Biggest NBA Busts of All Time: The Worst NBA Draft Picks Ever

Anthony Bennett
Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA. Photo by Icon Sport

The future of the NBA teams largely depends on the decisions they make during the NBA Drafts. There are teams that get high selections once in a couple of decades and others who are regulars in the draft lottery. Neither scenario guarantees anything since a high pick, sometimes even the first overall, can turn into a bust.

In this article, we will look back at some of the biggest NBA Draft busts ever and players who will not be remembered for their basketball qualities but for the disappointment that goes along with being among the top NBA busts.

10. Royce White

White saw his basketball career crashing for a very strange reason. He was suffering of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, mainly triggered by his highly publicized fear of flying. He was a standout player at the University of Iowa State and he didn’t hide his condition when declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft.

Many teams passed on him and he was selected 16th overall by the Houston Rockets. He was refusing getting on a plane and was expecting to be allowed to play only in the home games. No team was willing to offer him such an option and he finished his NBA career playing only 9 minutes in 3 games for the Sacramento Kings, not scoring any points.

9. LaRue Martin

Martin was the first big bust in the history of the NBA Draft. He was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1972 ahead of future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving. Martin played only 4 seasons in the league averaging 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

8. Nikoloz Tskitishvili

Back in the 2000s, the NBA teams were constantly in search of the next Dirk Nowitzki, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili was one of those players who was seen as the next big thing coming from Europe. The Georgian was selected with the fifth overall pick in 2002 by the Denver Nuggets who could have selected Amare Stoudemire or Caron Butler.

Tskitishvili spent four seasons in the league averaging 2.9 points per game. 

7. Michael Olowokandi

Olowokandi was the first overall pick in 1998 selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, becoming the first player from the University of Pacific to make it to the NBA. Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are some of the players that were selected later on that draft.

The Clippers were one of the worst teams in the NBA in the 1990s and they had high hopes for the center. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bust, never averaging more than 12.3 points per game and shooting more than 46% from the field. The Kandi Man played exactly 500 games in 9 seasons in the NBA finishing with averages of 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

6. Kwame Brown

Brown made a name for himself as he was the first player ever who was selected as the first overall pick coming straight out of the high school. Michael Jordan himself made the decision to draft Brown when he was the director of basketball operations with the Washington Wizards back in 2001. Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph were other bigs selected on that draft.

Brown was labeled as bust early in his career and he spent 12 seasons in the league playing for seven teams averaging 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

5. Hasheem Thabeet

Thabeet was a 7-3 powerful big man at the University of Connecticut winning the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009. He was seen as one of the biggest prospects in the 2009 NBA Draft where he was selected second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. Blake Griffin was the only one selected before Thabeet and the Grizzlies passed on players such as James Harden, Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan.

The Grizzlies quickly realized that Thabeet would not be much of a help and got rid of him in his second season in the league. The Tanzanian-born played a total of 224 games in his career during five seasons averaging 2.2 points per game.

4. Greg Oden

Oden was the best center in the 2007 NBA Draft and the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t think twice before drafting him with the first overall pick. The Blazers picked him over Kevin Durant, who was selected second, and will go on to win two NBA championships, four scoring titles, the 2014 MVP award and two NBA Finals MVPs.

Oden had huge potential but the injuries literally ruined his career. He missed the entire season after being drafted and ended up playing a total of 105 games in his career averaging 8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

3. Anthony Bennett

After the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, they got a chance to pick first only two years later. Going against all the expectations and predictions, the Cavs picked Anthony Bennett, a power forward from UNLV.

The crowd at the Madison Square Garden was totally in shock, and it proved to be for a reason. The truth is that 2013 was not a good draft class, but still, the Cavs could have picked Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, or even Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Cavs gave up on Bennett after only one season, and he was out of the league by 2017.

Bennett made only 4 starts in 151 games averaging 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in his NBA career and currently plays in Taiwan.

2. Darko Milicic

In 2003, the Detroit Pistons had the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. LeBron James was a lock at No. 1, and Detroit had the opportunity to pick next. The Pistons’ legend and general manager at the time, Joe Dumars, decided to go with the 19-year-old Darko Milicic and passed on Carmelo Anthony, Cris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade in the draft class that would end up being one of the best ever.

Milicic was a talented center who did not get any playing time from coach Larry Brown who had numerous big men such as Rasheed and Ben Wallace. The Serbian was not happy with that at all, and his attitude was actually his biggest issue. Milicic spent 9 seasons in the league averaging 6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and in 2012 when he was with the Boston Celtics, he just quit and returned home to Serbia.

1. Sam Bowie

Bowie is on top of our biggest NBA busts list, and just like the Oden case, the Blazers blew it big time. Bowie was one of the best centers in the 1984 draft class and was selected second overall by Portland. The Houston Rockets had the first pick selecting Akeem Olajuwon, and the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan right after Bowie, which is the main reason why he tops our list.

From this perspective, it definitely looks unbelievable to pick anybody before Jordan. However, the Blazers selected Clyde Drexler in the previous draft, and being covered at the shooting guard position, they decided to go with the best center available, which was Bowie.

Unfortunately, Bowie suffered a major knee injury and played in only 25 games from the 1986-87 until the 1988-1989 season. He never reached his full potential but played 10 seasons in the league averaging 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Honorable mentions: Johnny Flynn, Jay Williams, Derrick Williams, Adam Morrison, Pervis Ellison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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