The Biggest NBA Draft Busts of the 1990s

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2020

The Biggest NBA Draft Busts of the 1990s

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    TOM OLMSCHEID/Associated Press

    The 1990s were known in the NBA for a few historic picks and draft classes, as well as some brutal misses by teams who set themselves back years.

    The front offices who made those poor decisions deserve as much criticism as the bust themselves.

    Looking back, it's amazing to think about how different NBA history would be if a team went in a different direction on draft night. Some of the following busts were taken just before All-Stars and Hall of Famers.

Jonathan Bender

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    TOM OLMSCHEID/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1999, No. 5 overall

    After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals of the shortened 1998-99 season, the Indiana Pacers made a bold decision to trade Antonio Davis for the Toronto Raptors' No. 5 pick. They used it on Jonathan Bender with Wally Szczerbiak (No. 6), Richard Hamilton (No. 7), Andre Miller (No. 8), Shawn Marion (No. 9) and Jason Terry (No. 10) still on the board.

    "I've never drafted a player with more potential," then-Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh said. "I can tell you that without even thinking about it."

    There was all sorts of hype surrounding Bender, who broke Michael Jordan's record with 31 points in the McDonald's All-American Game before entering the draft out of high school. But injuries hampered him throughout his career in Indiana, limiting him to just 237 games from 1999 to 2006. 

    The Pacers never reaped the benefits from the athleticism and perimeter skill that popped before the 1999 draft. 

Shawn Bradley

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    John Discher/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1993, No. 2 overall

    As a sophomore, Penny Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists as a 6'7" point guard at Memphis. But rather than take him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1993 draft, the Philadelphia 76ers instead chose to roll the dice on the 7'6" Shawn Bradley.

    Bradley was polarizing out of BYU since he had unique height, no physical definition and averaged 5.2 blocks per game. While he continued to block shots in the NBA, he never blossomed into the scorer or impact player that comes with the expectations of a No. 2 overall pick.

    The Sixers may ultimately deserve more criticism than Bradley, who still managed to play 12 NBA seasons. They traded him during his third in a package for Derrick Coleman. 

    Bradley averaged only 8.1 points on 45.7 percent shooting over his NBA career, never making any big jumps as an offensive focal point.

Todd Fuller

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    KARL DEBLAKER/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1996, No. 11 overall

    Todd Fuller averaged 20.9 points as a senior at North Carolina State and completely fooled the Golden State Warriors, who passed on Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal to instead pick him at No. 11 overall in the 1996 draft.

    Golden State moved on from Fuller after two underwhelming seasons, sending him to the Utah Jazz for a 2000 second-round pick.

    He wound up playing with four teams during his five NBA seasons, never topping his rookie averages of 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Bo Kimble

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    Bob Galbraith/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1990, No. 8 overall 

    The Los Angeles Clippers made multiple bad draft decisions in the '90s. The first was taking Bo Kimble at No. 8 in the 1990 draft.

    Kimble spent the 1989-90 destroying colleges defenses at Loyola Marymount, where he averaged 35.3 points on 52.9 percent shooting, 46.0 percent from three and 86.2 percent from the line. But Kimble could barely crack the Clippers rotation, playing only 16.2 minutes as a rookie and 8.1 minutes in his second season.

    L.A. wound up sending Kimble, along with Charles Smith and Doc Rivers, to the New York Knicks in a three-team trade in September 1992, getting Mark Jackson and Stanley Roberts (via the Orlando Magic) in return. The Knicks released Kimble after the 1992-93 season, which would be his last in the NBA.

Trajan Langdon

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1999, No. 11 overall

    The Cleveland Cavaliers mistakenly bought into Trajan Langdon's success at Duke, where he had just led the Blue Devils to the national championship game against Richard Hamilton and Connecticut. 

    The Cavaliers took him No. 11 overall even though he was 23 years old and lacked athleticism and playmaking ability (1.9 assists as a senior) for a 6'3" guard. 

    Knee surgery as a rookie didn't help Langdon, but physical limitations held him back in the NBA. He lasted only three seasons, averaging 5.4 points and 1.3 assists during his short career.

    He would go on to be far more effective overseas, where he won Euroleague Final Four MVP, Russian League Player of the Year and titles in Russia, Italy and Turkey. Since then, he's climbed the executive ladder from San Antonio Spurs scout to Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager to New Orleans Pelicans GM.

Mark Macon

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1991, No. 8 overall

    The Denver Nuggets used the No. 4 pick in the 1991 draft on Dikembe Mutombo. But they also acquired the No. 8 pick by trading leading scorer Michael Adams to the then-Washington Bullets. 

    Denver hit on its first selection and whiffed on the second lottery pick in Mark Macon, who had averaged 20.7 points across four seasons at Temple.

    It was all downhill for Macon after a decent rookie year. He lasted less than three seasons in Denver and three seasons with the Pistons before playing in Italy and returning to Detroit for seven games in 1998-99. 

Ed O'Bannon

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    Eric Draper/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1995, No. 9 overall

    Ed O'Bannon played more minutes at UCLA (3,477) than he did in the NBA (2,062), where he lasted only two seasons and was traded twice after the then-New Jersey Nets selected him ninth in the 1995 draft.

    "It wasn't injury, it was confidence," O'Bannon said about his downfall from national champion to draft bust. "I missed shots, got pulled from games, it affected my defense, and I lost all my confidence."

    O'Bannon wound up playing seven years overseas, but he has become more known for his lawsuit against the NCAA than any of his on-court achievements. 

Michael Olowokandi

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    Nick Ut/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1998, No. 1 overall

    Imagine if the Los Angeles Clippers had drafted Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce instead of Michael Olowokandi with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. 

    At the time, the decision seemed to come down to Olowokandi or Arizona's Mike Bibby, a McDonald's All-American who helped lead Arizona to the national championship in 1997 and the Elite Eight in 1998.

    "Bibby's going to be a very fine point guard in this league, but Olowokandi—his size and all that ability— you're looking at a good small man against a good big guy," said Elgin Baylor, who was vice president of basketball operations for the Clippers at the time. "He improved each time we looked at him. His upside is as good as anybody in the league."

    The Clippers probably wouldn't have made that mistake in 2020, given how much the league has changed. Olowokandi set L.A. back years after he gave them five seasons of 9.9 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 59.7 percent from the free-throw line. 

Doug Smith

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    Drafted: 1991, No. 6 overall

    The Dallas Mavericks got little out of Doug Smith through four seasons after drafting him No. 6 overall in 1991, just ahead of Stacey Augmon, Terrell Brandon, Dale Davis and Chris Gatling.

    Smith averaged 23.6 points per game as a senior at Missouri, but that scoring ability didn't translate to the NBA. The Mavericks chose not to protect him in the 1995 expansion draft, and the Toronto Raptors took him, but they released him before he'd ever play a game with them.

    He wound up lasting five years and averaged only 8.0 points on 42.5 percent shooting. 

Joe Smith

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    Bill Sikes/Associated Press

    Drafted: 1995, No. 1 overall

    The 1995 Golden State Warriors looked past Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Antonio McDyess and went with Joe Smith at No. 1 overall.

    To Smith's credit, he did manage to last 16 seasons, albeit with 12 different teams. However, he didn't live up to expectations as a No. 1 overall pick.

    Smith had a monster sophomore season at Maryland, averaging 20.8 points on 57.8 percent shooting, 10.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. He also put up a 31-point, 21-board game against Texas in the NCAA tournament.

    Garnett and Wallace being taken shortly after Smith doesn't help the optics of this pick, either.