The 10 Worst NBA Drafts in the Lottery Era


The calendar now reads June. In the NBA that means it’s time to crown an NBA Champion. However among the biggest of NBA nerds, it also means it’s time to get ready for the NBA draft. We’re only two weeks and a few hours away from the 2011 NBA Draft. This year, it’s preparing for the likes of Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight to join the greatest basketball league on the planet that has us basketball geeks totally psyched.

Wait, what?

By Peter Christian

OK, so maybe the 2011 NBA Draft class lacks a true superstar and has the luster of a hungover morning in which you wake up next to Kathy Bates wearing clown make-up but that’s no reason to get discouraged.

No, actually it is a perfectly good reason to get discouraged.

But, it is a perfectly good reason to go back and make a list of the 10 worst NBA Draft Classes in the Lottery Era. You know, since this one is bound to be in it.

#10 – 2001

The 2001 NBA Draft class is generally given much more disrespect than a 10th worst should get. Sure, Kwame Brown was a pretty bad 1st overall pick but there is some decent talent to come out of the class. Pau Gasol had an outside shot at being a Hall of Famer before his 2011 playoff implosion. Zach Randolph’s 2011 playoffs cemented his status as an elite big. Others like Joe Johnson, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas were selected in that draft. However the 12 first round busts* (see below for definition) drag this class down to the label of “Worst Ever”

*“Bust,” – loosely defined as guys that played in fewer than 75% of the possible number of games since their draft date and/or produced abnormally low stats for the slot they were picked. I.e. A guy picked first who had a career average of 6.8 points in more than 75% of the games played since his selection (Kwame Brown) will be considered a bust while a player picked 25th with those same stats will likely not be a bust. All bust considerations eventually come down to my own opinion.

#9 – 2010

It’s really hard to fully judge a draft class when they’ve only got a year under their belt, but I think it’s relatively easy to include last year’s draft as one of the ten worst simply because the talent wasn’t there. At first glance it doesn’t appear to have too many full out “busts” (3 look to be headed that way for sure) but it also doesn’t appear that more than 3 guys have the skills to be one of the 5 best players at their position. Hell, it doesn’t look like more than 7 players will ever be considered to be among the 150 players in the league (i.e. better than average). I could end up being way off on this one, but I’m pretty confident I won’t be.

#8 – 1999

The top portion of the 1999 Draft class is pretty full with players with respectable careers that have recently wrapped up or are about to soon. However, there’s zero standout players whose stat lines scream at you saying, “HEY! I WAS THE BEST DAMN PLAYER OF THIS GROUP!”

Instead there are a handful of players that were 3rd or 4th best on a championship team or were good enough to be the 2nd best player on a weak team. Outside of the lottery however, the bust rate jumped dramatically and with some serious authority. Highlighted by Frederic Weis, Cal Bowdler, Dion Golver, Tim James and Leon Smith, the failures were more than just epic. They were devastating. Only Manu Ginobili (the 2nd to last pick in the draft) has a chance of being a hall of famer.

#7 – 1991

The 1991 Draft Class has some classic names that make you think, “Oh yeah, I kind of liked him.” But when you really think about most of them, you draw a blank when trying to come up with a defining moment. Such is the case with Stacey Augmon, Terrell Brandon, Dale Davis and Steve Smith (four of the classes top members). Sure, Larry Johnson had his 4 point (phantom) playoff moment and the slugfests against Miami in the postseason, Dikembe had his finger wag and the first 8 vs. 1 upset in the NBA playoffs, but the rest of the non-busts were good but not great. Recognizable but not memorable.

Then there are the stinkers. 16 of the 27 first round picks played less than half of the games as Mutombo (who led the class with more than 1100). 11 of those 16 didn’t play more than 353 games. The number of above average contributors in this class was terribly low and drags this to it’s current resting spot as the 7th worst draft class in NBA history.

#6 – 1990

Only a year prior to the 7th worst draft class in NBA history was a draft class that was even worse. At least the ’91 class had a handful of guys that played 1000+ games and/or were relevant on a championship team. The 1990 class had just two guys play more than a 1000 games and only Gary Payton will emerge from this draft class as a Hall of Famer.

The worst part of this draft class is that there was so little room for error. Most drafts have three or four tiers of players (stars, starters, bench, busts) in which to fill out the roster. This draft had one star, three starters (maybe four), 3 bench players and 14 million busts. That calculation might be a bit off, but the exaggeration gets the point across just fine. This draft sucked.

#5 – 2006

I really wanted this class to be lower, but the talent of the best 5 players in this draft make up for so much of the terrible basketball players selected in 2006. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy (healthy Brandon Roy, that is) and Rajon Rondo are perennial all-stars and have the talent to to be game changing players. Even the top pick, Andrea Bargnani showed with his skills this past season that he is definitely an NBA starter.

