20 Biggest NBA Draft Blunders in the Last Decade

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2012

20 Biggest NBA Draft Blunders in the Last Decade

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    Not every NBA draft pick works out well. As much as general managers would like to believe that every selection will pan out, there's an Adam Morrison or Greg Oden for every Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. 

    So, which picks have been the worst of the worst? Which are the ones that make these general managers kick themselves over the magnitude of the blunder? 

    Staying completely objective is the only way to answer these questions. Subjectivity can lead you down too many false paths. 

    Using historical precedence as a basis for the rankings, these are the 20 worst picks of the last decade. 

How Were Draft Blunders Determined?

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    The maximum length of a rookie contract is four years, meaning that we should focus exclusively on those first four years when analyzing whether a player is a draft bust or a draft steal. 

    Therefore, I looked at the first four years of win shares data for a player, as provided by Basketball-Reference.com. Win shares are an advanced basketball metric calculated so that one win share is exactly equal to one win provided by that player to his team's cause.

    It's the combination of offensive win shares and defensive win shares, a full breakdown of which can be found on this page, called "Calculating Win Shares."

    Starting with the year 1982—an arbitrary date because I haven't had time to go back any further—I looked at each player drafted into the league and tracked their draft position and the amount of win shares they produced in their first four seasons in the league, called four-year win shares.

    Please note that players drafted in 2009 or later have not been included because four years have not yet elapsed between their draft date and the present day.

    After I had data for all 2,378 players drafted from 1982-2008, I took the average number of four-year win shares for each draft position and plotted them on a scatterplot (which you can see in the embedded picture, with draft position along the x-axis and four-year win shares along the y-axis).

    Using a best-fit logistical regression, I found the following formula:

    Four-year win shares = -3.978 * ln (draft position) + 19.204.

    For the statistically inclined out there, that equation has a coefficient of determination (r^2) of 0.83448. 

    Using this formula, we can plug in a number for draft position and have the formula show how many four-year win shares a player drafted there should be expected to produce. 

    The difference between expected four-year win shares and actual four-year win shares determines how much of a steal or bust a player was. If the difference is positive, the player exceeded expectations by that much and was a bit of a steal. If the difference is negative, the player failed to live up to the expectations and was a bit of a bust. 

    Because we're only looking at the last decade, players must have been drafted between 2003 and 2008 to be eligible for this article. Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich and others will have to wait a year or two for eligibility.  

20. Sebastian Telfair (No. 13 in 2004)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 1.4

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 9.0

    Difference: -7.6

     

    Perhaps the story of Sebastian Telfair's career would have played out differently if he'd decided to go to college instead of immediately jumping from high school to the 2004 NBA draft. 

    The talented young point guard never managed to stick around in the starting lineup for the Portland Trail Blazers, partially because he just couldn't get his shot to fall. During his first two years in the Association, Telfair shot 39.4 percent from the field. 

19. Robert Swift (No. 12 in 2004)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 1.7

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 9.3

    Difference: -7.6

     

    For all the incredible players who went prep-to-pro, there are a number of players who flopped after deciding to skip the college experience. 

    Robert Swift is one of those players who falls into the latter category. 

    The seven-footer only played in 16 games during his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics, averaging under a point per game. After tearing his ACL in 2006, Swift was never able to make good on his potential.  

18. Andrea Bargnani (No. 1 in 2006)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 11.3

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 19.2

    Difference: -7.9

     

    Andrea Bargnani is easily the best player in these rankings. In fact, you have to go all the way to the 208th-worst pick of the last decade (Andrew Bogut at No. 1 in 2005) to find another player who earned at least 11.3 win shares in the first four years of his career. 

    The problem is that Bargnani has way more expected of him because he was drafted first overall in the 2006 NBA draft. 

17. Acie Law IV (No. 11 in 2007)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 1.6

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 9.7

    Difference: -8.1

     

    Amazingly enough, this is the only pick by the Atlanta Hawks that made it into the top 20. Shelden Williams fell just short, and Marvin Williams was a decent pick until you include the players picked around him—Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

    Acie Law IV was sensational for Texas A&M, but he couldn't live up to the expectations once he moved on to the next level.

