NBA Draft History: 5 Players Destined to Bust, but Didn't
Andre Drummond and Perry Jones. Two names that not only seem to be synonymous with the boom or bust phrase but the two players in this year's draft that seem almost destined to be busts. As Lee Corso (yes, I know I have the wrong sport) would say, "not so fast my friend"!
Long before Andre the Giant and PJ III were household names amongst basketball fans, the NBA draft was filled with players who seemed destined to be busts, and well, turned out to be just that. Players such as Chris Washburn in 1986, Shawn Bradley in 1993, Michael Olowokandi in 1998, Kwame Brown in 2001, Darko Milicic in 2003, Adam Morrison in 2006 and well, just about everyone in the 2000 draft!
However, it seems that for every prospect seemingly destined to become a bust and who turned out to be such, there is also a player that was just as destined for failure yet ascended to greatness, or at least, you know, non-bust-ness.
Allow me to introduce you to five such players now.
Tyson Chandler: Second Overall Pick in 2001
Tyson Chandler entered the 2001 NBA draft as an 18-year-old, fresh off leading his Compton, California, Dominguez High School squad to a state championship. As a freshman he had been profiled on 60 minutes as by the time he was a senior, had become nothing less than a California state sensation.
Chandler’s hometown Los Angeles Clippers selected him with the second overall pick in the draft but before the local fan base could start celebrating, they traded him to the Chicago Bulls for 1999 NBA Rookie of the Year Elton Brand, who was coming off his second straight season of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. If Chandler would have felt pressure playing in front of his hometown fans, he now had the weight of the world on his shoulders after being traded for the dominant Brand and to a Bulls team that expected him to be their new savior!
Chandler was an extremely athletic, legitimate seven footer with magnificent upside as a dominant defender and the physical gifts necessary to become a star on the offensive end as well. However, he also seemed to have a few glaring weaknesses. In fact, draft analyst Matthew Maurer, author of the 2007 Basketball Draft Yearbook, wrote in 2001 that Chandler was “rail thin” and said, “against physical players such as Ousmane Cisse Chandler didn’t respond well and doesn’t like to mix it up inside” adding that even Chandler’s “rebounding despite the high numbers isn’t as strong as one would think because he lacks the intensity and lacks the upper body strength to be [a dominant] rebounder at the NBA level”.
All of the signs one looks for in a potential boom or bust prospect could be spotted in Chandler and after five seasons in the league with the Bulls, Chandler did in fact look more like a bust than boom. Through those first five years Chandler averaged just 7.1 points and 7.7 rebounds and shot 51.1 percent from the field, a far cry from the dominant numbers Elton Brand had averaged in his first two seasons in a Bulls uniform.
However, in the five seasons since he last played for the Bulls (not counting the injury plagued 2009-10 season he spent with the Charlotte Bobcats), Chandler has averaged 10.3 points and 10.5 rebounds and shot an astounding 63.1 percent from the field. He has also made the All-NBA Third Team and All-NBA Defensive Second Team twice, won the 2012 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and helped lead the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA title!
The Chicago Bulls may indeed have drafted a bust in the 2001 NBA draft, but his name was Eddy Curry and not Tyson Chandler!
LeBron James: First Overall Pick in 2003
LeBron James was dubbed “The Chosen One” by none other than Sports Illustrated as a mere junior in high school. By the time James’ high school career had ended, the young phenom had led his team to four straight state championship games, winning three titles and becoming the first basketball player in history to be selected to the All-USA First Team three times as well as the first player to be named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball three consecutive times!
Simply put, LeBron James was the greatest high school basketball player in history!
The above said, while it’s true hardly anyone thought the young King James was destined to be a bust, the expectations were so enormously high that most seemed to feel James could never truly live up to them. I personally define the word bust as “one who does not live up to expectations” and therefore if James had become anything less than a perennial NBA All-Star he would indeed have been a bust. Such is an enormous burden for any collegiate athlete, let alone an 18-year-old high school graduate.
LeBron James, however, has exceeded the ridiculously high expectations saddled upon him. James is widely considered the greatest basketball player alive today and has accomplished more at the age of 27 than even the great Michael Jordan could have even dreamed of!
Michael Jordan at the age of 27 had won one NBA MVP, and had never even made an NBA Finals appearance while James has already won three MVP trophies and two conference championships and is in line to win a third this season and perhaps a first NBA title, all before his 28th birthday!
Dwight Howard: First Overall Pick in 2004
Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor? That was the choice the Orlando Magic had to make in the 2004 NBA draft.
Howard was the 18-year-old man-child from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy with enough athleticism to make even superstar NBA big men shudder. Okafor was the 21-year-old University of Connecticut center who had just led his team to the NCAA title, won the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award along with the National Defensive Player of the Year Award and was about to suit up for the United States Olympic team.
