Most Disappointing Draft Picks in LA Lakers' Recent History
Making a list of most disappointing draft picks is entirely subjective and fraught with peril. One man’s prize is another man’s poison.
It’s also worth stating that each of the guys on this list was good enough to actually make it to the NBA, if only for a brief, shining moment. They were the best of their peers at one point, before getting cast back into the basketball sea by the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s a harsh, harsh world.
Also, this is not a definitive all-time historical review—it’s just too tedious to clear away all the dusty cobwebs and analyze grainy newsreel footage from a bygone era.
That said, it’s hard not to mention a player by the name of Mel Gibson, who was drafted in the second round by the Lakers in 1963 and played all of nine games in his NBA career, amassing a grand total of 13 points. The former guard has no relationship to the former movie star.
Or how about Harvey Knuckles, who was the No. 39 pick by Los Angeles in 1981 but never played in the NBA? The forward did, however, play overseas until the ripe old age of 50!
But for the sake of this entirely subjective list of the most disappointing Lakers draft picks in recent history, all of the players could still conceivably be playing roundball somewhere, and in many cases, still are.
Frankie King, 1995
How many readers remember who the Lakers drafted the year before Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher began their pro careers?
Frankie King was a 6’1” point guard out of Western Carolina University who played for the Memphis Fire of the USBL before being chosen in the 1995 draft as the Lakers’ No. 37 pick.
King had speed and athleticism and had been envisioned as a possible rebuilding piece for a team in transition. Alas, it was not to be. King appeared in only six games, amassing a total of seven points. In other words, he didn’t challenge Nick Van Exel for minutes. In fact, he didn’t even challenge Sedale Threatt, who was by then nearing the end of his career.
With his NBA career now complete, King headed overseas in the grand tradition of former draft busts and played for another decade in Spain, Greece, Germany, France, Venezuela, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus.
In other words, he was good enough to play for a living, but not good enough for the Lakers.
DeJuan Wheat, 1997
DeJuan Shontez Wheat was a true NCAA star at the University of Louisville. Generously listed at 6’0”, the point guard could create off the dribble, had no problem sharing the ball and possessed a wicked outside shot. He finished his college career with 2,183 points, 498 assists, 323 three-pointers and 204 steals.
The Lakers selected Wheat as their No. 52 pick in 1997, hoping the kid with the nasty crossover could provide a little bench relief for Van Exel and Fisher.
Wheat didn’t even make it out of the preseason.
He did, however, sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 1997-98 season, averaging 1.7 points in 4.4 minutes of playing time over the course of 34 games. The following season he did somewhat better, appearing in 46 games off the bench for the Vancouver Grizzlies, averaging 4.5 points per game.
That’s all the NBA wrote for Wheat. He knocked around the fringes of pro basketball in this country with the Idaho Stampede and the Calgary Drillers of the CBA and the Buffalo City Thunder in the MBA. He also played in Venezuela for a season and for five seasons with Soles de Mexicali in Mexico, where he enjoyed enormous popularity. His jersey was ultimately retired by both the Louisville Cardinals and by Soles de Mexicali.
Wheat was a shifty, ball-handling point guard with a bunch of razzle-dazzle playground moves. But he was a bust in L.A.
Von Wafer, 2005
Is Vakeaton Quamar “Von” Wafer really a terrible player? Not at all. The mercurial high-fly act can score in bunches, but he’s also a world-class knucklehead. The stories of altercations, benchings, suspensions and other meanderings in and around the world of basketball are fairly legendary.
The shooting guard who played two erratic seasons at Florida State University wasn’t expected to be selected in the 2005 NBA draft, according to Draft Express, but wound up being chosen as the Lakers’ No. 39 pick.
With a pure catch-and-shoot stroke, Wafer showed flashes of ability during his rookie season but failed to grasp the nuances of Phil Jackson’s triangle system, appearing in just 16 games. Compounding his woes has always been either a lack of ability or interest on the defensive end—take your pick.
