The 5 biggest draft busts in NBA history

Sqore compiled a ranking of the five biggest draft busts in NBA history using Basketball Reference data, including win shares and VORP.

Sean Wright
Posted 6/12/24

Sqore compiled a ranking of the five biggest draft busts in NBA history using Basketball Reference data, including win shares and VORP.

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The 5 biggest draft busts in NBA history

Sqore compiled a ranking of the five biggest draft busts in NBA history using Basketball Reference data, including win shares and VORP.

Posted

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Chris Ford talks to Michael Olowokandi during a game.

Todd Warshaw // Getty Images

The NBA draft is one of the most important processes in building a team. Championship contenders can find their missing piece or a diamond in the rough, while lesser teams may secure a cornerstone player for the future. Scouts and teams must attend the draft combine, interviews, and workouts, and they also study, film, and watch games to get a grasp on what attributes these prospects bring to the table.

While selecting the right player in the draft could speed up a team's championship timeline, picking the wrong player could set a franchise back significantly. For example, in the 1984 draft, Hakeem Olajuwon was chosen as the first overall pick by the Houston Rockets, Sam Bowie was the second pick by the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan with the third pick.

Olajuwon retired as a two-time champion and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. Bowie's career was plagued by injuries, and his only accolade was an All-Rookie team nod. Jordan retired as a six-time champion and five-time Most Valuable Player and is widely recognized as the best player to ever enter the game. This predicament alone shows the importance of drafting the right player.

Sqore compiled a ranking of the five biggest draft busts in NBA history using Basketball Reference data. Players were ranked according to the sum of their career win shares and career value over replacement player, or VORP, two commonly used approximations of player value. For players who predated the start of VORP in 1973, career win shares were used. Only the top five picks who played at least one NBA game and are no longer active in the league were considered.

#5. Chris Washburn

Chris Washburn holding up his new jersey.

Bettmann // Getty Images

- Draft year: 1986 (3rd overall pick)
- Career averages (per game): 3.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists
- Games played: 72
- Player value score: -1.5 (win shares: -0.6, VORP: -0.9)

Chris Washburn played center at North Carolina State University and was a dominant force, averaging 17.6 points per game as a sophomore. Washburn was drafted by the Golden State Warriors before he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in his second season.

He appeared in just 72 games and was suspended for the 1988-89 season because of substance abuse, his second violation of the league's drug program. Not even a year later, Washburn received a lifetime ban from the NBA after a third infraction.

Players such as Ron Harper, who was picked eighth, and Dennis Rodman, the third selection in the second round, were in the same draft and went on to have illustrious careers.

#4. Nikoloz Tskitishvili

Nikoloz Tskitishvili of Georgia celebrates with family members after he was chosen as the fifth pick.

STAN HONDA // Getty Images

- Draft year: 2002 (5th overall pick)
- Career averages (per game): 2.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists

- Games played: 172
- Player value score: -3.6 (win shares: -1.6, VORP: -2)

Nikoloz Tskitishvili caught the eyes of NBA teams by showcasing his ability to stretch the floor and shoot the ball as a 7-footer in the Italian league and for the Georgia national team. He was selected by the Denver Nuggets and played 16.3 minutes per game as a rookie, but he never reached half that mark again.

Tskitishvili was traded to the Warriors during his third season before short stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

Tskitishvili's skill set never translated to the NBA, and he was out of the league by age 23. Over the next five years, he played for teams in Spain, Italy, and Greece and followed a 2015 flirtation with the NBA by heading back overseas.

Six-time All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire was chosen by the Suns just four picks after Tskitishvili's selection in 2002.

#3. Adam Morrison

Adam Morrison of the Charlotte Bobcats walks on the court during the game.

Streeter Lecka // Getty Images

- Draft year: 2006 (3rd overall pick)
- Career averages (per game): 7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists
- Games played: 161
- Player value score: -3.8 (win shares: -1.4, VORP: -2.4)

Adam Morrison was one of the best players to ever come out of Gonzaga. He averaged a jaw-dropping 28.1 points per game as a junior and was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats.

Morrison had a solid first season, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year Award voting. But he tore his left ACL in the 2007-08 preseason and missed the campaign, and then the Bobcats traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009.

Morrison was never known for having elite athleticism, so the knee injury was a major setback. His last NBA season came in 2009-10, and then he played in Serbia and Turkey before a failed comeback attempt.

In the 2006 draft, both Rudy Gay and JJ Redick were selected in the eight picks after Morrison.

#2. Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball.

Christian Petersen // Getty Images

- Draft year: 2017 (4th overall pick)

- Career averages (per game): 11.3 points, 4 rebounds, 1.8 assists
- Games played: 291
- Player value score: -4.8 (win shares: -1.7, VORP: -3.1)

After a stellar first season at the University of Kansas, Josh Jackson was selected in the draft by Phoenix. A solid scorer in college, he continued that trend during his first NBA season, making the All-Rookie second team and finishing with 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game.

Jackson was unexpectedly traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019 following a disappointing second season, and he was assigned to the G League. He showed signs of a resurgence upon his return to the NBA, but he played only two more seasons.

The 2017 draft was one of the best classes in recent history, featuring All-Stars such as De'Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo, plus a host of other productive players who were also selected after Jackson.

#1. Michael Olowokandi

Michael Olowokandi of the Los Angeles Clippers dribbles the ball during a game.

Tom Hauck // Getty Images

- Draft year: 1998 (1st overall pick)
- Career averages (per game): 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
- Games played: 500
- Player value score: -6 (win shares: 2.5, VORP: -8.5)

Michael Olowokandi, who didn't play in an organized basketball game until he was 20, was more than a standout at the University of the Pacific, averaging 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game in his final season. He was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers and earned a spot on the All-Rookie second team in 1998-99.

In 2001-02, he received four votes for the league's Most Improved Player Award, but his career spiraled after injuries and a change of scenery via free agency. Over the next four seasons, he played for the Timberwolves and Boston Celtics but was a shell of himself.

His career averages aren't bad, but they are underwhelming for a #1 pick. His ability to stick around for nine seasons contributed by far the lowest VORP of the players considered for this list.

The 1998 draft is widely recognized as one of the best drafts of all time, as Hall of Famers Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce were selected in the top 10.

Story editing by Mike Taylor. Additional editing by Kelly Glass. Copy editing by Robert Wickwire. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on Sqore and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.