While it is far too early to judge the strength of 2011 draft—it hasn’t even happened yet, for crying out loud— that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a look back at some of the other terrible drafts in league history. There are generally three reasons why a top pick fails to make it big in the NBA: lack of talent, lack of motivation, and injuries. Injuries and lack of talent are pretty self-explanatory, but I’m defining lack of motivation as the failure of a prospect to do what he needs to do to be successful in the league. For some, that may involve staying out of legal/substance abuse trouble; for others it means working on a glaring hole in their game (think how much better Shaq would have been if he could have hit a free throw). Either way, there was something missing with most of the guys in these drafts. These rankings are dependent on the lack of NBA success from the draft as a whole, but I also place emphasis on the top 10 picks. So a huge bust at #1 is punished more heavily than a huge bust at #6.
As far as selecting which drafts to rank, I decided to limit the time period from 1960 to 2006. I did this for two reasons. 1) The NBA draft was pretty screwy in the 1950s. Because the league wasn’t as popular back then, there wasn’t as much incentive for players to stay in the league. The result was that most draft picks’ careers didn’t last very long. So, based on the criteria I’m using, it would be unfair to compare the drafts of the 1950s to the drafts of today since the draft picks back faced an inherent disadvantage. 2) The guys drafted from 2007 onwards have been in the league for a maximum of four seasons. I don’t feel comfortable judging the success of those drafts without seeing how the careers of certain key players turn out (eg. will Greg Oden ever be healthy and successful? Can Blake Griffin stay injury-free with his high-flying style of play?). Without further ado, one man’s rankings of the five worst NBA drafts, 1960-2006, with one bonus draft thrown in just for fun. Curious about the 5 best? Here you go.
Honorable mention: 2006
Top 10 picks: 1. Andrea Bargnani, Raptors; 2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Bulls (traded to Portland); 3. Adam Morrison, Bobcats; 4. Tyrus Thomas, Blazers (traded to Bulls); 5. Shelden Williams, Hawks; 6. Brandon Roy, Timberwolves (traded to Blazers); 7. Randy Foye, Celtics (traded to Timberwolves); 8. Rudy Gay, Rockets (traded to Grizzlies); 9. Patrick O’Bryant, Warriors; 10. Mouhamed Sene, Sonics
Best players from draft: Aldridge, Roy, Gay, Rajon Rondo (#21), Paul Millsap (#47)
First of all, that’s an ugly top 10. Bargnani was the worst top pick since Kwame Brown and though he puts up numbers on a bad team, he’s never going to be much more than the third option on a good team. Looking at the rest of the top five, Aldridge came on strong last season and has developed into a very good player, but Morrison’s been a disaster, Thomas was drafted mostly off of potential and has still yet to realize it, and Williams is already on his sixth team, as it’s clear he’s nowhere near the defensive presence he was in college. O’Bryant has played 90 career games, and none since 2010, but that’s still a lot better than Sene, who left the league in 2009 after just 47 career games.
Only two guys from this draft have appeared in an All-Star Game (though Aldridge was unfortunate not to go last season) and the rest of the draft consists almost overwhelmingly of bench guys. It’s tough to project Hall of Famers since this draft was so recent, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this class a greater than 50% chance to make it right now. While all of these guys only have five seasons in the league right now, I am still supremely confident that 2006 will go down as one of the weakest drafts in NBA history.
Top 10 picks: 1. Austin Carr, Cavaliers; 2. Sidney Wicks, Blazers; 3. Elmore Smith, Braves; 4. Ken Durrett, Royals; 5. George Trapp, Hawks; 6. Fred Brown, Sonics; 7. Cliff Meely, Rockets; 8. Darnell Hillman, Warriors; 9. Stan Love, Bullets; 10. Clarence Glover, Celtics
Best players from draft: Carr, Wicks, Brown, Spencer Haywood (#30), Randy Smith (#104), Artis Gilmore (#117)
Look through that first list of names. How many do you recognize? Two? Three? Carr and Wicks are the known more for their exploits in college than in the pros. Love is probably best known as the father of the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love. Everyone else has faded into obscurity. There was a Hall of Famer in this draft, Artis Gilmore, but he didn’t enter the league until 1976, instead choosing to play for the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. Haywood and Smith were both good players, but Haywood wasn’t drafted until the end of the second round, while Smith was still on the board in round 7. I also had to take into account that 10 of the top 35 picks never set foot on an NBA court, which, coupled with the lack of stars in the first round, makes for a really awful draft.
Top 10 picks: 1. Yao Ming, Rockets; 2. Jay Williams, Bulls; 3. Mike Dunleavy, Warriors; 4. Drew Gooden, Grizzlies; 5. Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Nuggets; 6. Dajuan Wagner, Cavaliers; 7. Nene, Knicks (traded to Nuggets); 8. Chris Wilcox, Clippers; 9. Amar’e Stoudemire, Suns; 10. Caron Butler, Heat
Best players from draft: Nene, Stoudemire, Tayshaun Prince (#23), Carlos Boozer (#35), Luis Scola (#56)
What do you get when a weak college class enters the draft at the same time that league personnel are going crazy about overhyped international prospects? A really bad draft. A record 17 international players were taken (six in the first round), and of the 17, only Nene and Scola rank as unqualified successes (draw your own conclusions about Yao, Nenad Krstic, and Darius Songaila).
