The NBA is known for the best basketball competition on the planet. In fact, the NBA has become a multi-billion dollar organization with franchises that can sell for billions on their own. The best franchises are the ones with some of the most iconic players in history, usually, all attained in the annual NBA Draft. However, some franchises take some of the worst NBA Draft picks in history.
This leads to a franchise, even those in big markets like New York, into the world of failure for some time. There are now legendary draft busts or draft mistakes that ultimately resulted in teams passing on future icons. Some of the greatest players of all time were passed over for those that went on to be nothing short of horrible.
Today, players are no longer strictly American. They come from all over the planet and several go on to become legends, like Dirk Nowitzki who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1998 NBA Draft. Some legendary busts were taken ahead of him, yet the ’98 draft is not an exception.
Several draft busts have been made, many of which were chosen to help a franchise step up a notch. In this list, we will be breaking down thirty of the absolute worst picks in NBA Draft history and explain why they nearly derailed entire franchises. Enjoy!
30. Nikoloz Tskitishvili – Denver Nuggets, 2002
Nikoloz Tskitishvili was a seemingly can’t-miss European prospect in 2002. Though not proven as a major name in Europe, he was an instrumental part of his team winning the Italian League Championship. With the success of Dirk Nowitzki and other European big men, a guy like Tskitishvili made some sense in theory.
The Nuggets would pass on other big men such as Nenê, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer. They’d even pass on Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince. It’s cool though because Nikoloz ended up averaging 3 points a game. He’d be out of the NBA and back in Europe by 2007. The Nuggets were lucky to hit it big the following year in the draft.
Miles has not been known as the biggest bust in NBA history because he did end up having an okay bench career. Therefore, he was eventually a solid rotational player. Yet he was taken third overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2000 NBA Draft to help them raise their profile over the champion Lakers, whom they share a court with.
While 2000 is one of the weakest drafts in NBA history, the Clippers could have taken people like Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford, Michael Redd, or Hedo Türkoğlu. None of which were massively better but statistically did more than Miles ever did. He’d be out of the league by 2010 after bouncing from team to team.
Curry was drafted fourth overall by Chicago in 2001 to help them, ideally, begin to get better up front. They were being destroyed at the Center and Forward spots by other teams in the East. Yet Curry was not exactly the best guy to draft. He came to the league out of High School and was not equipped to be in this position.
Notable picks that were picked up after Curry were big men like Mehmet Okur, Zach Randolph, Troy Brown, and defensive specialist DeSagana Diop. Other amazing misses this year by The Bulls were Gilbert Arenas, Shane Battier, Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, and Joe Johnson. The Bulls would not keep Curry after his initial rookie contract run. Though he did improve when he went to the New York Knicks, it was a case of too little, too late.
27. Sebastian Telfair – Portland Trailblazers, 2004
The 2004 NBA Draft was not expected to be the Hall of Fame draft that 2003 produced but they did have some very solid players to pick from. The draft was also lucky to have one of the deepest guard fields in years as well. Sebastian Telfair was not expected to be an All-Star from the start, having been drafted at 13th overall by Portland. However, they did expect a lot out of him.
The real issue and reason why Telfair was universally considered a bust is due to who Portland passed on to draft Telfair. Guards they overlooked were Kevin Martin, J.R. Smith, Jameer Nelson, and Tony Allen to name a few. Out of all they passed on, Portland also skipped over Al Jefferson, Trevor Ariza(twice), and Josh Smith too. Most of those men were named All-Stars, Telfair was out of Portland two years later, and bounced around the NBA for a decade.
Jonathan Bender is most remembered for being the 5th player taken off the board in the relatively loaded 1999 NBA Draft. While he was picked by Toronto at 5th overall, he was actually traded that night to the Indiana Pacers for Antonio Daniels. Toronto won that trade big time as Bender was sandwiched between some amazing picks when he went on to be one of the worst NBA Draft picks ever.
Those who went after him include Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Corey Maggette, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest, and Andrei Kirilenko. It was a bad pick-up as Bender would average 5.5 points a game for his career and from 2002 to 2010, he played in only 101 games out of a possible 574 regular-season games. Indiana eventually managed to get Artest, the man they passed on for Bender in their Toronto trade.
While to some, it might be a bit unfair to add Raef LaFrentz to this list, he more than deserves it. Yes, he did have some okay seasons for what he was asked to do…but when you’re taken third overall, more is expected. Especially when you’re drafted at #3 in 1998. While Raef is not the only bust from 1998, there were far more successes than failures picked this year.
