Top 10 NBA Draft Busts Top 10 Selections

Russell Cross: #9 NBA Draft Bust

I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S GOOD OR BAD, BUT THIS IS THE ONLY PHOTO THAT I COULD FIND OF RUSSELL CROSS. GIVEN THAT HE WAS A BUST, I’LL GO WITH GOOD.

Synopsis: After decorated college basketball careers at Purdue in the early 1980s, both Keith Edmonson and Russell Cross were taken with top 10 overall picks in the NBA Draft. Specifically, Edmonson was the 10th pick in 1982 after earning All-American honors while Cross was the 6th pick in 1983 after being named First-Team All-Big Ten. Despite their pedigrees, the former Boilermakers had difficulty transitioning to the NBA. Of note, Edmonson scored 522 points in 87 career games while Cross scored 166 points in 45 career games. Given their lack of production as early first round picks, both are recognized as all-time busts. On the margin, Cross was worse because he was drafted before the most productive players from the 1983 Draft (i.e., Clyde Drexler, Derek Harper, and Dale Ellis) whereas Edmonson was drafted after the most productive players from the 1982 Draft (i.e. Dominique Wilkins, Terry Cummings, and James Worthy). As such, Edmonson received an Honorable Mention as a Top 10 Bust while Cross earned the #9 spot.


Before getting started, I need to remark about how much better former Purdue Coach Gene Keady looks since getting rid of his comb-over and associated dye job.

BEFORE – AFTER

Russell Cross Coach Gene Keady Before and After

In an article for Yahoo! Health last fall, Jenna Birch reported that a form of skin cancer was detected on Keady’s bare head after his new wife convinced him to go au naturel. It’s what you would call a win/win scenario: Keady’s life may have been saved and we don’t have to see that hideous pelt anymore. Lest you think I’m being mean-spirited, Keady probably would agree with me. In that same article, Birch quoted Keady as saying, “Everyone was always asking, ‘What is it? Why are you doing it?’ I did it because I was on TV. I did it because I was going bald. I thought I looked gorgeous with the comb-over. Of course, it was very ugly.” After finding love and someone he could trust, Keady finally listened.

You’re next Anthony!

unibrow
Defying any negative commentary about his look, Davis has embraced (and even trademarked) his unibrow. When he finally gets rid of it, we’ll know he has found someone special.

If I ever provide a ranking of Top 10 Busts with respect to appearances, Keady and Davis will certainly make the list. Other deserving candidates include:

Mike Tyson

tyson

and

The Birdman

CHRIS ANDERSON Joe Alexander Muse


#9 NBA Draft Bust: Russell Cross / Top 10 Bust Honorable Mention: Keith Edmonson

OK, now I can start. Arriving at Purdue in 1980 as a less folically challenged person,

Russell Cross coach Gene Keady
I promise, I’m done

Keady inherited an impressive program which was coming off appearances in the 1979 NIT Finals and the 1980 Final Four. Those teams were coached by Lee Rose, who had left West Lafayette, Indiana for the “greener” pastures of Tampa, Florida (click here to learn about Rose’s coaching career and his decision to leave for the University of South Florida). Purdue responded by hiring Coach Keady, who had just directed the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to an Ohio Valley Conference Championship and an appearance in the 1980 NCAA Tournament. Unfazed by the loss of #1 overall NBA Draft pick Joe Barry Carroll, Coach Keady signed 6’10” McDonald’s All-American Russell Cross in an important first move as Purdue’s new coach. According to a February 25, 1995 article by John Owens for the Chicago Tribune, Keady said, “Russell was one of the best low-post players I ever considered. One of the turning points of my career was signing him.”

By pairing Cross with returning starter Keith Edmonson, Keady had a team that was able to weather the storm of losing a key player like Carroll. With both Edmonson and Crosss averaging approximately 17 points per game during the 1980-81 season, Purdue went 21-11 and reached the semi-finals of the 1981 NIT. The Boilermakers stumbled out of the gate with a 3-7 record to start the following season, but finished 18-14 and reached the 1982 NIT Finals. As a senior that year, Edmonson upped his production to over 21 points per game and earned Honorable Mention All-America honors. Despite losing Edmonson to the NBA, Purdue improved to 21-9 for the 1982-83 season and reached the 2nd round of the 1983 NCAA Tournament. After being named 1st-Team All-Big Ten as a junior that season, Cross decided to leave school early and declared for the 1983 Draft.

As the following tables show, both Edmonson and Cross were productive college players worthy of high draft picks.

