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A successful NBA draft pick can transform a franchise, while a misguided choice can set a team back for years, if not decades. This is a list of the top ten NBA draft busts, players who, despite their potential and hype, failed to deliver on the court. This list isn’t intended to disrespect these athletes but to highlight the high-stakes gamble that is the NBA draft.
The Biggest NBA Draft Busts in History
- Darko Milicic: Despite being drafted second overall in the 2003 NBA draft — ahead of future Hall of Famers like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade — Milicic’s NBA career fell drastically short of expectations. His lack of development and inability to adapt to the NBA’s style of play made him a standout draft bust.
- Anthony Bennett: Bennett holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of the biggest busts in NBA history. Despite being the number one overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2013 NBA draft, he struggled with weight, injuries, and a lack of development, washing out of the league after only four seasons.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: The number two pick in the 2012 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats, Kidd-Gilchrist never lived up to his potential, primarily due to offensive limitations. Despite being a solid defender, his failure to develop a reliable jump shot significantly hindered his overall impact.
- Greg Oden: Drafted first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, Oden’s promising career was devastated by knee injuries. He played in only 105 games over seven seasons, making him one of the most notorious busts in NBA history.
- Kwame Brown: Brown was drafted first overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2001 NBA draft. Despite a long NBA career, his performance never lived up to the expectations of a number-one pick, making him a notable draft disappointment.
- Derrick Williams: As the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Williams failed to translate his college success to the NBA. Despite his undeniable athleticism, his inconsistency and lack of a clear role led to an underwhelming career.
- Michael Olowokandi: Chosen first overall in the 1998 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Olowokandi is often cited as one of the biggest busts in NBA history. His underperformance and questionable work ethic made him a notable disappointment.
- Jay Williams: The Chicago Bulls selected Williams second overall in the 2002 NBA draft, but a devastating motorcycle accident ended his promising career after just one season.
- LaRue Martin: Despite being the number one pick in the 1972 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, Martin had a lackluster NBA career. He retired after four seasons, solidifying his place among the notable NBA draft busts.
- Sam Bowie: Selected by the Portland Trail Blazers ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft, Bowie’s career was marred by injuries. Though a solid player when healthy, his career is often overshadowed by the success of the players drafted after him.
What Makes A Top Prospect A Bust Down The Road?
Factors such as injuries, lack of development, off-court issues, poor fit with the drafting team, or simply not living up to the hype can contribute to a player becoming a bust. Being considered a bust is often granted by fans before anything else, as poor play by a high draft pick is a fast way to have hometown fans turn on a player. Some players are drafted into poor circumstances, whether it’s a rotating door of coaches, poor ownership, or lack of talent around them, but many times, players just aren’t ready for the bright lights of the Association.
Are Prone To Injury Players Considered Busts?
An injury-prone player can become a bust if their health prevents them from fulfilling their potential. However, it’s essential to differentiate between players who never had a chance to show their abilities due to injury and those who underperformed despite ample opportunities. Players like Greg Oden, Zion Williamson, and Ben Simmons have worked their way into draft bust conversations due to their injuries, even if they are talented basketball players.
- The biggest draft bust in NBA history is often debated, with names like Sam Bowie, Michael Olowokandi, and Anthony Bennett frequently mentioned.
- The best draft year in the NBA is often considered to be 1984, which included players like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. The 2003 NBA Draft that included LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, and the 1996 NBA Draft that included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, and Ray Allen are often included in the conversation.
- An NBA player can technically refuse to play for the team that drafts him, but it’s a rare occurrence.
- An NBA draft bust refers to a high draft pick who fails to live up to the expectations set by their draft position.
While drafting is an inexact science, and teams must often gamble on potential, the impact of a “bust” can be a tough blow. The story of each of these players serves as a reminder of the unpredictable nature of basketball talent and potential. For more on the NBA, check out our 2023 NBA Playoff Pools & Information and put your NBA knowledge into action.
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