An NBA draft pick might be the most valuable asset in professional sports. There are only two rounds and 60 total picks in each year’s draft, making them a lot harder to come by than selections in the NFL or MLB drafts. Unlike most other sports, a single great player can change an entire NBA franchise’s fortunes seemingly overnight, which makes a botched draft selection a major source of heartbreak and financial waste.
When a player comes out of college or high school with can’t-miss talent and eye-popping statistics, it’s tough for teams not to grab them quickly, but sometimes the players are unable to re-create that success at basketball’s top level.
These are the NBA draft picks who’ve been the biggest busts, not living up to their monumental hype and breaking the hearts of countless fans.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Cleveland Cavaliers (2013)
In 2013, Cleveland Cavaliers fans were still reeling from losing LeBron James (the first time) and seeing him win back-to-back championships in Miami. Then, they had to watch the team make arguably the worst draft selection in NBA history. With the top overall pick that year, the Cavs chose Anthony Bennett, a one-and-done star at UNLV, ahead of current stars like Victor Oladipo and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
What the Cavs got for their risky pick was a guy who wouldn’t start a single game for the team and would spend four seasons in the league before being bumped back to the NBA developmental G League and completely flaming out. In 151 career NBA games, Bennett averaged 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Sacramento Kings (1989)
You’ll notice injuries are a major reason why many promising players end up as draft busts and that was certainly the case for “Out of Service” Pervis Ellison. The former top overall draft pick in 1989 earned that nickname because he would start only 245 games in a career that spanned 12 years. Ellison had a fantastic college career at Louisville, leading them to the national title and being named a consensus All-American, before being taken ahead of guys like Shawn Kemp and Tim Hardaway.
The Sacramento Kings had high hopes when they took Ellison first in the 1989 draft, but he’d end up spending just one season with the team before being traded. Ellison’s career averages of 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game aren’t awful but they’re pretty bad for a former top selection.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Los Angeles Clippers (1998)
Speaking of top overall draft picks who were derailed by injuries, Michael Olowokandi was taken first by the Clippers in 1998. As a senior at Pacific, the Nigerian baller averaged a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds but never came close to that kind of production in the NBA.
In his rookie season with the Clippers, Olowokandi played in just 45 games and averaged less than nine points and rebounds per game. He’d end up spending 10 seasons in the league, averaging 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per night, both of which are a far cry from what was expected when he was chosen ahead of future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Washington Wizards (2001)
Two years before LeBron James would be chosen first overall right out of high school, Kwame Brown became the first player to ever have that distinction. The teen phenom towered at 6 feet 11 inches and was Georgia’s high school basketball player of the year as a senior, leaving NBA scouts salivating. The Wizards had the top pick in 2001 and took a chance on him that unfortunately would not pay dividends.
Brown would last for 13 seasons in the league but he ended up playing for seven different teams, would start in fewer than 20 games in all but five seasons and would never start in more than 57 in a single year. His career averages of 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game are some of the lowest for any top selection — or any player at his height, for that matter.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Portland Trail Blazers (1972)
The 1972 draft had future NBA legends like Julius Erving and Bob McAdoo but they had to wait to be chosen after LaRue Martin. That year’s top pick came from Loyola University Chicago and would sadly only spend as many seasons in the NBA as one typically spends in college. Martin would spend all four of his professional basketball season with the Blazers, averaging just 14 minutes per game for his career.
Martin, who was nearly 7 feet tall, averaged just 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for his disappointing career.
Draft Selection: No. 2 Overall By Minnesota Timberwolves (2011)
After being picked second overall in the 2011 draft, Derrick Williams would start in only 112 games and play for six different teams before bouncing out of the NBA in 2018. The former NCAA star at Arizona would never make an All-Star team in his seven seasons at the game’s top level, making him an automatic selection for a draft bust.
He averaged 10.1 points per game in his three seasons with the Timberwolves but his production would slip from there, resulting in a career average of 8.9 points per game. To make things worse, Williams was taken far ahead of outstanding players like Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Toronto Raptors (2006)
Seven-footer Andrea Bargnani is a hot topic of discussion whenever the debate about draft busts comes up. He was chosen first overall by the Raptors in 2006 after playing youth basketball in his native Italy. Bargnani spent 10 seasons in the NBA and averaged 14.3 points per game, which is a solid scoring figure, but he started fewer than 40 games in six of his seasons because of injuries.
Bleacher Report wrote a good exploration of why Bargnani’s scoring average is a misleading stat and why he should be considered a massive bust, despite the fact that the 2006 draft was a pretty weak one.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Portland Trail Blazers (2007)
One name that is not up for debate when people talk about NBA draft busts is Greg Oden. The seven-footer was considered a can’t-miss prospect after his lone season at Ohio State, where he averaged nearly 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Blazers wasted no time taking the dominant center first overall in 2007, overlooking a guy named Kevin Durant in the process.
