Basketball is a sport where you would think it would be pretty easy to see how a player could make the transition from college (or high school) to the NBA. I mean, if a guy can shoot, pass, or dunk he should be able to do that at any level. Yet, for some reason, when faced with stiffer competition and higher pressure, those skill sets seem to desert certain players. There are some throughout the history of the game who entered the NBA with huge expectations, but for some reason could never put their game together and achieve at the top level of the sport they love. Such players are referred to as “Busts” and this list is counting down the top 10 draft busts in NBA history.
10 – Kent Benson
Drafted #1 overall in the 1977 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, expectations were sky high for this 6′ 10″ center who led Indiana to an undefeated season and subsequent national championship. However, he would never be able to elevate his game that high again, causing the Bucks to reluctantly let him go in 1980. His career lasted about a decade in all, and he averaged just 9.1 points per game in that span.
9 – Pervis Ellison
Another #1 overall selection in the 1989 NBA draft, this Sacramento Kings pick went ahead of both Shawn Kemp and Tim Hardaway. He was a star in college at center, earning himself the nickname, “Never Nervous Pervis”, but the moniker changed slightly to “Out of Service Pervis” after several unremarkable seasons in the NBA.
8 – Danny Ferry
The number 8 spot of this list of the top 10 NBA draft busts of all time belongs to this lanky center out of Duke University. After dominating at the college level for 4 years, leading his team to the Final Four on 3 separate occasions. He is ranked as one of the powerhouse basketball school’s best players of all time, and still holds the single game scoring record for the team with 58. All his accomplishments prompted the Clippers to select him with the number 2 pick in the draft (after Pervis). He enjoyed a decent NBA career, but never achieved the dominance he had at the collegiate level.
7 – Ken Durrett
So far the guys on this list have been serviceable, if unspectacular, NBA players. Well, with Durrett we come to our first true NBA draft bust. The Cincinnati Royals would go onto regret their first round selection of Durrett in the 1971 draft. Never starting a game during his brief 4 year career, this bench warmer had more fouls than points in his rookie campaign.
6 – Ed O’Bannon
This UCLA star won a national championship and wooden player of the year honors, but never quite cut it in the NBA. Impressed by the accomplishments of the small forward, the Nets took a chance on O’Bannon, selecting him 9th overall in 1995. He spent just 3 years in the NBA averaging just 5 points a game over the span, earning a well-deserved spot as one of the top 10 NBA draft busts of all time.
5 – LaRue Martin
There are many who consider this 6′ 11″ center to be the worst first overall pick in NBA history. I don’t know if I’d go that far but he definitely qualifies as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Picked ahead of Bob McAdoo, who would go on to record 3 NBA scoring titles, Martin averaged a paltry 5.3 points per game in his brief 4 year playing career.
4 – Dennis Hopson
When he averaged 29 points a game during his senior year at Ohio State this 6′ 5″ small forward attracted the attention of scouts throughout the NBA, and went 3rd overall in 1987 to the New Jersey Nets., managing to hang for only 3 years before the team gave up and dealt him. He lasted a couple of more seasons with Chicago and Sacramento before fading into obscurity. His numbers weren’t terrible, but more was expected of this college star who was selected ahead of both Scottie Pippen and Kevin Johnson.
3 – Chris Washburn
This big man out of North Caroline State definitely qualifies as one of the top 10 NBA draft busts of all time, and as is the case with so many promising young athletes, drugs paid a large part in his failure at the professional level. Golden State took him with the 3rd overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, but a cocaine habit saw him banned for life from the NBA. It was no big loss for the sport considering he only average 3.1 points a game during his time there. One of the biggest busts in NBA history for sure.
2 – Michael Olowokandi
This towering 7 footer was born in Nigeria, and grew up in England, and didn’t even pick up a basketball until he enrolled in university. Despite his late start, the Los Angeles Clippers obviously liked his potential, selecting him with the #1 pick in the 1998 NBA draft, ahead of a talent laden field that included Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.
1 – Sam Bowie
My selection for number 1 on the list of the top 10 NBA draft busts of all time may be unfair. Sam Bowie occupies this spot not because of any failings of his own, but because of the greatness of the players who were passed over so Portland could take him 2nd overall in the 1984 draft. Yes, Portland called Sam Bowie’s name that year, opting to pass on Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. One of the dumbest moves at the draft table in sports history.