With everything we now know about the development of their respective careers, it’s hard to imagine that the Chicago Bulls were seriously considering picking Michael Beasley over Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft. But, as SB Nation’s Jason Patt points out in his article on the demise of the Kansas State standout, five years ago this was a serious discussion. Since that time, of course, Rose has developed into a top-five NBA player, a league MVP and a guy whose professionalism is unquestioned. Beasley? Well, he was recently waived by the Phoenix Suns—his third NBA team—for suspicion of marijuana possession. Chicago chose wisely.
It might still be too early to call Beasley a bust. He’s shown in glimers of real talent, and the Miami Heat are reportedly interested in signing him, possibly to pair him up with another draft bust (a bust for different reasons, of course), the luckless Greg Oden. But while Oden, Beasley and our old friend Andrea Bargnani still have a chance to rehabilitate their careers and attempt to live up to the expectations that come with being a high draft pick, for the following five guys, there are no second chances.
Whether it’s because their careers never really started, or because they were supposed to be all-star caliber balers—who were simply average—these players will be remembered as five of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
The selection of Adam Morrison by the Charlotte Bobcats, taken third overall in the 2006 draft, is a reminder of two things: 1. Volume-shooting gunners don’t necessarily make great NBA players (that 3-point line ain’t so close in the big leagues), and 2. Great players don’t necessarily make for great owners. Now, in Michael Jordan’s defense, the 2006 draft didn’t exactly showcase the great decision-making talents of the NBA’s owners and GMs; Bargnani went first overall, and Tyrus Thomas and Shelden Williams went fourth and fifth, respectively—yikes. However, the fact remains that the Bobcats passed up on Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy and J.J. Redick to select Morrison.
Morrison and his moustache, woefully overmatched at the NBA level, ended up playing three years for the Bobcats before slotting into the role of Lakers 12th man for back-to-back championship winning seasons, in which he played zero part. For the last couple of seasons Morrison’s plied his trade in Europe, even making the occasional Summer League appearance, shooting for a second chance in the NBA. But not even the lowly Bobcats seem interested now.
LaRue Martin, selected first overall in the 1972 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, has gone down as the worst number one pick in NBA History. Martin underscores the danger of what some people like to call ‘small sample-size hysteria’—he was deemed a world-beater based on one game during his college career in which he outplayed the great Bill Walton. Walton, who the Blazers would select first overall in the ’74 draft, played for John Wooden’s storied UCLA basketball program. Thus, Martin wowed the Blazers’ scouts with “a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day”-type performance.
Martin retired after four years in the league—four years in which he was completely out of his depth. Although Portland passed on future five-time All-Star and three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo to select Martin, it probably worked out for the best. With Martin on board, the Blazers remained bad enough to earn the top pick two years later, which turned out to be Walton, and they ended up winning the NBA title in ’77. However, as we’ll see, things wouldn’t always work out so well for the Blazers.
For every LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard—great players who made the jump to the NBA straight from high school—there are players like Sebastian Telfair, Eddy Curry and Gerald Green serving as reminders that maybe going to college and ironing out maturity issues is a necessary stepping-stone to NBA success. And, of course, there’s Kwame Brown, taken as the first overall pick by the Washington Wizards in 2001—one of the biggest draft disappointments of all time.
Brown was the first player to be selected first overall straight out of high school—the Wizards selected Brown over Pau Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joe Johnson and Zach Randolph, among others. Ouch. It’s not that Brown has had an appallingly bad NBA career—he’s still in the league, which is something—it’s just that when you’re a number one pick, go on to play for seven different teams and never average more than 10 points and seven rebounds per game in a season, it’s…well…a bit of a let down.
It must have been the greatest workout ever performed by a human being. As Pistons scouts watched on in amazement, the young Serb, Darko Milicic, shot the ball like Dirk, displayed Hakeem-esque footwork, a Kareem sky-hook, and emitted lighting bolts from his eyes and laser beams from his finger tips. Rumour has it that he was 10 feet tall that day, too. At least those are the only reasons that would explain why Detroit selected Darko second overall in one of the most stacked NBA drafts of all time.
Milicic, who went on to have a so-so career in the NBA, was selected over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 draft, on the basis of two seemingly impressive workouts in front of Pistons staff. In all seriousness, Detroit’s puzzling selection was probably in part a product of racist stereotypes (Darko was seen as more mature than the black African-American kids coming out of high-school and college), and in part because every team wanted to discover the next Euro phenom—another Dirk Nowitzki. Milicic, of course, turned out to be neither the next Dirk, nor any sort of phenom, and his subsequent career was plagued by maturity issues (oh, the irony) and an inability to meet lofty expectations. But the Pistons will always have those workouts—I hope someone filmed them.
If there’s any team that should outsource their draft selections to some sort of independent contractor, it’s the Portland Trail Blazers. I’ve already mentioned the selection of one-hit wonder LaRue Martin, but there was also the disastrous 2007 pick of Greg Oden, selected over Kevin Durant. But those draft-day mishaps pale in comparison to the biggest draft mistake in NBA history: the Blazers selecting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan.
It might be a tad unfair to label Bowie a draft bust (he had a semi-decent, but injury-ravaged NBA career), but taking into account who the Blazers passed on, he definitely was. If you’re going to take a player over Jordan, then that guy has to go on to be an all-star and win you an NBA championship—in that respect, the Rockets have escaped scorn for selecting Hakeem Olajuwon over Jordan.
Bowie never made an All-Star team and had a career average of 10 points and 7 rebounds per game. And MJ? Yeah, you know…a little better than that. Of course, Portland justified their selection of Bowie by stating that they needed a centre, and already had an all-star caliber shooting-guard in Clyde Drexler. But this is where everyone should respond by saying: JUST PICK THE BEST DAMN PLAYER. Or, as Bobby Knight famously put it when told by Blazers GM Stu Inman that they weren’t selecting Jordan because they needed a centre: “Play Jordan at centre!”