each season.
For his career, he averaged only 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He also shot 37.3 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three-point range.
While his career didn’t go according to plan, at least he can say he won a pair of NBA titles.
9. Kwame Brown (Washington Wizards)
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, just about all the highly rated NBA prospects came straight out of high school.
These players were so good that they didn’t need to play in college.
Brown had a terrific senior season in high school. The 6’11” center averaged 20.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 5.8 blocks. He also made the McDonald’s All-American team.
The Washington Wizards drafted Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. The problem with Brown was it was a lot of hype and little talent.
His basketball skills just weren’t there and he was immature. Brown played in 57 games his rookie season, averaging just 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.
Over the next two seasons, he showed a lot of improvement. In the 2003-2004 season, he averaged career highs with 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds.
He even had this great performance against the Sacramento Kings.
- 30 points
- 19 rebounds
- 75.0 field goal percentage
With the improvement and free agency approaching, the Wizards offered him a five-year, $30 million deal. He turned it down, wanting to test free agency the following offseason.
Following that, he dealt with injuries the next season, playing in just 42 games. His numbers also took a big hit.
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired him ahead of the 2005-2006 season. Outside of a playoff series where he averaged 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds, he didn’t do much for the remainder of his career.
Brown played for five more teams before retiring after 13 seasons in the league. His career numbers are 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 49.2 percent shot from the field. He also shot just 57.0 from the free-throw line.
While most fans consider him a bust, he can take solace in knowing he managed to stick around the NBA for 13 years.
8. Michael Olowokandi (Los Angeles Clippers)
Michael Olowokandi didn’t start playing basketball until he was 18 years old. That’s not ideal for a potential NBA player, but some players could make it work.
He played college ball at the University of Pacific. Olowokandi looked great in his final season in school, averaging 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks. He also won Big West Player of the Year.
Picking first overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers were initially back and forth between Olowokandi and Mike Bibby. They ultimately went with Olowokandi while Bibby went number two.
The 1998-1999 NBA season didn’t start until February 1999 because of a lockout. Olowokandi was playing in Italy when the lockout ended, and because of that, he showed up late to training camp.
Olowokandi went on to have a decent rookie season, averaging 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. That season, he made the All-Rookie Second Team.
His numbers remained consistent over the next two seasons, but they rose in the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons.
After that, he dealt with a previous knee injury in 2003 that ultimately affected the rest of his career.
Though he signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003, knee injuries forced him to miss over 100 games in three seasons. The team also suspended him in 2004 after police arrested him for failing to leave a nightclub.
Following that, he spent the final two seasons of his career with the Boston Celtics. He played in just 40 games across those two seasons.
His disappointing career consisted of 8.3 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. He also never shot above 46 percent in a season.
Injuries were the main issue, but off-court issues also played a hand in his downfall.
7. Chris Washburn (Golden State Warriors)
In some cases, players don’t live up to expectations because of things out of their control, like injuries. However, Chris Washburn is not one of those players.
He put the bust label squarely on himself.
Washburn had a good, but not great, college career at NC State.
In two seasons, he averaged 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. However, there were some off-court issues that should have been seen as red flags. He stole a stereo, and ended up with jail time. He also didn’t try on his SAT, which resulted in a very low score.
Even on the court, people criticized Washburn for having a terrible work ethic.
Despite the turmoil, the Golden State Warriors drafted Washburn third overall in the 1986 NBA Draft.
He had a kidney infection in January 1987. Later that month, he checked himself into a rehabilitation center for a cocaine addiction. Washburn did eventually return to the Warriors a few months later in March.
He had a pair of 17-point games his rookie season but overall, he averaged 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 35 games.
Halfway through the 1987-1988 season, the Warriors traded him to the Atlanta Hawks. He played in 37 games that season with the Warriors and 29 games with the Hawks. And that was the end of his NBA career. After three failed drug tests, the NBA banned Washburn for life.
It wasn’t much of an NBA career, but here are his numbers.
- 3.1 points
- 2.4 rebounds
- 41.2 field goal percentage
- 43.9 free throw percentage
The move to draft Washburn was questionable from the start. There were red flags all over the board, but they clearly felt the potential was worth it. However, it usually isn’t when a player has such a poor work ethic.
To end on a good note, Washburn did overcome his drug addiction in his post-NBA career.
6. Greg Oden (Portland Trail Blazers)
If you were betting on the NBA Draft back in 2007, you probably hammered Oden to the Blazers at #1 overall. Based on his size and talent (and the way history played out), that would have looked like a good bet.
