15 Biggest NBA Draft Busts of All Time

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A glimmering aura of boundless potential, the promise of legendary stardom, the thunderous applause of an eager crowd – such are the dreams painted by the NBA Draft. But for every tale of prodigious talent and burgeoning brilliance, there lurks an antithesis – a chronicle of unmet expectations and unfortunate fates.

Today, we delve into the stories of the 15 biggest NBA Draft busts of all time, exploring the highs of their promising beginnings and the lows of their unfulfilled careers.

1. Greg Oden1. Greg Oden

At 7 feet, Greg Oden, chosen as the first pick by Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, carried the weight of colossal expectations. Prognosticators foresaw an NBA luminary. But cruel fate intervened. Chronic knee injuries tormented Oden’s career, limiting him to 105 games across five seasons. Amid the agonizing pain and lengthy recoveries, Oden occasionally displayed his unrealized potential with moments of defensive dominance and scoring prowess. 

However, these instances were sporadic, faint glimmers in a largely shadowed career. The once-promising beacon of the Trail Blazers painfully morphed into a symbol of the biggest NBA draft busts of all time, his tale becoming a poignant narrative of promise undone by the relentless affliction of injuries.

2. Sam Bowie2. Sam Bowie

Sam Bowie, a promising prospect from the University of Kentucky, was drafted second overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the historic 1984 NBA Draft. That day, Bowie was chosen ahead of future legend Michael Jordan, a decision that would later haunt the franchise. 

Bowie’s NBA journey was a cocktail of unfulfilled potential and constant physical adversity. A series of leg injuries riddled his career, diminishing his play and stunting his growth as a player. He was consistently overshadowed by the brilliance of Jordan, who soared to unprecedented heights. Bowie was a skilled center, his potential evident, but he was no match for the cruel hand of fate. 

His sad story serves as a reminder of the gamble that is the NBA Draft, and he remains etched in history as one of the biggest NBA draft busts.

3. Kwame Brown3. Kwame Brown

Kwame Brown, drafted straight out of high school, was the first overall pick by the Washington Wizards in the 2001 NBA Draft. The 6’11” center was to be the cornerstone of the franchise, but that dream dissolved into a nightmare. Brown struggled with the speed and physicality of the NBA, his game seeming out of sync with the league’s demands. 

Over 12 seasons, he shuffled among seven teams, his performances fluctuating and never reaching the lofty heights expected of a top pick. Brown’s inability to fulfill his early promise, marred by inconsistency and underperformance, etched his name among the biggest NBA draft busts. 

His story stands as a stark reminder of the high-risk transition from high school to the NBA and the unpredictable nature of potential in the unforgiving landscape of professional basketball.

4. Anthony Bennett4. Anthony Bennett

A surprise first-overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2013 NBA Draft, Anthony Bennett’s professional career didn’t mirror his college success. The power forward from UNLV struggled from the get-go, his game unable to adapt to the NBA’s pace and intensity. Bennett’s performances were riddled with inconsistency and lack of confidence, marking a dramatic decline from his college days. 

After multiple stints with different teams and a disappointing career average of 4.4 points per game, Bennett finds his place among the biggest NBA draft busts of all time. His journey underscores the challenging transition from college to the NBA and the immense pressure first picks bear. 

Despite symbolizing unfulfilled potential, Bennett’s story serves as a crucial lesson in the unpredictability of basketball careers and the harsh realities of professional sports.

5. Michael Olowokandi5. Michael Olowokandi

Drafted first overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Michael Olowokandi, a 7-foot center from the University of Pacific, was a player burdened by sky-high expectations. However, despite the promising start, Olowokandi struggled to make a significant impact in the NBA. His game, marked by bouts of inconsistency, failed to develop into the dominant force that many anticipated.

Olowokandi’s journey in the NBA, from first overall pick to being counted among the biggest NBA draft busts, starkly illustrates professional basketball’s unpredictable and often harsh landscape. Plagued by injuries and a lack of development, his career average settled at a mere 8.3 points per game. Over nine seasons, his performances were below par for a top pick, highlighting the gulf between potential and actualization.