Keith Edmonson (Shooting Guard) – Stats at Purdue
Shooting % Per Game Averages
Season Games FG FT Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Points
1978-79 34 38.8% 53.8% 0.7 0.5 0.0 0.2 1.3
1979-80 33 51.7% 78.6% 4.1 2.0 0.4 0.6 13.4
1980-81 32 53.7% 71.0% 5.5 1.9 0.2 1.0 17.3
1981-82 32 54.5% 78.4% 3.2 1.6 0.1 0.6 21.2
Career 131 52.9% 75.6% 3.4 1.5 0.2 0.6 13.1

 

Edmonson was a 3-year starter who steadily improved as a scoring threat throughout his college career. As a sophomore, he was the second leading scorer on his team, which was impressive considering that he only finished behind someone who was a 1st-Team All-American and the #1 pick in the draft. He led the Boilermakers in scoring as a junior and led the Big Ten in scoring as a senior. In addition to scoring a lot of points, he proved to be an effective shooter with a career field goal percentage of almost 53%. Edmonson’s personal accomplishments were magnified considering that he gained national exposure being on one Final Four team and two teams that reached the semi-finals of the NIT. For all of these reasons, he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 10th overall pick in the 1982 Draft.

While Edmonson’s selection as a top 10 overall pick was not surprising, his lack of production in the NBA was. As shown by the following table, he significantly underperformed relative to other draft picks from the same year.

 KEITH EDMONSON AND OTHER NOTABLE PLAYERS FROM THE 1982 DRAFT

Draft Pick

Team Player Position Games Points Rebounds Assists PPG RPG APG Win Shares
#1 LAL James Worthy SF 926 16,320 4,708 2,791 17.6 5.1 3.0

81.2

#2

SDC Terry Cummings PF 1,183 19,460 8,630 2,190 16.4 7.3 1.9 91.1
#3 UTA Dominique Wilkins SF 1,074 26,668 7,169 2,677 24.8 6.7 2.5

117.5

#4

DAL Bill Garnett SF 300 1,638 1,298 393 5.5 4.3 1.3 10.8
#7 CHI Quintin Dailey SG 528 7,470 1,307 1,188 14.1 2.5 2.3

12.7

#8 IND Clark Kellogg PF 260 4,918 2,482 764 18.9 9.5 2.9

20.9

#10

ATL Keith Edmonson SG/SF 87 522 127 56 6.0 1.5 0.6 0.4
#11 POR Fat Lever PG 752 10,433 4,523 4,696 13.9 6.0 6.2

61.2

#13

NJN Sleepy Floyd SG 957 12,260 2,494 5,175 12.8 2.6 5.4 50.6
#18 DET Ricky Pierce SG 969 14,467 2,296 1,826 14.9 2.4 1.9

72.2

With approximately 500 career points as a #10 pick, Edmonson clearly was a bust. The only question is whether or not he should be considered a Top 10 Bust. For me, he just misses for a couple reasons. First, his lack of production may have been driven more by a lack of playing time than by an inability to score. Second, he was drafted after and not before the best players from his draft.

Categorically, Edmonson’s rookie year was atrocious. His field goal percentage of 35% and free throw percentage of 60% were both approximately 20% below his numbers at Purdue one year earlier. Quick to cut the cord, the Hawks traded him to the Spurs during the off-season. In his second year in the NBA, Edmonson found his stroke and improved his field goal shooting to almost 50% and free throw shooting to almost 75%. Playing for two teams that year, he averaged almost nine points per game with San Antonio, but only four points per game for Denver. The main reason for the difference was that he averaged 13 minutes per game for the Spurs but only seven minutes per game for the Nuggets. Overall, he averaged 24 points per 36 minutes of playing time, which actually was pretty good. With respect to that stat, he was second on the Spurs (behind George Gervin but ahead of Mike Mitchell), and fourth on the Nuggets (behind Kiki Vandeweghe, Alex English, and Dan Issel).

The 1982 Draft included a couple Hall of Famers, but they were taken before and not after Edmonson. Previously, I have argued that subsequent draft picks can’t turn a marginal player into a bust (e.g. Sam Bowie shouldn’t be considered a bust simply because of Michael Jordan’s greatness). At the same time, subsequent picks can help determine whether a bust is an all-time bust. While the Hawks messed up by taking Edmonson instead of Fat Lever, Sleepy Floyd, or Ricky Piece, they still had an outstanding draft in 1982. In particular, they picked up Dominique Wilkins (the 3rd overall pick) in a trade with Utah before the 1982-83 season even started. Atlanta traded John Drew and Freeman Williams (who combined to produce a total of eight win shares for Utah) in return for Wilkins (who individually produced 107 win shares for Atlanta).

  • As a quick aside, it was criminal that Wilkins was excluded from the NBA’s Top 50 Anniversary Team in 1996. James Worthy (the #1 overall pick in 1982) was a great champion who won three titles with the Lakers. However, he wasn’t better than Wilkins based on statistics (take a look at the table again) or the eye test. With teammates like Magic and Kareem, Worthy made the Top 50 Team. Playing most of his career without another superstar (two years with an aging Moses Malone doesn’t count), Wilkins didn’t.

Based on these qualifications, Keith Edmonson earned an Honorable Mention but not inclusion as a Top 10 Bust. In comparison, his former teammate Russell Cross was bad enough to make the countdown.

