While the NBA generally has relied on the principle that “worst picks first” when determining draft order, the league has always altered this principle with assorted gimmicks. As described in my previous post, the NBA originally allowed teams to declare a territorial preference as a way to trump draft order. After eliminating this preference in the mid-1960s, the league began using a coin toss to award the #1 overall pick to the worst team in the East or the West. The draft order for the remaining teams was determined strictly based on the inverse order of how each team finished in the prior season regardless of division (or conference). The coin toss system was considered acceptable for almost 20 years, but NBA Commissioner David Stern decided to scrap it before his first anniversary on the job. This post will review the NBA Draft during the “Coin Toss” Era.
You shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad the New Jersey Nets were as an organization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but let me indulge you anyway. As a case in point, the cover photo from 1989-90 Nets Media Guide/Yearbook was actually taken two seasons earlier. In particular, Roy Hinson (#21) hadn’t worn that uniform and Buck Williams (in the bottom right) hadn’t played for the Nets since the 1987-88 season. I remember similar mistakes in my high school yearbook as pictures of previous graduates somehow slipped by the watchful eyes of the editors; however, that was an extracurricular activity done by unpaid students and not a work assignment done by paid employees. Regardless, all was not lost for Nets’ fans during the 1989-90 season because they got to see two of the worst all-time draft picks (i.e. Sam Bowie and Dennis Hopson) play for a team that finished the season with a 17-65 record. I was fortunate enough see them play in a game that year; however, the evening was memorable for an entirely different reason.
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.
If you’re simply looking for a list of well-known NBA underachievers, this post is the one you’ll want to read. Specifically, I have ranked the ten worst draft picks in NBA history as follows:
#10. Greg Oden (Center) – 105 games / 8.0 ppg / 6.2 rpg / 7.3 win shares
#9. LaRue Martin (Center) – 271 games / 5.3 ppg / 4.6 rpg / 1.9 win shares
#8. Dennis Hopson (Shooting Guard) – 334 games / 10.9 ppg / 2.8 rpg / 7.1 win shares
#7. Hasheem Thabeet (Center) – 224 games / 2.4 ppg / 2.7 rpg / 4.8 win shares
#6. Kwame Brown (Center) – 607 games / 6.6 ppg / 5.5 rpg / 20.0 win shares
#5. Todd Fuller (Center) – 225 games / 3.7 ppg / 3.0 rpg / 2.2 win shares
#4. Jon Koncak (Center) – 784 games / 4.5 ppg / 4.9 rpg / 29.2 win shares
Joe Kleine (Center) – 965 games / 4.8 ppg / 4.1 rpg / 19.1 win shares
#3. Michael Olowokandi (Center) – 500 games / 8.3 ppg / 6.8 rpg / 2.5 win shares
#2. Darko Milicic (Center) – 468 games / 6.0 ppg / 4.2 rpg / 7.1 win shares
#1. Sam Bowie (Center) – 511 games / 10.9 ppg / 7.5 rpg / 26.9 win shares
In subsequent posts, I’ll analyze each of these picks and describe why most of them aren’t all-time busts despite their disappointing careers. Hint: the media might have something to do with it.
WHICH IS MORE MEMORABLE – A WIN OR AN EPIC LOSS? Well, whose name do you…