The NBA draft is an inexact science because its fundamental nature is defined by a sink-or-swim philosophy, and nobody really knows who will sink and who will swim.
Every year, dozens of talented young players are thrown into situations that breed chaotic changes in their livelihood, and while some are able to adapt and grow (as expected), a few perish.
Have you ever wondered what became of those busts who for whatever reason couldn't hack it in the NBA? Here's an update on five of them, ranked in no particular order.
Adam Morrison may have a championship ring (he logged 13 playoff minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010), but after being drafted with the third overall pick in 2006, his professional career panned out as one of the all-time disappointments.
That stint with the Lakers was the last time we saw Morrison suit up in an NBA game—he signed with the Washington Wizards the following year but was cut in training camp, and had the same experience in 2012 with the Portland Trail Blazers. (Morrison “retired” with a career PER of 7.4.)
According to CBSSports.com, in July, Gonzaga University hired him as a student assistant coach. Only 29 years old but with his professional playing days seemingly in the past, Morrison has turned in his jersey for a suit and tie.
The only player still active in the NBA on this list, Wesley Johnson still qualifies, undeniably, as a humongous bust.
Selected with the fourth overall pick in 2010, at the age of 23 no less (ahead of Greivis Vasquez, Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe, Larry Sanders, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins), Johnson has already played for two teams in his three NBA seasons. After becoming a free agent this summer (once nobody picked up his team option), he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he’s still a long shot to crack the rotation (even if Kobe Bryant misses the entire year), making $884,293, per ShamSports.
As a career 40-percent shooter from the floor, there’s a good chance that this is Johnson’s last year in the league (if he makes it through to the end).
It feels unfair to classify someone as a “bust” when his name rang out with irrelevance before and after the day he was drafted. But when you’re selected with the eighth overall pick, as Rafael Araujo was in 2004 (ahead of Kevin Martin, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson and Andre Iguodala), well, “bust” feels justifiably apropos.
Araujo, the first collegiate senior taken in his class, stands 6’11” but had much difficulty playing like it in three seasons of NBA action. He averaged 0.1 blocks per game for his career, which is obviously a dastardly figure for anyone that tall.
(Only 11 players in league history who’ve stood at least 6’11” have averaged 0.1 blocks per game in a season after logging at least 600 minutes. Araujo did it twice.)
In 2012, he signed with Mogi das Cruzes, a team from Brazil, his native country. According to the team’s website, he is no longer on its active roster.
Joe Alexander will be remembered more as a painful symbol of typical Milwaukee Bucks bad luck than a proxy for the league’s successful, tireless effort to expand on a global scale (Alexander is the first Taiwanese-born player in NBA history).
He played in just 67 games before every team in the league gave up on him as the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft (ahead of Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, George Hill, Serge Ibaka, Ryan Anderson, Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez).
But Alexander’s professional career didn’t end there. Last year, SmokingMusket.com wrote a piece on Alexander's aspiration to continue playing professionally, where he has in both the D-league and Russia. Despite being just 26 years old, Alexander’s NBA days are likely over. But a comeback shouldn’t be seen as entirely impossible. Crazier things have happened.
Selected sixth overall in the 2007 draft (ahead of Marc Gasol, Thaddeus Young and Joakim Noah), Yi Jianlian spent five years in the NBA with four different teams. Once thought to be China’s answer to Dirk Nowitzki, the seven-footer played unspectacular and uninspired (not to mention unproductive) basketball everywhere he went, posting a career scoring average of 7.9 points per game on 40.4-percent shooting.
(Fifty years from now, he’ll be remembered more for his comically unorthodox pre-draft workouts than anything he actually did on an NBA court.)
At only 25 years old (maybe) and still in his athletic prime, Jianlian’s days as a professional basketball player are far from over. In late September last year, he returned to China, signing with the Guangdong Southern Tigers, a team he played for before being drafted into the NBA. Named a Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) All-Star for the fifth time, last year he led his team to a championship and was named CBA Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career.
So, at least in that league, Jianlian is a force to be reckoned with. But his days in the NBA are all but over.