The NBA's Worst 1-and-Done Draft Picks of All Time
During the NBA draft, nothing is more exciting than untapped potential.
Teams covet upside just as much as collegiate or international production, since that not-yet-reached ceiling offers a greater chance of landing a legitimate superstar. And few types of players have more unrealized potential than one-and-done freshmen who have only gotten their feet wet in NCAA action.
Good luck finding many in the '80s or earlier, though. Freshmen rarely declared early until recent years, though rare exceptions do exist. Now, the first rounds of drafts are littered with young prospects who only logged a single go-round for their academic institutions.
And with more frequency come more busts.
Some one-and-done prospects have gone on to achieve fantastic things in the NBA. But plenty have also failed to match the lofty expectations on the hardwood, and those are the unfortunate players with whom we're currently concerned.
Those drafted higher will be penalized more heavily. Those who completely failed to produce anything of merit as professionals will be docked accordingly. Play well, and you avoid this countdown.
But these 10 freshmen-turned-pros didn't.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets, No. 10 in 2012
Though Austin Rivers has gone on to find success in his role for the Los Angeles Clippers as a defensive menace with a growing offensive game, his career started off in rather rough fashion. One year after thriving at Duke and knocking down an unforgettable buzzer-beater against the Blue Devils' archrivals in enemy territory, he promptly forgot how to shoot.
Through 2.5 seasons with the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, he knocked down 39.0 percent of his field-goal attempts, 33.2 percent of his triples and 63.1 percent of his free-throw attempts while struggling to make an impact. Less than three years removed from earning a top-10 selection, he was shipped to the Boston Celtics, then the Clippers in a matter of days, bringing back nothing more than Quincy Pondexter and a 2015 second-round pick in return.
Plus, Russ Smith was involved in the first three-team trade, which means Rivers alone might have netted even less.
Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers, No. 1 in 2007
Is Greg Oden a bust? It depends on your definition.
Kevin Durant, who was picked one selection after by the Seattle SuperSonics, has undoubtedly gone on to have a much better career. Frankly, though, that isn't a particularly tough task, since this Ohio State product only lasted 105 games before knee injuries effectively ended his career in premature fashion.
But Oden was a useful presence when he was healthy enough to play. He wasn't a bad talent so much as an unfortunate recipient of too many visits from the injury imp. In fact, Tiago Splitter, Brandan Wright and Durant are the only members of the 2007 draft class with more career win shares per 48 minutes, while just nine players have superior box plus/minuses.
Marvin Williams, Atlanta Hawks, No. 2 in 2005
Much like Oden, Marvin Williams hasn't been a negative presence while on the floor. He's also spent significantly more time in action. He's still a valuable commodity to the Charlotte Hornets, with whom he's blossomed into a convincing stretch 4 who can hold his own defensively against opposing power forwards.
Williams wasn't a great player for the Atlanta Hawks, but longevity matters. Even though they misused him by pigeonholing him into a role as a small forward, he still spent the first seven years of his career in the Peach State, almost always serving as a starter.
The only reason he's listed as an honorable mention is what came after he was taken. Had the Hawks not fallen in love with the freshman from North Carolina's potential at No. 2, they might have landed either Deron Williams (No. 3) or Chris Paul (No. 4).
10. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings, No. 7 in 2013
In the summer of 2013, Ben McLemore was the next big thing.
He'd showed off his eye-popping athleticism on both ends of the floor for the Kansas Jayhawks, looking every bit the part of a future NBA star. Once in contention to go first overall, he ultimately fell behind six other players in the pecking order before throwing on a Sacramento Kings uniform and getting ready to go to work.
In the summer of 2017, McLemore was just looking for work.
After four years of struggles and moderate improvements for the Kings, he was finally an unrestricted free agent with a chance to ply his trade elsewhere. A fresh start was needed for a player with career averages of just 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists and a slash line of 41.7/35.2/78.0. The Memphis Grizzlies bit, handing this former top prospect a two-year deal worth only $10.66 million.
Somehow, McLemore managed to make less on his second contract than he did throughout his rookie pact ($13.1 million over those four years in Sacramento).
