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Hasheem Thabeet: #3 NBA Draft Bust

Synopsis: With respect to NBA Draft picks, Hasheem Thabeet is unique. In particular, he’s the only player to be named a Top 10 Bust as well as a Worst 10 Pick. As mentioned in numerous other posts, there seems to be a disconnect between a player who should be considered a bust (i.e he underperformed on an absolute basis) and one who generally is considered a bust (i.e. he underperformed relative other players). Despite being the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Thabeet was completely unproductive with career totals of 483 points, 585 rebounds and 27 assists in 224 games. Furthermore, he was taken ahead of likely Hall of Famers James Harden and Steph Curry. As a result, Thabeet selection as a bust can be supported on an absolute and a relative basis.


#3 NBA DRAFT BUST: HASHEEM THABEET

Coming out of the University of Connecticut after his junior year, Hasheem Thabeet had the necessary credentials to be a top overall draft pick. In particular, he was the NABC Defensive Player of the Year for both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons and was a consensus 2nd Team All-American for the 2008-09 season. From the moment Thabeet stepped on the court as a freshman, he showed an ability to take advantage of his size (7′ 1″ – without shoes) and reach (7′ 6″ wingspan) to block shots. Of note, he finished among the top three shot blockers every year he was in college. As shown by the following table, he also demonstrated an increased ability to score and rebound over time.

HASHEEM THABEET – COLLEGE STATS (UCONN)
Shooting Per Game Averages
Season G FG% FT% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
2006-07 31 55.4% 51.3% 6.2 6.4 0.4 0.2 3.8
2007-08 33 60.3% 69.8% 10.5 7.9 0.4 0.3 4.5
2008-09 36 64.0% 62.7% 13.6 10.8 0.5 0.6 4.2
Career 100 61.1% 62.5% 10.3 8.5 0.4 0.4 4.2

 

Despite scoring almost 14 points per game as a junior, Thabeet was considered an work in progress on the offensive end. In particular, scouts questioned his ability to create his own shots. According to an evaluation done by DraftExpress.com before the 2009 Draft,

It’s more than a bit concerning that Thabeet was already having trouble making his presence felt on the offensive end on the NCAA, however efficient he may have been. He was after all, essentially a giant in a land of midgets. He won’t have anywhere near as big a physical advantage in the NBA as he did in college, which will make things even more difficult on him moving forward.

In addition,

At this juncture, Thabeet is still very early in his offensive development. He could continue along his current path, using his post possessions to slowly improve his usage rate, or he could continue to rely on his teammates and remain an efficient, but underdeveloped role-player

Despite this appraisal, Thabeet was still ranked as the best center and one of the best overall picks going into the 2009 Draft. After all, Dikembe Mutombo, who had just retired after a stellar 18-year NBA career, showed that a defensive specialist / role player could become an eventual Hall of Famer.

MUTOMBO AT HIS BEST

mutomboheader
If you look at Mutombo’s left hand, you’ll notice that he’s getting ready for his signature finger wag.

Expecting big things for himself, Thabeet joined Twitter in March 2009 with the handle, @HasheemTheDream. Clearly, he was playing off of the nickname of Hall of Famer Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. At times, I worry about how my posts might be perceived by the players identified as all-time busts. For instance, Thabeet started playing basketball as a 15-year-old boy in Tanzania and ultimately made over $16 million in his NBA career so who am I to say that he didn’t fulfill his dream. Then again, Thabeet set up unreasonable expectations by trying to draw a comparison to one of the all-time greatest centers in NBA history. More realistically, his agent convinced him to plant a seed for NBA teams by making the comparison before the draft. Either way, he’s fair game for any criticism. At the same time, given his Tweet from May 21st of “Thank you God for another day” and his posting of the following picture on May 26th,

Hasheem Thabeet – The Photographer
Hasheem Thabeet - photo in Tanzania
Arusha, Tanzania on May 26, 2015 (the day the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the Eastern Conference over the Atlanta Hawks)

he seems to have his priorities in the right place.

