2003 NBA Draft 2003 NBA Draft


The 10 biggest draft flops in NBA history

Posted: Thursday June 26, 2003 11:18 AM
Updated: Thursday June 26, 2003 11:18 AM
  Sam Bowie Sam Bowie joined forces with Dennis Hopson on the 1989-90 Nets. Maybe that explains why they went 17-65. Ken Levine/Allsport

By John Hollinger,

LeBron James is The Chosen One. Darko is a can't-miss, and Carmelo's a sure thing. But we've heard these labels before, and more than a few times we've had horrifying disappointments.

So before we bask in all the hype over this year's rookies, let's take a moment to memorialize the biggest busts of the past. Before introducing the list of the 10 biggest draft busts ever, there are a few ground rules. First, the list is only from 1966, when the NBA dispensed with territorial picks at the start of the draft. Before then, a "No. 1" pick might be the fourth player taken off the board, so you won't see Hot Rod Hundley or Bill McGill on the list.

Second, I'm not considering anyone drafted after 1999. The book is still out on the Kwame Browns and Stromile Swifts of the world, so while some would like to write them off already, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt for a couple of more years.

On then, to the list of 10 guys LeBron James wants to avoid emulating:

10. Corky Calhoun
No. 4 overall, 1972, Suns
The 1972 draft was perhaps the worst in history. In addition to Calhoun, it featured such luminaries as No. 3 pick Dwight Davis, No. 5 selection Fred Boyd and No. 6 choice Russell Lee. Even the one great player from the draft -- Julius Erving -- never played a game for the team that picked him, Milwaukee. Calhoun, from Penn, lasted eight years but eclipsed the magical six-point-a-game barrier just once.

9. Kent Benson
No. 1 overall, 1977, Bucks
The top pick after leading Indiana to an undefeated national championship, Benson was a battler whose ordinary athleticism and scoring skills were quickly exposed. He managed only three double-figure scoring campaigns, and the Bucks dumped him after just 2 1/2 seasons, although he was good enough to at least stay in the league for 10 years.

8. James Ray
No. 5 overall, 1980, Nuggets
Denver took the swingman from Jacksonville ahead of Andrew Toney, and he managed to start seven games his entire career. He lasted just three years and averaged 3.2 points per game over that time. Fortunately for the Nuggets, they hardly missed him -- Kiki Vandeweghe came later in the same draft.

7. Michael Olowokandi
No. 1 overall, 1998, Clippers
Here's an idea: If you have the top overall pick, choose a guy who likes basketball. The Clippers didn't, and as a result they ended up with a lethargic, turnover-prone 7-footer instead of Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby or Antawn Jamison. The Clippers have drafted well under Elgin Baylor, but this pick was a serious turkey.

6. Dennis Hopson
No. 3 overall, 1987, Nets
The Ohio State star was thought to be a can't-miss when he came out, but he turned into a can't-make. He shot 43 percent for his career and was out of the league in five seasons. Actually, you could make a stellar All-Bust team just from the Nets' picks in the mid-1980s. Hopson was part of a futile stretch that included Jeff Turner, Pearl Washington, Chris Morris and Tate George. Even their one good pick in that span, Mookie Blaylock, was traded for Rumeal Robinson within a year.

5. Bill Garnett
No. 4 overall, 1982, Mavericks
The forward from Wyoming was the second-ever pick of the expansion Mavericks and easily their worst ever. He stayed in the league for four very undistinguished NBA seasons, averaging five points and four rebounds. Garnett might rank higher but for the mediocrity of the players taken after him in the weak 1982 Draft.

4. Ken Durrett
No. 4 overall, 1971, Royals
Cincinnati drafted the forward from LaSalle, and he was as bad as any top-10 pick in memory. Durrett was so awful that he never started a game and was out of the league in four years. He had more fouls than points in his rookie year and shot 43 percent for his career.

3. Chris Washburn
No. 3 overall, 1986, Warriors
Call 1986 the "drug draft." Cocaine killed No. 2 pick Len Bias within a week of the draft (incidentally, I thought it unfair to include Bias as a "bust" given the tragic circumstances), and No. 6 pick William Bedford also had problems. But it was the No. 3 pick, Washburn, who became the poster child, playing just 72 games over two seasons with a career average of 3.1 points per game. He was on the street before his 23rd birthday.

2. Sam Bowie
No. 2 overall, 1984, Trail Blazers
The 1984 draft may have been the best of all time ... except for the part where the Blazers took Bowie at No. 2. It's well-known that the Blazers passed on Michael Jordan while the big man from Kentucky labored through an injury-plagued career. But what's less well-known is that Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Kevin Willis, Alvin Robertson and Otis Thorpe were all still on the board when it was Portland's turn to pick. Even Portland's second-rounder, Jerome Kersey, had a better career than Bowie.

1. LaRue Martin
No. 1 overall, 1972, Trail Blazers
Yes, there was a pick worse than Bowie. Martin was the top pick out of Loyola for the young Blazers, who were in only their third season. Despite playing for a horrid 21-61 team, Martin had trouble getting minutes. Bowie at least averaged double figures for his career; this guy was luggage. He stayed in the league only four seasons and finished with a modest scoring average of 5.3 points a game. Ironically, the Blazers passed on another North Carolina product -- three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo -- to take him.

John Hollinger covers the NBA for and is the author of Pro Basketball Prospectus.