6. Adam Morrison6. Adam Morrison

Heralded as a college superstar, Adam Morrison was picked third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. His scoring prowess at Gonzaga University made him an exciting prospect, expected to translate into a prosperous professional career. However, the transition to the NBA proved challenging for Morrison, with fluctuating performances and often needing more expectations.

From being a college sensation to finding his name among the worst NBA draft picks, Morrison’s story is a cautionary tale of the unpredictable journey from college stardom to the rigorously demanding environment of the NBA. A devastating ACL injury in his second season added to his struggles, halting his progression and casting a shadow over his career. Post-recovery, Morrison failed to recapture his pre-injury form, averaging just 3.2 points per game in his final NBA season.

7. Hasheem Thabeet7. Hasheem Thabeet

At 7’3″, Hasheem Thabeet’s towering presence made him a promising prospect, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to select him as the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. With his remarkable shot-blocking ability, Thabeet was anticipated to become a dominant center in the league. Yet, the Tanzanian player’s career trajectory took a different turn.

Thabeet’s story is a testament to professional basketball’s unpredictable and rigorous nature. Struggling to adapt to the NBA’s pace, Thabeet’s offensive game remained underdeveloped, and his defense, though decent, needed to be more to secure him a consistent role. Despite playing for several teams, Thabeet needed help solidifying his place in the NBA, averaging just 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. The once highly-regarded shot-blocker took an unfortunate turn, leading him to become one of the biggest NBA busts of all time.

8. Nikoloz Tskitishvili8. Nikoloz Tskitishvili

Nikoloz Tskitishvili, the fifth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, entered the league with high hopes. The 7-foot Georgian was touted for his shooting touch and athleticism, but the translation from European basketball to the NBA proved more challenging than expected.

Tskitishvili’s performances were largely underwhelming, marred by poor shooting percentages and a lack of impact on the court. Over four NBA seasons, his career average was a meager 2.9 points per game. The promising European prospect soon found himself struggling to stay in the league. From high draft pick to infamy, Tskitishvili’s NBA journey ended up on the regrettable list of the biggest draft busts. His story is a stark reminder of the often harsh transition from European basketball to the rigors and demands of the NBA.

9. Jonathan Bender9. Jonathan Bender

Jonathan Bender, the fifth pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, was a high school phenom. The Indiana Pacers had high hopes for the 7-foot forward, betting on his potential to make an impact in the NBA. However, his career trajectory needed to align with those expectations.

Bender’s NBA journey was marred by persistent knee injuries, severely limiting his playing time and effectiveness. In the games he did play, Bender showed flashes of his potential but could never sustain it over extended periods. After a series of frustrating seasons, Bender retired, averaging a modest 5.5 points per game over his career. 

His tale, from high school sensation to an NBA draft bust, is a poignant reminder of the harsh realities of professional basketball, where potential and performance don’t always correlate, and injury can shatter the loftiest of dreams.

10. Joe Smith10. Joe Smith

The first overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, Joe Smith, was once a star at the University of Maryland. Chosen by the Golden State Warriors, he was expected to be a transformative player in the NBA. However, Smith’s career was more transient than transformative.

While not a complete failure, Smith’s professional career could have lived up to the expectations of a number-one pick. He bounced around the league, playing for 12 teams over 16 seasons. His performances were decent but far from standout. Smith’s career average of 10.9 points per game belied the promise of his collegiate success. His journey is a sobering example of the unpredictability of transitioning from college stardom to the NBA and how even the most promising players can become one of the biggest draft busts.

11. Robert Swift11. Robert Swift

Standing at 7’1”, Robert Swift was picked 12th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school by the Seattle Supersonics. Touted for his size and potential, Swift was expected to develop into a competent center in the NBA. Regrettably, his career took an unfavorable turn.