As the following table shows, Thabeet’s college numbers were similar to those of Olajuwon and Mutombo.

COLLEGE STATS – HAKEEM OLAJUWON / DIKEMBE MUTOMBO / HASHEEM THABEET
Shooting Per Game Averages
Player College G FG% FT% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Hakeem Olajuwon Houston 100 63.9% 55.5% 13.3 10.7 0.9 1.3 4.5
Dikembe Mutombo Georgetown 96 64.4% 64.1% 9.9 8.6 0.8 0.4 3.7
Hasheem Thabeet  UConn 100 61.1% 62.5% 10.3 8.5 0.4 0.4 4.2

 

Despite the similarity in numbers for all three players, Olajuwon was a more dominant college player than either Mutombo or Thabeet. Just like Thabeet, Olajuwon started playing basketball as a 15-year-old boy in Africa (Nigeria vs. Tanzania). Unlike Thabeet, however, Olajuwon had the benefit of playing with Moses Malone during the summer in college. Under Malone’s tutelage, Olajuwon evolved into a well-rounded player who led the Houston Cougars to consecutive NCAA championship games (both losses) in 1983 and 1984. As a junior during the 1983-84 season, Olajuwon recorded 16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 5.6 blocks per game on his way to being drafted as the #1 overall pick in the 1984 Draft (one pick ahead of Sam Bowie and two picks ahead of some guy named Michael).

As a quick aside, Olajuwon was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1983 Final Four even though his team lost in the championship game against NC State (remember Dereck Whittenburg’s 40-foot desperation airball which turned into an alley-oop to Lorenzo Charles?). To date, Olajuwon is the only winner of the award from a losing team just like Jerry West is the only player to win the NBA Finals MVP in a losing effort. Of note, LeBron James may become the second player to win the Finals MVP in a losing effort if Golden State goes on to win the 2015 Finals. Without injured teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James may be having his most impressive playoff performance to date as the Cavs and Warriors are tied at two games a piece with Game 5 being played tonight.

As indicated by the following table, Olajuwon and Mutombo went on to have dreamlike NBA careers whereas Thabeet’s career was nightmarish.

NBA STATS – HAKEEM OLAJUWON / DIKEMBE MUTOMBO / HASHEEM THABEET
Draft Pick Player Games Points Rebounds Blocks PPG RPG BPG Win Shares
#1 (1984) Hakeem Olajuwom 1,238 26,946 13,748 3,830 21.8 11.1 3.1 162.8
#4 (1991) Dikembe Mutombo 1,196 11,729 12,359 3,289 9.8 10.3 2.8 117.0
#2 (2009) Hasheem Thabeet 224 483 595 184 2.2 2.7 0.8 4.8

 

To put Olajuwon’s numbers into perspective, his overall NBA/ABA career rankings are 12th for points, 14th for rebounds, and 1st for blocked shots (note: blocks didn’t become an official NBA stat until the 1973-74 season, but he probably would have finished fourth after Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). In addition, Olajuwon won two NBA titles (during Jordan’s absence) so any further comparisons to Thabeet are completely unfair. On the other hand, Thabeet reasonably could have been as productive as Mutombo. However, with career totals less than 5% of Mutombo’s, he was a complete disappointment.

Unlike some busts, Thabeet survived five years and 224 games in the NBA so he must have offered something that teams desired. Oh yeah, he was over 7′ tall. Perhaps based on Red Auerbach’s axiom that you can’t teach height, teams were willing to give him a second, third and fourth chance.

HASHEEM THABEET – NBA STATS
    Shooting % Per Game Averages
Season Team Games FG FT Minutes Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Points
2009-10 MEM 68 58.8% 58.1% 13.0 3.6 0.2 0.2 1.3 3.1
2010-11 MEM / HOU 47 42.5% 54.3% 7.9 1.6 0.1 0.2 0.3 1.1
2011-12 HOU / POR 20 52.4% 65.0% 7.0 2.1 0.0 0.1 0.5 1.8
2012-13 OKC 66 60.4% 60.4% 11.7 3.0 0.2 0.5 0.9 2.4
2013-14 OKC 23 56.5% 20.0% 8.3 1.7 0.0 0.2 0.4 1.2
Career   224 56.7% 57.8% 10.5 2.7 0.1 0.3 0.8 2.2

 

Unwilling to end his professional basketball career after five lackluster years, Thabeet spent this past season in the NBA D-League. The experience wasn’t new for Thabeet given that he was sent down to play several games during his first two seasons in the NBA. As the following table shows, he actually was more productive in the D-League as an unproven player than as an NBA has-been.

