The 10 Biggest NBA Draft Busts Since 2000
In the NBA, one draft pick can alter the trajectory of a franchise.
For better or worse.
And there have been a lot of busts since 2000.
For this exercise, we're only focusing on top-10 picks. There have been some awful choices from later in the draft, no doubt, but the lottery, which since 2005 has included 14 teams, is generally where bad teams are hoping to find the guy who can turn things around. In other words, a top-10 bust is much more painful—and more expensive—than grabbing a dud in the first round's latter half.
Moreover, the most recent draft considered was 2014. It's too soon to declare anyone from 2015 or later to be a bust—though Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay from the 2015 draft are trending in that direction.
That means there were only 150 possible candidates. That's a small pool, but it wasn't the least bit challenging to find 10 guys who didn't come close to panning out. Rather, the challenge was trimming the list from 25 to 10, since there have been so many poor decisions made (and injuries suffered) over the years.
Players are ranked in ascending order of disappointment, with career stats and draft position serving as the primary criteria.
Greg Oden (No. 1, 2007)
We will forever remember the Portland Trail Blazers' selection of Oden at No. 1 instead of Kevin Durant. From that "What could have been?" perspective, it was one of the worst decisions in draft history. But Oden was good when healthy. His career win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) mark was 0.174. That's on par with DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Clyde Drexler, and a whole heck of a lot better than anyone else on this list. Oden just couldn't stay on the court, appearing in 105 games in his brief career.
Jay Williams (No. 2, 2002)
Similar to Oden, Williams wasn't too shabby when he played. As a rookie with the Bulls, he averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists. But a motorcycle accident in June 2003 ensured that Williams' rookie season would be his last. Despite extensive physical therapy, he never appeared in the NBA again.
Hasheem Thabeet (No. 2, 2009)
Thabeet was a legend at Connecticut. The 7'3" giant averaged 5.7 blocks per 40 minutes in his three-year career with the Huskies while he gradually evolved into a viable offensive threat. But that never transitioned to the NBA, as he failed to find a consistent role with Memphis, Houston, Portland and Oklahoma City. He put up respectable numbers on a per-minute basis, but no one wanted to give him extended playing time in his five seasons.
Jan Vesely (No. 6, 2011)
The two most memorable things Vesely did in his NBA career were make out with his girlfriend at the draft and air-ball free throws. We're cutting him slack for two reasons, though. The Czech native has been pretty good in Turkey since moving back overseas in 2014. And anyone would have failed as a rookie trying to save a Washington Wizards franchise led by the likes of Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche.
Yi Jianlian (No. 6, 2007)
Those expecting the next Yao Ming were woefully disappointed with Yi's five NBA seasons. He wasn't that bad, though, averaging 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds for his career. He just had the misfortune of bouncing around between terrible teams (2008 Milwaukee, 2009-10 New Jersey/Brooklyn, 2011 Washington) and never getting a chance to develop alongside quality players.
Mouhamed Sene (No. 10, 2006)
Quite possibly the century's most forgettable top-10 draft pick, Sene played just 260 minutes in a three-year career he predominantly spent in the D-League. The only saving grace is he was so ineffectual as a rookie that the SuperSonics got enough pingpong balls to land the No. 2 pick in the following year's draft, netting Durant.
Luke Jackson (No. 10, 2004)
It's a good thing Cleveland lucked into LeBron James in 2003, because the Cavaliers botched their first picks in 2002 (Dajuan Wagner, whom we'll discuss later) and 2004. Jackson was a versatile 6'7" wing who averaged 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his final season with the Oregon Ducks. But herniated disks in his back derailed his career before it had a chance to begin. He appeared in just 73 games in four years.
Jimmer Fredette (No. 10, 2011)
Fredette had limitless range while becoming a superstar at BYU. He put up 28.9 points per game in his final season, winning basically every individual collegiate award in the process. But despite shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range in his three seasons with Sacramento, he never became a focal point of the offense—in large part because he was so bad on defense that it became a sacrifice to play him at all.
Kwame Brown (No. 1, 2001)
Before the NBA arrival of our list's No. 1 player, many believed Brown and Michael Olowokandi (1998) were the worst No. 1 picks since the bicentennial. But Brown lasted 12 seasons and made 281 starts in his career. Most notably, he accounted for 20.8 win shares, which is almost triple the next-highest mark (Oden's 7.3) among candidates for this list. Brown wasn't remotely close to placing in the top 10, but considering his lofty draft status, we'd be remiss to leave him out.
