Yesterday we discussed in our daily list the greatest steals in NBA draft history. Those are stories of success through some combination of great planning and luck. But there’s a flip side to those stories, and they involve teams squandering their position in the catbird seat due to some combination of bad planning or luck. Sometimes it’s injury, sometimes the players is a head case, and sometimes the #1 pick of the NBA draft just can’t make that final evolution to live up to the hype surrounding their draft position.
But it happens about as often as it doesn’t. Many times, the #1 pick in the NBA draft is a no brainer and works out just fine, as was the case with LeBron James, David Robinson, and likely Andrew Wiggins. But it seems whenever there’s a debate between equally-regarded players (Hakeem, Sam Bowie, and Michael Jordan, Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant), it seems that the team drafting first regularly manages to get it wrong.
Of course, hindsight has a way of magnifying these mistakes, so it’s possible that this is all in our head. But that’s no fun. Let’s say that teams do screw up their awesomely situated #1 draft pick a disproportionate amount of the time. Who has done it the worst?
Ok, so the 2014 #1 pick by Cleveland (later shuffled to Minnesota in the Wiggins/Love trade) isn’t exactly beyond hope. But unless he’s able to turn his career around, he’ll be a fixture on lists like these. He’s currently averaged 4.7 PPG in 12.7 minutes per game in two seasons, and was sidelined last year with an ankle injury. He’s shown flashes of…well, not “brilliance,” but competency, but until he’s able to sustain competence, he’s on the list. Tentatively.
9. Anthony Bennett
Bogut’s stats are in line with many others on this list, but his durability is what has kept him from placing higher. There was little fanfare when he was drafted by the Bucks, and he’s solidified his spot as a role player and sub on Golden State since then, but those accomplishments signify a “bust” as far as #1 draft picks go. Bogut might be “ok,” but “ok,” doesn’t cut it with the first pick in the draft.
8. Andrew Bogut
Andrea Bargnani was a bit of an unknown quantity when he was picked up by the Raptors. He was tall, Italian, and white. A few of those things are a red flag for any pick, not just the #1. And while Andrea Bargnani has made a niche for himself in the NBA, through the lens of a scout with a #1 draft pick, he’s a disappointment. He now plays with the New York Knicks. I mean, that’s worse than retiring, isn’t it?
7. Andrea Bargnani
Who? WHO? Exactly. Benson was drafted in ’77 with the first pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately for Benson and the league, he’s best known for getting a broken jaw thanks to a punch in the mouth from Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Other than that, he racked up 11 seasons and 9 PPG as he was traded once for Bob Lanier and once for Adrian Dantley. That’s about as good as things got for center Kent Benson from Indiana.
6. Kent Benson
I’ll be honest. I don’t know anything about Fred Hetzel. I’m confident I’ve never heard or read his name before researching this list. However, I think I can use those facts to say he didn’t really pan out as a #1 draft pick for the Golden State Warriors in 1965. He was named to the All-Rookie team (not such an accomplishment back then, or even now), and sort of puttered out from there, averaging 6.8 PPG in six years while playing with four teams, while wearing four different numbers.
5. Fred Hetzel
I feel bad for Greg Oden. He initially seemed like a good, modest kid, with plenty of both talent and potential, coming from the champion Buckeye squad. It was a footrace to see if he would get picked over Kevin Durant, and he did. Before his rookie season even started, he opted for microfracture surgery that sidelined him all season. He put on about 40 pounds during his time off, and in his second rookie campaign, he showed glimpses of awesomeness while suffering two injuries. He just never got healthy. And it would appear that the likable kid took a turn as he was arrested in early 2014 for punching his girlfriend. Too bad on all accounts.
4. Greg Oden
The Candy Man! People this disappointing shouldn’t get fun nicknames. He should be called Captain Let-Down or something. He was picked by the ne-er-do-well Clippers in 1998 and proved the adage true that big men are a HUGE gamble with the first pick. He never developed his game to match the NBA, and he was constantly injured and unable to contribute. He only started in two playoff games and averaged only 2.1 points, starting or not, in the playoffs. By 2007 he was out of pro basketball, lucky to have even been a footnote.
3. Michael Olowakandi
Beyond a great name, Pervis Ellison didn’t contribute a whole hell of a lot to the NBA during his 12 years in the league. It’s almost shocking to see that he was actually on a roster in 2000 after middling for so long after being drafted by the Kings at #1 in 1989. The sad thing about Ellison is that his shortcomings weren’t from a lack of work ethic or focus. In fact, he was named 1991’s Most Improved Player. Rather, Ellison was plagued by injuries a few seasons into his career that didn’t sideline him later, but likely caused his game to suffer drastically. He finished with 9.5 PPG. Fine by typical standards, but a disappointment when you consider that the Kings had their pick in a draft that included Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, and Vlade Divac.
2. Pervis Ellison
At least this #1 was easy to get right. A powerful argument in prohibiting high school players from jumping to the NBA, Kwame was scooped up by the Wizards amid hype and demonstrated he had nothing to back it up. Kwame actually said to Wizards coach Doug Collins “If you draft me, you’ll never regret it.” FALSE. They likely regret that pick more than almost anyone has ever regretted a pick. Despite somehow playing until 2013, he bounced from team to team, never really getting off the bench late in his career. He did manage to get a ton of money over his career, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming the biggest bust of all the #1 picks in the NBA draft.