Oden would end up missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury and would play in only 105 games from 2008 to 2014, starting in only 66 of them. He would win a championship with the Miami Heat in 2014 but contributed fewer than three points and rebounds per game that entire season.
Draft Selection: No. 2 Overall By Memphis Grizzlies (2009)
Speaking of guys who were gifted with incredible stature, Hasheem Thabeet stands at 7 feet 3 inches tall. That size and his great career at UConn, where he was named co-Big East player of the year and an All-American in 2009, helped him be taken second overall in that year’s NBA draft.
Thabeet would start just 13 games for the Grizzlies before being dealt and playing for four other teams before he was out of the league in 2014. In five seasons, Thabeet started in only 20 games and averaged less than three points and rebounds per game for a career that can only be called a bust.
Draft Selection: No. 2 Overall By Philadelphia 76ers (2010)
Evan Turner is currently still playing in the NBA but we’ve seen enough to safely consider him a bust based on how high he was drafted and how much hype he had coming into the league. In 2010, the former NCAA player of the year at Ohio State was drafted second overall, and although he’s now been in the league for 10 years, he’s bounced around to five different teams and averaged less than 10 points per game.
He’s turned into a decent role player but that’s not what you anticipate from a No. 2 pick, especially one taken over guys like Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins.
Draft Selection: No. 2 Overall By Detroit Pistons (2003)
Darko Miličić is destined to always make lists like this but his standing as a draft bust would be a whole lot stronger if he’d been taken first overall in 2003. That was the year LeBron James was taken first but following in his footsteps was this Serbian star who went to the Pistons — a team that passed on guys like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony to get him.
Miličić would end up playing for 10 seasons but would start only 208 games in that span, averaging just six points and four rebounds per game for his career. Those are spectacularly bad numbers for a seven-footer that was drafted that high in an excellent class.
Draft Selection: No. 3 Overall By Charlotte Bobcats (2006)
After an incredible career at Gonzaga, Adam Morrison was viewed as an unmissable prospect in the 2006 draft and the Charlotte Bobcats pulled the trigger, taking him third overall. Unfortunately, injuries would force Morrison to play only three seasons in four years before he was out of the league completely. He started a grand total of 28 games in his NBA career, with 23 of those coming during his rookie campaign.
Interestingly, Morrison would end up playing his final two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and winning championship rings with them in both years. Of course, he averaged less than eight minutes of playing time and just 2.2 points per game during those two seasons, so he wasn’t exactly a huge part of the team’s success.
Draft Selection: No. 5 Overall By Denver Nuggets (2002)
The 2002 draft class wasn’t full of outstanding talent but future All-Stars like Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer were still waiting to be chosen when the Nuggets took Nikoloz Tskitishvili. This seven-foot Georgian (the nation, not the state) had been a rising star in international basketball and would, unfortunately, be back there after a very short stint in the NBA.
Tskitishvili would end up starting in 16 games during his rookie season and would never start in another NBA game. He’d spend four seasons bouncing around to four different teams and playing in 172 total games before he was back overseas in 2006. He finished his NBA career with averages of 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
Draft Selection: No. 5 Overall By Toronto Raptors (1999)
Power forward Jonathan Bender was a hot commodity in 1999, after being named the MVP of that year’s prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game. He ended up being drafted straight out of high school by the Raptors with the fifth overall selection, while future stars like Ron Artest, Shawn Marion and Manu Ginóbili waited to be chosen. He was immediately traded to the Indiana Pacers, where he’d spend the majority of his career.
Bender would end up battling injuries his entire, brief career in the NBA, once sitting out three entire seasons from 2006-2009. He would start in just 28 total games in a span of 11 years from the time he was drafted to when he retired. He averaged just 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in that time.
Draft Selection: No. 4 Overall By Chicago Bulls (2000)
In 2006, Marcus Fizer was named the MVP of the NBA’s G League and it would end up being the highlight of his professional basketball career. That’s not much of a plateau for a guy who was taken fourth overall in the 2000 draft after being named player of the year in the Big 12 for that NCAA season.
The forward was taken by the Bulls in what was admittedly a pretty weak draft class but it had to be a disappointment that he would start only 35 games for the team over the course of four seasons. Fizer would be out of the NBA after six seasons, never appearing in the playoffs or even being part of a winning season.
Draft Selection: No. 6 Overall By Cleveland Cavaliers (2002)
The year before the Cavaliers took LeBron James first overall, their big draft pick was Dajuan Wagner and we’ll forgive you if you don’t remember his career. Wagner had an amazing amateur career, being named the best high school player in the nation by multiple publications in 2001 before leading Memphis to an NIT championship in his lone season there in 2002. So it’s easy to see why the Cavs took him early in what wasn’t exactly a stacked draft class.
