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NBA Draft - Best of the Worst

Written by Brian Lutz
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The NBA draft is tonight.  It’s not a particularly strong class, so it’s likely that there will be at least a few busts sprinkled in among the top 10 to 15 picks.  And even busts must be classified.  Sure, Jan Vesely may someday be thought of as a bad #6 overall pick, but will he turn out to be as bad a pick as DerMarr Johnson, picked in that same spot by the Hawks in 2000? 


That’s the goal here:  to figure out which pick was the worst, at each particular draft spot.  Factors include expectations, hype, non-basketball issues, and overall careers.  Many of these guys are now washed out of the league and playing overseas.  Some of them are still holding down folding chairs on NBA benches.  A few haven’t played professionally in years.


I’ve only used drafts back to 1984, in honor of “Bowie over Jordan.”  I’ve also only gone up to pick #21.  Why?  I have no idea.  As (insert famous professional athlete here) once said, “It is what it is.”  Anyway, onto the list.  These are your biggest NBA draft busts, the worst choice at each pick, in the last 27 years…


#1  Kwame Brown (Wizards, 2001); Mike Olowokandi (Clippers, 1998)

This is a straight up tie as to who was the worst first overall pick.  It’s impossible to pick between these two; it’s like choosing between Coke and Pepsi, or Biggie and Tupac, or Cincinnati and Cleveland.  It can’t be done.  Although a certain center on the Trailblazers is making quite the convincing case.


#2  Darko Milicic (Pistons, 2003)

Sam Bowie (Blazers, ’84) deserves strong consideration here, as he has become the cause celebre for teams wishing to draft based on potential (Hasheem Thabeet, anyone?) rather than talent.  Also, any discussion of the worst #2 picks must involve Shawn Bradley.  But Darko was famously drafted ahead of Carmelo, Bosh, and Wade, among others, and he will never lose his status as a punchline.  Free Darko!


#3  Chris Washburn (Warriors, 1986)

Universally regarded as one of the biggest busts of all-time in the NBA, this former N.C. State center was banned for life in 1989 after numerous failed drug tests.  If the Warriors ever get the #3 pick again, they should probably trade it – last time they had it, they took Mike Dunleavy, Jr.  Oh, and I almost forgot about you, Adam Morrison.


#4  Marcus Fizer (Bulls, 2000)

This former Iowa State forward has become a symbol for the awful 2000 draft, which featured many terrible first-round selections such as Stromile Swift (Grizzlies, #2), Jerome Moiso (Celtics, #11), and Courtney Alexander (Magic, #13).  Fizer was third in the league in tattoos during his rookie season, but quickly fizzled out after that.  He is now playing in the Puerto Rican league.


#5  Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Nuggets, 2002)

Whew, hope I spelled that one right.  The Big Russian lasted four seasons and averaged just under 3 points per game.  He edges out Jonathan Bender, who was picked fifth in 1999 by the Pacers and retired at age 25 because of chronic knee problems.


#6  DeJuan Wagner (Cavs, 2002)

This pick has had a large number of disappointments.  Boston took Ron Mercer with the sixth pick in ’97. Atlanta took DeMarr Johnson in ‘00.  The Mavs took the late Robert “Tractor” Traylor in ’98, before promptly – and smartly – trading him to Milwaukee for a German guy picked 3 spots later named Dirk Nowitzki. In ’95, the Grizzlies, with their first ever draft pick, selected Bryant “Big Country” Reeves at number six.


Wagner was a phenom in high school, once scoring 101 points in a single game.  According to some, may have been the #1 overall pick if he had come out right away instead of going to Memphis for a year.  This seemed like a good pick at first, as he averaged nearly 14 PPG as a rookie.  But his body broke down almost from the start, and he’s been out of the league, and professional basketball, for years now.  I’m choosing him as the worst pick based mainly on unfulfilled expectations.


#7  Bobby Hurley (Kings, 1991)

Not really a bust because his career was cut short due to a car accident during his rookie season.  Roy Tarpley and Eddie Griffin were the other contenders here, but they each had a few solid seasons before their careers fizzled out.


#8 Shawn Respert (Blazers, 1995)

This sharpshooter from Michigan State was never able to find his niche in the pro game, lasting just three seasons.  What’s really crazy is that Respert’s career never got off the ground, while his less-heralded backcourt mate Eric Snow carved out a solid 14-year NBA career after being taken in the second round.  An honorable mention for the worst eighth pick goes to Bo Kimble, selected by the Clippers in 1990. 


