The Most Disappointing NBA Draft Picks of the Last Decade
If you'd prefer to believe that your team is guaranteed to strike gold when it adds a new player in the 2015 NBA draft, by all means, continue living in blissful ignorance. The sad reality, however, is that drafts of the past are rife with prospects who didn't work out and will go down in history as disappointing—or, in some cases, worse.
We're not talking about the Sam Bowies of the world.
Bowie was infamously selected at No. 2 in the 1984 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, one pick behind Hakeem Olajuwon and one ahead of Michael Jordan. But he'd go on to have a decent professional career, spending a decade in the Association and putting up some solid numbers in Rip City and for the New Jersey Nets.
By our definition, Lancaster Gordon would've been the most disappointing in '84. The Los Angeles Clippers picked him out of Louisville at No. 8, and atrocious shooting made him a negative contributor for four years before he was waived, never again to play at the sport's highest level.
We're focusing on the players who failed to live up to the expectations associated with them when they were first entering the league, not just how they played relative to the ones drafted just around them.
Allow these 10 stories from the last decade—one per draft class, not the 10 biggest disappointments during that time period—to serve as cautionary tales as we move ever closer to June 25.
2005: Fran Vazquez, No. 11 to the Orlando Magic
The 2005 NBA draft was littered with disappointing selections.
Marvin Williams was taken by the Atlanta Hawks at No. 2, just ahead of both Deron Williams and Chris Paul. The Golden State Warriors selected Ike Diogu out of Arizona State, and that choice didn't exactly work out well for them. And the list goes on, with Yaroslav Karasev joining the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 12 and Sean May coming off the board one pick later to play for the Charlotte Bobcats.
It wasn't exactly a strong class, but at least 29 members of the first round ended up playing in the NBA—and all but four second-round picks, for that matter.
Fran Vazquez was the only exception, and that's particularly problematic since the Orlando Magic took him off the board at No. 11. Rather than joining his new NBA squad right away, the 6'10" big man elected to stay with Akasvayu Girona in the Spanish ACB. After that, he signed with FC Barcelona, and he's since joined Unicaja Malaga, where he still plays today.
Before the draft, there was no indication that he would stay abroad. Even after the Magic picked him, he gave hints that he would soon arrive in the Association, as this explanation to HoopsHype's Raul Barrigon in August 2005 should help make clear:
I clearly understand what people think. Executives from Orlando came to Spain to talk with me and express their total support for my decision. They asked me if I wanted to play in the NBA and I said, 'Yes, indeed.' But I didn't know exactly when. I've decided to stay here in Spain in order to improve my game and go to the NBA being a better player.
Technically, he still could arrive in the NBA as a better player. The Magic retain his draft rights, as he's never played a single game at the sport's highest level.
But at 32 years old, his time has most likely already come and gone.
Runner-Up: Ike Diogu (No. 9 to the Golden State Warriors)
2006: Adam Morrison, No. 3 to the Charlotte Bobcats
Among major draftniks back in 2006, ESPN Insider Chad Ford was actually one of those who ranked Adam Morrison the lowest, calling him the No. 9 prospect in the class. With that in mind, here's what he had to say about the positive aspects of the Gonzaga product's game:
His confidence in himself and his game is palpable. His ability to consistently make tough shots with a hand in his face might be his most appealing aspect. He's crafty and finds a way to get his shot. He's tireless and constantly in motion. His 3-point shot has really improved this year. His knowledge of the game, his passing ability, his silky-smooth jumper and his fierce competitiveness all are Bird-esque.
Yes, that's Larry Bird whom Ford is referring to. But based on his professional career—and please, let's not use the ringzzzzz argument here, even if he won on the Los Angeles Lakers bench—he was more Jerry Bird than Larry Legend.
Rough shooting and shoddy defense at the beginning of his tenure with the Charlotte Bobcats forced him to the bench prematurely, and a torn ACL all but officially ended that opportunity. When he returned after a missed season, Charlotte kept him on the bench and eventually traded him to the Lakers, where he never truly got a chance to break into the rotation.
Would he have enjoyed more success if he'd landed in a better situation with a more patient team? Potentially, but nothing is ever certain when dealing with collegiate prospects.
