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NBA Draft History – 14 Times Teams Wish They Could Change Their Pick
NBA Draft history is littered with big moments. Draft day trades, rising and falling prospects, and of course who goes #1 overall forever live on in our minds.
It’s especially difficult to forget when the franchise we love the most commits horrendous blunders.
The pressure on teams to get those picks right is immense. If you whiff on the #1 pick, you’ll be laughed at for years. It can set your franchise back, and before long, GMs could be out of a job.
That palpable feeling that every pick matters stretches far beyond the lottery, too. Even in the latter portions of round one, teams may often have a chance at nabbing an amazing gem. But it’s so easy to trip up and fail to do so.
Optimism takes over the draft every year, but it’s those failures I’d like to focus on.
NBA teams want to avoid those snafus. Sports bettors just want to profit by betting on the NBA Draft. If done right, you can mix the two narratives and laugh your way to profit.
But sometimes you can’t make money until you reflect on what was. A lot of mistakes have been made at the draft, and many have come in recent memory.
If for no other reason than to remind teams that sometimes the scouting process is misleading, let’s break down the worst moments since 2000 that teams probably wish they could have back.
2018 NBA Draft: Kings and Suns Pass on Luka Doncic
Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley were both very good as rookies during the 2018-19 NBA season. It’s quite possible they’ll both be franchise cornerstones, All-Stars, and perhaps even NBA champions one day.
But Luka Doncic was sensational and transcendent as a rookie.
Time will tell if the gap is really that remarkable, but during their rookie seasons, Ayton and Bagley couldn’t touch Doncic. His versatile skill-set projects well for the rest of his career, and looking back, it’s quite arguable he should have been the top pick in the draft.
I can understand the Suns taking what felt like the sure thing in Ayton at #1. But the Kings bypassing Luka Doncic (not to mention Trae Young) for Bagley? That was questionable, at best.
2017 NBA Draft: 76ers Pick Markelle Fultz #1 Overall
Fultz is one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history, hands down. Philly’s only defense is that they probably weren’t smitten with Lonzo Ball, and by all accounts, Fultz did look like a potential superstar.
The vetting clearly wasn’t good enough. Fultz’s hitch in his shot got worse, he had shoulder issues, and eventually his struggles impacted him mentally and emotionally.
Before long, the 76ers gave up on their prized pick and sent him to Orlando in a trade with the Magic. Fultz was supposed to be part of “The Process,” but he never really got going while other youngsters like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid thrived.
It’s one thing to whiff badly at the top pick, but the Sixers had options. Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, and Jayson Tatum would have been far better picks, while trading down could have netted more assets and a more reliable prospect.
The 2017 NBA Draft was positively loaded in hindsight, but all the Sixers have to show for it is a bust who forgot how to shoot.
2016 NBA Draft: Kings Reach for Georgios Papagiannis at 13th Overall
Ben Simmons was the consensus top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and there was no way around it. All these years later, and there’s no denying Philly made the right (and only) choice.
While the 76ers cleaned up, several other teams made some poor decisions. Sacramento’s awful front office moves continued that year, as the team inexplicably reached for Greek prospect Georgios Papagiannis.
This wasn’t a big name on anyone’s list, and at the time, most speculated the Kings could have waited until the second round to get him. At worst, they could have just traded out of the lottery and snagged him later in round one.
The Kings opted for a shocker while bypassing eventual impact players like Caris LeVert, Pascal Siakam, and Dejounte Murray in the process.
Papagiannis didn’t last in Sacramento, as he never really got a chance to prove himself before heading back to Greece.
2015 NBA Draft: Hornets Make Frank Kaminsky a Top-10 Pick
The Charlotte Hornets haven’t had a great history. Kemba Walker is their lone great move in the draft. They’re otherwise attached to the likes of Adam Morrison, Sean May, and, well, Frank Kaminsky.
Frank the Tank was a good college player, but the writing was always on the wall with this one. He wasn’t a great athlete, he was never an elite defender, and he was a face-up shooter. In the NBA, that was going to be a recipe for disaster if you wanted this guy to be an effective center.
It didn’t translate, and it’s safe to say at this point that Kaminsky is a bust.
Worse than committing a gaffe at the 9th overall pick, though, is realizing what could have been.
Justise Winslow and Myles Turner are two players that would have been far more useful than Kaminsky, while Devin Booker (13th overall) would have been an amazing addition for a Charlotte team that has always struggled offensively.