Wagner had a solid rookie season, averaging 13.4 points per game, but did virtually nothing in the NBA after that. He played in just 103 total games in the span of five years and was out of the league in 2007.
Draft Selection: No. 9 Overall By New Jersey Nets (1995)
You might know Ed O’Bannon’s name but it’s probably not because of his NBA career. The former UCLA star was taken ninth in 1995 by the Nets and his career would be incredibly brief, even among the guys on this list. O’Bannon would play in just 128 games over the course of two seasons before he was out of the league in 1997.
In 2014, O’Bannon made national news by suing the NCAA in a landmark case that argued former college athletes should be given financial compensation if their images are used for commercial reasons. The lawsuit led to the end of NCAA-licensed video games.
Draft Selection: No. 3 Overall By Los Angeles Clippers (2000)
The career of Darius Miles looks better on paper than many others on this list but, given how high he was drafted, we’re still comfortable labeling him a bust. In 2000, Miles was chosen third overall by the Clippers straight out of high school, which was the highest any player who’d taken that path had ever been taken at the time. Despite being young when he came into the NBA, knee injuries would end up forcing Miles to start in only 190 games in a career that lasted just nine years.
He averaged 10.1 points per game for that career, which is solid but his overall impact was far from what you’d expect from a guy who was taken third overall.
Draft Selection: No. 3 Overall By New Jersey Nets (1987)
Former No. 3 pick Dennis Hopson is one of the few players on this list who won a championship in the NBA but his presence on that squad was minimal at best. The former Big Ten player of the year at Ohio State was taken by the Nets in 1987 and would spend three respectable seasons with that franchise, averaging 13 points per game.
In 1990, he landed with the Chicago Bulls and would average just 4.3 points per game while not starting once during a season where the team won a title. The fact that Hopson’s entire career spanned just five years makes the fact that he was drafted ahead of Hall of Famers like Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller look even worse.
Draft Selection: No. 6 Overall By Dallas Mavericks (1998)
It’s never a good thing when your nickname is more memorable than your career. Robert “Tractor” Traylor was grabbed ahead of Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki at sixth overall in 1998 because of his great career at Michigan, but he would, unfortunately, last for just seven seasons in the league and would start in fewer games than a combined regular season in that span.
Traylor would average fewer than 15 minutes per game for his entire career and would average less than five points and four rebounds every time out. Those figures unfortunately make the late baller an undeniable draft lottery bust.
Draft Selection: No. 3 Overall By Philadelphia 76ers (2015)
Perhaps it’s unfair to put Jahlil Okafor on this list since his career is still relatively in its early going but he hasn’t lived up to the hype so far. The former Duke stud was grabbed third overall by the 76ers in 2015 and has already played for three teams since then and hasn’t produced much.
His average of 11 points per game isn’t awful but he averaged 17.3 per night at Duke and was a fierce rebounder as well, which he hasn’t been in the NBA so far. Okafor has yet to start in more than 50 games in a single season and has yet to make an appearance in the playoffs, all of which spell a bust.
Draft Selection: No. 3 Overall By Minnesota Timberwolves (2008)
The 2008 draft featured studs like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Goran Dragić, all of whom were selected after O.J. Mayo. He was taken third overall by the Timberwolves but came into the draft with tons of hype because of his stellar high school career and a season at USC where he averaged more than 20 points per game.
Unfortunately, Mayo would never reach that plateau in the NBA in a career that would only last eight seasons. In that time, he did average 13.8 points per game but he was never an All-Star selection. Mayo had a better career than many guys on this list but didn’t live up to the expectations that were set for him.
Draft Selection: No. 2 Overall By Vancouver Grizzlies (2000)
Despite nearly seven feet of height, Stromile Swift was never able to dominate around the rim like NBA scouts were hoping when he was taken second overall in 2000. The former college standout was a consensus All-American at LSU but never sniffed an All-Star Game in seven seasons at the professional level. Swift started in fewer than 100 games in his career and averaged just 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Draft Selection: No. 8 Overall By Los Angeles Clippers (1990)
If you were a fan of college basketball in the 1980s, you definitely remember Bo Kimble and the explosive offense at Loyola Marymount. He was averaging more than 35 points per game as a senior in the 1989-90 season but he was never able to even sniff that kind of production in the NBA. After being drafted eighth overall in 1990, Kimble would spend only three seasons in the league and would average just 5.5 points per game in that span.
Draft Selection: No. 1 Overall By Milwaukee Bucks (1977)
Hall of Famers like Jack Sikma and Bernard King were left waiting to be selected in 1977 when the Bucks took Kent Benson first overall. The outstanding Indiana center would last 11 seasons in the league but wouldn’t make the kind of impact you’d expect from a top pick. Benson averaged 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for his career, which is decent but those numbers slipped to 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs.