More than any other league in the United States, the NBA is the one where the best players are typically taken in order and you expect a lot out of the first overall pick in his rookie season. However, not all #1 picks shake out, and some are so disappointing that they can’t even crack the starting lineup or even the roster itself after a few seasons. Who were the most disappointing #1 picks in NBA history, though? Here are our picks for the five worst.
Before we get into the list, we want to point out that the names that you’ll see are more modern. Some players who were drafted in the early days of the NBA didn’t produce much and simply left the game for various reasons, with the NBA hardly paying enough to be considered a job among them. Instead, we wanted to focus on the players who were making millions before even getting into a single game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were given the top overall pick of the NBA Draft for the first time since they selected LeBron James in 2003. While the Cavaliers could have still skipped out on James and gotten an All-Star in that draft, that wasn’t the case in 2013 when the talent pool was much shallower.
Not many knew who they were going to select, and they wound up taking forward Anthony Bennett out of UNLV in a surprise to many. Bennett lasted just four seasons in the NBA and played for a different team in each season. He finished his career with 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
After the final retirement of Michael Jordan, he stuck with the Washington Wizards to be part of the front office as the team had won the lottery and received the number one pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. There were some solid names on the list that included Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, and Shane Battier, but overall it was a weaker class. The Wizards took power forward Kwame Brown, who entered the draft straight out of high school.
Brown was still able to get 13 NBA seasons in before retiring, but nothing remarkable really happened. He finished his career in 2013 with a total of 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, playing for seven different franchises.
There were a lot of amazing names that came out of the 1998 NBA Draft. Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce were all Hall of Famers who were selected in the top 10, but the Los Angeles Clippers selected none of them. Instead, the Clippers put all of their hopes on Michael Olokowandi, a Nigerian center who graduated from Pacific University.
Was Olowokandi horrible as a Clipper? Not really, but for a number one selection you expect a lot more. Olowokandi averaged 9.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in five seasons with Los Angeles before splitting his final four seasons with the Timberwolves and Celtics. With Boston, he put up just 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game before retiring at 31.
The 2017 NBA Draft was one that evaluators were having a tough time with. There was no clear-cut number-one player, though the talent pool was deep. Players like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo were all available, but the Philadelphia 76ers surprised everyone with the top selection when they took guard Markelle Fultz from Washington.
Fultz played for just two seasons in Philadelphia where he averaged a disappointing 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. He was then traded to the Orlando Magic with hopes of reviving his career, and he did show some promise. However, injuries set him back repeatedly to hinder his development into a star player. He’s still expected to be around in the NBA for years, though, just not as an All-Star.
Though this pick is by far the oldest on the list, it’s hard not to leave it off because of the talent taken after the number one spot and the fact that the NBA had become nationally popular by 1972. The Portland Trail Blazers held the number one pick that year, and instead of taking future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo, Paul Westphal, or Julius Erving, they selected center LaRue Martin from Loyola (Illinois).
Martin ended up playing just four seasons in the NBA and never really cracked the starting lineup. He averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during those four seasons but isn’t too shaken up about not having a lengthy NBA career. “I took care of my family…I’m the type of person (who) can’t dwell off the negatives,” Martin said.