A series of injuries and off-court issues hindered Swift’s development and stunted his career. He struggled to establish himself, his performance on the court failing to meet the lofty expectations set for him. Swift’s professional career ended prematurely, with averages of 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game over four seasons. His tale, from high school promise to NBA draft bust, is a cautionary tale highlighting the complexities and uncertainties of leaping from high school to the professional league.

12. Darko Milicic12. Darko Milicic

Darko Milicic, a 7’0″ center from Serbia, was the second overall pick in the highly celebrated 2003 NBA Draft, selected right after LeBron James by the Detroit Pistons. Milicic entered the league with immense potential, and the expectation was that he would become one of the league’s premier big men. However, his journey took a different path.

Milicic struggled to establish himself in the NBA, his play inconsistent and lacking confidence. Over ten seasons with various teams, he averaged a meager six points and four rebounds per game. His NBA stint is often cited as one of the biggest draft busts, particularly given the success of his peers in the same draft class. 

Milicic’s journey from a highly touted prospect to one of the worst NBA draft busts of all time underscores the unpredictability of player development in the face of immense pressure and high expectations.

13. Jan Vesely13. Jan Vesely

Jan Vesely, a 6’11” forward from the Czech Republic, was the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards. Known for his athleticism and high-energy style of play in Europe, Vesely’s transition to the NBA was anticipated with optimism. Regrettably, his journey veered away from expectations.

The once-promising European prospect’s transition to the NBA was less than successful, placing him among the most notable draft busts. Vesely struggled to adapt to the NBA’s style of play, with his offensive limitations and inconsistency surfacing prominently. Despite occasional flashes of potential, Vesely could not establish a consistent role in the league. After three seasons, he left the NBA, averaging a modest 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. 

Vesely’s story underscores the vast gap that sometimes exists between European success and NBA achievement.

14. Darius Miles14. Darius Miles

Darius Miles, an athletic 6’9″ forward straight from high school, was the third overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. His potential was so promising that he even drew comparisons with NBA legends. However, his career arc didn’t live up to the initial hype.

Miles showed glimpses of his talent early in his career but needed help to maintain consistency or reach his expected heights. Injuries and off-court issues hindered his development and progression. Over seven seasons, he averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game – respectable but far from the superstar expectations. 

Miles’ journey, from high school phenom to an NBA draft disappointment, serves as a sobering reminder of the unforgiving realities of professional basketball, where potential doesn’t always translate into success.

15. Shawn Bradley15. Shawn Bradley

Shawn Bradley, a 7’6″ center from BYU, was the second overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. His colossal height and shot-blocking abilities brought a whirl of anticipation to the league. Yet, the expectations would soon eclipse his actual performances.

Bradley’s career was marked by inconsistency and physical struggles against more vigorous opponents. While he exhibited effective shot-blocking and rebounding periods, his offensive prowess fell short, averaging 8.1 points per game over his career. The towering center also became a target for opposing players’ dunk highlights, somewhat undermining his reputation. 

Despite a long NBA tenure, Bradley’s impact needed to align with the hopes initially attached, placing him among the notable draft busts. His journey underlines that, in the NBA, size alone cannot guarantee success and that high expectations carry the risk of equally high disappointments.

Wrapping Things Up: 15 Biggest NBA Draft Busts of All Time

The NBA Draft serves as a stark reminder of the precariousness of potential. While the limelight often shines on success stories as the biggest NBA draft steals, the tales of these 15 players act as a sobering counter-narrative. They illustrate the burden of expectations, the unpredictable nature of injuries, and the challenges of adapting to the highest level of basketball. 

In a world quick to label and categorize, these players remain infamous, etched in history as the biggest NBA draft busts of all time.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

> Can NBA Teams Trade on Draft Day?

> How Do NBA Expansion Drafts Work?

> How Do NBA Mock Draft Works?

> What is the NBA Draft Combine?

> How Does the NBA Draft Lottery Work?

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