11 biggest NBA draft blunders, bad NBA draft picks, the worst NBA draft picks, Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan

11 Biggest Draft Day Blunders

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All right, Mr. General Manager, you’re on the clock.

Be careful. This pick is VERY important for your franchise.

Choose the right guy, and you could be headed for the NBA Finals. Make a blunder, and you’ll be right back here in the lottery. You’ve reviewed all the tape, taken all the measurements and worked out all the players. This is why they pay you the big bucks.

Go get yourself a star.

Throughout the years, NBA general managers have proved that drafting is not an exact science. As good as a kid looks in college, on paper or in a workout, it might not translate to playing in the Association. Sometimes blunders happen when the team goes along with the general consensus, and sometimes they happen when the team drafts someone unexpected. For one reason or another, whether it’s innate talent, hard work or the just the right situation, certain players develop into stars while others do not. And it’s the GM’s job to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Of course, blunders are relative, so for this exercise the size of each blunder was determined (loosely) by the following equation:

B = [(Tp * Np) - Td] / Nt


B = size of blunder
Tp = talent level of player(s) passed up
Np = number of good players passed up
Td = talent level of team’s draftee
Nt =  number of teams making the same blunder (misery loves company)

Honestly, I eyeballed most of these, but don’t tell me you didn’t have a good time trying to figure out that equation!

So here they are – the 11 biggest draft day blunders since 1980, in order of size. (By the way, you may be surprised by blunder #1.)

#11In 1993, Philadelphia passes on Penny Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn to take Shawn Bradley #2 overall.
Why it was a bad pick: At the time, Bradley was billed as an athletic 7’5” center who could run the floor. He turned out to be another big stiff, but he did put together a 12-year career, averaging 8.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Conversely, Hardaway had four All-Star and two first team All-NBA appearances, while Mashburn averaged 19.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists during his solid 11-year career.
In their defense: Personnel people (scouts, GMs) always fall in love with size, and Bradley had it in spades. Too bad that’s all he had.
#10In 1997, Vancouver (now Memphis), Denver, Boston, New Jersey and Golden State pass on Tracy McGrady in order to draft Antonio Daniels, Tony Battie, Ron Mercer, Tim Thomas and Adonal Foyle, respectively.
Tracy McGradyWhy those were bad picks: McGrady (right), a high schooler, went on to seven consecutive All-Star appearances and six All-NBA awards. The other five guys combined for zero and zero.
In their defense: Ten years ago, drafting a kid straight out of high school was still a dicey proposition. Daniels, Battie, Thomas and Foyle are still in the league, and McGrady hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
#9In 1987, the Nets and the Clippers pass on Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson and Reggie Miller for Dennis Hopson and Reggie Williams, respectively.
Why those were bad picks: Both Williams (12.5 points over 10 seasons) and Hopson (10.9 points over 5 seasons) had decent careers, but they don’t approach Pippen, KJ or Reggie, who combined for 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances and 10 All-Defensive awards.
In their defense: Pippen was a late bloomer, KJ was little and Miller was a skinny kid with a funky looking shot. (I know - it’s tough to defend this one.)
#8In 2001, Washington passes on Pau Gasol and Tyson Chandler to take Kwame Brown #1 overall.
Why it was a bad pick: Kwame has been a disaster for the Wizards (and to a lesser extent for the Lakers), averaging 7.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in his career. Granted, it took Chandler a while to develop, but Gasol made an immediate impact, averaging 18.8 points and 8.6 boards over his six-year career.
In their defense: The Wizards gave Brown three and a half years to develop, and when he didn’t, they somehow convinced the Lakers to swap him for Caron Butler, who turned into an All-Star in 2006-07. In golf, that’s called a “sand save.”
#7In 2005, Portland trades down from #3, passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams, to take Martell Webster. As part of the deal, the Blazers drafted Linas Kleiza (passing on David Lee) in ’05 and Joel Freeland in ’06.
Chris PaulWhy it was a bad pick: Paul (right) ran away with Rookie of the Year honors in his first season while Williams made a huge leap this year, averaging 16.2 points and 9.3 rebounds and leading his team to the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Webster is averaging just 6.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in his brief career.
In their defense: Webster came straight out of high school so it will take another two to three years to truly judge this pick. (But it’s not looking good.) Meanwhile, Jarrett Jack is the Blazers’ starting point guard.
#6In 1999, Toronto drafts high schooler Jonathan Bender. The next five picks: Wally Szczerbiak, Rip Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion & Jason Terry.
Why it was a bad pick: It’s tough to pull a bad player out of this group, but the Raptors found a way to do it. Bender struggled through an injury-riddled seven-year career where he averaged 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds. Meanwhile, the other five players all went on to have good (to great) careers.
In their defense: Bender was immediately traded to the Pacers for (the solid) Antonio Davis, so it was Indiana’s blunder, not Toronto’s. The Pacers were probably still shell-shocked after passing on another high school kid three years earlier. (Can you guess who that is? If not, just keep reading.)
#5In 1985, Phoenix, Chicago and Washington pass on Karl Malone for Ed Pinckney, Keith Lee and Kenny Green, respectively.
Why those were bad picks: Let’s see: In his career, Malone tallied 36,928 points, 14,968 rebounds, appeared in 13 All-Star games, was named to 14 All-NBA teams and was the league MVP twice. Pinckney, Lee and Green combined for just 6,757 points and 4,951 rebounds. Can you imagine MJ’s Bulls with Karl Malone?
In their defense: Malone wasn’t regarded as a great athlete coming out of college. The most important thing about a player – his work ethic – is also the toughest to predict. No one worked harder on his game than Malone did.
#4In 1998, Milwaukee drafts Dirk Nowitzki and trades him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor (passing on Paul Pierce in the process).
Dirk NowitzkiWhy it was a bad pick: The Bucks should have known better than to draft Traylor, who played overweight all through college and then suddenly slimmed down before the draft. His career average of 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds pales in comparison to Nowitzki’s 22.3 points and 8.6 boards. Oh, and Dirk (right) won the MVP this year as well.
In their defense: No one but the Mavs had any intention of drafting Nowitzki early in the ’98 draft. Dallas saw an opportunity to trade down and still get their guy and the Bucks played right into their hands. As a double kick in the nuts, Milwaukee also passed on Pierce.
#3In 1996, Dallas, Indiana, Golden State and Cleveland pass on a skinny high school kid named Kobe Bryant to draft Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller and Vitaly Potapenko.
Why those were bad picks: Here’s the non-pick that might have caused the Pacers to overreact with Jonathan Bender three years later. Kobe Bryant, the league’s most prolific scorer, wasn’t even a top 10 pick! The Hornets didn’t know what they had in Bryant, who was immediately traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. It doesn’t end there. Who were three of the four players taken after Bryant? Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal. Ouch, ouch and ouch! Blunders all around!
In their defense: Bryant came out just a year after Garnett did, so drafting high school kids was still taboo. Although he won Executive of the Year in 1995, this is the transaction that has everyone calling Jerry West a “genius,” even though he’s leaving the Grizzlies in worse shape than when he found them.
#2In 1984, Portland passes on Michael Jordan (and Charles Barkley) for Sam Bowie.
Why it was a bad pick: If I have to outline MJ’s credentials, you shouldn’t be reading this article. Suffice to say, he was the best player in the modern era of the NBA. Bowie? Not so much. His injury-riddled career led to averages of 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. Decent? Yes. Jordan-esque? Nope.
In their defense: Ironically, the Blazers were the beneficiaries of a multi-team blunder the year before. 11 teams passed on Clyde Drexler (Dallas and Houston, where Drexler played college ball, each passed twice) before the Blazers picked him at #14. Drexler was the best player to come out of the 1983 draft, but he played the exact same position as Jordan, so the team went with for size and drafted Bowie. The multi-team blunder in 1983 led to the Blazers’ blunder in 1984!
#1In 2003, Detroit passes on Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich in order to draft Darko Milicic.
Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron JamesWhy it was a bad pick: Just look at that list: Wade, ‘Melo, Bosh and Hinrich. In just four years, that quartet has racked up six All-Star appearances and six All-NBA awards. With a very balanced squad, the Pistons were in the position to pick anyone they wanted. They were blinded by the upside of Milicic, who was billed as the “next Dirk” before the draft. Look at the Pistons now. Their heyday is over. Had they drafted Wade, ‘Melo or Bosh, they’d have a young superstar to build around (and possibly two or three more rings). This pick has gone down as the biggest blemish on Joe Dumars’ otherwise solid run as Detroit’s GM and could eventually lead to the team’s return to the lottery. The Milicic pick gets the nod over the Sam Bowie pick because the Blazers already had Clyde Drexler (making it understandable that they’d fill their need for a big man with Bowie), while the Pistons had an 80% chance to land a star, but instead they ended up with Darko.
In their defense: Ironically, Memphis won the #2 pick in the lottery, just missing out on LeBron James, but the pick was only top-1 protected (as part of the Otis Thorpe trade), so they had to give the pick to Detroit. It turns out that the Pistons didn’t deserve it.

