NBA Draft Busts: rating the top five of the past 30 years


nba draft logo

The 2014 NBA draft will take place on Thursday, June 26 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. All of the teams who either intentionally (like the Sixers) or unintentionally (like the Cavs) tanked last season will be looking to add that one player who can turn their franchise around.

With this year’s NBA draft class being touted as one of the greatest of all time, lots of fans of lots of teams are very excited to see what future superstar their favorite team will be adding. But someone should warn these guys and gals not to get their hopes up, as draft busts abound in the history of the NBA draft.

I will now attempt to name the five greatest busts in NBA draft history, which isn’t an easy task- so many players wind up as busts that narrowing it down to only five names presents quite a challenge.

So I am limiting it to players drafted in the last 30 years, since this year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984 NBA draft, one of history’s greatest, and one that even most younger fans are familiar with.

The criteria for this list isn’t just how much the respective player sucked, but also who their respective teams passed on to draft said player.

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5- Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, Portland

This isn’t a tie, it’s an aggregate award. On their own, neither of these guys would make the bottom five, though they are certainly busts in their own right. But add them together and even 23 years apart, consider who they were drafted ahead of, and Portland should be banned from ever drafting again.

Sam Bowie was an amazing talent, and when he played he actually had a fairly nice NBA career (10.9 pts, 7.5 reb, 1.8 blk and 2.1 ast)- but he had toothpicks for shinbones. He famously fractured his right tibia while walking around in a pregame shootaround during the 1987-88 preseason. Yet the Blazers took him at #2 in the 1984 NBA draft, right ahead of Michael Jordan. Ouch. They also passed on Charles Barkley and John Stockton to take Bowie. Double ouch.

greg oden blazers

Greg Oden was another incredible talent who was plagued by injuries, but they didn’t start until after he was drafted. He had microfracture surgery on his right knee 78 days after being drafted, and he only played 13 minutes in his NBA debut a year later before leaving with an injured foot.

Oden has played in only 105 games in the seven seasons since he was drafted. He was taken immediately before Kevin Durant in the draft, meaning the Blazers passed on the two greatest scoresr in the last 30 years for Sam Bowie and Greg Oden.

And to get a good laugh check out the Blazers’ first ever Tweet, as it relates directly to Oden.

hasheem thabeet

4-  Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis

Thabeet grew up in Tanzania and didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15 years old, yet his potential earned him a scholarship at UConn. He was a decent player in college, where he could just stand in the middle of the lane on defense and intimidate opponents by being 7’3″ tall. But he never had any offensive skills, and he still doesn’t.

Still, the Grizzlies took him with the #2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, just ahead of James Harden. To this day, nobody knows why. He is slow as hell, and his motion reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster. His rookie season was his best as he averaged career-highs of 13.0 min, 3.1 pts, 3.6 reb and 1.3 blk. That statline says it all.

adam morrison

3- Adam Morrison, Charlotte

Morrison was the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, Micheal Jordan’s first-ever pick as “Manager of Basketball Operations” with the team. This pick cemented MJ’s status as an absolute horrific evaluator of talent, a status he started earning in Washington when he took Kwame Brown ahead of Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol in the 2001 NBA draft.

Like Thabeet, Morrison put up career-high stats during his rookie year- 11.8 pts, 2.9 reb, and 2.1 ast. Unfortunately, his 37.6% from the field and 33.7% from behind the arc were also career highs, and a player who never could do much outside of “make shots” can’t stay in the league if he can’t make shots.

Darko NBA Draft

2- Darko Milicic, Detroit

The 2003 NBA draft has gone down as one of the best ever, with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the top-5. But #2 overall was Darko Milicic, a 17-year-old European who had never done anything on the court to deserve being taken that high.

Joe Dumars had been seen as a genius GM before drafting Darko, but this pick seemingly was the beginning of a long line of stupid decisions by Joe D. Darko averaged 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds for his NBA career, as five different teams tried to make him a player after he left Detroit. They were 0/5 for their efforts.


1- Chris Washburn, Golden State

Washburn is #1 on this list by a wide margin, the only question when writing his bio is “where do I begin”?

He was the #3 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, also sadly known as the “cocaine draft”, as Washburn and fellow draftees William Bedford (#6) and Roy Tarpley (#7) were all plagued by drug problems. Not to mention #2 overall pick Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose just two days after being drafted by the Celtics.

But Washburn was more than just a drug abuser- during his season at N.C. State, he was sentenced to 46 hours in jail and five years of probation after he was caught stealing a stereo. During that trial, it was also revealed that Washburn’s SAT score was 470 (out of a possible 1600, with 400 being the starting score). He was eventually kicked out of the NBA in 1989 after failing three drug tests in three years.

The good news is that Washburn finally kicked his drug habit, and is now a successful businessman. The bad news is that he is almost unanimously considered the biggest NBA draft bust of the past 30 years.

Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor) . In addition to running and writing for The Sports Bank and ChicagoNow (Bullsville), he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He’s a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville.

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