NBA Draft: The Top 10 Lottery Screw-Ups Ever
In Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind, Edwin Shneidman writes that, "hindsight is not only clearer than perception-in-the-moment but also unfair to those who actually lived through the moment."
Don't tell that to sports fans.
We love hindsight—it's an opportunity to look back and ridicule/praise any decision that's ever been made. And there's no debating hindsight; it gives us a resolute, sound answer that (typically) can't be argued.
Like now, everybody knows that Sam Bowie probably wasn't the best selection at No. 2 in the '84 Draft.
But at the time, Portland had an athletic, explosive, young scoring guard in Clyde Drexler. Their three best players were Jim Paxson, Calvin Natt, and Kenny Carr—three guys who were all over 6'6" and could score from the wing.
They needed help inside. Bowie was the next sure thing, a 7'1" big man that could change the game on both ends of the floor. Add that with Mychal Thompson, a blossoming power forward who averaged 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds the previous year, and Portland assumed that they would have a dominant duo inside to go along with their high-scoring wing players.
But hindsight tells us that it didn't work out too well.
With that preface, we jump into today's theme: the biggest busts and screw-ups of the NBA Draft...lottery selections only. These were selections that not only raised eyebrows at the time, but eventually tanked and gave us a quite-forgettable NBA career.
(Important note: This will only cover lottery selections, and since the lottery wasn't introduced until 1985, any picks before them won't be taken into consideration. So no, I didn't forget Bowie over Jordan in the list.)
10. 1985-1989: The Unweighted Lottery Selection Process
The list commences with not one single draft pick, but the format of the lottery during its first five years.
You're probably aware of how the current system works. The 14 teams don't make the playoffs are entered into a random drawing, where the team with the worst regular season record has the best chance of winning at 25 percent, the second at 19.9 percent, the third at 15.6 percent, and down the line it goes.
But during the first two years of the lottery, every non-playoff team had an equal chance of landing the top spot. In fact, the entire draft order of non-playoff teams were determined that way until 1987, when the rule was changed so that only the top-three picks were set in that manner.
The end result was a system that didn't "reward" a team for having a dismal record. Here's where the worst team selected from 1985 to 1989:
1985: Indiana (2), Golden State (7)
1986: New York (5)
1987: Los Angeles Clippers (4)
1988: Los Angeles Clippers (1)
1989: Miami (4)
Granted, the current system isn't perfect either, and the worst team doesn't always get the top pick. That's fine. But when the worst team winds up picking seventh, that should set off alarms right away that maybe this isn't working as well as it could.
Imagine how different the NBA landscape would have looked if the Warriors had the top pick in '85 and nabbed Patrick Ewing?
Or if the Clippers had David Robinson?
We can play the "what-if" game, but these teams didn't even have a proper chance of claiming the No. 1 pick. But I guess it's better than the old way of determining draft order: a coin flip.
(Photo courtesy of SlamOnline)
9. 2002: With the Fifth Pick, the Denver Nuggets Select...
My thoughts exactly.
I was 15 in 2002, but I still remember this moment quite vividly. David Stern walked to the podium with a terrified look of someone who was about to pronounce "Tskitishvili" on national TV.
Nobody knew much about him, other than some basic facts like he averaged a whopping 6.6 points per game in the Italian league.
That's not saying a player can't be successful with those numbers—Brandon Jennings had similar stats in Italy last year before bursting on the scene this year.
But Tskitishvili wasn't even close to prepared for an NBA career. He played a total of 143 games for Denver, averaging 3.18 points and 1.9 rebounds before being shipped off to the Warriors. For his career, he averaged 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds on 30.4 percent shooting...and those numbers over-exaggerate his actual in-game impact.
But hey, anytime you can use the fifth pick on a guy that nearly averaged three points per game, you have to do it.
8. 1995: The Bizarro Power Forwards
Take a look at the stats and career highlights four unnamed players from this draft:
Player A: 14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 46.8 FG%, 33.7 3PT% ('02: 19.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg, 46.9 FG%, 36.0 3PT%), four All-Star games, one NBA title
Player B: 11.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 45.5 FG%, 79.0 FT% ('96: 18.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.6 spg, 45.4 FG%), zero All-Star games, zero All-NBA teams, 10 different teams
Player C: 19.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.3 spg, 49.7 FG%, 78.5 FT% ('04: 24.4 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.2 bpg, 1.5 spg, 50.2 FG%, 81.1 FT%), 13 time All-Star, four first-team All-NBA teams, eight first-team All-NBA Defense, 2004 MVP, one NBA title
Player D: 12.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.5 off. reb per game, 49.7 FG% ('99: 21.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 1.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 47.1 FG%), 1999 All-NBA third team, one time All-Star, five different teams
Aside from one outlier year from player D, it's pretty obvious that players A and C have had better careers, were better big-game performers, and (most importantly) they have the bling while players B and D don't.
Can you guess who each player is?
C should be pretty easy: Kevin Garnett.
A is a little tougher: Rasheed Wallace.
D is probably the toughest one: Antonio McDyess.