HASHEEM THABETT – NBA D-LEAGUE STATS
Shooting % Per Game Averages
Season Team Games FG FT Minutes Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Points
2009-10 Dakota Wizards 6 50.0% 69.0% 31.3 11.2 0.7 0.7 3.2 13.8
2010-11 Rio Grande Valley Vipers 6 61.5% 57.1% 27.8 8.0 0.7 0.8 2.7 10.0
2014-15 Grand Rapids Drive 48 59.3% 65.4% 22.3 6.2 0.4 0.4 2.4 8.6
Career 60 58.2% 65.3% 23.7 6.9 0.4 0.5 2.5 9.3

 

Regardless of what you might think about the validity of D-League stats, there’s actually a reasonably reliable multiplier to convert them into potential NBA numbers. In particular, players who get called up are generally 60% as productive per minute in the NBA versus the D-League. Most call-ups get limited minutes before going back down again, but those that stick around for a while tend to get around half as much time on the court in the NBA. As such, a team can multiply D-League stats by 30% in order to come up with a good rule of thumb for NBA production. Click here to find out more about this analysis, as well as a few D-League success stories (e.g., Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Hassan Whiteside).

So let’s see how accurate the D-League to NBA conversation factor was for Hasheem Thabeet:

  • 2009-10 – If given around 15 minutes, he should have produced four points, three rebounds, and one block per game. Instead, he averaged 13 minutes and got three points, four rebounds and one block per game (i.e. he rebounded slightly above expectations).
  • 2010-11:  If given 14 minutes, he should have produced three points, two and one-half rebounds, and one block per game. Instead, he averaged eight minutes and got one point, two rebounds and 0.3 blocks per game (again, his rebound average per minute was the only statistic above expectations).

Based on 2014-15 stats and the 30% factor, if a team needs someone who can record three points, two rebounds, and one block in ten minutes per game, Thabeet could be that guy. For anyone wondering how much a player with these numbers might cost, the following table highlights a few.

LOW PRODUCTION NBA CENTERS
Shooting Per Game Averages
Player Draft Pick Age Team G FG% FT% Minutes Points Rebounds Blocks

Salary

Clint Capela #25 (’14) 20 HOU* 12 48.3% 17.4% 7.5 2.7 3.0 0.8 $1.2 million
Greg Smith UD (’11) 24 DAL 42 61.2% 51.3% 8.6 1.9 1.9 0.3 $950,000
Jeff Withey #39 (’13) 24 NOP 37 50.0% 68.0% 7.0 2.6 1.7 0.5 $650,000
Bernard James #33 (’12) 29 DAL 16 44.4% 87.0% 9.9 2.8 2.4 0.9 $915,000
Joey Dorsey #33 (’08) 31 HOU* 69 55.2% 28.9% 12.4 2.7 4.0 0.4 $950,000

 

* Note: What’s up with the Rockets’ absolutely abysmal free throw percentage. Dwight Howard’s free throw troubles (e.g. 68-165 or 41.2% from the line during the 2015 playoffs) are well known, but he could have been confused for Steph Curry compared to Capela and Dorsey. Specifically, Capela went 4-23 (17.4%) from the “charity” stripe during the season after starting out 0-15. He shot 15-29 (51.7%) on his free throws in the playoffs so he may not be quite as bad as his regular season total indicated. On the other hand, Dorsey shot 25-85 (29.4%) from the line for the entire season so he had sufficient opportunity to show that he’s simply a horrendous free throw shooter.