Those who went after LaFrentz include Paul Pierce, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Larry Hughes, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and Dirk Nowitzki. Even Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells, and Ricky Davis went after him and had far better careers than what they were projected. Raef became one of the worst NBA Draft picks ever due to the successes that came after him and how he never seemed to get it done when he was needed the most.
It is said that LaRue Martin brought a curse to the Portland Trailblazers. A pattern of high draft picks would be used on big men by Portland several times over the years. However, whenever they drafted in the Top 3 and took a big man, they all had injury trouble just like LaRue Martin did. Picked #1 overall, Martin did seem like a sure thing in 1972. He averaged 19 points and 16 rebounds in college after all.
Yet upon arrival, injuries plagued him so much that he barely even played for the team. When he did play, he barely seemed to get anything done, leading to a career 5.5 points a game. He’d leave the league only a few years into his career. What’s worse is that he was selected over the likes of Bob McAdoo, Paul Westphal, and Julius Erving! Thus leading to Martin being known as one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history.
Jonny Flynn will always be remembered for not only being unsuccessful in the NBA but also he’ll be known for who he was picked in front of. To be fair to Minnesota, who drafted him 5th overall, Flynn was a great collegiate guard for Syracuse. A Big East school that he helped to an NCAA Tournament bid. He seemed like a sure thing but after an initial near 14 points per game average as a rookie, he fell off and never recovered.
Flynn was picked right ahead of Stephen Curry memorably. However, he was also picked ahead of DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, and Darren Collison. Even overachievers like Patty Mills, Demarre Carroll, Patrick Beverly, and Omri Casspi could have been better for Minnesota. Talk about missing big, phew.
22. Derrick Williams – Minnesota Timberwolves, 2011
It may seem like we’re ganging up on Minnesota but they are not the smartest draft team ever. To be fair, Derrick Williams seemed right for the #2 overall pick coming out of college. He was Pac-10 Player of the Year and put up good numbers in college. He also had size and athleticism. Sadly, he was out of the NBA by the end of the 2017-2018 season after a modest 8.9 points per game average.
Sadly, the misses for Minnesota are yet again legendary. People picked after Williams include Ernes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Nikola Vučević, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris. Talk about missing strong. This now leads people to believe Derrick was one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history. Though it is not as if he did horrific work, he was not worthy of the #2 overall pick with what we ended up seeing. Especially not after seeing who was taken after him.
Chris Washburn seemed like a smart pick to make at #3 in 1986. The NBA was all about size at this point, and Washburn was putting up points at N.C. State. Standing 6’11, he was able to deliver around 18 points a game. This could help the Warriors compete against now bigger teams in the conference. Yet Washburn was never able to live up to expectations. He was in trouble with the law, had multiple injury issues, and never seemed to evolve into a quality NBA big man.
Several major names went after him in the draft that year. Franchise stars like Arvydas Sabonis & Mark Price, championship aides like Ron Harper & Dennis Rodman, as well as overachieving types like Dell Curry & Kevin Duckworth were all picked later in that draft. Thus making Chris Washburn one of the worst NBA Draft picks we know of today.
Another draft selection that seemed like a surefire star was Ed O’Bannon, a man who won the NCAA Championship. He was a 3-time First-Team All-Pac-10 and even landed the 1995 Pac-1o Co-Player of the Year with Damon Stoudamire. That said, when he was chosen ninth in the 1995 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets, it seemed like they had a huge star. Yet O’Bannon had some bad knees and could never truly adjust to the NBA.
He was out of the league completely by 1998. A lot of talented guys were taken after him and would go on to help their team in positions O’Bannon played like Michael Finley and Brent Barry. Also taken after Ed was the impressive Theo Ratliff. Due to his issues adjusting to the NBA and the early exit from it, O’Bannon is considered to be one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history. It’s truly hard to argue otherwise.
19. Stromile Swift – Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, 2000
Swift was an impressive player at LSU. In the year 2000, he had his best year with them and became an All-American as well as the SEC Player of the Year. Due to his athletic body and ability to play defense, it made sense to assume Swift could be a useful Center or Power Forward in the NBA. Swift never seemed to be capable of his potential. Though able to average nearly 2 blocks a game, he was seemingly unable to rebound efficiently enough to matter.