And despite all the hypotheticals, Morrison has the ignominious distinction of earning only minus-1.4 win shares during his entire NBA career. Just five other players from the 2006 NBA draft finished below zero:
- Cheikh Samb (No. 51 overall): Minus-0.1
- Will Blalock (No. 60 overall): Minus-0.1
- Damir Markota (No. 59 overall): Minus-0.2
- Maurice Ager (No. 28 overall): Minus-0.9
- Mardy Collins (No. 29 overall): Minus-1.6
Reminder: Only Andrea Bargnani and LaMarcus Aldridge were drafted ahead of Morrison.
Runner-Up: Patrick O'Bryant (No. 9 to the Golden State Warriors)
2007: Greg Oden, No. 1 to the Portland Trail Blazers
Greg Oden was supposed to be a special, potentially transcendent player in the NBA, and he served as such whenever he was healthy enough to step onto the court for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The big man did average 15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes during the first two seasons of his professional career—really the first three because he missed his actual rookie campaign after offseason microfracture surgery. But he only suited up in a combined 82 games and then succumbed to injuries again.
This Ohio State standout's knees simply betrayed him. It was one blow after another, and he was forced to rehab from the original microfracture surgery, a foot injury in his NBA debut, a chipped knee, a fractured patella, another microfracture surgery, arthroscopic surgery and then a third microfracture surgery.
Really, this is a tragic story. Oden was a remarkably talented prospect who justified the hype when healthy, but he'll ultimately go down as one of the bigger busts in league history, especially because the Seattle SuperSonics selected Kevin Durant right after the Portland Trail Blazers made this center the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NBA draft.
By the time Oden had played the 83rd game of his career, doing so in his Miami Heat debut on Jan. 15, 2014, Durant had stepped onto the court in 498 different contests and had made the All-NBA First Team in four consecutive seasons.
"That’s the worst part about all of the injuries and the criticism. It would be one thing if I had been healthy for five years and just sucked when I was on the court," Oden told Grantland's Mark Titus in a must-read profile from 2012. "But I can't prove what I can do because I can't stay healthy. Not having control over the situation makes it tough."
Only three players from the 2007 selection process—Durant, Brandan Wright and Tiago Splitter—have earned more win shares per 48 minutes than Oden. Problem is, playing time has forced Oden behind another 20 prospects from his draft class when looking at total win shares.
Runner-Up: Yi Jianlian (No. 6 to the Milwaukee Bucks)
2008: Michael Beasley, No. 2 to the Miami Heat
- Derrick Rose
- Michael Beasley
- O.J. Mayo
- Russell Westbrook
- Kevin Love
- Danilo Gallinari
- Eric Gordon
- Joe Alexander
- D.J. Augustin
- Brook Lopez
The 2008 NBA draft was absolutely loaded with talent. Just look at how strong the top 10 have become:
Not every player has turned into a star, but there are still two on the list who stand out for the wrong reason. The first is Joe Alexander, who totally flopped for the Milwaukee Bucks after leaving West Virginia, playing only 67 games before exiting the league. The second is Michael Beasley, who squandered immense talent by playing unintelligent basketball and getting into off-court trouble.
Beasley certainly had a more successful career, but he was also drafted six slots earlier and came out of Kansas State with ridiculously high expectations. After all, he flat-out dominated the collegiate landscape as a freshman, and his skills were supposed to transfer.
He just didn't let them.
"From his one-year stint at Kansas State, the Miami Heat expected Beasley to provide a consistent inside scoring threat to accompany Dwyane Wade’s stellar perimeter skills," Rick Ditto wrote during his Rookie Retrospective for DraftExpress.com. "Yet, through the first month of his rookie campaign, Beasley has attempted everything but attacking the interior of opposing defenses."
Somewhat bizarrely, Beasley devolved into an inefficient jump-shooter who never played to his primary strengths, and the stellar rebounding skills he flashed with the Wildcats all but disappeared.
And that's when he was playing, not getting into legal trouble.
Runner-Up: Joe Alexander (No. 8 to the Milwaukee Bucks)
2009: Hasheem Thabeet, No. 2 to the Memphis Grizzlies
During the last season of his Connecticut tenure, Hasheem Thabeet averaged 13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks while shooting 64 percent from the field. That was one year after the 7'3" center posted 10.5 points, 7.9 boards and 4.5 swats per game as a sophomore, connecting on 60.3 percent of his looks.
Thabeet had the size and defensive tools necessary to be a stud at the next level, but he just never panned out. In fact, he flamed out so quickly that the Grizzlies sent him down to the NBA Developmental League midway through his rookie season.
"Thabeet is the highest draft pick ever sent to the D-League by an NBA team," ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in February 2010. "A team can assign players to D-League duty only during their first two seasons as a pro."
At the time of his demotion, this lumbering big man was averaging just 2.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He couldn't break into the Memphis Grizzlies rotation and for good reason. The team was 2.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the floor during his rookie season, thanks to slow rotations and an extremely limited offense repertoire.
Apparently, time in the D-League didn't help.
That lackluster rookie season was arguably the best of his career. He kept changing locations, going from the Grizzlies to the Houston Rockets to the Portland Trail Blazers to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he failed to serve as anything more than an end-of-the-bench big with any of those squads.
As Colin McGowan once wrote for Sports On Earth, "Hasheem Thabeet was D-League material from Day 1."
Runner-Up: Jonny Flynn (No. 6 to the Minnesota Timberwolves)
2010: Wesley Johnson, No. 4 to the Minnesota Timberwolves
It's hard to find a massive disappointment in the 2010 NBA draft. There were plenty of underwhelming players selected early in the proceedings, but it's notable that all of the top 19 picks have played in all five seasons that have taken place since they entered the league. You have to go down to James Anderson at No. 20 and Craig Brackins at No. 21 to find the first players who aren't still suiting up.
Of course, it's hard to label prospects taken that far down in the first round as the biggest disappointments. The true selection has to be someone who came off the board far earlier, and that's where Wesley Johnson—and, slightly behind him, Ekpe Udoh—comes into play.
Johnson was supposed to come out of Syracuse and turn into a stud, But the Minnesota Timberwolves, who selected him at No. 4, certainly didn't get that type of production from this swingman, eventually giving up and trading him to the Phoenix Suns after just two seasons.
Heading into the draft, Johnson was widely viewed as somewhat of a safe pick. He was a versatile two-way player with plenty of experience, and his work on the glass was just gravy. For example, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix gave the Wolves a B+ for their selections in the 2010 draft, writing the following about Johnson:
Here's all you need to know about Wesley Johnson: He enjoys playing in the triangle. Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that he felt very comfortable playing in the complex offense. And why shouldn't he? Johnson is a terrific shooter who should get a few open looks playing off Al Jefferson, assuming Jefferson is still a Timberwolf when the season opens. Johnson has star written all over him: He's efficient, a promising defender -- you don't know for sure with guys who played zone at Syracuse -- and a terrific rebounder at his position.
After five seasons, Johnson has never looked like he "has star written all over him."
He's scored 20 or more points in only 13 career games. His lifetime player efficiency rating is a subpar 10.3. Even that promising defense hasn't worked out, as his teams have allowed an additional 1.9 points per 100 possessions while he's been on the floor throughout his NBA tenure.
Given the expectations when he was entering the league, Johnson hasn't even come close to panning out, even if he's still laboring away in the Association.
Runner-Up: Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 to the Golden State Warriors)
2011: Derrick Williams, No. 2 to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Remember when there was a legitimate debate about whether Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams should be the first player off the board in 2011?
Well, the retrospective answer is a pretty simple one. While Irving has developed into a star and is currently the starting point guard on a team in the NBA Finals, Williams has struggled to find a home in the NBA, bouncing from team to team and disappointing in every location.
Once upon a time, ESPN Insider Chad Ford gave the Minnesota Timberwolves an A for their work during the 2011 NBA draft:
The Wolves got the second-best prospect in the draft. Given that, we can forget about the questionable fit. They tried to trade the pick but weren't offered enough in return, so they took the best talent on the board. If Williams turns out to be one of the two best players on the team, which he might be, they'll find minutes for him.
He wasn't alone.
The Wolves were widely lauded for doing what they had to do, but it just didn't work out for them. Nor has it for the Sacramento Kings, who traded for Williams in 2013-14. And now have to decide whether to make him a restricted free agent or renounce the rights of first refusal.
The simple fact that a $8,262,482 qualifying offer, per ShamSports.com, likely causes hesitation is rather problematic when talking about a 24-year-old who's only a handful of years removed from being the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
But Williams certainly hasn't developed into one of the two best players in this draft class.
