Robert Traylor: Honorable Mention (NBA)


Synopsis: 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.


In a prearranged trade before the 1998 Draft, Dallas GM Don Nelson agreed to take Robert Traylor with the Mavericks’ 6th overall pick and trade him to the Bucks for their 9th pick (Dirk Nowitzki) and 19th pick (Pat Garrity). In turn, Garrity was traded along with Dallas’ 1999 1st round pick (which ended up being Shawn Marion) to the Phoenix Suns. This two-part, three-team trade is discussed in much more detail in my earlier post titled, Nowitzki and a Side of Nash. That post focused on the positive from that draft while this post will focus on the negative. After all, this site is about Top 10 Busts.

Based purely on the trade for Nowitzki, Traylor is often considered an all-time bust. Lest anyone believe that the Bucks would have taken Nowitzki but for the trade, Nelson had done a great job shielding him from other teams. In addition, Nowitzki’s agent had done a good job scaring off potential suitors by claiming that the German star would stay in Europe for a couple more years. As such, it’s wasn’t as if Milwaukee liked Nowitzki but the team was blown over by Dallas’ willingness to trade Traylor. Both teams got what they wanted. Milwaukee got a big man to clog up the paint, and Dallas got the player it coveted plus trade bait to get a much needed point guard after getting rid of Jason Kidd.

For me, the careers of other players are valid when determining bad draft picks but not necessarily busts. It’s reasonable to argue that Traylor was a bad draft pick because he was selected ahead of Nowitzki and Paul Pierce; however, that fact alone shouldn’t make him an all-time bust. As the #1 overall draft pick that night, Michael Olowokandi was an even worse draft pick because he also was selected ahead of Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. Since Olowokandi was taken ahead of three likely Hall of Famers (Nowitzki, Pierce, and Carter), I ranked him as the 3rd worst draft pick in NBA history;  however, he too was not neceassarily an all-time bust for that reason alone.

As a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in 1995, Robert Traylor was a highly recruited player who ended up going to the University of Michigan. I’m sure many schools cross the line regarding NCAA recruiting regulations (of course with plausible deniability for the president and head coach), but Michigan’s basketball program at that time had complete disregard for any line. For instance, Traylor was one of the main beneficiaries (along with Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock) of over $600,ooo in illegal payments from a U of M booster. When the scandal was uncovered years later, Michigan was forced to vacate every victory or accomplishment involving those players (e.g. Final Four Appearances, Big Ten Championships). In addition, the players were stripped of any awards or recognition that they received while they were in college. I always find it humorous when past achievements are stripped or vacated as if our memories can be erased. I guess that’s good for Chris Webber though.

Smile Chris. Michigan never made the Final Four while you were there, so this never happened.

Similarly, I guess the following table should be blank; however, I’ll assume it exists for the purpose of evaluating Traylor as a worthy top overall pick.

  Shooting % Per Game Averages
Season Games FG FT Rebounds Assists Blocks Steals



22 55.4% 54.8% 5.9 0.5 0.7 0.9 9.0
1996-97 35 55.6% 45.5% 7.7 0.9 1.0 1.1



34 57.9% 64.2% 10.1 2.6 1.4 1.3 16.2
Career 91 56.6% 54.5% 8.2 1.5 1.1 1.1



As the previous table shows, Traylor steadily improved in virtually every category (i.e. everything but free throw percentage) during his three-year college career.  He started out averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds per game as a freshman and ended up averaging a double/double (16 points and 10 rebounds) as a junior. In his final year, Traylor was ranked as leader in numerous Big 10 categories and ranked as an NCAA-leader in rebounds (#5) and two-point field goals (#9) [What, did you think he was hitting threes?  It’s not like he was Nowitzki.]. Based on his production, Traylor was named 3rd Team All-American after the 1997-98 season.  In addition to having individual success, he helped lead Michigan to two NCAA Tournaments (1996 and 1998) and one NIT (1997). For his effort in leading Michigan to the 1997 NIT title, Traylor was named the tournament MVP.  Then again, it never happened so forget that I mentioned it.

Traylor’s shape was well know before the draft,

While some may argue that Traylor wasn’t worthy of a top overall pick, the fact is that he earned it in the NBA’s true D-League (i.e. college). As a top 10 overall pick, he meets the 1st criterion for being a potential Top 10 Bust. Despite being a double/double player in college, Traylor never developed into being such a threat in the NBA. During his 7-year NBA career, he mostly came off the bench for 12-15 minutes and contributed five points and four rebounds per game. Based on these numbers, he accumulated 13 win shares during his career. While that total might seem low for a 6th overall pick, it falls into the 2nd quartile of players drafted between 6th and 10th.  Specifically, over 30% of players drafted in that range have done worse than Traylor.  So much for being an all-time bust. Regardless, his career was enough of a disappointment for him to be declared a Top 10 Bust – Honorable Mention.

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