The Grizzlies used the second overall pick on Stromile, which meant that he needed to be better than this. He was never truly able to guard some of the better Centers of Forwards of the day, leading to exit from the NBA by 2009. Notable people taken after him include Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford, Michael Redd, Hedo Türkoğlu, and Jamaal Magloire to name a few.
Anthony Bennett was one of the most puzzling picks in recent draft memory. He was picked number one overall but was not worth it coming out of college. Playing at UNLV, he put up 16 points a game and 8 rebounds. He did make the All-MWC First Team but it is not like he was somehow drastically impressive compared to others in the 2013 draft with him. In fact, he was one of the only guys in the Top 20 that year that never seemed to work out.
Players taken after him are quite notable, such as Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Carter-Williams, Stephen Adams, CJ McCollum, Tim Hardaway Jr., Rudy Gobert, Dennis Schröder, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo. Seriously, the Cavs missed big. Bennett has been bouncing around Europe and the NBA G-League since 2016.
To be fair to Ellison, a large chunk of the 1989 NBA Draft resulted in busts or absolute failures. Due to Ellison being the first overall pick that year, he is seen as the class’s poster boy when speaking about its failure. Pervis was a great college player but injuries hurt his NBA career from the start. That was why his first year suffered but by 1992 he’d win the NBA Most Improved Player of the Year Award after averaging 20 points and a little over 11 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game.
This would be his only truly good season as constant injuries made him useless to teams. Pervis even landed the nickname of “Out of Service Pervis” due to his time missed. This made him one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history. It is sad looking back at who the Kings passed up for Ellison. Great players like Shawn Kemp, Sean Elliot, Glen Rice, Vlade Divac, Tim Hardaway, Mookie Blaylock, Dana Barros, and Dino Rađa were all available that year.
Kleine was not a bad player coming out of college and he did have an okay NBA career. However, he was taken sixth overall in the 1985 NBA Draft and was expected to be much better than he was. Sacramento was desperate for big bodies to help them and Kleine never delivered massively for any team he played for. He’d bounce around the league and mostly play bench roles his entire career. What makes this worse is that the 1985 draft was loaded.
Kleine was picked over the likes of Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf, Charles Oakley, Terry Porter, A.C. Green, Karl Malone, and Joe Dumars. Most of which are in the Hall of Fame or could be eventually. While Kleine did luck out and win an NBA Championship as well as an Olympic Gold Medal due to being on amazing teams, he is considered one of the worst NBA Draft picks ever.
Coming out of college, Marvin Williams seemed like a no-brainer. Some speculated he’d end up going number one overall in the NBA Draft even. Williams played for North Carolina, who ended up winning the National Championship in 2005. Williams was a good part of that run, so when Atlanta took him with the second overall pick, there were several expectations. Marvin never lived up to any of them. During his best season, he averaged near 15 points a game. Currently, for his career, he averages just 10.
Williams is remembered so much due to the several guys that followed him in the draft in 2005 that went on to be All-Stars or franchise players. Guys like Deron Williams, Danny Granger, David Lee, Andrew Bynum, and Chris Paul. Any of which would have been better for Atlanta in this draft. Williams is now considered one of the biggest busts in history.
Hopson made sense for the lottery in 1987, at least to most draft experts. In 1987, while playing with Ohio State, he became an All-American and even won Big Ten Player of the Year honors. He also seemed to be an impressive scorer, all of which made him someone NBA scouts felt was deserving of the league. He never seemed to live up to expectations with New Jersey, despite once leading the team in points with around 16 points per game during the 1989-1990 season.
Hopson luckily landed on the 90-91 Chicago Bulls where he won an NBA Championship. He would pretty much be out of the league by 1993. That 1987 draft was special too, which makes the Hopson pick a nightmare for the Nets. They missed on drafting Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson, Horace Grant, Reggie Lewis, Mark Jackson, and even Reggie Miller! Thus making Hopson one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history.
To most, BYU guard Fredette seemed like a future NBA All-Star. He was the NCAA leading scorer in 2011 and even won the National Collegiate Player of the Year Award as a result of his impressive play. Jimmer ended up being drafted 10th overall not only due to the studs drafted with him but also because some scouts felt Fredette might be undersized. The Bucks took him, which appeared to be done due to a trade with the Sacramento Kings.
