Biggest NBA Draft Busts in History: Big Men Dominate List

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The NBA Draft is a glorious moment for some of basketball’s biggest prospects, but it can also mark the beginning of a disappointing career for many. Take Zion Williamson, for example – he was priced with -5000 odds at DraftKings to be drafted No. 1 in 2019, but he hasn’t been on the court enough to justify the New Orleans Pelicans’ decision to select him first overall.

Victor Wembanyama was priced as short as -20000 to be the No. 1 overall pick, per 2023 NBA Draft odds. With the French star — who was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night — touted as the best prospect since LeBron James, it got us wondering which players have fallen the shortest of expectations.

Let’s look at the biggest NBA Draft busts in history, which you’ll notice are all big men. It seems the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

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Biggest Busts in NBA Draft History, Ranked

Here is an admittedly subjective list of the biggest disappointments in NBA history, relative to their pre-draft expectations.

Honorable Mention: Sam Bowie (1984)

It’s unlikely that you recognize the name “Sam Bowie” from anything he’s done on the NBA hardwood. That’s because he’s infamous for being one of the most disappointing players ever drafted.

After the Houston Rockets locked in Hakeem Olajuwon with the first pick of the loaded 1984 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers saw Bowie– not Michael Jordan – as a better complement to Clyde Drexler. And boy, did it not work out for either the team or Bowie.

The 7-foot-1 center was selected No. 2 overall after missing two full seasons at Kentucky due to stress fractures in his legs. But the injuries didn’t stop there, as he played in just 139 games across five seasons in Portland.

Bowie went on to join two other teams before hanging up his boots in 1995. He averaged 10.2 points a night, which is enough to get a shoutout on this list but not enough to crack the top five.

Also read: NBA Championship Odds 2023

5. Kwame Brown (2001)

Kwame Brown was the first NBA player to get drafted straight out of high school, and for good reason. The 6-foot-11, 290-pound center dominated at Glynn Academy, averaging 20.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 5.8 blocks per game in his senior year.

The Washington Wizards had a one-track mind and bought into the hype, ignoring any red flags the kid may have had. But after getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2001, Brown crumbled mightily under the lofty expectations of both team president Michael Jordan and fans.

Brown quickly showed poor work ethic and a lack of fundamental basketball skills, resulting in him averaging 7.7 points in his four seasons in Washington. After rejecting a five-year, $30 million deal from the Wizards, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he continued to underachieve.

Brown then bounced around the league before retiring in 2013 with career averages of 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 0.9 assists. It’s fair to say that he was a mediocre bench player at best, coming off the bench in 53.7% of his career games and logging just one double-digit scoring season in 11 years.

Brown’s awful stats and lack of accomplishments are enough to cement his reputation as one of the biggest draft busts in history. If it weren’t for the 2001 draft class being relatively weak, Brown would find himself even higher on the rankings.

4. Hasheem Thabeet (2009)

Hasheem Thabeet has no one to blame other than himself for landing on this list. Coming out of UConn, the 7-foot-3 center was a beast of a shot-blocker and had the size to cause matchup nightmares in the paint.

But when it was time to take it to the next level, Thabeet flamed out. The No. 2 overall pick developed zero offensive skills and averaged 2.2 points in 224 career NBA games, starting in just 8.9% of them. He also committed fouls at an alarming rate, causing him to average a mere 10.5 minutes per game.

It also didn’t help that he landed in one of the worst spots. The Memphis Grizzlies had a clear history of poor player development and already had a big man in Marc Gasol on their roster.

Thabeet joined five different teams in five seasons before exiting the league at just 26 years old.

3. Greg Oden (2007)

There’s an interesting case to be made for Oden, whose poor play can be attributed to his weak knees and not to his talent.

Oden was immensely talented and had the potential to be a generational superstar. At Ohio State, he averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game and led the program to a national championship in 2007.

As the clear top choice in the 2007 draft, Oden possessed great size, strength, agility, and most importantly, health at the center position. However, one knee injury after another completely derailed his NBA career.

In a seven-year career, the seven-foot center sat out four full seasons and appeared in 105 contests. Even when he found enough strength to step onto the court, it wasn’t pretty.

Oden tried to gut it out with the Miami Heat in 2013, but his knees were too brittle, and he was forced to retire after just 66 career starts.

2. Anthony Bennett (2013)

Anthony Bennett had the shortest NBA career of any player on this list, exiting the league at just 23 years old after four seasons.

The UNLV product wasn’t the strongest No. 1 overall pick in history, as he averaged a respectable 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in a weak conference in college. But it was enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers to draft him first overall in 2013.

He showed his true dull colors at the pro level, averaging 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in 151 career games. He has four career starts to his name in the NBA.

Bennett may be the least productive top pick in NBA history, but we’re cutting him some slack because no one thought of him as exceptional to begin with. The Cavs gambled on him, and it simply wasn’t meant to be for Bennett.

For reference, it took Bennett 33 games to score in double figures for the first time, which is by far the longest streak of any player drafted first overall.

1. Darko Milicic (2003)

Darko Milicic gets the top spot on this list for a number of reasons. For one, he was sandwiched by multiple future hall-of-fame players. Now, that may be the scouts and general managers to blame, but even then, Milicic failed to back up his status as the No. 2 overall pick.

The seven-foot European, pegged as the next “Dirk Nowitzki”, joined a Detroit Pistons team that was already established as a title contender, and he was hailed as the biggest pillar of the team’s future success.

The Pistons won the championship in Milicic’s first season, despite the European contributing just 4.7 minutes and 1.4 points a night. But much like in that title run, Milicic struggled to find a rhythm in his two-and-a-half years in Detroit and was traded to the Orlando Magic in 2006.

Milicic managed to stick around for 10 seasons with six different teams, but failed to adjust to the league’s physicality and only averaged 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

David Stern – the commissioner at the time – lowered the age limit and allowed the European to join the league at 17 years old, which put added pressure on Milicic to perform well. In hindsight, however, it was a bad decision and a stain on the player’s reputation.

About the Author
Cyrus Eshaghoff

Cyrus Eshaghoff

Writer
Cyrus Eshaghoff is a New York-based sports betting writer at Gaming Today who covers the UFC, NFL, and NBA. Whether it's heated debates or uncovering statistical insights, he loves discussing (and writing about) sports.

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