Don't Believe the Hype: Building the Worst NBA Lottery of the Last 15 Years
The 2011 NBA Draft is right around the corner. And this year's class is a doozy. But not in a good way.
It is generally acknowledged that this season's class is the weakest in years. And without a clear-cut face-of-the-franchise type player to be found, teams will be on the lookout for diamonds in the rough, hidden gems that could ultimately yield great results.
But these teams should beware. Drafting lesser-known prospects based on raw talent, brief track records and one-dimensional skill sets can do more harm than good. In the last 15 years of NBA drafts, countless teams have gambled on unpolished or unprepared prospects, and come away much worse off than they were in the first place.
This list is a countdown of the biggest busts the draft has seen recently. It is not simply a compilation of the biggest disappointments, however. The number two player on this list, for instance, is not necessarily the second biggest bust of the last 15 years, just the biggest bust drafted second overall.
With that brief preamble out of the way, we move on to the slides!
14. Earl Clark, Phoenix Suns (2009)
Although he has only been in the NBA for two seasons, Clark has exhibited all the hallmarks of a lottery bust.
He has already been traded by his original team, and has career averages that would make a D-Leaguer blush. Although he was an efficient scorer and excellent rebounder at the University of Louisville, it is becoming more and more obvious with every passing season that Clark simply doesn’t have the offensive game, mentality or defensive willingness to succeed in the NBA.
I was actually a big fan of Clark's in college, and thought that he would be an effective pro. Unfortunately, I (along with countless scouts) apparently couldn't have been more wrong. He makes this list not only because of unmet expectations, but because he appears to be on the fast track out of the NBA.
13. Marcus Banks, Memphis Grizzlies (2003)
Marcus Banks is perhaps the most fortunate player on this list.
Where others before (and after) him have found themselves cast aside from the NBA due to their on-court struggles, Banks has somehow managed to stay employed through seven seasons as a pro. Granted, he has played for five teams during these seven season, and has never averaged more than ten points or four assists per game, but hey, there is something to be said for hanging around the NBA as long as Banks has.
Banks was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, and was immediately traded to the Boston Celtics. In a way, this is a microcosm of his entire career. He has been a permanent fixture on the trading block, and has been involved in transactions with quality players like Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Peja Stojakovic.
Unfortunately, this is his biggest claim to fame.
Though he may be a bust, Banks has nonetheless managed to squeeze surprising longevity from his minimal talent.
12. Robert Swift, Seattle Supersonics (2004)
Robert Swift stands alongside Patrick O’Bryant (and Byron Mullens, Saer Sene and countless others) as a warning to teams who would select extremely raw big men with lottery picks.
Swift was drafted out of high school by the Sonics, and was clearly not ready to play at the NBA level. However, this didn’t stop Seattle from playing him over 21 minutes per game in his sophomore (2006) season, during which time he posted career bests in points and rebounds, at 6.4 and 5.6 respectively.
Unfortunately, 2006 was as good as it would get for Swift's massive 7'1 frame. Knee injuries derailed his career, and he spent only three more seasons in the NBA before moving on to play in Japan.
While Swift may have had a passable career were it not for injuries, it seems unlikely that he ever would have lived up to his draft position.
11. Fran Vazquez, Orlando Magic (2005)
As bad as some other draft picks have been, at least they managed to play for the teams that drafted them. Vazquez was selected eleventh overall by the Orlando Magic in 2005, and has not yet played a game for the team, or even signed a contract with them.
Looking for a defensive-minded compliment to Dwight Howard, Orlando took a gamble that Vazquez was ready to come to the NBA.
He wasn’t then, and apparently still isn’t.
As Orlando has cycled through the Ryan Andersons and Marcin Gortats of the world in an attempt to find a big man to play alongside Howard, Vazquez has remained in Spain, and truthfully has not been especially productive ever since.
At this point it has to be considered a long shot that Vazquez will ever make an NBA appearance, and his selection seems to have been a completely wasted pick by the Magic.
10. Luke Jackson, Cleveland Cavaliers (2004)
Ahhhhhh...the top 10. Now we really start getting disappointed!
