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.
Prior to the 2006 draft, the NBA and the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) agreed to modify draft requirements such that eligible players now need to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. Since most top players currently play college basketball for only one year before declaring for the draft, the requirement has become known as The One-and-Done Rule. This post explores the impetus for the rule change based on the underachievement of certain players who were drafted directly out of high school. While it’s certainly reasonable to declare these underachievers as busts, I fault the teams for their unreasonable expectations of these unproven players. As such, I have established an exemption for players who wouldn’t have met the new eligibility requirements. As the first “None-and-Done” player to fail in the league, Jonathan Bender gets the naming rights. At the same time, #1 overall pick Kwame Brown deserves an assist because he exposed the problem as being worthy of a rule change.
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.