The Magic chose Howard over Okafor and instantly the Dwight vs. Emeka watch began. By the time the two players’ rookie year had ended, Okafor had won the NBA Rookie of the Year award and bested Howard in both average points per game and rebounds per game. It looked as if the Magic may have made a mistake on Dwight Howard.
However, by the very next season Dwight Howard eclipsed Okafor’s average point and rebound totals and today while Okafor is known as a very solid starting defensive-minded center, Howard is known as quite possibly the second best player in the game today and the most dominant defensive player since Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Magic may indeed be forced to trade Dwight Howard before the start of this season, but Okafor is already on his second team and there is no doubt that Dwight Howard should net the Magic a King’s ransom in return, while Okafor would be difficult to trade for mere salary cap relief. No matter how one looks at it, the Magic made the right choice in the 2004 NBA draft.
Andrew Bynum: 10th Overall Pick in 2005
Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak had an enormous amount of pressure on him June 28, 2005. The Lakers had the 10th pick in the draft, the first time they had a pick higher than No. 13 since the 1996 draft when they selected a high school player by the name of Kobe Bryant. This time, it was Kobe Bryant himself that was demanding a star be selected with that 10th pick as the Lakers had just missed the playoffs for the first time in Bryant’s career.
Three big men that were all projected to be solid fits for the Lakers were on the board when the Lakers were on the clock: Bynum, North Carolina’s Sean May and Spain’s Fran Vazquez. Bynum was a 17-year-old giant who had only played in 32 career high school contests. May had just finished leading the North Carolina Tar Heels to the NCAA title after putting together a dominant junior season in Chapel Hill. Vazquez was a 22-year-old energetic big man who at 19 years of age had led the Spanish National Team to the silver medal in the 2002 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championships.
Andrew Bynum was enormous and no doubt had the Lakers brass dreaming of another Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal manning the pivot for years to come in the city of angels. However, Bynum also seemed to have more baby fat than actual muscle, a low-motor and problematic knees. In short, there was a high bust quotient with Andrew Bynum and while some thought he may turn out to be a dominant center in time, others thought he had Michael Olowokandi written all over him!
Los Angeles did select Bynum that night with the 10th pick in the draft and while Bynum’s rookie season was nothing short of abysmal, even when compared to the modest numbers Sean May put up, it was certainly better than Fran Vazquez’s rookie season as Vazquez refused to sign with the Magic and to this day has never played an NBA game (imagine where Orlando would be had they drafted Danny Granger or Monta Ellis instead of Vazquez). However, in just his third season in the league, Bynum became the starting center for the Lakers, averaged a triple double and helped the team win the first of three consecutive Western Conference titles.
In the seven seasons since Bynum, May and Vazquez were drafted, Bynum has become an NBA All-Star, been named to the All-NBA Second Team, won three conference championships and two NBA titles and became the clear cut, second best center in the game behind only Dwight Howard. Sean May played just 119 NBA games, averaging 6.9 points and 4.0 rebounds and has not played one single minute in over two years! As for Vazquez, he has never played a single minute in the NBA since being drafted by the Magic—just one pick after the Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum!
Russell Westbrook: Fourth Overall Pick in 2008
Russell Westbrook was a bit of an enigma coming into the 2008 NBA Draft. After averaging just 3.4 points and less than one assist, rebound or steal per game in a disappointing freshman season he sort of exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, at least as much as one can while still averaging just 12.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
Oklahoma City Thunder brass, however, loved what they saw in pre-draft workouts and selected Westbrook with the fourth pick, one spot ahead of college teammate and ultra-productive big man Kevin Love as well as three spots ahead of Indiana University’s sensational Eric Gordon who poured in 20.9 points per game as a freshman and seven spots ahead of Arizona University’s Jerryd Bayless who averaged 19.7 points and 4.0 assists per game in his magnificent freshman campaign as well.
The sophomore Westbrook was also selected five spots ahead of the player widely considered to be the best sophomore point guard in America, D.J. Augustin. After two years running the point at Texas, Augustin had career averages of 16.9 points, 6.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while shooting a remarkable 40.2 percent from three point range and 80.7 percent from the charity stripe. Westbrook on the other hand had career averages of 8.3 points, 2.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game while shooting an unremarkable 35.3 percent from three-point range and a horrendous 68.5 percent from the charity stripe. Yet somehow the Thunder had the foresight to draft Russell Westbrook.
Many fans felt the Thunder had made a huge mistake drafting what could be considered a “project point guard”. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
After four seasons in the NBA Westbrook has scored more career points than Augustin and Bayless combined, recorded more assists than Gordon and Bayless combined and has just 27 less career steals than Gordon, Augustin and Bayless have accumulated, all put together! In fact, to date, Russell Westbrook has recorded more career (regular and postseason combined) rebounds and steals than Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Jerryd Bayless have, all put together as well!