Updated September 14, 2022
BY Jay Sanin

Ranking The Biggest NBA Draft Busts Ever

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The NBA Draft has the potential to change the fate of teams, conferences and the entire league, as young players are selected to help build the future of each franchise. But for every franchise-changing player who is selected, there are many players who do not have the impact that teams anticipated when making their selections.

For every draft-day steal — like a Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green — there's a draft bust just as big, such as Greg Oden, Darko Milicic and Anthony Bennett.

But who are these epic draft failures? We've ranked 10 players who landed in the league with a harsh thud, making them the biggest busts in the history of the NBA Draft.

10. Kwame Brown

When the most notable part of your career is getting traded to make another a team a title contender, you were definitely a bust. Kwame Brown, the top pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, failed to average seven points per game in his lowly career. Only once in his career did Brown average double figures in scoring for a season, as he failed to help bring the Washington Wizards out of the depths of the NBA after they drafted him.

Brown’s biggest contribution to NBA history was being a part of the package that the Los Angeles Lakers sent to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Pau Gasol. Gasol helped the Lakers win multiple NBA Finals, helping to bolster Kobe Bryant’s legacy as one of the best players of all-time in the process.

Needless to say, Brown will not be in any greatest of all-time discussions anytime soon.

9. Robert Traylor

Something that is common when analyzing NBA Draft picks is the projection of their body type for their future in the league. Slim players are expected to put on additional muscle to compete at the next level, while bigger players are expected to improve their conditioning in the pros. Robert “Tractor” Traylor used his size to bully Big Ten defenders at Michigan, but he was unable to stay in the kind of shape that would turn him into a good player. 

Traylor was, for lack of a better term, husky for his entire playing career. And against elite big men in the NBA, that was no longer sustainable. Traylor bounced around the league for seven seasons, averaging fewer than five points per game for his career. His inability to keep up with the speed of the big men in the NBA was his undoing.

One of the biggest busts in draft history, Traylor was also involved in one of the dumbest trades the league has ever seen as well. 

8. Shawn Bradley

Bradley’s professional career got off to a strong start, as he showed flashes of brilliance early on. He even earned a role in the iconic 1990s movie Space Jam. But those glimpses gave way to a disappointing career, in which Bradley was unable to prove that he was more than just an extremely tall guy in an NBA that required much, much more than that.

Bradley was drafted second overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. And while his 2.5 blocked shots per game were commendable, Bradley greatly disappointed despite being the tallest player on the floor at virtually all times.

Bradley’s lack of bulk to go with his height made him easy to bully around under the basket, with the physical nature of the NBA during his time in the league being incompatible with his body type.

7. Hasheem Thabeet

The Huskies were a college basketball powerhouse when Hasheem Thabeet was there, with the team regularly competing for Big East supremacy at the time. But, like the thought of UConn playing in the Big East, memories of Thabeet playing at a high level were nothing but a distant memory by the time he flamed out of the NBA.

Thabeet, the second overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, simply did not have the ability to match his 7-foot-3 frame.

Over five seasons, the Tanzanian averaged a dismal 2.2 points per game, and less than a block per contest despite towering over his opponents. He never averaged more than 13 minutes per game in a season, as his height simply was not enough to justify putting him on the court for more than a few minutes at a time.

6. Jonny Flynn

One of the most exciting nights in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise had to be the 2009 NBA Draft, where the T-Wolves had the sixth and seventh overall picks and a real chance to turn their franchise around after years of disastrous play and questionable roster management.

They spent the sixth pick on Ricky Rubio, who has had a serviceable NBA career. But spending the seventh pick on Jonny Flynn was an all-time draft disaster.

Flynn, a Syracuse product, lasted just three seasons in the NBA and failed to make any discernible impact while in the league. And to further his status as a draft bust, Flynn was selected just one pick before Stephen Curry, the best shooter that the NBA has ever seen. Had the Wolves drafted Curry over Flynn, the entire history of the NBA would have changed.

5. Anthony Bennett

In 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers surprised the world when they took UNLV's Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo were on the board at the time. Little did the Cavs know that virtually every player drafted that night would be a better pro than Bennett, who failed to live up to the billing of the top overall selection.

Bennett averaged just 4.2 points per game during his lone season with the Cavaliers before he was shipped off to the Timberwolves to help Cleveland get Kevin Love in a trade.

Love teamed up with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James to bring Cleveland its first pro sports championship in over 50 years when the Cavs won it all in 2016.

Bennett, meanwhile, lasted just four seasons in the NBA before washing out.

4. Michael Olowokandi

There are plenty of players who have played in small conferences during their college careers before turning into NBA stars. Olowokandi will not be remembered as one of them.

Olowokandi was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, after playing very well at Pacific in the Big West Conference. To say that he struggled to make the leap from the Big West to the Western Conference would be putting it gently.

The seven-footer averaged 8.3 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game for his career, as the Los Angeles Clippers continued to flounder with him on their roster. To add insult to injury, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Shaquille O’Neal, who patrolled the paint for a superior Los Angeles squad as “The Kandi Man” struggled in the same city.

3. Greg Oden

It might be unfair to consider Oden a draft bust in the traditional sense, as it wasn’t poor play that derailed his career. But Oden’s injury history is so extensive, and the circumstances around his drafting so bleak, that he has to be included in any list of NBA Draft disappointments.

Oden was taken first overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, after dominating the paint as an Ohio State Buckeye in college. The seven-footer appeared to have all of the physical tools to succeed in the NBA before injuries relegated him to limited action in just three seasons.

With Kevin Durant being selected with the second pick by the Seattle SuperSonics, Oden is one of the great draft regrets in history.

2. Darko Milicic

Often, the players you are surrounded by in the draft determine your status as a bust. In Darko Milicic's case, it's the pick before and after him that really made his selection look questionable. Milicic was taken second overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2003 draft, one pick prior to Carmelo Anthony.

Milicic averaged six points per game in 10 seasons in the NBA, which is a far cry from everything that James and Anthony were able to accomplish during their careers. The Pistons were outrageously successful despite the Milicic selection, as they appeared in several NBA Finals during that era in team history. And with Milicic earning over $50 million in salary during his playing career, all involved parties turned out okay despite the unfortunate draft pick.

1. Sam Bowie

Bowie is another case of surrounding selections making a player into even more of a bust. After Hakeem Olajuwon was taken by the Houston Rockets with the first pick of the 1984 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers took Bowie second overall. The next pick belonged to the Chicago Bulls, who drafted Michael Jordan third overall. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Bowie wasn’t a terrible player during his career, averaging just shy of 11 points per game and playing over 27 minutes per contest. He was reliable, which would have kept him off of this list had the pick after him not turned out to be the greatest player in the history of the sport.

Photo: Getty Images

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