I’m sure some people may have placed Greg Oden in the top-five on their bust list, but I think injuries derailed his career more than anything else.
Oden played just one season at Ohio State, but he showcased his talent in that one season. His 7’ 0” height allowed him to average 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. He had five games with 15 or more rebounds.
The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Oden with the number one pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, but Oden missed his entire rookie season after undergoing knee surgery.
In the 2008-2009 season, Oden missed 20 games because of knee and foot injuries. However, he flashed his potential that season with 18 double-doubles.
He got off to a great start the following season. His numbers across the board were much improved from the season before.
Just look at them side by side.
|Field Goal Percentage||56.4||60.5|
|Free Throw Percentage||63.7||76.6|
Unfortunately, another knee injury ended his 2009-2010 season after just 21 games.
Portland kept him on their roster for the next few years, but he couldn’t play as he continued to have knee issues and underwent multiple surgeries.
The Miami Heat signed Oden to a one-year deal for the 2013-2014 season. Oden played in just 21 games that season, and that was the end of his NBA career.
Despite being in the league from 2007-2014. Oden played just 105 games in three seasons. In that time, he averaged 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds.
It’s hard to say if Oden would’ve ever lived up to the hype without the knee injuries. However, I think it’s fair to say he would’ve carved out a solid career.
After all, he did show some potential even after the first knee injury.
5. Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis Grizzlies)
Hasheem Thabeet is another center who failed to realize his potential and joins the biggest NBA busts in league history.
The 7’3” 263lb Thabeet was one of the top centers in the country at UConn. His final season at the school was by far his best. He averaged 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks, and he also shot a very efficient 64.0 percent from the field.
In the 2009 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Thabeet with the second overall pick.
His rookie season wasn’t much to celebrate. He only played 13 minutes per game, averaging 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. Thabeet didn’t have above 11 points or rebounds in a game all season. He did, however, have six games with four or more blocks.
It didn’t take long for the Grizzlies to realize Thabeet was never going to reach his potential. Because of that, they traded him to the Houston Rockets halfway through his second season in the NBA.
Thabeet played a grand total of seven games with Houston before they shipped him off to the Portland Trail Blazers. He only lasted 15 games there before joining the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final two years of his career.
Outside of a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012, Thabeet didn’t make an impact with the Thunder.
Here are his final stats from his five-year career.
- 2.2 points
- 2.7 rebounds
- 56.7 field goal percentage
- 57.8 free throw percentage
There weren’t really any injuries or anything like that with Thabeet.
I think his game just struggled to translate to the NBA. People viewed him as a defensive anchor but when that didn’t pan out, there was nothing left with his lack of offensive skill.
Everything about Thabeet’s NBA career screams bust.
4. LaRue Martin (Portland Trail Blazers)
I can’t imagine a lot of people know the name LaRue Martin, but he was the original NBA Draft bust.
Like most star players in the 1970s, Martin dominated the college landscape. He played for Loyola University Chicago for three seasons. Martin averaged a double-double each season. He concluded his college career averaging 18.2 points and 15.9 rebounds.
The Portland Trail Blazers drafted the 6’11” center with the first pick of the 1972 NBA Draft.
Despite his height, Martin was largely inefficient. He had his moments with ten or more rebounds in eight games, but his overall numbers didn’t look good. Martin averaged 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. He also shot just 39.6 percent from the field.
His numbers remained consistent the following season, and he showed little sign of improvement.
However, his numbers did end up improving in the 1974-1975 season.
- 7.0 points
- 5.0 rebounds
- 45.2 field goal percentage
Those numbers aren’t much but at least it seemed to show he was improving. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
Martin played one last season in the NBA, averaging 4.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. Portland traded Martin to the Seattle Supersonics, but they released him before the start of the season. He also signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls but both teams also released him before playing him.
In four seasons in the NBA, he played 271 games. In that time, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds, while shooting 41.6 percent from the field.
Portland could’ve avoided this by drafting Bob McAdoo. However, there was some weird storyline going on behind the scenes with him joining the ABA in a secret draft. He wound up going second overall, just behind Martin.
The Trail Blazers just have no luck when it comes to drafting centers. It started with Martin and continued with my next bust.
3. Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers)
Sam Bowie may have the best numbers of anyone on this list. He’s still undeniably one of the biggest NBA Draft busts of all-time.
That will happen when you’re taken ahead of the greatest player ever – Michael Jordan.
That kind of gaffe qualifies as one of the biggest draft mistakes in US sports history.