2014 NBA Draft: Cavaliers Take Andrew Wiggins at #1
This pick is ultimately pretty irrelevant for the Cavs. They traded Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire Kevin Love. That move culminated in the franchise’s first and only NBA title, so it’s fair to say it’s worth it.
But it could have been a better pick, as Kansas big man Joel Embiid slid out of the top spot due to injury concerns.
I’ll consider giving Cleveland a pass just because how things worked out, but the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take The Process at 2nd overall, either. Instead, they selected Jabari Parker, who suffered two knee injuries and fled for Chicago the first time he hit free agency.
Cleveland and Milwaukee both had a chance at one of the most dominant big men in the game. Now neither have anything to show for their 1st and 2nd picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
2013 NBA Draft: Cavs Take Anthony Bennett #1 Overall
How can a team commit such an epic gaffe at the top spot two years in a row? It takes a special type of incompetence, I’ll tell you that.
In Cleveland’s defense, the aforementioned Wiggins was actually a fine pick. They just ended up dealing him. Anthony Bennett, however, was one of the worst NBA Draft busts of all-time.
Bennett just never materialized in the NBA. He was very productive at UNLV, but his efficiency and overall production was just never there. After just three starts with the Cavs, he flamed out of the league for good in 2017.
This is especially tough to come to terms with for Cleveland fans, as there was some solid talent behind Bennett. That, and the Cavs would have clearly been better off trading down out of the top spot.
Eventual stars like Victor Oladipo, C.J. McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dennis Schroder, and Rudy Gobert all could have been had at some point in that first round. All of them — and several others — would have been significantly better picks than Bennett.
2012 NBA Draft: Hornets Take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at #2 Overall
I certainly understood the MKG pick to an extent. The Kentucky star was an elite defender and a terrific slasher. If his perimeter game could ever develop, he could turn into a superstar.
Unfortunately, he didn’t.
MKG was a fine upside pick, but he ended up being an arguable bust. It only looks worse for the Hornets (who have traditionally failed in the draft) thanks to superstars like Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and even Andre Drummond being taken inside the lottery.
Charlotte thought they were getting one of the best two-way threats for the future. Instead, they overlooked the immense offensive star power in this draft and suffered because of it.
2011 NBA Draft: Kings Take Jimmer Fredette Over Klay Thompson
This one is a big bowl of whoops.
Now, I’ll admit, I really liked The Jimmer coming out of BYU and was excited when the Kings nabbed him in a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.
But that deal was in place, suggesting the Bucks made that pick at 10th overall for Sacramento. The gaffe is then on the Kings, who opted to reach for Fredette instead of taking a more efficient shooter and better defender in Klay Thompson.
Fredette flamed out of the league several years later, while Thompson has done nothing but win titles with the Golden State Warriors.
If you want to pour even more salt into the wound, consider that the Kings could have also had viable options like Kawhi Leonard (oof), Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, or Jimmy Butler.
They chose Jimmer Fredette, and that alone could be the perfect microcosm to explain who they are in the NBA.
2010 NBA Draft: Warriors Draft Ekpe Udoh Over Paul George
You can’t knock the Dubs for much when it comes to their past draft success. Elite talents like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were all home-grown, after all.
However, the Dubs could have potentially been even more stacked. Instead, they drafted Ekpe Udoh at 6th overall. That didn’t end up being a fruitful selection with Udoh lasting just one year with the team, but the Dubs also passed up some amazing talent at the same time.
Paul George, who was taken four picks later, probably stands out the most.
The man known as PG-13 went on to become a superstar in the pros, but Golden State didn’t see it. They also passed on Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe — both of whom made massive impacts in the NBA compared to Udoh.
2009 NBA Draft: Grizzlies Take Hasheem Thabeet at #2 Overall
This may be one of the biggest mistakes in NBA Draft history. Memphis was looking for some size back in 2009 and thought the towering Thabeet would help them out.
Thabeet had the skill-set of an elite shot-blocker, but that was about it. The Grizzlies probably assumed he’d develop as a low-post scorer and improve as a rebounder thanks to his size and length.
None of that really happened, while Thabeet lasted one year in Memphis before being traded. His career only went downhill from there, as he never averaged more than 13 minutes per game.
If that weren’t bad enough, consider who Memphis passed up for this colossal bust. Not only did James Harden go next at number three overall, but Stephen Curry lasted until the seventh spot.
That’s two generational scorers Memphis could have had.
They had numerous options even beyond those future Hall of Famers. Ricky Rubio, DeMar DeRozan, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and Jeff Teague are just a handful of other star players that would have worked out far better than Thabeet ever did.