Based on the numbers in the table, Hasheem Thabeet should be worth approximately $1 million per year. Assuming he would sign for that salary (which should be a “no brainer” for him), the financial commitment wouldn’t be too onerous for any team needing a big man to come off the bench for 10 minutes per game. In addition, he wouldn’t be taking up a valuable spot, because no three-point, three-rebound bench player making $1 million per year is expected to become a meaningful starter. Eventually, NBA teams won’t have the same concern about wasting a spot on prospects as the D-League increasingly becomes a option for players to develop over time. I believe there will be a time in the not-to-distant future when players like Whiteside (i.e. uncovered gems) will become more common instead of being the exception to the rule.

Back to the reality of today, Thabeet will not become such a gem but rather will be remembered as an all-time bust. At the same time, he will be remembered as one of the worst draft picks while players like Curry and Westbrook continue to blossom. As demonstrated by the following table, the Grizzlies would have been better off drafting numerous other players.

2009 NBA DRAFT – HASHEEM THABEET AND OTHER NOTABLE DRAFT PICKS

[Updated after 2015-16 Season]

Totals Per Game Win 
Pos Pick Team Player G PTS TRB AST PPG RPG APG Shares
PF #1 LAC Blake Griffin 375 8,052 3,633 1,484 21.5 9.7 4.0 50.9
C #2 MEM Hasheem Thabeet 224 483 595 27 2.2 2.7 0.1 4.8
SG #3 OKC James Harden 452 8,886 1,933 2,008 19.7 4.3 4.4 63.0
SG #4 SAC Tyreke Evans 408 6,841 1,988 2,129 16.8 4.9 5.2 21.7
PG #5 MIN Ricky Rubio 202 2,051 867 1,651 10.2 4.3 8.2 11.4
PG #6 MIN Jonny Flynn 163 1,504 307 634 9.2 1.9 3.9 -1.1
PG #7 GSW Stephen Curry 416 8,714 1,719 2,866 20.9 4.1 6.9 53.7
PF/C #8 NYK Jordan Hill 329 2,575 1,924 235 7.8 5.8 0.7 12.5
SG #9 TOR DeMar DeRozan 443 7,606 1,689 1,056 17.2 3.8 2.4 25.5
PG #10 MIL Brandon Jennings 412 6,819 1,336 2,542 16.6 3.2 6.2 26.6
PG #17 PHI Jrue Holiday 372 5,073 1,341 364 13.6 3.6 1.0 19.3
PG #18 PHI Ty Lawson 416 5,923 1,207 822 14.2 2.9 2.0 38.0
PG #19 PHI Jeff Teague 439 5,052 900 173 11.5 2.1 0.4 27.2
PG #20 PHI Darren Collison 421 5,214 1,154 364 12.4 2.7 0.9 26.4
PF #26 CHI Taj Gibson 316 2,412 1,174 822 7.6 3.7 2.6 17.0

 

 

With fewer than three points and three rebounds per game during his career, Thabeet put up horrendous numbers for a 7′ 1″ center. In fact, he was the worst player in the table based on total and average production. Minnesota’s #6 overall pick, Jonny Flynn, had fewer win shares than Thabeet, but Flynn’s lower total was more of a reflection of playing for bad teams (e.g. the Timberwolves) which had fewer wins to “share.” While Flynn certainly qualifies as a bust, he career averages of approximately nine points and four assists per game exceed the threshold for being declared a Top 10 Bust.

Overall, Hasheem Thabeet was as an accomplished college player who failed miserably in the NBA. Simply based on his own failure, he has been named as the #3 NBA Draft Bust. At the same time, he was drafted ahead of two likely Hall of Famers (Harden and Curry) and numerous All-Star caliber players (e.g. Evans, DeRozan, and Teague). Given the success of these other players, the former 2nd overall pick has earned another Top 10 ranking as the #7 Worst NBA Draft Pick. While making both countdowns couldn’t have been the dream that Thabeet had hoped for, he seems grounded enough to be just fine.

#3 NBA DRAFT BUST: HASHEEM THABEET
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