The shooting guard can still become a useful player, and his deep stroke has shown signs of progress each and every year. But his defense has trended in the opposite direction and never allowed him to look fully comfortable while wearing a Kings uniform. If that doesn't change, he might move even higher up these rankings.
9. Xavier Henry, Memphis Grizzlies, No. 12 in 2012
Maybe the Memphis Grizzlies knew something from the beginning.
They drafted Xavier Henry with a lottery pick, right ahead of Ed Davis and Patrick Patterson, but they hesitated to give him a typical rookie contract. Instead, they insisted on including performance-based incentives in his deal before finally relenting.
"A stalemate between the Grizzlies and their first-round draft picks has ended with the team agreeing to remove performance-based bonuses in its contract offers," Michael Tillery reported for the Memphis Commercial Appeal (h/t SB Nation's Mike Prada). "Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez agreed in principle to deals Wednesday night through their respective agents."
That's fortunate for Henry, because he likely wouldn't have earned the bonuses.
Overmatched on both ends of the floor during his rookie season, this former Jayhawk—the second in a row!—struggled with his shot and only worked his way into the starting lineup for a brief spell. Even in those 16 starts, he averaged just 6.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from downtown.
After only that one year, Memphis was done. It included him and a second-round pick as part of a three-team swap that sent Marreese Speights to Beale Street. In his new home with the New Orleans Hornets, Henry re-discovered his perimeter stroke but could never carve out a substantial rotation role and has been out of the league since 2015.
8. Tyrus Thomas, Portland Trail Blazers, No. 4 in 2006
Tyrus Thomas' athleticism always made him an intriguing player.
He counted on it to boost him up draft boards, even though his collegiate career at LSU was rather underwhelming. During his one year with the Tigers, he could only put up 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.1 blocks while shooting 60.8 percent from the field. Solid numbers, sure, but perhaps not enough to justify the No. 4 pick of the 2006 NBA draft.
Potential did that.
When he entered the league, Thomas was an intriguing commodity because of his pogo-stick hops and remarkable length. Those tools just never translated into anything more than strong per-minute rebounding and shot-blocking numbers, which was problematic when he could no longer feast on overmatched interior defenders.
Technically, Thomas goes down as a draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers, but this is where things get worse. The Chicago Bulls traded LaMarcus Aldridge (taken two selections earlier) and a second-round pick to Rip City for Thomas and Viktor Khryapa, then watched as their prized prospect excelled on defense and consistently cancelled out the point-preventing work with his horrid offense.
While Aldridge made All-Star squads with the Blazers, Thomas lasted just 2.5 more seasons in the Windy City after making the All-Rookie Second Team. Then he was traded again, this time for Acie Law, Ronald "Flip" Murray and a 2014 first-round draft pick that would become Jusuf Nurkic at No. 16—who, ironically enough, is also set to help out Portland.
7. Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets, No. 9 in 2014
As Adi Joseph wrote for USA Today while giving the Charlotte Hornets an A- for their selection of Noah Vonleh at No. 9 in the 2014 NBA draft, the former Indiana standout was viewed, at the time, as the best player available:
"Sometimes the pick is made for you. The Hornets don’t need a power forward, though they could lose Josh McRoberts in free agency. But Vonleh is the best player on the board by quite a bit, and Charlotte didn’t mess around by over-considering team needs. He has trade value and provides insurance if Cody Zeller, the No. 4 pick last year also out of Indiana, doesn’t work out. Or he and Zeller could be the frontcourt of the future, once Al Jefferson leaves town. The Hornets have a good young core, and while they didn’t address their needs, it’s tough to argue this pick."
This isn't to pick on Joseph. Everyone misfires, and yours truly was even higher on the pick, saying the Vonleh selection "might prove to be one of the draft's bigger steals."
Instead of thriving, he underwent surgery to fix a sports hernia and never caught up on the missed time. Between a brief stint in what's now known as the G League and his overall shooting struggles, Vonleh quickly moved toward the realm of busts. He couldn't finish plays around the rim (47.1 percent from within three feet as a rookie) and struggled to show off the mid-range game and explosiveness that once made him a special prospect.