    The point guard only lasted two years with the Hawks and has since played for another four teams in just two years. 

16. Cedric Simmons (No. 15 in 2006)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.1

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 8.4

    Difference: -8.3

     

    Over the three years he spent in the league, Cedric Simmons appeared in only 75 games. Just four of those were starts.

    When a lockout isn't affecting anything, a typical season is 82 games long. I'll let you do the rest of the math.

    Simmons only averaged 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds per game over the course of his nondescript NBA career.  

15. Troy Bell (No. 15 in 2003)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: -0.2

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 8.2

    Difference: -8.4

     

    Troy Bell might have enjoyed an incredible career at Boston College, but that success didn't translate much to the NBA. 

    The 6'1" point guard played in just six games with the Memphis Grizzlies during his rookie season and never stepped foot onto the hard court again. 

    He scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists during those six games. Those are totals, not per-game averages. 

14. Yi Jianlian (No. 6 in 2007)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 3.1

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 12.1

    Difference: -9.0

     

    If any members of the Milwaukee Bucks organization were watching the London Olympics, they were probably wondering why it looked like Yi Jianlian could actually play basketball. 

    After all, he gave no such indication during his first season with the Bucks, or any of the subsequent ones with other teams. Through four years, Yi was averaging 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 40.5 percent shooting from the field. 

    He earned negative offensive win shares in three of his first four seasons. 

13. Reece Gaines (No. 15 in 2003)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: -0.6

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 8.4

    Difference: -9.0

     

    It's a tell-tale sign that a player is a draft bust when the Getty Images database doesn't contain a single image of him in a professional jersey. That's why you see Reece Gaines in his Louisville garb. 

    Gaines played in 71 games over three seasons and only scored in double figures three times. 

    That's quite disappointing from a player Dwyane Wade speaks highly of: 

    Reese Gaines from Louisville RT @gerald22129: @dwyanewade best player u played against in college?

    — DAD (@DwyaneWade) August 29, 2012

12. Corey Brewer (No. 7 in 2007)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 2.4

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 11.5

    Difference: -9.1

     

    Corey Brewer put together the best season of his career in 2011-12, but it was one year too late to count toward his status as a draft bust. After all, we're only looking at the first four seasons of a player's NBA experience. 

    The small forward's best eligible season came in 2009-10, when he averaged 13.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He was still inefficient enough that his defense was barely enough to give him positive win shares. 

    Brewer appears to be on the rise, but he won't ever be able to rid himself of "draft bust" status. 

11. Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12 in 2005)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: -0.1

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 9.3

    Difference: -9.4

     

    Yaroslav Korolev spent only two seasons in the NBA before he departed for Russia. Since then, he's played there, in the NBA D-League and in Spain. 

    The one constant has been a lack of success in the NBA. 

    During his 34 games against the best that basketball has to offer, Korolev earned less win shares than he would have produced if he'd never set foot in the United States. 

10. Shaun Livingston (No. 4 in 2004)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 4.2

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 13.7

    Difference: -9.5

     

    Shaun Livingston was on pace to become a valuable NBA guard, but he suffered a devastating knee injury 54 games into the 2006-07 season. As a result, he missed the last third of that year and all but 12 games of the next campaign, seriously limiting his earning potential in the process. 

    While no one could have predicted that Livingston's knee would contort in ways that no human knee should ever bend, it still unfortunately has to count toward his status as a draft-day blunder. 

    Livingston is still attempting to revive the post-injury part of his career, but he's got a long way to go. 

9. Fran Vazquez (No. 11 in 2005)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.0

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 9.7

    Difference: -9.7

     

    Fran Vazquez was drafted 11th overall in the 2005 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic, but he's been too busy playing in Spain to bother with the whole NBA experience. 

    The center is now with Unicaja Malaga and doesn't look likely to start his rookie season anytime soon. 

