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 Bottom 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 one or more 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.
Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks
Every decade seems to produce an NBA draft pick who becomes the poster child for failure. What Darko Milicic was to the 2000s, Michael Olowokandi was to the 1990s, Sam Bowie was to the 1980s, and LaRue Martin was to the 1970s. In previous posts, I explained why Bowie, Milicic, and Olowokandi shouldn’t be considered all-time busts even though I’ve ranked them as the worst three draft picks in NBA history. Similarly, Martin ranks as one of the all-time worst NBA draft picks (#9), but shouldn’t be considered a Top 10 Bust. Regardless, his underwhelming professional career as a #1 overall pick made him worthy of an Honorable Mention.
Synopsis: Dennis Hopson is often considered an all-time bust because he was drafted before two future Hall of Famers: Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller. While that assessment might seem to be appropriate on the surface, the reality is much more complicated. As discussed in numerous posts already, a bad draft pick can be determined by looking at passed-over superstars, but a bust can’t. Even though I have ranked Hopson as the 8th all-time worst draft pick, I will use the following post to show why he isn’t a Top 10 Bust. As someone who scored over 3,600 career points, he has earned the Sam Bowie Exemption (i.e. too productive to be declared a Top 10 Bust), but there were other contributing factors that preclude him from even being an Honorable Mention.
In the 1996 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors selected Todd Fuller with the 11th overall pick. Despite being a lottery selection, Fuller didn’t live up to expectations. Of note, he finished his NBA career with 835 points and 674 rebounds. Even worse, the Warriors selected him over future Hall-of-Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. As such, Fuller should be remembered as one of the all-time worst draft picks. Still, the former 1st Team All-ACC honoree shouldn’t be considered a Top 10 Bust. In particular, he just wasn’t drafted high enough to warrant the “honor.”
With respect rankings on this site, I have tried to distinguish between absolute and relative failures. In my mind, the former describes a bust while the later describes a bad draft pick. Based on that distinction, Darko Milicic might be best described as a tweener. In retrospect, Milicic should have stayed longer in Europe prior to jumping into the NBA. However, thanks to an overzealous agent, excessive media hype, and a league willing to change its rules, he entered the draft as an underdeveloped 18-year-old. The following post explores Milicic’s disappointing career in terms of being a bust as well as a bad draft pick. As a tweener, Milicic doesn’t quite qualify as a Top 10 Bust. Yet, he still earned an Honorable Mention.
The two players in the featured image are Michael Olowokandi (the #1 overall draft pick in 1998) and Earl Boykins (an undrafted free agent in 1999). As a 7-footer, Olowokandi scored 4,135 points and made almost $38 million in his NBA career. Only 5’3″, Earl Boykins scored 5,791 points and made approximately $16.5 million in his NBA career. Based on these figures:
Olowokandi scored 49 points per inch of height and was paid almost $9,200 per point scored; and
Boykins scored 93 points per inch of height and was paid less than $2,900 per point scored.
Lessons learned: 1) Boykins was a better scorer inch-for-inch; 2) Boykins scored more points per dollar earned; and 3) NBA players get paid a lot of money. While this comparison might be amusing, it doesn’t form a legitimate basis to declare Olowokandi a bust. Instead, this post will evaluate Olowokandi’s career to determine whether or not such a claim is valid.
On the night of the 1998 Draft, Don Nelson pulled off one of the most lopsided trades in history. As GM of the Mavericks, Nelson traded Dallas’ 6th overall pick (Robert “Tractor” Traylor) to the Milwaukee Bucks for their 9th overall pick (Dirk Nowitzki) and 19th overall pick (Pat Garrity). In this post, I’ll evaluate the contention that Traylor should be considered an all-time bust simply because he was drafted ahead of and exchanged for a much better player (i.e. Nowitzki). For that reason alone, he was a bad draft pick (perhaps one of the worst picks), but he wasn’t unproductive enough to be called a Top 10 Bust. As an aside, Traylor died of an apparent heart attack in 2011 so I’ll be a less judgmental in this post than I have been in others.
Over the last 40 years, the Portland Trail Blazers have used a #1 or #2 overall pick to select three different big men. Specifically, they have taken Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden during that time frame. Unfortunately, each player lost significant time due to various injuries. Walton brought a title to the city so he avoided the disdain experienced by the others. Drafted ahead of Michael Jordan, Bowie predictably earned the title of #1 Worst NBA Draft Pick. At the same time, he produced enough in his NBA career to avoid being called a bust. Oden, my #10 Worst NBA Draft Pick, similarly deserves to be omitted from a countdown of all-time busts. In his honor, this post establishes the Greg Oden Exemption for players whose careers cannot be fairly judged because of injuries.
In a prior post, Jon Koncak and Joe Kleine were identified jointly as the 4th Worst NBA Draft Pick. They earned this distinction for being selected ahead of three Hall of Famers (Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, and Joe Dumars) and four other star players (Detlef Schrempf, Charles Oakley, AC Green, and Terry Porter). Despite this honor, Koncak and Kleine are not on the short list for Top 10 Busts because they were too productive in their careers. Regardless, they provide an interesting side story to the countdown. At the same time, this post also highlights the underwhelming careers of oft-considered busts Keith Lee and Kenny Green.
As discussed in a previous post, Sam Bowie is often highlighted as the biggest bust in NBA history simply because he was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan. While it’s clear that the Trail Blazers made a really bad decision regarding their 2nd overall pick in the 1984 Draft (especially given that Portland also passed up on Hall of Famer Charles Barkley), Bowie was not an all-time bust. In particular, he averaged approximately 11 points and eight rebounds per game during his career. On behalf of all players who achieved at least a minimum threshold of production during their careers and in honor of the most inappropriately maligned player in NBA history, I have created the Sam Bowie Exemption.