Anthony Davis entered the NBA with expectations every bit as high as his 6-foot-10-inch frame as the No. 1 overall pick of the New Orleans Hornets in 2012. And his debut campaign was solid though not spectacular — 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. But if he keeps that going, he shouldn't find a spot on this list of draft disappointments.
Despite being the No. 1 pick in 1989, Ellison never panned out as a player for the Sacramento Kings. An injury decimated most of his rookie season and he was traded that summer to the Washington Bullets. Ellison had one standout season in Washington but was wracked by injuries for the remainder of his career. Nicknamed "Never Nervous Pervis" while at Louisville, he was dubbed "Out of Service Pervis" by Kings teammate Danny Ainge.
Benson was part of the Indiana team that went unbeaten in 1976, the last perfect season by a Division I men's team. His pro career, by contrast, was decidedly imperfect. Taken first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, Benson had his jaw broken by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his first NBA game and it didn't get much better from there. He averaged just 9.1 points in 11 NBA seasons.
Though the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Fizer overpowered college players during a record-setting career at Iowa State, many wondered how he would fare against taller players in the NBA. The Bulls, coached by Tim Floyd, who recruited Fizer for the Cyclones, believed in him enough to take Fizer with the No. 4 pick in 2000. Turns out Fizer's skeptics were right. He spent four nondescript seasons with the Bulls before a torn ACL effectively ended his NBA career.
Smith was drafted No. 1 overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 1995 draft, which included Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. Smith had a promising start with the Warriors, finishing as runner-up for Rookie of the Year, but he never blossomed into a star. In 1998, Smith was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and spent the remainder of his NBA career as a journeyman, playing for 12 different teams.
Swift was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2000 draft by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. After averaging just 8.8 points as a rookie, Swift made the move to Memphis with the rest of the Grizzlies organization. The change of scenery didn’t help Swift’s game much. Despite playing until the 2008-09 season, he averaged just 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. In 2011, Swift was arrested on charges of stalking his ex-girlfriend.
The Los Angeles Clippers drafted the 7-foot Benjamin with the No. 3 pick in 1985, hoping he would develop into a franchise center. Instead, he bounced from franchise to franchise, playing for the Clippers, Seattle Supersonics, LA Lakers, New Jersey Nets, Vancouver Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2010, it was reported that Benjamin owed over $500,000 in back child support payments.
The highlight of O’Bannon's basketball career came in the 1995 national championship game, when he scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead UCLA to the title. Drafted ninth overall by the New Jersey Nets, O'Bannon couldn't cut it in the NBA. Knee problems took away much of his speed and his lean frame kept him from playing close to the basket. He averaged just 5 points and 2.5 rebounds in two NBA seasons before heading overseas, where he played eight years in six different countries.
Bender was drafted No. 5 by the Toronto Raptors in 1999 before being traded to the Indiana Pacers. A 7-footer with impressive athletic ability, Bender was a project who never amounted to much. After a pedestrian seven seasons with the Pacers, Bender played with the New York Knicks during the 2009-10 season, averaging 4.7 points per game.
Dirk Nowitzki in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform? That might have been a reality if not for the draft day trade in 1998 that saw the Dallas Mavericks send Traylor, whom they selected with the No. 6 pick, to Milwaukee for Pat Garrity and Nowitzki, the No. 9 pick. Dallas got the better of that trade as Nowitzki led the Mavs to a championship in 2011 and Traylor bounced between the Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets before leaving the NBA to play overseas. Traylor died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2011.
The New Jersey Nets thought they had secured an elite scorer and playmaker when they drafted Hopson, the Big Ten player of the Year out of Ohio State, with the No. 3 pick in the 1987 draft. Hopson flopped in the NBA, however, and was out of New Jersey in three years and out of the league in five. He enjoyed an extended career playing internationally and is now an assistant coach at Bowling Green.
Perhaps it's too early to write off Thabeet as a bust since he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2009. But it didn't take long for the Memphis Grizzlies to give up on the raw 7-foot-3 center. Memphis sent him to the D-League, then traded him to the Houston Rockets. He's now with his third NBA team, the Portland Trail Blazers, and seems unlikely to develop into the next Dikembe Mutombo, as once hoped.
Washburn (second from right) was picked third by the Golden State Warriors in 1986 and quickly destroyed his own career. He failed three drug tests in as many years and received a lifetime ban from the NBA. He wasn't alone. Drug problems also destroyed the career of William Bedford (far left), the sixth overall pick. And No. 2 overall pick Len Bias (second from left) died of a cocaine overdose two days after the draft.
Joe Barry Carroll
The No. 1 overall pick in 1980, Carroll was somewhat productive during his time with the Warriors, but they traded Robert Parish and passed on Kevin McHale in the draft to get him. Parish and McHale went on to Hall of Fame careers with the Celtics. Carroll, meanwhile, earned the nickname "Joe Barely Cares" for his apparent lack of interest in the game.
Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? That question dominated most pre-draft conversations in 2007. It is safe to say that the question has been answered. After an injury-plagued start to his career that included micro-fracture surgery on his knee, Oden is a free agent after the Portland Trail Blazers released him at the end of the 2011-12 season. Meanwhile, Durant is a three-time NBA scoring champ who led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012.
When a player doesn’t begin playing organized basketball until 18 years old, well, that should be a red flag. Olowokandi’s limited experience didn’t turn off the Los Angeles Clippers, who took him with the first overall pick in 1998. Over 10 years with the Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics, Olowokandi averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.
The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Bradley with the No. 2 pick in 1993, hoping the 7-foot-6 center would anchor their defense for the next decade. Instead, Bradley was simply too light to anchor anything. Opponents seemed to delight in dunking on Bradley, who was traded to the Nets after two years and and ended his underwhelming career in Dallas with career averages of 8.1 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Though Julius Erving and Bob McAdoo were available in the 1972 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers took Martin, a skinny 6-11 center for Loyola University, with the No. 1 overall pick. We know how that turned out. Both McAdoo and Erving are now in the Hall of Fame, while Martin averaged just 5.3 points over his four-year NBA career. Over the years, Martin has shifted gears and is now an executive at UPS.
The 2003 NBA draft was stacked with talent. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were all available after the Cleveland Cavaliers took LeBron James at No. 1. The Detroit Pistons surveyed the embarrassment of riches available and chose … Darko Milicic. Suffice to say Milicic has not enjoyed the same success as his fellow draftees. He averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Bowie's NBA career wasn't a total bust. Drafted No. 2 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1984, he played 10 NBA seasons and averaged 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. But injuries kept him from achieving his potential as a pro. And you can make a good argument that picking Bowie was the dumbest choice in draft history because of who they could have had. The Chicago Bulls happily chose Michael Jordan with the No. 3 pick.
As this list shows, NBA teams with high draft picks are always tempted by the potential of big men. Sometimes it works out, like with Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal. Often it does not. Michael Jordan, who perhaps should have known better since he won six titles without a great center, made the mistake of taking Brown, a 6-foot-11 teenager, with the No. 1 pick in 2001. Brown immediately frustrated Jordan with his immaturity and poor skills. He's now on his seventh NBA team and serves as yet another cautionary tale about choosing size and potential over skill and performance.