2008 NBA Draft: Milwaukee Bucks Take Joe Alexander at 8th Overall
I don’t even care about who the Bucks passed up. They committed a huge reach for West Virginia forward Joe Alexander, who really hadn’t been on the NBA Draft radar prior to a strong tourney run.
Alexander parlayed a brilliant March Madness performance into being a lottery pick, but he never displayed range or consistency while in Milwaukee.
He sure could dunk, but that was about it. Alexander lasted less than two years with the team before exiting the NBA for good in 2010.
Taking Alexander at 8th overall was a reach (and a mistake) and brings shame to the Bucks organization on its own. But they also passed on some stellar options in the process.
Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, and DeAndre Jordan all came off the board well after Alexander and would have been superior choices.
2007 NBA Draft: Blazers Take Greg Oden Over Kevin Durant at #1 Overall
This is another pick that enters the “worst pick ever” discussion. Not only was Greg Oden far less skilled than Kevin Durant, but he also offered less general upside.
Oden’s production wasn’t horrendous during his first two seasons, but there were certainly some issues. Oden rebounded well, blocked shots, and scored inside on easy buckets, but he did not have an advanced offensive game, and he offered zero range as a shooter.
To make matters worse, he could never stay healthy.
Oden was limited to just 82 games over his first two seasons and ended up sitting out three straight seasons before making an ill-fated comeback with the Heat in 2013. That would be the last we’d hear of Oden, who just didn’t have the health or skill-set to live up to the #1 overall pick.
KD would have been the preferred choice. The future Hall of Famer entered the league with elite scoring ability and a tremendous combination of size, length, and athleticism.
It was one thing for Oden to be a horrific bust. But for Portland to potentially have had a shot at one of the most dynamic scorers ever makes this miss even more brutal.
2003 NBA Draft: Pistons Take Darko Milicic at #2 Overall
Yeesh, this was a bad one. In a sense, everyone lost out in the 2003 NBA Draft just because they didn’t have the fortune of landing the top pick and getting LeBron James.
But the Detroit Pistons messed up pretty badly here.
Darko Milicic had the size and upside you look for in drafts, but he was too raw to roll the dice on over some truly established college hoops talent.
Like, Carmelo Anthony, perchance?
Melo was easily the 1B to LeBron’s 1A going into the draft. He was arrogant and didn’t offer much defensively, but he was about as skilled of a scorer as one could hope to get. He also was the second-best prospect on the board, and it wasn’t particularly close.
But the Pistons didn’t need to be enamored with Melo to strike it big in the 2003 NBA Draft. They just needed to not allow themselves to fall for Milicic.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were two other future superstars that were waiting to hear their name called. There were even solid options like Kirk Hinrich, David West, and Josh Howard right down the line to consider.
And the Pistons found themselves locking in on Darko. Let that sink in.
2001 NBA Draft: Wizards Draft Kwame Brown #1 Overall
Ouch. This one stings quite a bit, too. Michael Jordan had his hands all over this one as part-owner of the Washington Wizards and even came out of retirement to play with Brown in an effort to maximize his potential.
It didn’t work out.
Brown was slow, lethargic, and didn’t develop quickly enough. He eventually was serviceable enough to last in the league until age 30, but the talent and upside MJ saw never materialized.
This was a high upside, risky pick. And the way the draft has gone in the past, it’s not an abnormal one. It was just a really bold call for the top spot, especially when there were other viable options.
Pau Gasol was the third draft choice in this draft and was light years ahead of Brown in terms of his polish, post skills, and the competition he’d faced. Looking back, I’m not sure how the Wiz missed that.
While a few other names wouldn’t have necessarily been realistic options at #1 overall at the time, it’s hard to ignore that Kwame Brown heard his name called ahead of guys like Jason Richardson, Richard Jefferson, Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker.
You can’t get them all right, but boy, did Washington blow it with this one.
If you want to go way back, I’m certainly right there with you on the 1984 draft (Bowie over MJ) and so many others. However, these are some of the biggest NBA Draft blunders in recent memory.
The question is, what comes next? Every single year gives NBA GMs another shot at landing that game-changing player, but it also puts them at risk of whiffing on a high pick.
You don’t want to make the cut on any “worst NBA Draft picks of all time,” but more importantly, I wanted this breakdown to point to the many other options every team has.
Bias can be a heck of a thing, and it’s possible numerous teams let bad scouting, misguided interviews, or even flat-out ignoring prospects get in the way of their judgment.
Things didn’t work out so well for NBA teams in the aforementioned situations. Hopefully going forward, teams can learn from their horrifying mistakes and get drafts “right” the first time around.