After just one year with the Hornets, Vonleh and Gerald Henderson were traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for Nicolas Batum, and he's still trying to carve out a consistent role in the rotation. His story hasn't unfolded in its entirety quite yet, but with Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan serving as younger, fresher faces, he might be out of chances for a big slice of the minutes.
6. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers, No. 3 in 2015
If any player in this countdown has a chance to work his way off the list, it's Jahlil Okafor.
The big man remains a talented scorer who can beat countless defenders with his spin moves and dribble-drives along the baseline, even when they're expecting him to dip into that limited bag of tricks. But his long-term home shouldn't be with the Philadelphia 76ers, who don't play a style that suits him and have too many other talented frontcourt players competing for minutes.
Still, it's telling that the former No. 3 pick's value has fallen so far that the Sixers have been unable to trade him. He's been a mainstay in the rumor mill, though, to the point that the big man himself said, per Tom Moore for the Bucks County Courier Times, "I hear trade rumors and stuff like that. I realize that having a new scenario, you think it might be better than it is right now. But when it comes to the NBA, all I know is wearing a Sixers uniform. ... I couldn't be happier."
He just hasn't been moved. No one can agree on his value, and those who do are presumably reticent to match the asking price. That leaves Okafor floundering as an overqualified backup doomed to become a bust in part because of his situation.
Should he move, he could become an imposing force if used correctly. We're not far removed from a rookie season in which he averaged 17.5 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. But even then, his inability to make easy passes, lack of shooting range and woeful defense made him a glaring negative for a tanking Philadelphia organization.
According to value over replacement player (VORP), Okafor has been less valuable than someone the 76ers could've signed off the waiver wire and plugged into his minutes. Only Mario Hezonja (No. 5), Rashad Vaughn (No. 17) and Emmanuel Mudiay (No. 7) have emerged from the 2015 draft class in worse shape by VORP, but none were picked as high as this Mike Krzyzewski pupil.
5. Eddie Griffin, New Jersey Nets, No. 7 in 2001
Eddie Griffin's defense made him a somewhat palatable presence for the Houston Rockets, who traded Brandon Armstrong, Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson to the New Jersey Nets for his services on draft night in 2001. But that and rebounding were the only positives to his profile.
The 6'10" power forward simply couldn't score.
Though he kept trying to loft up mid-range jumpers and triples—67 percent of his career field-goal attempts came from beyond 10 feet—he never seemed capable of earning that sweet swish. That inability to shoot was the on-court scourge of his career, preventing him from making good on the enormous potential that lifted him into the top 10 after just one spectacular season at Seton Hall.
He finished his playing days with a true shooting percentage of just 45 percent—the third-worst career mark of any player with at least 300 games logged since he entered the league, better than only DeSagana Diop and Lindsey Hunter.
But it's unfortunate we have to call him a bust.
Though that much is objectively true based on his career numbers and inability to make a positive impact during any given season, Griffin battled against the demons of depression throughout his NBA tenure, first skipping practices and getting cut by the Rockets, then missing the entirety of the 2003-04 campaign after checking into an alcohol rehabilitation center. This placement is not meant as an affront to his memory after Griffin passed away following a car crash in 2007, shortly after the conclusion of his third season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
4. Rodney White, Detroit Pistons, No. 9 in 2001
As is the case with so many of these one-and-done busts, Rodney White lasted just a single season with the Detroit Pistons before they decided to go in a different direction.
Just before the start of his rookie season, the 2001 NBA draft's No. 9 choice was traded to the Denver Nuggets for Mengke Bateer, Don Reid and a 2004 first-round pick that would eventually fall in at No. 17 and become Josh Smith (only after it subsequently changed hands again). That's not exactly a convincing return, since the Pistons couldn't get a selection just one year into the future, Bateer was turned into a second-round pick two days later and a 29-year-old Reid spent just 10 minutes in a Detroit uniform before his career was over.
What went wrong? Well, White had demonstrated some high-scoring habits during his lone season for the Charlotte 49ers, but NBA competition was slightly different than what he faced while terrorizing Conference USA.
Nothing about his scoring game translated, and he suited up only 16 times during his rookie season, shooting 35.0 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from beyond the rainbow. Those are unpalatable numbers, and White never really recovered after failing to demonstrate much proficiency in other areas. His defense looked promising at times, but he'd fall asleep too often and never showed he cared much for off-ball scenarios.