Nonetheless, the Zen Master considered starting the rookie for a game against the Utah Jazz when Bryant was unavailable. According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Jackson explained his essential Wafer conflict thusly: “Whether we want to be down by 20 right away with him in there or up by 20 accidentally because the Lord strikes him down with lightning or something.”
Jackson solved the dilemma by starting Luke Walton instead.
The Lakers and Wafer soon parted ways. The guard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers the following season, playing one minute in one game and hoisting up a three-ball that missed.
He has been nothing if not prolific, playing with seven NBA teams, two D-League teams and seven international teams, all in the space of nine years. Currently, Wafer is playing in China with Shanxi Zhongyu.
Von Wafer has fired at will in a lot of basketball arenas, but he was a major disappointment for the Lakers.
Sun Yue, 2007
Sun Yue is one of the more curious stories in basketball. The 6’9” lefty guard was a young basketball prodigy in China who caught the Lakers’ eye and wound up being selected as the team’s 40th pick in the 2007 draft.
The Lakers didn’t sign Sun right away, allowing him to continue playing with the Beijing Olympians, who, oddly enough, played in the ABA out of Long Beach for the 2006-07 season rather than in the Chinese Basketball Association. The following year, the Lakers decided to bring Sun on board, which required a long and difficult negotiating process, as told by general manager Mitch Kupchak on Lakers.com.
Upon joining the Lakers for the 2008-09 season, Sun immediately came down with mononucleosis. He eventually played 10 games with the team, along with six games with the organization's minor league affiliate the D-Fenders, before severely spraining his ankle. He was on the Lakers’ 2009 championship roster but didn’t get off the bench.
The player, who was once referred to popularly as “China’s Magic Johnson,” was dropped at the end of the season. He joined the New York Knicks the following October but was waived before playing a game.
Sun returned to the Beijing Olympians; a strange anomaly of a team that has played around the periphery of professional basketball. Writing for One World Sports, Jon Pastuszek looks at Sun’s unusual career and the team he spent 10 years with:
The Olympians are owned by Winston Lee, a basketball-obsessed real estate magnate whose business is mostly based in Los Angeles. A part of the CBA in the early 2000s, Lee and his Olympians were banned from the league after refusing to release a then-teenage Sun to China's junior national team, citing a lack of confidence in the coaching staff and overall basketball system. After being shut out by the league, Lee placed the Olympians in different professional leagues overseas, including the American Basketball League and the West Coast Pro Basketball League.
Since Sun's return from the NBA, the Olympians have been up to nothing more than organizing glorified exhibition tournaments against fourth and fifth-rate U.S. and European competition. (At one point, the Olympians won 40 straight games.) It should come as no surprise that the lack of strong competition has caused Sun's game to regress, as evidenced by his abysmal showing at the 2012 Olympics (eight total points in three games).
Sun finally broke ties with the Olympians and signed with the Beijing Ducks, winning a CBA championship this past season.
What kind of Laker could Sun have turned out to be if they had held onto him and given him time to develop properly through NBA competition? We’ll never know, and that’s a disappointment.
Chinemelu Elonu, 2009
The Lakers finished out their 2008-09 season with a championship, knocking off the Orlando Magic easily. The future looked bright, but the backup center slot needed some shoring up—Chris Mihm had never been able to recover properly from multiple foot surgeries, and D.J. Mbenga was only good for limited utility action.
Heading into the draft, the Lakers had three bites at the apple at 29, 42 and 50. They traded their first two into cash and future picks and selected Chinemelu Elonu at No. 59.
The American-Nigerian big man out of Texas A&M had been predicted to go early in the second round and offered a strong shot-blocking and rebounding presence. Nobody would ever mistake him for a future star, but size and the willingness to work should count for something, right?
Apparently not—the 6’10” prospect played for the Lakers' summer league team but wasn’t signed to a contract for the regular season. Instead, the Lakers chose to hold onto his draft rights, and Elonu began his professional basketball journey overseas.
