The Detroit Pistons had plenty of talent to choose from the 2003 NBA Draft pool. The Cleveland Cavaliers had taken LeBron James first overall, and the Pistons looked over Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony…and selected Darko Milicic.
The idea of the biggest bust in draft history is a controversial topic. Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Sam Bowie and Chris Washburn have made very good cases for that label. It’s arguable that Milicic deserves the title as well.
A closer look at the stats and the team’s situation should give a clearer picture as to how the seven-footer from Serbia and Montenegro ranks among the biggest busts in NBA history.
Career stats: 8.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game and 26.3 minutes per game in 11 seasons.
The Kandi Man was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers over Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. He’s one of the first names that comes to mind when you think of draft busts.
Career stats: 6.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 22.5 mpg in 10 seasons.
Brown was the biggest disappointment of Michael Jordan’s front-office decisions as director of basketball operations with the Wizards. Brown has since played for four other teams and never averaged more than 11 points per game in one season.
Career stats: 10.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.78 bpg, 26.7 mpg in nine seasons.
Bowie will forever be known as the guy taken over the greatest player in basketball history, Michael Jordan. He really wasn't a horrible player, but was injury-prone and unworthy of the No. 2 pick.
The fact that the Blazers passed over MJ exponentially enhanced Bowie’s mediocre play.
Career stats: 3.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.2 bpg, 9 mpg in three seasons.
I’d never even heard of this guy. The stats above will do that for your lack of reputation. He only played in 72 games over three years, and the sports world never heard from him again. He was also criticized for lack of effort and work ethic. Perhaps this picture is too much of an indication of his brief NBA career.
Career stats: 6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 18.6 mpg in eight seasons.
The Pistons traded Darko in his fourth season to Orlando. In the three seasons prior, Milicic averaged just 5.7 mpg and 1.6 ppg. He’s improved since then. Not enough to justify his No. 2 draft selection, but his numbers have improved. Last year, as a starter for Minnesota, he registered a career-high 8.8 ppg for the season, though the Timberwolves finished with the worst record in the league.
What’s interesting about the 2004 Pistons is that they had an excellent team without that No. 2 pick. After reaching the conference finals in 2003, they won the 2004 NBA Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers with Milicic warming the bench. They reached the Finals again the next year, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in seven tough games. Detroit lost in the Eastern Conference finals the next three seasons, marking their sixth straight conference championship series appearance.
The Pistons missed a huge opportunity when they picked Darko. Carmelo, Wade or Bosh could’ve helped put Detroit over the hump after the 2004 championship season. The thought of one of these superstars with that Pistons team is scary; it could’ve potentially made them one of the best dynasties in all of sports history.
Now, is Darko the biggest NBA Draft bust? His stats are worse than Olowokandi’s, Brown’s and Bowie’s, but he still has time and opportunity to improve on that as he's only 26 years old. But the clincher is Washburn’s short stay in and minimal impact on the NBA.
Three points and two rebounds a game, while playing in only 72 games in three total years (less than one full season) is obviously poorer play than Milicic. Darko’s career isn’t over yet, but I think it’s safe to say that though he’s not quite the biggest bust in NBA history, but the biggest missed opportunity for his team.