Russell Cross (Center) – Stats at Purdue
  Shooting % Per Game Averages
Season Games FG FT Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Points
1980-81 32 56.6% 68.7% 6.3 0.9 0.7 1.9 16.9
1981-82 32 57.1% 62.4% 6.4 0.9 0.5 1.5 14.8
1982-83 29 59.7% 57.8% 7.4 1.1 0.3 2.3 17.7
Career 93 57.8% 62.8% 6.7 1.0 0.5 1.9 16.4

 

With approximately 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game as a freshman, Cross was productive from the start of his college career. Based on his numbers, the only potential concern might have been that he regressed as a sophomore (because of bad knees) and barely improved as a junior relative to his freshman year. Regardless, Cross decided to leave school early and declared for the 1983 Draft. Based on his selection as the 6th overall pick, his decision was justifiable. Based on his lack of production in the NBA, however, his decision was foolish. In the same article by John Owens referenced previously, Coach Keady was quoted as saying, “[Russell] needed to stay in school so he could work on his game and on his (bad) knees.” I’m sure Cross’ response to reading the quote 12 years later was, “Oh, so now you tell me.”

As the following table shows, Russell Cross had some abysmal numbers in absolute and relative terms.

RUSSELL CROSS AND OTHER NOTABLE PLAYERS FROM 1983 NBA DRAFT

Draft Pick

Team Player Position Games Points Rebounds Assists PPG RPG APG

Win Shares

#1

HOU Ralph Sampson C 456 7,039 4,011 1,038 15.4 8.8 2.3 20.1
#2 IND Steve Stipanovich C 403 5,323 3,131 938 13.2 7.8 2.3

30.4

#3

HOU Rodney McCray SF 768 9,014 5,087 2,750 11.7 6.6 3.6 56.0
#4 SDC Byron Scott SG 1,073 15,097 2,987 2,729 14.1 2.8 2.5

75.2

#5

CHI Sidney Green PF/C 679 5,080 4,128 635 7.5 6.1 0.9 17.4
#6 GSW Russell Cross C 45 166 82 22 3.7 1.8 0.5

0.8

#7

UTA Thurl Bailey SF 928 11,834 4,718 1,298 12.8 5.1 1.4 45.0
#9 DAL Dale Ellis SG 1,209 19,004 4,201 1,746 15.7 3.5 1.4

84.7

#10

WSB Jeff Malone SG 905 17,231 2,364 2,154 19.0 2.6 2.4 54.2
#11 DAL Derek Harper PG/SG 1,199 16,006 2,884 6,577 13.3 2.4 5.5

86.8

#14

POR Clyde Drexler SG 1,086 22,195 6,677 6,125 20.4 6.1 5.6 135.6
#31 ATL Doc Rivers PG/SG 864 9,377 2,625 4,889 10.9 3.0 5.7

68.2

Whereas Edmonson avoided making the countdown of Top 10 Busts, Cross wasn’t as lucky.

  1. Cross scored 166 points in 45 career games as a #6 overall pick while Edmonson scored 522 points in 87 career games as a #10 pick. While that difference may not seem significant, it is when determining a Top 10 Bust.
    • Edge: Russell Cross
  2. Cross and Edmonson had similar rookie numbers (Cross had 166 points for 3.7 ppg while Edmonson had 112 points for 3.5 ppg), but only Edmonson was considered good enough to be given a second chance with another team.
    • Edge: Russell Cross
  3. Edmonson was drafted after the best players from the 1982 Draft (i.e. James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, and Terry Cummings) whereas Cross was drafted before the best players from the 1983 Draft (i.e. Clyde Drexler, Dale Ellis, and Derek Harper). As such, the mistake of drafting Cross was greater.
    • Edge: Russell Cross

When comparing these two former Boilermakers, it’s like splitting hairs. In particular, I wouldn’t object if someone selected Edmonson as a Top 10 Bust but gave Cross a pass for having chronic knee problems. I actually considered giving Cross an injury exemption (a la Greg Oden) because I read that he never fully recovered from a high school knee injury. Then again, his numbers at Purdue showed that he recovered from it sufficiently to become a strong college player. In other words, an injury suffered after the draft could justify an exemption from being declared a bust, but not one that presumably was known before getting selected with a high pick. For instance, Bowie didn’t avoid being a Top 10 Bust because of an injury exemption, but rather because he was too productive with career totals of over 5,500 points and 3,800 rebounds. As the arbiter empowered to split hairs, I have given Keith Edmonson an Honorable Mention and Russell Cross the #9 spot as a Top 10 Bust.

#9 NBA Draft Bust: Russell Cross / Top 10 Bust Honorable Mention: Keith Edmonson
ShareEmail to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookGoogle+Share on Reddit

One Reply to “Russell Cross: #9 NBA Draft Bust

Leave a Reply