Bowie had a successful collegiate career at Kentucky University, but his injury concerns had to worry scouts moving forward. He averaged 13.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in the three seasons he played. However, he missed two full seasons with a stress fracture.
While Portland took a step back in the 1984-1985 season, Bowie had a solid season with 10.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. He also shot 53.7 percent from the field and made the All-Rookie First Team. Unfortunately, injuries defined the rest of his career.
He was having another solid season with 11.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in 38 games, but a broken left tibia ended his season. The following season, he broke his right tibia after just five games.
Ahead of the 1987-1988 season, Bowie felt discomfort in his right leg during warmups for a preseason game. It turned out to be a hairline fracture in his right tibia. He had surgery and missed the entire season and 62 games the following season. He played in just 20 more games with Portland.
Bowie spent the final six years of his career with the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Lakers.
His four seasons in New Jersey yielded plus numbers.
- 12.8 points
- 8.2 rebounds
- 2.0 assists
- 1.6 blocks
While his career didn’t turn out the way everyone hoped it would, Bowie still managed to produce solid numbers.
Unfortunately, everyone remembers him as the guy taken before Michael Jordan.
2. Darko Milicic (Detroit Pistons)
Some guys are NBA Draft busts because of poor play and others are busts because Hall of Fame caliber players went just behind them.
Milicic played in Serbia before entering the NBA Draft. Even at age 18, the 7’ 0”, 250-pound center got the attention of NBA scouts. His elite skills had teams thinking he was the next big international prospect.
The Detroit Pistons drafted Milicic second overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. Detroit was already one of the best teams in the league, having acquired the pick in a trade years ago.
He barely saw the court during his first two seasons in the NBA. Milicic averaged just 5.8 minutes per game across the two seasons. He also averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds.
Milicic did, however, win a championship with the Pistons in his rookie season.
Detroit sent Milicic to the Orlando Magic halfway through the 2005-2006 season. He played 110 games with the team, averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds.
From there, he essentially bounced around the league. He spent a pair of tumultuous seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies and played eight games with the New York Knicks.
Milicic did have a solid 2010-2011 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
- 8.8 points
- 5.2 rebounds
- 2.0 blocks
He played just 30 more games across his final two seasons in the league.
His underwhelming career spanned across ten seasons. In that time, he averaged 6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. He also shot just 46.0 percent from the field.
Those poor numbers don’t help his case, but the pick is even worse when you realize Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all went just behind Milicic in the draft. Detroit could’ve built a dynasty with any of those guys.
1. Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Cleveland Cavaliers hit a home run when they selected LeBron James and Kyrie Irving number one overall in the 2003 and 2011 NBA Draft, respectively.
Bennett played just one season at UNLV. He was extremely efficient, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. He also shot 53.3 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range.
It was a weak 2013 draft class, and here was no clear number one player. In a move that surprised a lot of people, the Cavaliers selected Bennett with the first overall pick. His career got off to a horrific start.
He scored just five points and made one field goal in his first seven games.
Seriously, check out this game log.
|Opponent||Field Goal Attempts||Field Goal Makes|
I wish I could say things improved, but they really didn’t. He did have a pair of double-doubles but that was about it.
For the season, he averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. His strong shooting in college clearly didn’t transfer over, as he only shot 35.6 percent from the field.
Cleveland sent Bennett to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a three-team deal following his rookie season. While he received more playing time, his numbers remained below par. Minnesota bought out his contract after the season.
Following a season with each the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets, Bennett’s career came to an end.
He only lasted four years in the NBA and his stats aren’t pretty.
- 4.4 points
- 3.1 rebounds
- 39.2 field goal percentage
- 26.1 three-point percentage
I don’t think fans expected Bennett to be a superstar, but they probably hoped for better numbers. His game just didn’t show any promise whatsoever.
I could be nitpicky and say the Cavaliers could have drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo, but 13 other teams passed on him. Still, the Cavaliers could have at least landed a serviceable player.
Other NBA Draft Busts
- Shawn Bradley (Philadelphia 76ers)
- Jay Williams (Chicago Bulls)
Shawn Bradley is one of the tallest players in NBA history. However, his height didn’t yield much success.
He made the All-Rookie Second Team after going number two in the NBA Draft. He had decent numbers in his career with 8.1 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Now, everyone knows him as the guy who got posturized his whole career.
Jay Williams’ NBA career had a lot of promise after an amazing college career at Duke. Unfortunately, everything changed when he crashed his motorcycle following his rookie season.
His rookie numbers were decent, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 points, but Williams never played in the NBA following the crash.
For some more upbeat NBA content, check out the posts below.