Of the top 10 picks, Williams, Tskitishvili, and Wagner were huge flops, while Dunleavy, Gooden, and Wilcox were all mild flops (though Williams’ career was essentially over after his motorcycle crash). Yao can’t stay healthy, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that 7-foot-6 humans weren’t meant to repeatedly run back and forth on hard surfaces. There’s no one in this draft that you would think of building a franchise around, since Stoudemire has shown he’s a #2 at best, and Boozer might not even be that. Finally, this might be the worst NBA draft ever in terms of guards; John Salmons (a swingman) and Roger Mason were the best two, while Juan Carlos Navarro was easily, repeat EASILY, the best point guard in ’02, and he only played one season in the league.
Top 10 picks: 1. Doug Collins, 76ers; 2. Jim Brewer, Cavaliers; 3. Ernie DiGregorio, Braves; 4. Mike Green, Sonics; 5. Kermit Washington, Lakers; 6. Ed Ratleff, Rockets; 7. Ron Behagen, Kings; 8.Mike Bantom, Suns; 9. Dwight Jones, Hawks; 10. John Brown, Hawks
Best players from draft: Collins, Washington, George McGinnis (#22), Larry Kenon (#50)
Collins, the top pick, was a decent player, but lasted just eight seasons in the league, while Washington (one of this draft’s top guys) had career averages of 9 points and 8 rebounds per game in nine years, not counting an ill-fated six-game comeback attempt in 1987. No one else in the top 10 amounted to anything, and of the top 30 picks, seven failed to suit up even once in the NBA. I wish there was more to say about this draft, but for the most part it was a very boring year with a very, very weak crop of players. Finding anyone close to good was a real challenge for ’73, as there was just one All-NBA performer (McGinnis, who made one first and one second team) in the entire draft.
Some interesting factoids from an otherwise dull draft:
-Ron Behagen lasted just seven years in the league, but he was still extremely well-traveled. He played for eight different franchises, including six in a two-season stretch.
-One area where this draft was extremely productive: NBA head coaches. Current coaches Doug Collins, Mike D’Antoni (#20), and George Karl (#66) were all taken in 1973, along with former head coaches Allan Bristow (#21) and M.L. Carr (#76).
Top 10 picks: 1. Brad Daugherty, Cavaliers; 2. Len Bias, Celtics; 3. Chris Washburn, Warriors; 4. Chuck Person, Pacers; 5. Kenny Walker, Knicks; 6. William Bedford, Suns; 7. Roy Tarpley, Mavericks; 8. Ron Harper, Cavaliers; 9. Brad Sellers, Bulls; 10. Johnny Dawkins, Spurs
Best players from draft: Daugherty, Arvydas Sabonis (#24), Mark Price(#25), Dennis Rodman (#27), Jeff Hornacek (#46), Drazen Petrovic (#60)
In terms of overall talent, 1986 probably shouldn’t be on this list. But you’ve got to take into account how that talent was acquired. Sabonis and Petrovic, though both Hall of Famers, played the majority of their careers in Europe. Sabonis didn’t come to the US until he was 31, while Petrovic was tragically killed in a car accident at age 28, just four years into his NBA career. Rodman and Price were both good players, but neither went in the first round (Daugherty was the only first-rounder to appear in an All-Star Game). Sadly, Petrovic was not the first of his draft class to die; that would be Len Bias, who overdosed on cocaine just two days after the draft. Drug abuse would be a trend among the ’86 draftees. Washburn lasted just two seasons before the NBA banned him for life in 1989 for failing three drug tests. Bedford averaged four points and two rebounds per game over six seasons in the league and has been arrested no less than five times for drug-related issues. Roy Tarpley, like Washburn, was kicked out of the league in 1991 because his drug problems. After a brief return in 1994-95, he was banned for good in December 1995. Even if there were some talented players in this draft, it’s a bad year when four of the top seven picks have their lives destroyed by drugs. Both 1984 and 1985 featured loaded drafts with tons of future superstars. 1986 could have been great, but now we’ll never know. As I reflect on what could have been, one word keeps popping up to describe the fate of the class of 1986: sad.
Top 10 picks: 1. Kenyon Martin, Nets; 2. Stromile Swift, Grizzlies; 3. Darius Miles, Clippers; 4. Marcus Fizer, Bulls; 5. Mike Miller, Magic; 6. DerMarr Johnson, Hawks; 7. Chris Mihm, Bulls (traded to Cavaliers); 8. Jamal Crawford, Cavaliers (traded to Bulls); 9. Joel Przybilla, Rockets (traded to Bucks); 10. Keyon Dooling, Magic (traded to Clippers)
Best players from draft: Martin, Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu (#16), Michael Redd (#43)
Where to begin? In the ranks of #1 picks, Martin is well below average. Swift, Miles, Fizer, Johnson, and Mihm were all awful or close to it. Other great first-round picks included Jerome Moiso (#11), Courtney Alexander (#13), Dalibor Bagaric (#24), Jake Tsakilidis (#25), and Mark Madsen (#29) to name but a few. If you were tall, athletic, and had a pulse in 2000, you probably could have been a first round draft pick. Crawford and Michael Redd (#43, who’s played 61 games in the last three seasons) were the best two guys to come out of this draft. At his best, Redd was a dead-eye shooter that was the top player on some bad Milwaukee teams, while Crawford toiled for years as a decent scorer (and nothing else) for the Isiah-era Knicks. Only a couple other players in this draft have ever even been a third option on their team, and the vast majority of the class of 2000 is now out of the league. The top 10 was miserable, and there was no depth behind them in the later rounds. It was, quite simply, the worst draft ever.