Baller or Bust: NBA's No. 1 Overall Picks
It has been over 20 years since the Knicks selected the Hall of Fame center from Georgetown with their first overall pick in 1985.
For some teams, having the top position in the annual NBA draft has not always panned out the way they had hope. In most cases, selecting a bust at No. 1 seems inevitable, given the pressures placed on the players and their respective teams to draft the next superstar.
This year’s draft class is full of unfamiliar names. There are no Patrick Ewings, no Hakeem Olajuwons, no Shaquille O’Neals, no Tim Duncans, no LeBron James.
Some have even ventured to say this is worst rookie class in draft history. Although a bit of a bold statement, I agree there are higher bust potentials for this year’s rookies than in previous years.
To make matters worse, the Clippers, once voted as the worst franchise in sports history, holds the golden ticket to select the top overall rookie in this year’s draft.
Blake Griffin, from Oklahoma, is this year’s consensus for the top overall pick. He’s strong, athletic, and has an incredible knack for the game.
The big question for many is whether those talents will translate into the NBA? Although Griffin is the favorite at No. 1, we all know that he’s nowhere on the same level as those previously mentioned—and even if he was, that doesn’t always equate to becoming a future All-Star or Hall-of-Fame player anyways.
As with any top pick, there’s always the possibility of the selecting the next big bust. Looking back in history, there were plenty tagged with this unfortunate label.
Many of these were predicted as busts from the first of day of training camp, while others have also made the bust list after years of plagued injuries, unfulfilled hopes, lack of determination, or just simply, bad luck.
Today, I’ll take the road down memory lane in order to find the biggest bust drafted at No. 1 since 1985. The following are the top five busts drafted as a No. 1 lottery pick.
No. 5: Joe Smith
Joe Smith, Forward (Maryland)
27.8 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.6 spg
This was a borderline decision between Smith, selected No. 1 by the Warriors in 1995, and the Clippers' selection of Danny Manning (1988). Both were forwards who excelled in their respective colleges, with Smith being named College Player of the Year while at Maryland and Manning earning the same honors at Kansas.
The deciding factor?
Manning had played for seven teams and made two All-Star appearances during his lackluster career, while Smith has played for nine teams without an All-Star appearance.
To add to the argument, Smith’s draft class also consisted of Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Damon Stoudamire—the Rookie of the Year.
Manning’s draft class had a couple of notable players in Rik Smits, Mitch Richmond, and Dan Majerle.
Neither were comparable to the players mentioned above. Smith is currently playing for the Cavs, alongside LeBron James.
No. 4: Pervis Ellison
Pervis Ellison, Forward (Louisville)
24.8 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.61 bpg, 0.6 spg
Named Most Outstanding Player as a freshman during Louisville’s National Championship title run in 1986, Ellison was selected No. 1 by the Sacramento Kings in the 1989 draft.
He spent most of his career sidelined with injuries, only playing 465 games during his 11-year tenure with four separate teams. He retired after the 2000-2001 season.
No. 3: Greg Oden
Greg Oden, Center (Ohio State)
21.5 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.1 bpg, 0.4 spg
Selected at No. 1 in 2007 by the Blazers, Oden has been plagued with injuries ever since, only playing in 61 games thus far.
The upside for him is that he’s only 21 years old, and at 7’0”, 285 lbs, he can become a decent complimentary player on a veteran team.
The bust component?
He was drafted ahead of Kevin Durant, a College Player of the Year (2007), Rookie of the Year (2007-2008), and All-star Rookie Game MVP (2008-2009). Durant has averaged 36.7 mpg, 22.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 2.6 apg while in the NBA.
And in his two years playing for the Sonics, Durant has only missed 10 games.
No. 2: Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown, Center (Glynn Academy HS)
22.9 mg, 7.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 0.6 spg
Coming straight out of high school, Brown will always be known as the bust child of the Michael Jordan era in Washington. He was drafted No. 1 in 2001 by the Wizards, becoming the first high school player to be picked first overall.
Due to the size of his contract, Brown was occasionally the centerpiece for a couple of trades, most notably ones that moved Caron Butler to the Wizards and Pau Gasol to the Lakers.
His draft class consisted of a couple other notable high school rookies in Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, as well as future All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Tony Parker, and Gilbert Arenas.
Brown is currently playing for the Pistons. Although not a starter, he's a decent contributor to the team by coming off the bench. Brown currently has an option to stay in Detroit.
No. 1: Michael Olowokandi
Michael Olowokandi, Center (Pacific)
26.3 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.4 bpg, 0.5 spg
Here’s another tough decision that had me thinking. Kwame or Olowokandi?
Both players came into the league with an air of arrogance that wasn’t substantiated by any previous success, either in high school or at the collegiate level.
The Clippers selected Olowokandi at No. 1, after playing college ball at Pacific, a school not known for their athletic program.
During his nine-year career in the NBA, he played in 500 games with three different teams. He last played for the Celtics during the 2006-2007 season.
Olowokandi was another player who was hit by injuries throughout most of his career. He was selected above Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, and Rashard Lewis—all of which are currently starters for their respective teams.
During his years playing for the Clippers, Olowokandi was only able to average double-digit scoring twice, 11.1 ppg (2001-2002) and 12.3 ppg (2002-2003). He is currently retired.