Runner-Up: Jan Vesely (No. 6 to the Washington Wizards)
2012: Thomas Robinson, No. 5 to the Sacramento Kings
I must admit to completely misfiring here, as I was entirely sold on Thomas Robinson when he was coming out of Kansas. His footwork and strength in the low post, as well as his tenacity and undying energy on the glass, made me almost certain he was going to be a nightly double-double threat in the NBA.
In fact, Robinson has just eight double-doubles through his first three seasons, and not a single one of them has featured him scoring any more than 15 points. Three came with the Sacramento Kings in January 2013. Two more came slightly later, while he was with the Portland Trail Blazers. He earned the final three with the Philadelphia 76ers toward the end of this last campaign.
It's too early to give up on Robinson entirely. He's only 24 years old and could benefit from continuity after bouncing between so many teams during the opening salvo of his professional career.
But it's also telling that so many organizations have already cut ties with him.
He lasted 51 games with the Kings before they traded him, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt to the Houston Rockets for Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and Patrick Patterson. After he finished the season with the Rockets, they traded him to the Blazers for Kostas Papanikolau, Mirko Todorovic and some future second-round picks.
Midway through his second season in Rip City, he was dealt for the third time in his young career, this time shipped off with Will Barton, Victor Claver and a first-round pick in 2016 to the Denver Nuggets for Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee.
Robinson played in exactly zero games for the Mile High City franchise before he was waived and subsequently claimed by the Philadelphia 76ers, where he found more success than ever before.
But the Sixers aren't even guaranteed to bring him back for 2015-16. If they don't, that would push the number of teams that have given up on the No. 4 pick all the way to five, and that's not exactly a good sign.
Runner-Up: Royce White (No. 16 to the Houston Rockets)
2013: Anthony Bennett, No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers
This should go without saying.
Sure, Anthony Bennett was a surprise No. 1 pick when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him. But he'll be forever associated with the first overall selection now, and that may make it even more difficult for him to pan out.
There's obviously still a chance Bennett lives up to the hype, but his career hasn't exactly gotten off to the most promising start. It took him five games to make his first shot from the field, and that may not even have been the worst part of his rookie season.
Ultimately, Bennett submitted a 6.9 PER and minus-0.4 win shares during his one and only go-round with the team that drafted him. Then he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Was he better in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Sure, but it would've been tough to be worse.
As CBS Sports' Zach Harper wrote after his first professional campaign ended, "There isn't really a way to sugarcoat the rookie season of 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. He was one of the worst rookies in NBA history."
Thanks to lackadaisical efforts on defense, in transition and when doing little things like setting screens, as well as terrible shooting and a failure to contribute anywhere else, that's not even remotely hyperbolic. As a result, it's now an uphill climb for Bennett.
But even if he finds his footing in Minnesota and has a successful career, he'll always be at least somewhat disappointing after panning out so poorly with the team that originally picked him.
Runner-Up: Cody Zeller (No. 4 to the Charlotte Bobcats)
2014: Nik Stauskas, No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings
Obviously, it's far too soon to label any prospects selected in the 2014 NBA draft as definitive disappointments. They only have one season under their belts—even less in some cases—and the history of this sport would be rather different if players had to follow the paths they started down during their initial go-rounds.
But heading into the 2015 offseason, Nik Stauskas is the clubhouse favorite for this unfortunate distinction after struggling to make much of an impact with the Sacramento Kings. Averaging only 4.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists, the 2-guard from Michigan shot just 36.5 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from beyond the arc.
His PER? A putrid 7.5. His win shares? Just 0.5, though plenty of other metrics indicated that he was a massively negative contributor to the Kings.
For example, my FATS model (based on historical comparisons and explained in full here) shows that Sacramento played like a 35.4-win team when he was on the bench and a 24.4-win squad when he was on the floor.
Stauskas was always a questionable fit with the Kings, especially given that they'd selected Ben McLemore just one year earlier. Now that the Kansas product has improved rather significantly, it's going to be even more difficult for the newer 2-guard to earn future playing time.
"And I had someone from the Kings pass along this nugget in Chicago," ESPN Insider Chad Ford recently revealed in a SportsNation Chat. "That the front office wanted to take Elfrid Payton at No. 8. last year but were overruled by ownership, who wanted Nik Stauskas."
One thing is certain: Payton wasn't exactly disappointing.
Runner-Up: Adreian Payne (No. 15 to the Atlanta Hawks)
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.