However, of the remaining 55 players selected about 7 are really better than replacement level only 5 years into their careers. Not a good turnout for a draft that happened that recently. I think in the years to come, this draft could end up being much closer to the worst class of all time if injuries do tarnish Brandon Roy’s and any of the other best 5 player’s careers.

#4 – 1997

The 1997 class often gets lost in the shuffle when this discussion pops up, mainly because of the name that is at the top of the class (Tim Duncan). After further inspection however, it’s more riddled with busts than a Las Vegas strip club.

Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Tim Thomas and Tracy McGrady top this draft class as far as NBA producers, but the rest of the class were either huge disappointments based on where they were drafted or complete and utter failures at the NBA level (I’m looking at you, Paul Grant). Injuries did cause a couple players who did exemplify the ability to excel at the NBA level (Ron Mercer, Keith Van Horn) to have their careers shortened, but as a whole this draft featured nothing more than the greatest power forward of all time, 2 All Stars, one superb role player and a handful of guys that were barely above useful.

#3 – 2000

The 2000 NBA Draft class could easily be the worst. Kenyon Martin was the first overall pick. Only 3 players in the draft have made an All-Star game* and there were 16 busts in the first round.

Worse yet, even the non-busts were relatively irrelevant. Less than a handful of the 60 players selected were ever among their respective team’s top three players. Only one could outright claim they were ever their team’s best player (43rd overall pick, Michael Redd). So, unless your goal in the draft is to draft 2-3 guys to be end of the bench guys, this draft was a joke.

*The 3 players to make an All Star Game were Redd, Martin and Jamaal Magloire and it was in the same ASG on the same team. Not exactly the firepower you’d expect out of an NBA All Star team. Worse yet, Magloire and Martin were the top 2 scorers for the Eastern Conference team that featured the likes of Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Baron Davis and Paul Pierce.

Magloire also took the most shots on the East team (16, 3 more than anyone else on his team) and was the 3rd leading scorer in the game (behind Shaq and Kobe). If one were to rank worst NBA All Star games in terms of lack of star power, the 2004 ASG would be a favorite to take the top spot

#2 – 1989

Historically thought of as the worst draft class of all time because of the levels of fail that both the first AND second overall picks reached in their NBA career (Pervis Ellison and Danny Ferry). Additionally, the class lacked anything even closely resembling a defining star player.

Leading the non-busts as NBA players are Sean Elliott, Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp and Vlade Divac. While that talent tops the best of some of the other classes on this list, the overwhelming disappointment in the 1989 prospects top to bottom is still enough to hold down the #2 spot.

#1 – 2002

Without question, the 2002 class has the most first round busts than any other class (19) and with the career arc of the class’ first overall pick (Yao Ming) literally falling apart, it’s only adding fuel to the fire that should be set to all records of this draft occurring. With Yao’s injury issues, you could argue that you need to go all the way down to the 9th pick to find a player that provided the production you’d expect out of a lottery pick (Amar’e Stoudemire) and even with Stoudemire, he’s got a lengthy injury history.

Meanwhile the top 8 picks were littered with forgettable draft day picks such as Jay Williams, Nikoloz Tskitishvilli, Dajuan Wagner and Chris Wilcox. None of which played in more than 75% of the games since draft day or averaged more than 9.5 points per game.

It seems this class’ proclivity to injury is really hurting it’s ability to lose the stigma of worst ever as only two players have missed less than 100 NBA regular season games since their draft day.

It is possible that this class could relinquish the top spot if Amar’e were to become a Hall of Famer to improve the overall resume of the 57 players drafted.

Of course, my research and extremely complex formulas to determine draft greatness might be off a smidge and I could be totally wrong. But at least the conversation is started. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong in the comments section.



  1. davidkay says

    loved this article… like BIG TIME…

  2. paulmbanks says

    yeah this was a pretty solid idea I came up with when I conceived this idea. But that’s nothing and miniscule compared to the genius research Pete put into this.

    WELL DONE! This is so nerdy, I love it! There’s an astounding wealth of info.

  3. paulmbanks says

    funny how you had two three-peats 99-01-01 at the turn of the decade. 89-90-91 very true though!

  4. Peter Christian says

    When I first went through the draft classes, I found that bad classes did tend to happen in consecutive years. For whatever reason, the years of multiple and huge busts stay together.

    Also, to end a streak of busty drafts it usually takes a couple of “can’t miss” players topping the draft (1992 – Shaq & Zo, 2003 – Bron, Melo, Wade, Bosh).

  5. I dont think it’s coincidence the wrost classes happen in consecutive years. Great players dont come around all the time, hence it is such an honor to be in the Hall of Fame, so it makes sense that u go years before seeing great players. Sometimes it’s like that though. Look how many drafts on here have like no one worth looking at, but then look and see that Melo Lebron and Wade all got drafted the same year. It happens.

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