With the NBA Draft just days away, the time has come to take a look back at some of the 10 biggest draft blunders of the last decade.
And with a glut of upside-laden, yet-unproven, big men moving up draft boards as the big day nears — Alex Len, Steven Adams, Cody Zeller, Mason Plumlee, Lucas Nogiuera — a glance at the names on this list suggests that there may be some lessons to be learned from big man gambles of the past.
For clarification: the rankings include only lottery picks dating back to the 2003 Draft and players who were ‘busts’ due to injuries are ranked less harshly than those who flat out suck. Feel free to chime in with your top 10 in the comments below. So without further ado:
A 7’3” giant, Thabeet’s 10.6 rebounds and nearly five blocks per game during his third and final year at UConn suggested he’d do just fine as a defensive anchor at the next level. Obviously that never happened, which would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that the next five players chosen included James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, and some son of a former Raptor named Curry.
Thabeet was been traded twice in his two seasons (to Houston for Shane Battier, then to Portland for Marcus Camby) before signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 off-season where in 10 minutes per game he averaged 3.0 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. And it looks like that’s his apex.
2. Rafael Araujo, Mogi das Cruzes, 8th pick 2004 (Toronto Raptors)
Why the hell not? Hoffa, it seemed, was a bust before he even made it up to the podium on draft night, and his short-lived career played out that way. In two-and-a-half NBA seasons (not a typo), Araujo peaked as a rookie, averaging 3.3 points, 0.1 blocks, and 3.1 rebounds (to go with three fouls per game) in just over 12 minutes of average court time. To make it worse, small forward was a position of need that year for the Raptors. The first pick after Araujo? Andre Igoudala, to the division-rival Sixers, no less. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Araujo – Raptors fans will always remember the night in Sacramento when he picked a fight with Bonzi Wells. So there’s that.
Many would have assumed Oden would take pole position on this list, and for good reason — he’s had one decent season and the player chosen directly after him, Kevin Durant, might one day become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. But Oden’s problems stem from a series of devastating knee injuries, and when he did play, he was somewhat respectable, with averages of 9.4 points, 7.3 boards, and 1.4 blocks (2.3 as a sophomore) in the 82 games he’s appeared in. Five years and 82 games. On second thought, maybe he is too low here.
Heads were scratched when new Timberwolves GM David Khan followed up his pick of Ricky Rubio at fifth with another point guard immediately afterwards. Khan knew Rubio had another year or two left in Spain and needed to address the position. Fine, that’s understandable, I suppose, and Flynn was solid in his rookie year, starting all 81 games he played. He bounced around to three different clubs before spending last winter playing for the Melbourne Tigers down in the Deep South (Australia). Oh, and the point guards chosen after him in 2009? In order: Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague and Darren Collison. In related news, David Kahn is currently looking for work.
I’ll be the first to admit – I was all over the Morrison bandwagon when the 6’8” scoring savant was coming out of college. In his final year at Gonzaga, Morrison was named NCAA Player of the Year with averages of nearly 30 points per game, and he seemed to have the size, skill and shooting ability to translate to the next level. The Bobcats thought the same, and the young franchise chose Morrison ahead of swingmen like Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, and college rival, J.J. Redick. He went down with a torn ACL in the pre-season of his rookie year, and never recovered. But, it should be noted, Morrison does own a championship ring as a member of the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers (where he appeared in 31 contests averaging less than eight minutes per game).
6. Joe Alexander, retired, 8th overall 2008 (Milwaukee Bucks)
There are so many deserving players for this list it’s overwhelming. But Alexander, a slash forward out of West Virginia, is the perfect fit. A 6’8” dunking machine with nothing but upside, none of which was ever harnessed in the NBA. He appeared briefly in 59 games in his rookie year before being shipped off to Chicago where he played a total of 29 minutes in just 8 games. Then he was sent down to the D-League. He never returned, and ended up playing in Russia. Players drafted after him include Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka Nic Batum, Deandre Jordan, and Omer Asik. Alexander last played pro ball in 2011.
Williams has been a decent pro – he’s played a significant role on playoff teams and his numbers are just fine. But the Hawks needed a point guard that year and instead opted for Williams, who entered the draft with a ton of question marks after one season coming off the bench for the UNC Tar Heels, and played the same position as two recent Hawks draftees Josh Smith and Josh Childress. The next two players chosen after Williams? Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Seriously. Eight years later, the Hawks are still looking for a marquee point guard.
8. Yi Jianlian, Guangdong Southern Tigers (Chinese club), 6th pick in 2007 (Milwuakee Bucks)
One year before the Alexander pick, the Bucks chose Yi, whose primary attributes included: height, and, famously, his ability to post-up a chair. Yi enjoyed some minor success once he was downgraded from ‘potential stud prospect’ to ‘limited role player’, but the evolutionary Yao never became the player the Bucks hoped he would. To the surprise of nobody.
9. Michael Beasley, Phoenix Suns, 2nd pick in 2008 (Miami Heat)
A potentially controversial pick given some of the names that didn’t make the cut, and Beasley’s strong play early in his career, but in retrospect there’s no doubt this was a draft blunder. Could the Heat have foreseen the red flags that would follow Beasley? Probably. Was it still worth it for a shot at a transformative talent? Probably. But after controversial stops in Miami, Minnesota, and now Phoenix (where he just finished a season in which he had more shot attempts than total points), Beasley’s career is at a crossroads. Beasley was taken ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, but the fact is, Miami could have drafted 42nd pick Goran Dragic that year and been better off.
The Tebow of the NBA, Fredette was a college icon who the Kings hoped would appeal to fans and help usher in a new era. On the floor, the Sac-town brass were licking their chops at the chance to draft a player with limitless range, deadly accuracy, and the ability to handle the ball. Instead, they got Jimmer Fredette. The next pick was Klay Thompson. Man, you’ve gotta love the Draft!
Just missing the cut: Luke Jackson, Robert Swift, Josh Childress, Fran Vazquez, Jan Vesely, Yaroslav Korolev, Wes Johnson, Acie Law IV.