Top 10 NBA Draft Busts Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks

Dennis Hopson – Sam Bowie Exemption

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.

Side Stories

New Jersey Nets – Oh What a Team!

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.

Honorable Mention Side Stories Top 10 NBA Draft Busts

T10B Worst Owner: Ted Stepien

If you’re like I am, you probably have heard of the Ted Stepien Rule but know little about the man or the rationale for the rule. As an owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1980s, Stepien made numerous boneheaded trades. In all, the incompetent owner traded away five early first-round picks from the 1982-86 drafts (used to select James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Derek Harper, Roy Tarpley, and Detlef Schrempf) without getting anyone of value in return. His seemingly irrational decisions decimated the team. In response, the NBA enacted a rule prohibiting any team from trading away first round picks in consecutive drafts. Ergo, the Ted Stepien Rule.

Exemptions

Butch Lee (Injury Exemption)

Butch Lee had a storied college career while a member of the Marquette Warriors (since changed to Golden Eagles) in the mid to late 1970s. He not only was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament after leading his team to the 1977 Championship, but also won the 1978 AP College Player of the Year. In the last 50 years, the only college players with the same accomplishments were Jerry Lucas, Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, David Thompson, Patrick Ewing, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, and Anthony Davis. Unlike the other players, however, Lee had an abbreviated NBA career so his college achievements have been mostly forgotten. Whereas most entries on this site expose talented college players who are busts because they failed to succeed at the next level, this one is intended to highlight a talented college player who has been mostly forgotten because his professional career was cut short by a bum knee.

Honorable Mention Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks

Todd Fuller: Honorable Mention (NBA)

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.”

Honorable Mention Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks

Darko Milicic: Honorable Mention (NBA)

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.

Honorable Mention Nominee Top 10 BUSTED

Busted: NBA Draft Analyst Chad Ford

If you were interested enough to search for and find this site, you already know about the failure of Darko Milicic as an NBA player. However, you may be less familiar with the media hype that transformed the unproved Serbian player into the 2nd overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft. With respect to all of the participants involved in creating or perpetuating the hype, perhaps the most egregious was ESPN Draft Analyst Chad Ford. As an aside, it was recently reported that someone revised Ford’s historical mock draft rankings on ESPN’s website. Unlike the North Korean hackers who effectively caused the resignation of Sony Pictures Co-Chair Amy Pascal, this hacker was kind to Ford and only made him seem better at his job. ESPN seems to believe Ford, who denied being personally involved, so I will too because what incentive does the network have to cover up such a scandal? Whether or not he should be believed, Ford has earned an Honorable Mention in my countdown of Top 10 Busts simply for his role in the Milicic debacle.

Honorable Mention NBA Not Top 10 Busts

2003 NBA Draft Class (4 out of 5 Ain’t Bad)

2003 TOP 5 DRAFT PICKS WHO’S MISSING? OH YEAH, THIS GUY. Synopsis: Something was amiss with the selection of Darko Milicic as the 2nd overall pick by the Detroit Pistons in the 2003 Draft. The top five overall picks that year included four likely Hall of Famers (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade), […]

Honorable Mention Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks

Michael Olowokandi: Honorable Mention (NBA)

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.

Honorable Mention Top 10 Worst NBA Draft Picks

Robert Traylor: Honorable Mention (NBA)

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.