10. Patrick O'Bryant
Draft Pick: No. 9 in 2006, Golden State Warriors
Career Stats: 90 games in four seasons, 2.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.046 WS/48, -3.1 BPM, -0.2 VORP
Bradley has reached the NCAA's Sweet 16 once since 1955, and it was sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant who led that charge in 2006. The Braves upset Kansas and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds, with the Notorious P.O.B. scoring 28 points in the latter game.
He only averaged 13.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks for the year, but when you're 7'0" and 260 pounds and can walk and chew gum at the same time, the NBA will notice. O'Bryant bypassed his final two seasons of eligibility, declaring for the draft the summer after his tournament success when it became apparent he could be a lottery pick.
Unfortunately, O'Bryant was diagnosed with a foot fracture before his rookie season and never had much of an NBA impact. He only made three career starts, and he didn't even get those chances until his third season, then already playing on his third team (Toronto).
With O'Bryant, it always seemed to be a lack of effort/dedication rather than a lack of talent. He repeatedly impressed teams—both in the NBA and overseas—with his offseason auditions, but it wasn't until 2013 that it finally amounted to something with the Taiwan Beer of the Super Basketball League.
He had a nice three-year run in Southeast Asia. As far as the NBA is concerned, though, O'Bryant was a colossal bust, averaging 5.8 minutes per game in his limited career.
9. Marcus Fizer
Draft Pick: No. 4 in 2000, Chicago Bulls
Career Stats: 289 games in six seasons, 9.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.022 WS/48, -4.7 BPM, -4.1 VORP
There were a lot of not-great picks at the top of the 2000 NBA draft. Guys such as Darius Miles (No. 3), DerMarr Johnson (No. 6), Chris Mihm (No. 7) and Jerome Moiso (No. 11) all provided significantly less value than teams expect to get in those spots.
Marcus Fizer takes the cake, though, with both box plus-minus (BPM) and value over replacement player (VORP) metrics suggesting he did more harm than good in each of his six NBA seasons.
His conventional statistics, however, weren't too bad. Despite sharing the frontcourt with Elton Brand as a rookie and then both Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler for the following two years, Fizer averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game in his first three seasons.
Still, he was only a part-time starter in his first two years, and he had lost the job entirely by the time he suffered a torn ACL in January 2003. And if he wasn't great before the injury, he really wasn't great after it. Fizer played sparingly for Chicago, Milwaukee and New Orleans over the next three seasons before becoming an overseas journeyman.
8. Joe Alexander
Draft Pick: No. 8 in 2008, Milwaukee Bucks
Career Stats: 67 games in two seasons, 4.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.03 WS/48, -3.3 BPM, -0.2 VORP
Joe Alexander was a draft combine legend. Per NBADraft.net, this combo forward had the second-most bench press reps and the second-best three-quarter-court sprint time among the 79 players evaluated in 2008. Couple that with how well he played in his final season at West Virginia—especially in the NCAA tournament—and he became the undisputed most enticing upperclassman in that year's draft class.
It was just about the last time he impressed anyone in the Association.
Milwaukee kind of set him up to fail, though. The Bucks used both of their picks in the 2008 draft on 6'8", 230-pound forwards, and it was the second-rounder (Luc Mbah a Moute) who started 52 games as a rookie and was given ample opportunity to develop. Their first-round pick, on the other hand, did not start a single contest.
Alexander suffered a hamstring injury before his second season and was subsequently reassigned to the D-League. Milwaukee later traded him to the Chicago Bulls, for whom he appeared in the final eight games of his NBA career.
He did have one impressive season in the D-League with the Texas Legends in 2010-11, but between the 2011 NBA lockout and the stress fracture discovered in his left leg in December 2011, he never got another chance on U.S. soil.
7. Rafael Araujo
Draft Pick: No. 8 in 2004, Toronto Raptors
Career Stats: 139 games in three seasons, 2.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, -0.013 WS/48, -6.4 BPM, -1.8 VORP
A lot of the guys on this list have viable excuses for disappointing, whether that be an early-career injury or a lack of opportunity.
That's not the case for Rafael Araujo.
He just wasn't good.
Araujo looked great in college, largely because he was a grown man playing in a mid-major league. By his senior season at BYU, he was 23 years old, 6'11" and 285 pounds, and he threw Mountain West Conference opponents around like rag dolls en route to 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
In the NBA, however, Araujo was an average-sized center who could no longer bully his way to the rim whenever he pleased.
