Ten Worst First Overall Draft Picks in NBA History

The Golden State Warriors gave up Robert Parish and the third pick to draft Joe Barry Carroll first overall in 1980. The Celtics drafted Kevin McHale. The old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would probably say the Warriors "chose poorly."

No matter what scouts say, successful NBA drafting requires as much luck as research. Lower-round draftees sometimes star – Chicago’s Carlos Boozer, for instance – and first-rounders sometimes flop. And the higher that first-rounder goes in the draft, the more embarrassing his struggles.

The most tragically funny stories, then, all come from NBA first overall selections. Here’s my Top 10 for the worst first overall selections.

10) John Lucas: drafted by Houston Rockets in 1976. Lucas averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 assists per game in his career and helped the Rockets to an NBA Finals appearance in 1986, but he threw his talent down the toilet, exiting the NBA to get treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction. Lucas eventually cleaned up and became an NBA head coach. Not exactly a tragedy, but probably a pick the Rockets wish they had back.

9) Pervis Ellison: drafted by Sacramento Kings in 1989. Pervis’ NBA dreams never materialized because he could never stay healthy. He appeared in 70-plus games just once in his 11-year career, averaging just over 43 games per season. And despite his 1992 NBA Most Improved Player award, Ellison went first in a draft that featured nine future All-Stars, including Tim Hardaway and Mookie Blaylock.

8) Michael Olowokandi: drafted by L.A. Clippers in 1998. Had the Clippers not blown this draft, they could’ve had Paul Pierce or Dirk Nowitzki. Instead, they got Olowokandi, who in five seasons averaged fewer than 10 points per game. Under Olowokandi the Clippers won fewer than a third of their games, never qualified for the playoffs and perpetually played under the Lakers’ shadow until drafting Blake Griffin first overall in 2009.

7) Gene Melchiorre: drafted by Baltimore Bullets in 1951. Melchiorre went first in the 1951 NBA draft, but he never played an NBA game because of his involvement in a massive NCAA point shaving scandal that year. Cooperation with the New York District Attorney kept Melchiorre out of jail, but NBA president Maurice Podoloff immediately banned him and the other 31 students involved for life. Of course, had all this come out just a couple months earlier, the Bullets probably could’ve been spared a wasted pick.

6) Si Green: drafted by Rochester Royals in 1956. Green played for seven different teams in nine seasons. Not one of those teams accomplished anything, and most no one even remembers (who the hell are the Chicago Packers?). The guy who went second overall in 1956: Bill “I’ve won more NBA titles than anyone else ever” Russell. How Rochester so badly misjudged these two players baffles me.

5) Kent Benson: drafted by Milwaukee Bucks in 1977. Benson played for the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, the last NCAA Div. I men’s basketball team to go completely undefeated and win a championship. Expectations were justifiably high for Benson entering his first NBA game, but just two minutes in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retaliated for an elbow and punched Benson in the face. Seriously:

Benson never amounted to much after that. And while he certainly starred at Indiana, he also so pissed off Larry Bird that Bird transferred to Indiana State without ever playing a game for the Hoosiers. Not too bright, this guy.

4) Kwame Brown: drafted by Washington Wizards in 2001. Maturity is always a huge risk factor when drafting high schoolers, but that didn’t stop Michael Jordan and the Wizards from drafting the super-hyped Brown. Since then, Brown has played for five different teams, averaging a meager 6.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s been such a disappointment that the Onion Sports Network wrote this sketch in his honor:

3) LaRue Martin: drafter by Portland Trail Blazers in 1972: Most sports fans regard Martin as the worst first draft pick ever. An impressive college player, Martin never matched his success in the NBA, serving primarily as a backup and/or bench warmer. Martin’s four brief, unremarkable years don’t make him one of the worst all-time NBA draft picks (though they help): his selection over future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius freaking Irving does.

2) Greg Oden: drafted by Portland Trail Blazers in 2007. Very few college players brought as much hype with them to the draft as Greg Oden did in 2007. The Blazers hoped they’d found the next LeBron James, but instead they got a dude with the looks and physical health of a 60-year-old. Oden’s played 82 games in his four NBA years, meaning Portland got at best 25 percent of their investment back. Meanwhile, Seattle drafted Kevin Durant second behind Oden, who won Rookie of the Year and has made three NBA All-Star teams. At this point, I can safely say the Thunder chose better.

1) Joe Barry Carroll: drafted by Golden State Warriors in 1980. Carroll takes my top position because of his “what might have been” element. The Warriors traded up to get Carroll, giving up a third-overall pick and a player to the Boston Celtics. That player: Robert Parish. And the guy the Celtics drafted third: Kevin McHale. Congrats, Warriors: you just gave away two-thirds of possibly the best front-court in NBA history. And while that tandem helped the Celtics win three NBA titles, Carroll’s Warriors barely won 40 percent of their games and have remained a second- or third-tier NBA team ever since.

5 thoughts on “Ten Worst First Overall Draft Picks in NBA History”

  1. Matt:

    You forgot Sam Bowie from Kentucky. He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1984.

    Great collegiate player; terrible knees. I think someone we all recognize- MICHAEL JORDAN-

    was drafted #2 by Chicago Bulls in 1984. It appears Portland fans have been screwed twice

    by “unlucky lottery picks.”

    1. Sorry guys, but that’s not correct. Sam Bowie went #2 in the 1984 draft. Houston drafted Hakeem Olajuwon first overall. And while Olajuwon certainly wasn’t as good as Jordan, he helped the Rockets win two championships, earned All-Star honors 12 times and MVP honors once. And now he’s in the Hall of Fame. Houston missed out on Jordan, but they didn’t exactly blow this pick, either.

  2. You missed the Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie and missing out on…Michael Jordan.When will the ‘Blazers (and other teams) learn that you don’t draft a 7 footer with broken main leg bones or busted up knees?Looks like the ‘Blazers are champs at bad drafting.

  3. Benoit Benjamin belongs on the list, but he was better than Olowokandi. At any rate, Elgin Baylor may have been the worst GM ever.

  4. I understand your case against Joe Barely Cares, but ranking him #1 on this list is just plain nonsense. Though the Warriors made a bad trade, they didn’t whiff on the actual pick – JBC was a 20+ point scorer four times for them and ended his career averaging about 18 and 8. He belongs much higher on this list.

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