Fredette never became the scorer he was in college in the NBA. Although he has since become a star in the Chinese Basketball Association. He became their 2017 MVP & 2019 Scoring Champion and is a 3-time All-Star there. However, he never made it in the NBA. Those drafted after him include Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Reggie Jackson, Corey Joseph, Bojan Bogdanović, Jimmy Butler, and the last player picked in the 2011 draft, Isiah Thomas.
Shawn Bradley is a huge man, standing at 7’6. This made the BYU Center someone that the Philadelphia 76ers could not pass up. It did make sense but Bradley would go on to mostly be remembered for the amazing dunks done on him in his career. Though he did lead the league in blocks in 1997 and averaged 3 per game for his career, he was not the best NBA rebounder despite his size. Also in spite of that, he was not the best scorer.
Bradley is still a popular player but certainly could be considered a bust with the second overall pick used on him. Several others in the ’93 Draft had more productive NBA careers or at least better runs than he did. Those drafted with him include Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston, and Sam Cassell. Bradley may not be considered the worst pick ever, but he’s among the worst NBA Draft picks in history for sure.
Smith really was a no-brainer for the Golden State Warriors in 1995. They needed another big man and Smith was clearly impressive in his collegiate career. In 1995, he was named the ACC Player of the Year, UPI Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, and Naismith College Player of the Year. With the number one overall pick, who could be better than Smith, right? It turns out, several people could be.
Smith did not have a great career in the NBA. Although he did okay during his 13-year career, he bounced around the league quite a lot and was plagued with injuries. Several other players were possible for the Warriors in 1995. Those picks after Smith include Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace, Michael Finley, and even Kevin Garnett. Talk about missing big!
The Warriors often have big hit and miss years but when they miss, they REALLY miss. In 2010, they drafted someone you may likely have never heard of before named Ekpe Udoh. He played for both Michigan and Baylor during his college run and made quite an impact. Thus, he was an understandable pick but had no business going sixth overall. The Warriors cut him 2 years into his career with them. He bounced around the league and ended up out of the NBA by 2017.
This landed him in Europe where he became a EuroLeague Champion, a Turkish League All-Star, Cup Winner, and President’s Cup Winner. He even led the Turkish League in points. He then re-tried his hand at the NBA and failed again the last two seasons. Tons of great players were taken after Udoh in 2010 too. This includes the likes of Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, and Paul George. Imagine if any of those guys would have been picked instead for the Warriors. Wow!
Williams was picked second overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2002 NBA Draft and it made complete sense. He was absolutely a star at Duke, where from 2001 to 2002 he was named the NABC Player of the Year twice, was First-Team ACC twice, and was a Consensus First-Team All-American twice. Williams even won the 2002 National College Player of the Year Award & won the 2001 NCAA Championship. Sadly, Williams had a motorcycle accident during the off-season in 2003.
This resulted in an unlicensed and non-helmet wearing Williams to suffer a severed main nerve in his leg, fractured pelvis, and three dislocated ligaments (including the ACL). This resulted in the Bulls drafting Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich to replace Williams in the 2003 NBA Draft. This led the Bulls to wave Williams, whom they did not have to pay because riding a motorcycle was against his Bulls contract. They chose to pay him his owed $3 Million to help with rehabilitation. Williams never made it back to the NBA as a player and now works for ESPN.
Hasheem Thabeet was one heck of a collegiate player. Considered a defensive stand-out due to winning back to back NABC Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 2008 & 2009, he was someone many teams had their eye on going into the 2009 NBA Draft. Also winning Co-Big East Player of the Year in 2009 with DeJuan Blair, Thabeet seemed like a Top 3 pick and ended up becoming just that when he went second overall to Memphis.
Thabeet did okay defensively but never seemed to be able to connect to the NBA style. He also wasn’t much of a scorer and his rebounding, while great in college, was terrible by NBA standards. He was out of the NBA by 2014. The 2009 Draft produced some incredible players that Memphis passed over for Thabeet. Just some they could have landed includes James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson. They even could have had good hands like James Johnson, Patty Mills, and Danny Green.
7. Robert “Tractor” Traylor – Dallas Mavericks, 1998
If there is one trade you want to take back, it is this one by the Milwaukee Bucks. Going into the 1998 NBA Draft, Robert “Tractor” Traylor was considered a great player who could help a franchise. Not someone may felt could be a massive scorer, Traylor could bring toughness and great defensive skills as well as rebounding ability to a team. The Bucks needed this, so they decided to trade their pick at ninth overall for the Mavs pick at sixth overall. Who did Traylor get traded for? Mavs great Dirk Nowitzki!!