With next to nothing else on the roster to try, Toronto gave Araujo ample opportunity to figure it out. He started 75 games in his two seasons with the Raptors, but it wasn't meant to be. He never even recorded a double-double before vanishing.
6. Jonny Flynn
Draft Pick: No. 6 in 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves
Career Stats: 163 games in three seasons, 9.2 PPG, 3.9 APG, 1.9 RPG, -0.015 WS/48, -4.9 BPM, -2.7 VORP
Jonny Flynn had the best individual season of any player in our top 10. He started 81 games as a rookie point guard, averaging 13.5 points and 4.4 assists per game—albeit for a team that went 15-67. He wasn't anywhere close to Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry or Brandon Jennings in the 2010 Rookie of the Year race, but he did get two votes. That's a heck of a lot better than most of the guys on this list.
His subsequent fall from grace almost landed him in the top five.
Flynn underwent hip surgery following his rookie year and missed the first 24 games of the next season. Though the T-Wolves were going nowhere fast, they stuck with veteran Luke Ridnour as their primary point guard rather than handing the reins back to Flynn to find out if he could regain his rookie form.
Minnesota found out that June that the point guard it selected right before Flynn in the 2009 draft (Ricky Rubio) was finally coming over from Spain, so it dealt Flynn to Houston during the 2011 draft. He appeared in just 11 games with the Rockets before getting traded to Portland, where he played in the final 18 games of his NBA career.
Just like that, he was gone. Flynn played one more season in Australia and tried to play in China and Italy, but injuries finished his career before the end of 2014.
5. Adam Morrison
Draft Pick: No. 3 in 2006, Charlotte Bobcats
Career Stats: 161 games in three seasons, 7.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, -0.021 WS/48, -5.5 BPM, -2.9 VORP
During the 2005-06 season, JJ Redick and Adam Morrison put together one of the best battles for college basketball's national player of the year since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979. Redick won, but Morrison averaged 28.1 points while brandishing one of the most memorable mustaches in CBB history.
That rivalry didn't translate to the NBA, as Redick is one healthy year away from 10,000 career points, while Morrison logged just 3,278 minutes.
Like both the player before and after him on this list, Morrison had a respectable debut year prior to an injury that ruined his career. He bounced in and out of the starting lineup, playing in 78 games with 23 starts for Charlotte. He averaged nearly 30 minutes per contest as a rookie, tallying 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Despite putrid advanced metrics (-1.5 win shares, -5.5 BPM, -2.0 VORP) on a 49-loss team, Morrison finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote.
A torn ACL the following October cost him the entire 2007-08 season, from which he never recovered. His playing time in 2008-09 was less than half of what it was in his inaugural campaign, and the Bobcats traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in February. Though he did get two championship rings while in L.A., he averaged just 7.3 minutes over 39 games as a benchwarmer.
Morrison attended some training camps and summer leagues with the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers over the next few years, but 2010 was his last NBA season.
4. Dajuan Wagner
Draft Pick: No. 6 in 2002, Cleveland Cavaliers
Career Stats: 103 games in four seasons, 9.4 PPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 RPG, 0.0 WS/48, -5.6 BPM, -2.0 VORP
Long before Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and many superstars at Kentucky, John Calipari coached his first one-and-done phenom, Dajuan Wagner, with the Tigers. The guard averaged 21.2 points and 3.6 assists per game while leading Memphis to the 2002 NIT title.
As a result, Cleveland took Wagner with the No. 6 pick* in a draft that saw Nene, Amar'e Stoudemire and Caron Butler selected at Nos. 7, 9 and 10, respectively.
Similar to those of Jonny Flynn and Adam Morrison, Wagner's best season was his first (by a country mile). He averaged 13.4 points and 2.8 assists as a rookie. After missing the season's first month, he scored at least 25 points in seven of the first 15 games of his career. Though the Cavaliers were 5-24 by the time he played his 15th game, it initially looked like he might be a franchise building block.
A combination of injuries and health problems kept that from happening, though. He appeared in just 55 games in the next two seasons and missed the entire 2005-06 campaign following surgery to combat ulcerative colitis. Wagner tried to return to the NBA, but he played just one game after that.
We didn't include Greg Oden or Jay Williams in the top 10 since injuries derailed their careers, but at least those guys were valuable when healthy. Despite the scoring average as a rookie, Wagner amounted to precisely zero win shares in his career.
*It's a decision that helped the Cavs play terribly enough (17-65) to land LeBron James with the No. 1 pick the following year, but imagine how many more titles he might have won with one of those guys at his disposal early in his career.
3. Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Draft Pick: No. 5 in 2002, Denver Nuggets
Career Stats: 172 games in four seasons, 2.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, -0.039 WS/48, -6.3 BPM, -2.1 VORP
It's only fitting that Nikoloz Tskitishvili ranks one spot ahead of Dajuan Wagner on this list, since he was taken one spot before Wagner in the 2002 NBA draft. And, no, that wasn't intentional.
With Dirk Nowitzki quickly becoming one of the best, most unique players in NBA history after being drafted No. 9 in 1998, teams at that time were desperate to find European big men who could fit that mold. Denver was willing to use its No. 5 pick on the possibility that this 7'0", three-point shooting 19-year-old would be the next big thing.
As it turns out, he wasn't.
Tskitishvili played in 81 games as a rookie, including 16 starts. But he shot just 29.3 percent from the field and made 24.3 percent of his 152 three-point attempts. No big deal, though, right? Nowitzki wasn't much better as a rookie, making 20.6 percent of his shots from downtown before budding into a superstar in his second year.
Tskitishvili, on the other hand, only got worse. He never started another game and shot 19.4 percent from three-point range over the next three seasons. He bounced from Denver to Golden State to Minnesota to Phoenix before teams finally gave up on the predraft hype.
At least that isn't the end of his story, though. While other guys on this list disappeared from basketball after five or so years, the Georgia native has enjoyed a long international career, playing professionally for more than two decades.
2. Darko Milicic
Draft Pick: No. 2 in 2003, Detroit Pistons
Career Stats: 468 games in 10 seasons, 6.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.04 WS/48, -1.6 BPM, 0.8 VORP
In terms of both years and games played, Darko Milicic destroys everyone else on this list. The next-closest player was Marcus Fizer at 289 games in six seasons.
But sticking around for a decade doesn't mean Milicic lived up to the hype.
Far from it. Especially for the team that drafted him.
He made just two starts in two-plus seasons with the Pistons, both of them at the end of the 2004-05 season when they had already locked up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and were just trying to avoid injury to key players. Take out those two games, and Milicic averaged 5.2 minutes and 1.4 points in his career with Detroit.
He did eventually provide value for other teams, starting a combined total of 205 games from 2006 to 2012 with Orlando, Memphis and Minnesota. However, he was barely a replacement-level player in any of those seasons, and not one of those teams finished .500 or better.
They were pretty much paying him to help them tank.
In addition to amounting to next to nothing, Milicic will forever be remembered as one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history because of the strength of the rest of that draft class. Not only did LeBron James go No. 1 in 2003, but picks Nos. 3-5 were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Each member of that quartet was selected to at least 10 All-Star Games and accumulated at least 100 win shares in his career.
Detroit won a title in 2004 and made it at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals every year from 2003 to 2008, so the effect of whiffing on Milicic wasn't immediately felt. But in the last decade, the Pistons have a combined record 142 games below .500 and were swept in their only two playoff series. Had they taken Anthony, Bosh or Wade instead of Milicic, they could have been a dynasty.
1. Anthony Bennett
Draft Pick: No. 1 in 2013, Cleveland Cavaliers
Career Stats: 151 games in four seasons, 4.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.013 WS/48, -5.6 BPM, -1.7 VORP
One decade and one day after using the 2003 No. 1 pick on arguably the best player in NBA history, LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a different kind of history with their No. 1 pick in 2013.
Anthony Bennett was—almost indisputably—the worst No. 1 pick since LaRue Martin in 1972. The only other guy you can reasonably put in that conversation is Michael Olowokandi (1998), but at least he scored more than 4,000 points and started nearly 400 games in his nine-year career.
Bennett's numbers in those categories are 658 and four, respectively, and he didn't even make it four full seasons before playing for four different teams and getting waived several times.
He's still young enough at 25 that it's too early to declare his NBA career officially finished. And it does appear that he's trying to rebrand himself as a stretch 4, as he shot 42.3 percent on 6.1 three-point attempts per game in the G League this past season.
However, nearly five years removed from his draft, Bennett has the worst career WS/48 and BPM ratios among all players selected in the top 27. And we're talking about a 2013 class that some have come to regard as the worst of all time.
If he makes it back to the league for more than a cup of coffee, maybe he can save enough face to slip behind Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili on the list of the worst top-10 picks since 2000. But it would take some kind of miracle on his part or a complete disaster from a future player for Bennett to relinquish the title of the NBA's worst No. 1 pick of the 21st century.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.