#9  Ed O’Bannon (Nets, 1995)

I remember reading something about this guy working as a car salesman now.  Anyway, this former Bruin spent two seasons in New Jersey, averaging just 5 PPG, and was out of the league by 1998.  His brother Charles O’Bannon was equally as disappointing.


#10  Leon Wood (Sixers, 1984)

Wood was certainly a draft bust but he is quite an interesting figure:  he was on the ’84 Olympic team that featured Michael Jordan and was coached by Bobby Knight; he sued the league as a rookie in an attempt to drive salaries up; currently, he is now a respected NBA referee.


#11 Trajan Langdon (Cavs, 1999)

The Alaskan Assassin never caught on in the NBA, averaging a paltry 5.4 PPG in three nondescript seasons in Cleveland.  I’m convinced he never recovered from his play at the end of the ’99 NCAA Championship Game, when UConn’s Ricky Price flustered him into making two crucial mistakes in the final minute – bricking a three and turning the ball over on a traveling violation.  He is currently playing in the Euroleague.


#12 Vitaly Potapenko  (Cavs, 1996)

Notice how many times the Cavs are on this list?  The Big V was taken one spot ahead of Kobe Bryant and three spots ahead of Steve Nash.


#13 Sebastian “Bassy” Telfair (Blazers, 2004)

There have been a few other disappointments at the Lucky Number 13 spot, with the Clippers using this pick on Terry Dehere in ’93 and Joe Wolf in ’87.  The Bobcats took Sean May in ’05, without realizing he would be perpetually out-of-shape.


Telfair had huge expectations as the first point guard to be selected straight from high school and has been struggling to even find playing time in the NBA.  He has suited up for five teams in eight seasons, including two stints with Minnesota.  No word on when the upcoming documentary, “Back Through the Fire:  Bassy’s Downfall” will be released.


#14 Mateen Cleaves (Pistons, 2000)

Here are Cleaves career numbers:  6 seasons, 4 teams, 3.6 PPG, and 1 beard.  Just barely beats out the #14 pick from 1999, Duke’s William Avery, who finished with a whopping 2.7 PPG in a 3-year career.  I’ll take Cleaves as the bigger bust because he never should have been drafted this high; he was wildly overrated after leading Michigan State to the NCAA title. 


#15  Frederic Weis (Knicks, 1999)

Hey, the Knicks finally made an appearance on this list!  They took this guy Weis, a 7’2” center from France who will likely be remembered for getting ferociously dunked on by Vince Carter at the 2000 Summer Olympics.  The Knicks could have taken local star Ron Artest, who was chosen by the Bulls with the very next pick.


#16 Randy Woods (Clippers, 1992)

Boy, the Clippers really have a bad draft record throughout all of this.  I wonder if they knew that Woods, a point guard from LaSalle, only stood 5-foot-10.


#17  Uwe Konstantine Blab (Mavs, 1985)

Perhaps the best name in the history of the NBA.  Too bad this West German project only lasted 5 years and – despite standing 7-foot-1 – never averaged more than two rebounds per game.  Two!  That might be the lowest rebound-to-height ratio of all-time.


#18  Mirsad Turkcan (Rockets, 1998)

Scored a grand total of 66 points in his one NBA season, when he played for three different teams.  Just goes to show you probably shouldn’t draft anyone from Turkey unless his name is Hedo Turkoglu or Mehmet Okur.


(John Wallace gets an honorable mention here because he was the lowest-selected player in attendance at the 1996 draft.  Just like Brady Quinn years later, Wallace had to sit in the front row and try not to look pissed that he was being continuously passed over.)


#19  Randolph Childress (Pistons, 1995)

Childress may have been a star if knee injuries didn’t rob him of his quickness.  He was a great college player, and was incredible in the ’95 ACC Tournament, scoring 107 points in 3 games.  In the championship game, he was the best player on the floor in a game that included Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Tim Duncan.  Childress is now in the Italian League.


#20  Roshown McLeod (Hawks, 1998)

Another draft bust to add to the long list of Blue Devils who never panned out in the pros.  You think the Hawks would have learned their lesson after trading for Christian Laettner.


#21 Joe Forte (Celtics, 2001)

The list ends with the erstwhile DeMatha and UNC star.  Forte was the ACC player of the year in 2001 and seemed destined for greatness.  With this pick, the Celtics could have had Jamal Tinsley, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, or Tony Parker.  Even Red Auerbach was wrong about Forte – and you can’t say that about too many other players.

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