Traylor had several injury issues in the NBA and bounced around the league for a while. He was always a large player, which resulted in his “Tractor” Traylor nickname in college and the NBA. He was out of the NBA by 2006 and mostly played overseas until 2011 when he sadly passed away from a believed heart attack at just 34 years old. Due to his terrible NBA career, we have to call him one of the worst NBA Draft picks in history. RIP nonetheless, Traylor.
In 2006, the NBA put a one year gap on players going to the NBA from high school, resulting in the “one and done” situation we see today. This led several players to college for a season, including Greg Oden who landed at Ohio State. Oden was one of the most highly touted high school players ever, so the OSU pick-up was huge for them. Although he had surgery right before he was heading into OSU, it did not stop him from dominating in the NCAA. He managed around 15 points, 10 rebounds, and over 3 blocks per game.
Oden ended up declaring for the 2007 NBA Draft, where he went #1 overall to Portland. The LaRue Martin curse was at it again, and Oden never seemed to get past the multiple injuries that plagued him. When healthy, Oden had massive potential but sadly never could live it out due to being hurt a lot. The 2007 draft was stacked too, resulting in the Trailblazers missing out on franchise talent and useful All-Stars. They could have drafted Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Joakim Noah.
Darko Miličić might have been one of the few terrible picks you could have made in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft. Yet the Pistons are the ones who decided to take the Serbian seven-footer. The Pistons won an NBA Championship his first year, of which Miličić played virtually no part in. He’d bounce around the league for more than a decade, landing places just to serve as a big man off the bench at best until 2014.
The Pistons could have been championship contenders for a decade had they picked nearly anyone but Darko in 2003. Some they passed over include Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kamen, Kirk Hinrich, David West, and Josh Howard. In fact, they passed over people who exceeded expectations like Kyle Korver, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Kendrick Perkins, Zaza Pachulia, Mo Williams, Luke Ridnour, and even Jason Kapono. However, they took Darko!
Sam Bowie was a tremendous college player at the University of Kentucky. He proved he could do everything as a big man, including the ability to score, rebound, and properly defend. It made sense to consider Bowie for a lottery pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. However, no one realized this draft would become absolutely legendary and include some of the biggest stars in the history of the sport.
Bowie was taken second overall in the draft behind Hakeem Olajuwon. Sam had a respectable career but not for the pick he was taken at. Injuries led him to miss 3 complete seasons and large chunks of several others too. Portland could have legendarily taken several major names over him, including the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Sam Perkins, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis, and John Stockton. This is the main reason why most consider Bowie one of the worst NBA Draft picks ever.
No one truly knows why Michael Olowokandi was drafted number one overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. While he was the Big West Player of the Year, most felt that others made far more sense for the pick. This even led to talks that the Clippers might trade down as a result. Sadly, Olowokandi went with the pick and is considered by many to be among the worst first overall picks ever.
Olowokandi was drafted over the likes of Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Harrington, and Rashard Lewis. To make matters worse, future All-Star Center Brad Miller was not even drafted and he ended up having a far better NBA career than Olowokandi. This led to people believing Michael is one of the worst NBA Draft picks ever, and it is truly hard to disagree.
To most, picking Adam Morrison seemed smart. Coming out of college, he was the WCC Player of the Year, a Consensus All-American, and led the NCAA Division I in scoring all during the 2006 year. He’d win the Oscar Robertson Trophy and was named the NABC Co-Player of the Year with Duke’s J.J. Redick. Morrison was a scoring machine but it seems like health problems held him back.
He has Type 1 Diabetes, which hurt his adjustments at times. Then multiple injuries completely destroyed his career. Morrison was never much of an NBA Player but did luck out and landed on the LA Lakers, where he won 2 NBA Titles. He has played overseas since his NBA career ended in 2010. Adam was picked over some studs in 2006 too, including the likes of Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Rajon Rondo, Paul Milsap, and of course J.J. Redick.
Considered by most to be the worst player ever drafted number one overall is none other than Brown. He is thought to be mostly cancer wherever he arrived to play. It never even made sense to draft him here either. He came out of High School like others but had not shown any real ability to play with NBA stars. He proved he couldn’t upon arrival yet somehow kept bouncing around the league for over a decade.
In total, he played for 7 different teams where he averaged a career 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. What’s worse is who the Wizards took him over. They could have had Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur, Richard Jefferson, and even Troy Murphy. All had better careers or still are having better careers.