That wraps up the 11 biggest draft day blunders in the modern era. As the 2007 Draft approaches, be sure to say a few prayers that your team doesn’t make a move that eventually finds its way onto this list.

In the meantime, here are a few more blunders from the past two decades:

1986: Just about the entire league passes on Mark Price and Dennis Rodman, who were eventually picked in the second round.

1989: The Clippers pass on Sean Elliot and Glen Rice so that they can draft Danny Ferry.

1995: Golden State, LA Clippers, Philadelphia and Washington pass on Kevin Garnett to draft Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, respectively. There aren’t any bums on that list, but those four teams have to rue the day they passed on KG. Detroit and Chicago pass on Michael Finley for Randoph Childress and Jason Caffey, respectively.

1998: The Clippers pass on Mike Bibby for Michael Olowokandi. Denver passes on Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter for Raef Lafrentz. Houston passes on hometown hero Rashard Lewis three times for Michael Dickerson, Bryce Drew and Mirsad Turckan.

2000: Chicago passes on Mike Miller to draft Marcus Fizer.

2001: Just about the whole league passes on Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas, who at #28 and #31, are arguably the second- and third-best players (after Pau Gasol) to come out of that draft.

2002: Golden State, Memphis, Denver, Cleveland and the LA Clippers pass on Amare Stoudemire and Caron Butler to draft Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Nickoloz Tskitishvili, Dajuan Wagner and Chris Wilcox, respectively. Five teams also pass on Tayshaun Prince to draft Curtis Borchardt, Ryan Humphrey, Kareem Rush, Qyntel Woods and Casey Jacobsen. The entire league passes on Carlos Boozer, who ends up going to the Cavs at #35 overall.

2003: Just about the entire league passes on Leandro Barbosa and Josh Howard, who go #28 and #29, respectively.

2004: Toronto passes on Andre Iguodala to draft Rafael Araujao. Utah passes on Josh Smith for Kirk Snyder.

2006: Boston trades away the draft rights to Randy Foye (also passing on Brandon Roy in the process) for Sebastian Telfair.