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Biggest NBA Draft Misses of All-Time

A look at the biggest draft misses of all-time, such as Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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A few weeks ago, we took a look at some of the worst No. 1 picks of all-time because with so much attention paid to that top overall selection it’s easy to look at which players were massive whiffs. Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi are two of the biggest draft mistakes in league history, in large part because the teams making those selections chose them ahead of future All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. Because we just covered the mistakes at No. 1, guys like Greg Oden, Pervis Ellison and LaRue Martin won’t be found on this list.

Today, we’ll point out that there are mistakes to be made elsewhere in the draft, as well. Here’s a look at some of the most notable draft-day misses that fall outside of that top overall selection:

Sam Bowie, 2nd overall selection, 1984 – Probably the most egregious oversight in league history, this still serves as the cautionary tale of drafting for positional need over the best talent available. Portland felt like they were good at the two-guard spot with Clyde Drexler and so had no need for Michael Jordan. Sam Bowie, however, was tall, which filled a need for team; he just didn’t do a very good job of staying healthy enough to be productive. However, it wasn’t just Jordan that Portland missed here; if they wanted a big guy they could have gone with Charles Barkley or even Sam Perkins and gotten much better returns. Still, passing on the greatest player ever for a guy who never played 70 games in a season and averaged 10.9 PPG and 7.5 RPG for his career is about as unforgivable as it gets.

Dennis Hopson, 3rd overall selection, 1987 – The No. 3 pick wasn’t quite as kind to the New Jersey Nets in 1987 as it was to the Chicago Bulls in ’84, as Hopson mostly disappointed in what turned out to be a pretty mediocre career. In New Jersey’s defense, Hopson averaged over 29 PPG as a senior at Ohio State and looked the part of a top pick, but the Nets took him over legends like Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller.

Shawn Bradley, 2nd overall selection, 1993 – There aren’t a lot of instances in which a player is as tall as Bradley was (7’6) while also putting together a reasonable two-way game despite limited athleticism and strength, but at the NBA level, when players are so big and so fast and so strong, Bradley just never really had a chance. He put together a respectable career, but was a punchline for getting dunked on by about a third of his contemporaries. There weren’t a lot of players in the 1993 NBA Draft who turned into much, at least not among the players Philadelphia might have reasonably picked, but Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn and even Vin Baker put together more respectable careers.

Darko Milicic, 2nd overall selection, 2003 – There was more at play here than people realize, with Carmelo Anthony’s camp wanting assurances from Detroit that he’d be a starter were he selected No. 2 overall, but they had Tayshuan Prince on the roster and were on the verge of being good enough to win a championship. So, even though Anthony was clearly the better prospect, the Pistons went with a big guy to bolster their frontcourt and Larry Brown never really showed much interest in playing him. That shattered the kid’s confidence and work ethic forever, and now it’s seen as one of the worst draft misses of all time. Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were the three players selected right after Milicic.

Marvin Williams, 2nd overall selection, 2005 – The truly insane thing about this pick was that the Hawks really needed a point guard in 2005 and had needed one for years, yet they passed on two really good ones in Deron Williams and Chris Paul to take a kid who wasn’t even a starter for his college team. The two point guards are multiple-time All-Stars, and while Marvin Williams is still playing a reasonable role for the Charlotte Hornets 10 years into his career, he’s still no Chris Paul.

Rafael Araujo, 8th overall selection, 2004 – On the one hand, the pickings start getting a little slim by the time the 8th selection rolls around, but the Raptors made an absolutely ridiculous choice in Araujo when Andre Iguodala was perfectly available for them at a position of relative need. It was a jaw-dropping pick even at the time, but 11 years later, Iguodala is a Finals MVP and Araujo hasn’t suited up in an NBA uniform since 2007.

Adam Morrison, 3rd overall selection 2006 – Even in 2006, with Morrison coming off one of the most exciting and entertaining college seasons of all time, a lot of people were wary of him as an NBA prospect. It turns out those dubious scouts were right, as Morrison played significant minutes in only three NBA seasons, averaging 7.5 points on 37.3 percent shooting from the field. That lottery also offered up Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay, either of whom would have made a much better building block for the Bobcats with that third overall pick.

Yi Jianlian, 6th overall selection, 2007 – After the marketing boon that Yao Ming proved to be, teams were looking for the next great Chinese star, but Yi Jianlian wasn’t it. As happens with international players sometimes, Yi showed great potential and promise (not to mention a potentially massive fan base in China), but there really was no good reason that Joakim Noah should have dropped all the way to pick No. 9 just a year after being projected as a top three selection. He was close to a sure-thing as a prospect if the Bucks wanted a big, but instead they got Yi, who hasn’t played for an NBA team in years.

Joe Alexander, 8th overall selection, 2008 – A year later, the Bucks struck out again with Alexander, an especially horrible pick considering some of the talent that came after him, including both of the Lopez twins, Roy Hibbert and even JaVale McGee. Alexander was a leaper, but he only lasted in the NBA for two seasons, playing only 745 minutes while completely healthy. There’s a reason the Bucks were so bad for so long that decade, and these two consecutive picks help to illustrate why.

Hasheem Thabeet, 2nd overall selection, 2009 – Like the 7’6 Bradley, a lot of what drew scouts to Thabeet was his overwhelming height, but with Thabeet’s 7’3 frame also came practically no work ethic, and he was almost immediately sent down to the D-League, where he’d spend most of his time as a professional basketball player. James Harden was the third pick in that draft.

Jonny Flynn, 5th overall selection, 2009 – Just a few picks later in the same draft as Thabeet was one of the oddest series of events in recent draft history. David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves ended up with two consecutive picks at No. 5 and No. 6, and with a ton of needs to be filled there were a lot of ways they could have gone with those selections. Ricky Rubio was one of the picks, but since his plan was to stay in Spain a year or two longer, Kahn drafted another point guard at 6 in Jonny Flynn, a 5’11 floor general out of Syracuse who did not have a strong NBA career. Then, with the 7th pick, Golden State ran-not-walked to the podium to grab Stephen Curry, another point guard who one day would be a league MVP and NBA champion. Flynn was arguably Kahn’s biggest miss in a series of big misses.

Wesley Johnson, 4th overall selection, 2010 – Players chosen between picks No. 5 and 10 of the 2010 NBA Draft include DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George, any of whom would have been a huge improvement over what Johnson has been in his short NBA career. While Cousins and Monroe might not have fit Minnesota’s roster needs at the time, both Hayward and George play the same position as Johnson. The Timberwolves still haven’t completely recovered from these two years of botched picks, though the tides are certainly turning. Removing David Kahn has helped tremendously.

It’s hard to know which players in this coming draft will elicit fan angst years down the road, but it’s almost a certainty that someone will because it happens every year. Maybe Kristaps Porzingis will pale in comparison to Emmanuel Mudiay someday. Perhaps going with Frank Kaminsky over Trey Lyles will turn out to be a mistake, or Kevon Looney over Jarell Martin, or any of a number of other possibilities.

One thing’s for sure; the draft is an art, and not every front office is well-trained with the brush.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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