Around the NBA, GM's and scouts must still be wondering what went wrong in the career of Luke Jackson.
In a four-year career at the University of Oregon, Jackson seemed to show the progression of an eventually solid NBA player. He consistently improved his scoring and efficiency, and seemed to make a leap during his senior season, in which he averaged over 21 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 48% from the floor and 44% from long range.
But Jackson just never clicked in the NBA. He never again displayed the efficient scoring and effective rebounding he displayed in college. He made it through parts of four seasons with four different NBA teams before finally being demoted to the D-League.
9. Patrick O'Bryant, Golden State Warriors (2006)
Even at the time, drafting Patrick O’Bryant ninth overall was a head-scratcher.
He came out a small school, hadn't consistently played against elite competition and was as raw as prospects come.
This didn't stop the Warriors from selecting him with their first round pick. They immediately regretted the move.
In a dubious distinction, POB was the first lottery pick ever sent down to the D-League. He was drafted by the Warriors as a long-term project, although the Golden State brain trust apparently didn’t realize just how long-term.
O’Bryant has never put together any period of extended dominance, even at the D-League level. He has bounced around three separate NBA franchises and a Chinese Team, being released from all four due to lack of effort and poor production.
Big men with raw talent often don’t pan out in the NBA and O’Bryant is the poster boy for this group. He was drafted based on very raw ability and body size, with no regard given to competitive fire, work ethic or basketball IQ.
8. Joe Alexander, Milwaukee Bucks (2008)
When all is said and done, it is quite possible that Joe Alexander is the biggest bust on this list. And if not the biggest bust, definitely the worst overall player.
After seeing his stock rise due to a tremendous NCAA Tournament performance at the University of West Virginia, Alexander was almost an immediate failure in the NBA.
The team that drafted him, the Milwaukee Bucks, quickly realized that Alexander simply didn’t have the size, shooting ability or athleticism to succeed in the NBA and cut ties with him after only one dismal season.
Even for a list filled with the worst draft picks of the last 15 years, Alexander stands out for the speed with which his original team dismissed him.
Alexander was minimally productive in his first (and only) season in Milwaukee, then was shipped off to Chicago in 2009, where he averaged a little over three minutes per game, and took part in only eight games total. This season he spent his time in New Orleans but failed to log any minutes, and seems to be quickly headed out of professional basketball.
7. Chris Mihm, Chicago Bulls (2000)
Had he not been drafted seventh overall, Chris Mihm may actually be considered a decent player. Or at the very least, a serviceable rotation guy who just got dunked on a lot.
He lasted nine seasons in the NBA, was somewhat productive in the prime of his career and was a bit player on the Los Angeles Lakers 2009 Championship squad.
However for a high lottery pick, descriptors like “bit player” and “somewhat productive” just don’t cut it.
It is worth noting that Mihm’s 2000 draft class is widely considered one of the worst of all time, and only a few players taken that season have been at all productive in their careers. I mean really, a year where Kenyon Martin is taken number one overall and is not considered a bust must be pretty weak.
But all of these factors don't excuse the fact that Mihm never developed into a consistent NBA starter.
6. Dajuan Wagner, Cleveland Cavaliers (2002)
Of all the players on this list, the phrase “don’t believe the hype” is especially apropos for Dajuan Wagner.
Wagner is one of the most-hyped prospects ever to enter the NBA. He once scored 100 points in a High School game. His senior year of high school he averaged over 42 points per game, and later scored an impressive 25 points in the McDonald’s All-American game.
Clearly, Wagner had more than enough talent. And truth be told, he was actually somewhat productive in his rookie year in Cleveland, averaging over 13 PPG, but shooting only 36.9% from the field.
Whatever promise he displayed, however, quickly disappeared with a series of injuries and illnesses, including a battle with ulcerative colitis that ultimately ended his NBA career and forced him to undergo a procedure to remove his colon. Ouch.
Following his battles with illness, Wagner attempted a brief comeback in 2006 but was quickly bought out by the Warriors. Wagner probably outshines nearly every player on this list in terms of actual ability, and the final result of his career is likely the absolute worst-case scenario of how things could have possibly played out for him.
The fact remains though, that based on potential vs. actual production, Wagner was a huge bust.
5. Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Denver Nuggets (2002)
Nikoloz Tskitishvili, like Darko before him, was the beneficiary of the NBA’s infatuation with European prospects in the early 2000’s.
Unlike Darko, Tskitishvili was quickly bounced from the league after only four seasons, during which time he played for four different teams. Any player who can be unfavorably compared to Milicic is an unmitigated bust.
In his brief career, Niko left behind a resume that features 2.9 PPG and 1.8 RPG career averages, and scores of unmet expectations.
To this day, he stands alongside Darko as a symbol of all that go terribly wrong with drafting unknown European prospects.
4. Marcus Fizer, Chicago Bulls (2000)
A Google search of Marcus Fizer reveals more internet interest in his tattoos than his disappointing career. Not a good sign for a fourth overall pick.
When he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and coach Tim Floyd, he was expected to be a trade chip. This plan never materialized, and neither did Fizer's NBA talent. He played through a couple of minimally productive NBA seasons before tearing his ACL in 2003, which subsequently led to Chicago leaving him unprotected in the 2004 expansion draft.
The Charlotte Bobcats opted to take him in the expansion draft, but he never made their roster, and only lasted one more season in the NBA before disappearing into the obscurity of the D-League.
3. Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats (2006)
Adam Morrison may not be the worst player on this list, but he might be the most despised.
Something about Morrison just makes people want to root against him. Maybe it the fact that doesn’t play defense, or that he entered the league based on scoring skills that have seemingly evaporated into thin air. Maybe it is his mustache or the memories of him openly weeping as Gonzaga was dismissed from NCAA Tournament play by UCLA. For whatever reason, Adam Morrison is undoubtedly one of the biggest busts not only of the last 15 years, but in NBA history.
Although he never displayed elite athleticism or quickness, Morrison arrived in the NBA with the rep as a deadeye shooter whose scoring would easily transition smoothly to the next level. As it turns out, athleticism is kind of a big deal in the NBA.
Morrison has not yet put together a productive season, even as his expectations drop further and further every year. He failed as a franchise scorer in Charlotte, and then as a bench player in Los Angeles. He is now MIA from the NBA, although the Wizards technically retain his rights.
Falling from high lottery pick to being unused by one of the worst teams in the league would leave anyone saddled with a “bust” label. For Adam Morrison, it is just one more reason for people to root against him.
2. Darko Milicic, Detroit Pistons (2003)
Darko Milicic is the NBA Draft’s cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales.
He was famously drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, and has failed to live up to any of his pre-draft hype. Before the draft, Milicic was rumored to be a beast in private workouts. His wingspan and passing ability made GM’s around the league salivate at his potential.
Unfortunately, while Milicic may have torn up D-League defenders and folding chairs in workouts, he faltered significantly upon entering the NBA. He has never even come close to realizing his hype, and his failures have only been magnified by the successes of players taken after him.
To this day, Milicic remains the most common warning to teams drafting foreign players.
1. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards (2001)
Small hands, slow feet and a questionable work ethic. As busts go, Kwame Brown had it all.
Brown couldn’t live up to the intense pressure of being a number one overall pick, and the scrutiny of playing under GM Michael Jordan in Washington. For his career he has averaged only 6.8 PPG and 5.6 RPG.
To be fair, he entered the NBA at a time when drafting high school players was all the rage. These players were judged more on upside than actual talent, so it is not entirely his fault that he hasn’t lived up to the hype.
However, inflated hype aside, Brown is still one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history. His career has been characterized by laziness and a painfully obvious lack of basketball instincts. His name has become synonymous with failure, and he has been responsible for the continued rebuilding of several NBA franchises.
To this day, Kwame Brown remains the most often-cited example of what can happen when a team drafts on raw talent and doesn’t consider any other factors. Brown may have had the physical stature of a high lottery selection, but has shown absolutely nothing to back it up.