8. Mouhamed Sene (No. 10 in 2006)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.3

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 10.0

    Difference: -9.7

     

    Mouhamed Sene was never able to figure out that you're supposed to get better as your career progresses through its early stages.

    After averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game as a rookie with the Seattle SuperSonics, the 6'11" forward from Senegal only played in another 25 games during his NBA career.

    A decent shot-blocker, Sene found more success in the D-League than he ever did in the big leagues.  

7. Luke Jackson (No. 10 in 2004)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.2

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 10.0

    Difference: -9.8

     

    It took three years and three different teams before Luke Jackson started at small forward for an NBA team. In that game, which came in April of 2007, Jackson put up just three points and two rebounds for the Toronto Raptors in a loss. 

    He scored 30 in his next game, but that was far and away the best night of his undistinguished career. 

    Jackson ended his NBA career in 2008 with career averages of 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. 

6. Patrick O'Bryant (No. 9 in 2006)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.5

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 10.5

    Difference: -10.0

     

    Other than his 7'0" frame, Patrick O'Bryant didn't have too much working in his favor once he left Bradley for the Golden State Warriors. 

    The big man played in only 40 games over two years with the team that drafted him at No. 9 in the 2006 NBA draft. He hopped aboard the Boston Celtics train in 2008 via free agency, but he couldn't make much of an impact there either. 

    O'Bryant only averaged 5.8 minutes per game through his entire career. 

5. Joe Alexander (No. 8 in 2008)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 0.5

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 10.9

    Difference: -10.4

     

    Joe Alexander averaged a solid 4.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game in 59 contests with the Milwaukee Bucks during his rookie season. However, that was the high point of his short NBA career. 

    Next year, Alexander's numbers took a precipitous decline, and he only appeared in eight games with the Chicago Bulls. 

    The closest he got to returning to the Association came in 2010, when he signed on with the New Orleans Hornets and was waived two months later, right before the start of the season. 

4. Rafael Araujo (No. 8 in 2004)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: -0.4

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 10.9

    Difference: -11.3

     

    Rafael Araujo put together one of the worst seasons in NBA history when he earned -0.8 win shares for the Toronto Raptors during the 2005-06 season. That year he started 34 games and averaged 2.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game on 36.6 percent shooting from the field. 

    The rest of his career wasn't able to get him out of the negatives. 

3. Darko Milicic (No. 2 in 2003)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 4.1

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 16.4

    Difference: -12.3

     

    It's technically irrelevant for the purposes of this article, but just look at the players drafted around Darko Milicic at the top of the 2003 NBA draft. 

    LeBron James

    Dwyane Wade. 

    Carmelo Anthony

    Chris Bosh

    Does anything more need to be said?

2. Greg Oden (No. 1 in 2007)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: 6.8

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 19.2

    Difference: -12.4

     

    The picture to the left just about says it all. Greg Oden simply hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to make a big impact in the NBA. 

    Oden missed his first season with a knee injury, then couldn't stay on the hard court once he finally got there. The center has played in only 82 games and has yet to enter a game since the 2009-10 season. 

    Meanwhile, Kevin Durant has surged to three scoring titles and an NBA Finals appearance. 

1. Adam Morrison (No. 3 in 2006)

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    Actual Four-Year Win Shares: -1.4

    Expected Four-Year Win Shares: 14.8

    Difference: -16.2

     

    Adam Morrison is currently attempting to make a comeback with the Portland Trail Blazers, signing a non-guaranteed training camp contract after spending two seasons overseas with Red Star Belgrade and Besiktas. 

    However, even if he manages to succeed with the Blazers, it won't be enough for him to wash away the stink created by the three seasons he's already played in the league. 

    Morrison struggled to find his shot during his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats and never really received a true opportunity to prove himself as he was quickly relegate to the bench. That's where he stayed for the next few years, rarely receiving an opportunity to show what made him so special at Gonzaga. 

    Before you feel too sorry for Morrison, though, remember that he has two rings from his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.