After just four seasons in the NBA, he'd go overseas and enjoy a fruitful career outside the spotlight of the Association.
3. Dajuan Wagner, Cleveland Cavaliers, No. 6 in 2002
Dajuan Wagner's presence here is unfortunate. He never got a chance to demonstrate the skills that made him special at Memphis due to a bout with ulcerative colitis that began hindering his game toward the end of his rookie season.
Chris Mannix, then with Sports Illustrated, described the series of events in 2006, just before Wagner would begin the final season of his career with the Golden State Warriors after a one-year absence to recover:
"Before his freshman year at Memphis, Wagner had begun feeling sporadic stomach pains. With the Cavaliers the pain grew more intense; he also suffered torn cartilage in his right knee. As his health declined, so did his scoring average. Playing in only 44 games in his second season, Wagner averaged just 6.5 points a game. Finally, in January 2005 he went to the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors found that he had ulcerative colitis, which causes inflammation and sores in the large intestine. After 11 games, Wagner's season was over. 'For an athlete, colitis can be devastating,' says Andrew Shelton, a colorectal surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center in California. 'Severe pain, weight loss, fatigue, cramping are all symptoms.'"
So why does Wagner not get an exemption, as Greg Oden did by only appearing in the honorable mentions? Well, this one-and-done never got to make good on his potential, and his time on the court couldn't come close to matching Oden's healthy exploits.
During his healthiest pre-surgery season, Wagner averaged 13.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those numbers came while he slashed just 36.9/31.6/80.0, which is the main reason his advanced metrics are largely terrible.
Just look at box plus/minus if you need an example. Wagner's career-best score came in that initial go-round, and he provided 5.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than a league-average player might have in those same opportunities. Oden, meanwhile, put up positive BPMs in two of his three seasons.
2. DerMarr Johnson, Atlanta Hawks, No. 6 in 2000
Roughly six weeks before the start of his third professional season, DerMarr Johnson found himself in a terrifying car accident. Though he survived, he fractured multiple cervical vertebrae and narrowly avoided paralysis.
Somehow, he worked his way back into the NBA after missing the entirety of the 2002-03 campaign, and he actually enjoyed some of his best seasons after the return. Nothing could top his 2004-05 efforts for the Denver Nuggets, when he finally found his shot and provided the only positive BPM of his career in the Association.
But by then, it was too late.
Johnson was never going to justify the No. 6 pick the Atlanta Hawks spent on him in the dreadful 2000 prospect pageant. His first two years—the two prior to the car crash—were filled with more turnovers than assists, porous defense and myriad shots that clanged off the iron. In fact, only 70 players suited up in at least 100 games during those campaigns and provide less combined value, per VORP.
That might sound decent, but it's not. It leaves Johnson in the 27.6th percentile among that group, which isn't exactly what you want from a top-10 pick with plenty of promise.
1. Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers, No. 1 in 2013
Stats aren't even necessary to see Anthony Bennett's fall from grace.
One year after the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the surprising top pick of the 2013 NBA draft, they included him in a three-team swap that sent this former UNLV standout and Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love (among other moving pieces). But make no mistake about it: Bennett, even at that early stage of his career, was so disappointing that he wasn't really a key inclusion.
"The headliner in the deal is Wiggins, but Minnesota did well to acquire even more," James Herbert wrote for CBS Sports in the immediate aftermath. "Bennett was regarded highly as a prospect because guys that big are rarely that mobile or skilled. He has a chance to make an impact if he stays in shape and the Wolves give him the right environment to develop."
He didn't, and they didn't.
Bennett was unceremoniously waived by the 'Wolves after just one season with the team, and the Toronto Raptors subsequently picked him up. There, he bounced between the big league squad and the G League's Raptors 905, making only 19 NBA appearances before he was waived yet again and picked up by the Brooklyn Nets. This time, he logged 23 showings before being waived for the third time.
Now on a non-guaranteed contract with the Phoenix Suns—his fifth team in five years—he's fighting an uphill battle just to make the roster. No one-and-done has ever experienced a quicker or steeper fall from grace than this No. 1 pick who never should've been saddled with such lofty expectations.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.