And B is the No. 1 pick of the '95 Draft: Joe Smith.
Combined, the first and second picks (Smith and McDyess) played for 15 different teams during their careers. Neither played for a championship team.
Wallace and Garnett (who coincidentally enough are teammates now) have combined for 249 playoff games and counting, and during their best years probably were considered two of the best power forwards in the game.
Garnett is a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Golden State and Denver might take a do-over if you offered it.
(Photo courtesy of ESPN.com & Getty Images)
7. 1993: Who's That Giant in the Middle?
In retrospect, you shouldn't invest too much in a 7'7", un-athletic center with no scoring prowess, a limited offensive game, and bad knees.
Shawn Bradley was touted as the next big (pun definitely intended) thing when he was taken with the No. 2 pick by Philadelphia in 1993.
He was impressive during his freshman year at BYU, averaging 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in 1990-91. But he missed the next two years on a Mormon mission (red flag No. 2!) before the '93 Draft.
For a guy who lacked toughness in the post and was as much of a finesse player as someone that's 7'7" can be, missing two years of college during your prime and jumping right into the NBA probably wasn't the best move.
He always averaged a decent amount of blocks, but his rebounding totals (6.3 for his career, season-high of 8.4) were poor considering his size.
Needless to say, he wasn't much of a factor in Philadelphia. By the time Allen Iverson arrived in 1996, Bradley was already in New Jersey.
(Photo courtesy of Lou Capozzola/NBAE via Getty Images)
6. 1996: Kobe Bryant? What's He Ever Going to Do?
The '96 Draft was loaded with talent at the top. Allen Iverson went No. 1 to Philly, Marcus Camby went second to Toronto, Stephon Marbury was fourth to Minnesota, Ray Allen was fifth to Milwaukee, and Antoine Walker rounded out the top-six by heading to Boston.
You can laugh at the Starbury and Walker selections, but both of those players put up very strong numbers in a two to three year prime. Not Hall-of-Famers by any stretch, but there have been worse picks at that spot.
Then came a slew of power forwards and centers...and you probably won't believe the names on this list.
No. 7: Lorenzen Wright (L.A. Clippers)
No. 9: Samaki Walker (Dallas)
No. 10: Erick Dampier (Indiana)
No. 11: Todd Fuller (Golden State)
No. 12: Vitaly Potapenko (Cleveland)
Put it this way: when Erick Dampier is hands down the best player on a list, you're not exactly choosing from the pick of the litter.
As a Clevelander, the 12th pick still kills me. Potapenko started a measly 15 games in two-and-a-half seasons.
And it's not like the Cavs had an abundance of talent at the shooting guard position. Harold Miner, Dan Majerle, and Bob Sura highlighted the position.
But I digress...
At No. 13, 17-year-old Kobe Bryant, fresh out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, fell into the hands of the Charlotte Hornets. However, Charlotte couldn't pass up the opportunity to acquire the immortal Vlade Divac, and shipped Bryant off to L.A.
Kobe for Divac...I think that's enough said.
5. 1987: Scottie Who?
Sorry Clippers fans, but it's about to get ugly...
Sitting with the No. 4 pick in the '87 Draft, the Clippers targeted a forward that could not only give some added scoring help from the wing (they were 21st out of 23 teams in points per game), but could help defensively as well (22nd in opponents points per game).
They went with Reggie Williams, a 6'7", 190 lb. scorer from Georgetown who blew up in his senior season, tallying 23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.1 steals a game.
Unfortunately for the Clips (as is so often the case), Reggie didn't have a substantial impact. He scored just a little over 10 points per game in two-and-a-half seasons, and his rebounding total plummeted from upwards of eight to around three.
L.A.'s points per game dropped from 105 to 98 during his first season, and he was sent packing in his third year.
The real trouble for the Clips? The next three picks were Scottie Pippen (six-time NBA champ, Hall-of-Famer), Kenny Smith (two-time NBA champ), and Kevin Johnson (one of the league's most dynamic scoring point guards).
Sadly, it wasn't the first time the Clippers exorbitantly messed up their draft selection, and it wouldn't be the last.
4. 2001: Kwame Brown - Michael Jordan's Prized Possession
Let's set the scene:
It's 2001. The Wizards are led by a new owner, someone named Michael Jordan. There's an immense amount of pressure on the team to win soon since, unbeknownst to anyone, Jordan would soon return to the court in an effort to lead the Wiz back to the playoffs.
With the No. 1 pick, they become the first ever team to select a high school prospect with the top selection.
Brown stumbled out of the gate, averaging just 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in his initial campaign. It didn't get much better during his sophomore year (7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds).
He showed improvement at times during his third year, but inexplicably turned down a five year, $30 million extension, opting instead to test the free agent market. Needless to say, there were few biters—not even Mark Cuban could justify throwing that much money at a useless big.
He didn't know how to handle the NBA life, either. He frequently got in confrontations with his coaches and teammates; maybe the most popular squabble was with Gilbert Arenas during the '05 playoffs, when he wound up being suspended by the team for the postseason.