And there it continues—the big man has played continuously, and as a result, the Lakers still hold his rights. Elonu has played in Greece, France, Turkey, China and is now back with CAI Zaragoza in the Spanish league for another season.
This past season, Elonu averaged 16 points and 10 boards during FIBA EuroChallenge competition for Turkey, and last year averaged 24 points and 17 rebounds during an eight-game run with Jiangsu Tongxi in China.
Is he a disappointing draft pick for the Lakers? Sure—you’d always want the chance to see if a hardworking guy who’s regarded as one of the better overseas centers could fit some kind of a role with the team that still holds his rights.
Devin Ebanks, 2010
Standing a slim 6’9” with a 7-foot wingspan, Devin Ebanks was considered a bit of a steal at No. 43 for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. The team had just come off another championship and were intrigued by the combo small forward/shooting guard’s defense and athleticism.
But three seasons passed with mixed results. Ebanks could show tantalizing moments of brilliance and could just as easily lose focus. He never earned consistent playing time and didn’t apply himself nearly as hard as he should have.
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote about the end of the line for the Lakers prospect in June 2013: "Ebanks fell out of the rotation completely due to poor conditioning, poor work ethic, limited development and getting arrested on suspicion of DUI.”
Ebanks was signed by the Dallas Mavericks during last season’s training camp but never made it to a regular season game. He subsequently played with both the Texas Legends and the Springfield Armor, averaging 23 points per game over 43 games as one of the top D-League prospects. He was suspended for five games in March of 2014 for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Yet in July, he was still named to the NBA D-League All Select Team.
So many chances, but ultimately, too many bad decisions. Ebanks isn’t on this list because he’s one of the worst players ever drafted, but because he’s such a wasted opportunity.
Ater Majok, 2011
Some draft picks wash out slowly after countless chances, and some disappear almost immediately. Such was the case with Ater Majok.
Born in the Sudan, Majok spent eight years in a Cairo detention camp before arriving in Australia as a teenage refugee. Standing 6’10” with a 7’7” wingspan, he was an intriguing but raw high school prospect and was ultimately accepted into UConn. He sat out his freshman year due to transcript problems and decided to leave shortly before his sophomore year. Majok headed back overseas, playing professionally in Turkey and Australia.
On draft night 2011, the Lakers selected Chukwudiebere Maduabum from Nigeria at No. 56, followed by Majok at No. 58.
Most Laker fans scratched their heads as the unfamiliar names were read. Any hopes for an Ater & Chu-Chu duo were cut short when Maduabum was traded to Denver for a future second-round draft pick.
As for Majok, the Lakers never signed him but have kept his draft rights by virtue of the clause that allows such things when unsigned second-round draft picks continue to play pro ball outside of the NBA without an interruption of more than a year.
Known as a fierce shot-blocker and defender, Majok has plied his basketball trade in Russia, Korea and Germany over the past few years. His offensive style is primarily catch-and-dunk, but he does so with authority.
What makes him one of the worst recent picks? The fact that one way or another, the selection seems to have been a waste. The Lakers could sign this global journeyman to a minimum salary contract in a heartbeat if they wanted to.
Yet with all the cut-rate deals the team has used to shore up their rosters in recent years, they’ve never chosen to lob one to Majok. Management is either unimpressed or has forgotten he exists.
Is this the complete or definitive list of the most disappointing draft picks ever for the purple and gold? Not by any means. As mentioned at the outset, such lists are purely subjective. And for any who feel the need to toss the mighty Slava Medvedenko onto the pile, he was never drafted so don’t go there.
There will also invariably be someone who will bring up Sasha “the Machine” Vujacic, he of the fastidious eyebrow grooming ritual at the charity stripe. But remember, Vujacic iced those all-important free throws in the closing moments of Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in 2010—that being the last time the Lakers took home a championship trophy.
This past June the Lakers selected Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson as the seventh and 46th overall picks, respectively. Let’s hope that neither ever has to appear on a list like this.