Somehow, the Wiz front office turned him into Caron Butler in a trade with L.A. Still, you could make an argument to say he's the worst No. 1 pick in history.
The only reason he's not higher on this list is because '01 was a weak draft class. Aside from Pau Gasol, anyone else would have been a stretch with the first pick as well.
3. 2005: Wait, Wait, Wait...Don't the Hawks Need a Point Guard?
To be fair, the Hawks could have used help anywhere they could find in '05.
Coming off a disastrous 13-win season, things weren't looking bright for Atlanta. They were 28th in offense, 29th in defense, and nearly last in every other statistical category, including attendance.
Statistically speaking, their three best players were Al Harrington, Antoine Walker, and Tyronn Lue...not exactly a murderer's row.
(Did anybody else outside of Atlanta remember that Harrington and Walker played for them? I guess those days are blacked out of memory for a reason.)
With the second pick, they needed someone to sell tickets. They needed someone who could take a game over at any time. They needed a good decision maker, a polished player who would have no problem being the team's go-go guy.
They needed...Marvin Williams?
Williams was a reserve for UNC's national championship team. It wasn't that he wasn't good enough to start either—the Heels were just better defensively when Jawad Williams played. Still, he was loaded with "upside" and "potential", meaning he was going about 10 spots higher than he should.
The thing that boggles my mind about this pick is that Atlanta desperately needed a point guard. They just selected Josh Smith a year before and Josh Childress played the same position as Williams.
Why would you stockpile players of the same position and ignore needs at other spots?
Oh, the two players selected at No. 3 and No. 4 in '05: Deron Williams and Chris Paul. How does a Williams/Paul, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford nucleus sound?
2. 1998: The Kandi Man's Back
The Clippers have consistently been one of the worst teams in the NBA since they moved to L.A. from San Diego. Despite all of their failures, they've only landed the No. 1 pick three times.
In 1988, they took Danny Manning, a proven college player with loads of talent, but injuries derailed his career from taking off.
In 2009, they selected Blake Griffin, who missed his entire rookie campaign with a patella injury.
The only pick who didn't suffer significant injuries (and the jury's not out on Griffin yet, by any means) was Michael Olowokandi.
Statistically, Olowokandi wasn't as awful as being No. 2 on this list would suggest. He averaged 9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 323 games for the Clips.
The problem is, he never left a sound impact on a game. He was hardly the best offensive player, nor was he an aggressive rebounder, and he didn't make defenders think twice about attacking the rim.
Because L.A. was constantly struggling year after year, they never had a solid foundation to build upon. And Olowokandi isn't someone you build your team around...and, you know, you kind of want that with the No. 1 pick.
Could he have been a solid big man on a championship-contending team? Of course.
And he was...in 2004 with Minnesota.
Who were some of the players that L.A. could have landed?
Mike Bibby (No. 2 - Vancouver), Antawn Jamison (No. 4 - Golden State), Vince Carter (No. 5 - Toronto), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9 - Dallas), and Paul Pierce (No. 10 - Boston).
1. 2003: The Dark(o) Days for Detroit
We all know who Detroit passed over to take Darko with the No. 2 pick in '03...but just in case you forgot, it was Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and even Chris Kaman.
Ironically, Darko is the only bust on this list with a championship ring. But it's not like it was his impact that put the Pistons over the top. He's flat-out the biggest mistake made in the lottery...ever.
Now, let's play the "what-if" game, if only for a moment at least...
Say the Pistons take 'Melo instead of Darko. In reality, they probably still make the midseason trade that brought in Rasheed Wallace.
Anthony doesn't develop as much as he did in Denver, and playing under Larry Brown (who is notorious for riding young players on the bench that don't play the way he wants...and the fact that Brown and Anthony clashed in Athens during the Olympics) might slow his progress down a bit.
But with the same starting five and the spark they get from the Wallace trade, I still think Detroit wins the Finals that year. After winning the title, they still have enough money to ink Rasheed to an extension.
The next year, with the same nucleus and an ever-improving 'Melo, they make the Finals again and play the Spurs. In a series that went seven games with Darko on the bench, you would have to think he'd help sway one game in Detroit's favor...right?
So the Pistons are back-to-back NBA champions, and have a nucleus of Chauncey-Carmelo-Rasheed locked up for the next four years. But they don't have enough money to re-sign Tayshaun Prince, who leaves after '05. In hindsight, it's not that big of a loss—Detroit now has enough offensive firepower to make up for the loss of Prince's defensive skills.
They still let Ben Wallace go at the end of the '06 season as well, while Hamilton is under contract until 2008.
So, from '06 to '08 with a Billups-Hamilton-Anthony-Maxiell-Wallace starting five, what would have been their ceiling? At the very least, they would have almost assuredly come out of the paltry Eastern Conference in 2006 and 2007, when the Heat and Cavs were the Finals representatives.
And maybe most importantly, they don't ship off Billups for Iverson in the most one-sided trade of the decade, and they don't ink Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva for a combined $100-plus million.
Which scenario would you rather have Detroit: the six-year ECF run with just one title, or the just-discussed six-year run?
I guess it's true: hindsight is 20/20.