The NBA Draft, which takes place on Thursday in Brooklyn, is the season’s high point for many fanbases, as teams who got the past two months off get a chance to reverse their fortunes. Think Ewing to New York, LeBron to Cleveland, or Durant to Seattle. Perhaps Andrew Wiggins can work the same magic for some other team this year, whether it be Cleveland or Milwaukee or Philadelphia.
The thing is, though, bad teams are bad for a reason. And sometimes it’s because they don’t draft well, either. Getting a high pick is only half the battle—selecting the right guy is what really counts. It’s difficult to completely whiff, but teams still do. It’s rare, but it happens. In the entire 19-year history of the Draft Lottery, only seven players have failed to play even a full season’s slate of games. (Greg Oden, who has appeared in 105, isn’t even one of them.) Here they are.
Drafted: Third Overall, 1986
Picked By: Warriors
Passed Over: Chuck Person, Ron Harper, Dell Curry
Played: 72 games
Chris Washburn left North Carolina State as a talented and troubled 6’11″ center, his readily apparent skills offset by his readily accessible history. Golden State valued the former over the latter, and paid for their choice by making perhaps the worst pick (Len Bias aside) of the worst draft in NBA history. Chuck Person, selected next, never made an All-Star team, but he did play nearly 1,000 games in the NBA. Washburn provided minimal results with minimal effort, and was banned from the NBA for life in 1989 following a third failed drug test.
Drafted: 12th Overall, 1999
Picked By: Raptors
Passed Over: Ron Artest, Andrei Kirilenko, Manu Ginobili
Played: 15 games
A 7’3″ center from Bosnia, Aleksandar Radojevic started playing basketball at 16 and played just two seasons of college ball at Barton County Community College (after being declared ineligible at Ohio State and getting Jim O’Brien fired in the process). Why not take him 12th overall? He played all of three games for the Raptors over his first two seasons before being traded to Denver, where he didn’t fare much better. He wasn’t the only foreign big to flame out that year, as Frederic Weis, drafted 15th overall by the Knicks, never even made it to the NBA.3 of 8
Drafted: Second Overall, 2002
Picked By: Bulls
Passed Over: Amar’e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer
Played: 75 games
It’s probably unfair to have Jay Williams on here, but he did wind up only playing 75 games in his NBA career. The former Duke star got off to a slow but promising start, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists in 26 minutes a game for the Bulls, but a horrific leg injury suffered in an offseason motorcycle accident ended his NBA career at the age of 21. Hold on, it’s a little dusty in here.
Drafted: 10th Overall, 2004
Picked By: Cavaliers
Passed Over: Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson
Played: 72 games
In 2003, the Cavaliers won the lottery of a lifetime, gaining the right to draft hometown hero LeBron James. They missed the playoffs despite his 20-5-5 rookie season, got the 10th pick, and selected… Luke Jackson. Jackson, a 6’7″ senior guard from Oregon may have been a Wooden Award finalist, but the NBA isn’t the PAC-10. Hampered by injuries and often overmatched, he wound up playing 72 games for four different teams. If the Cavs pick Al Jefferson or Josh Smith instead, does LeBron ever leave?*
*In 1985, following Michael Jordan’s rookie campaign, the Bulls used the 11th overall pick on Memphis center Keith Lee. While they immediately traded Lee to the Cavaliers for the rights to Charles Oakley, things still could have worked out better—at 11, Karl Malone and Joe Dumars were still available.5 of 8
Drafted: 11th Overall, 2005
Picked By: Magic
Passed Over: Danny Granger, David Lee, Monta Ellis
Played: 0 games
Fran Vazquez has the distinction of being the only lottery pick to never have played a game in the NBA. This capped off a nightmarish season for the Magic which saw them miss the playoffs despite adding 2004 No. 1 overall pick Dwight Howard and after which GM John Weisbrod abruptly resigned. Maybe it’s no wonder Vazquez chose to stay in Europe. But hey Fran, things are better now. You’re only 31, let’s do this.
Drafted: 10th Overall, 2006
Picked By: Sonics
Passed Over: J.J. Redick, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap
Played: 47 games
Give the Sonics credit for trying. Two seasons after picking a raw, 18-year-old center (Robert Swift) 12th overall, they picked an even rawer 20-year-old center 10th. A 7-footer with an even wider (7’8″) wingspan, Mouhamed Saer Sene was a virtual unknown who never got known. Even with Swift missing the season with a knee injury, Sene appeared in just 28 games as a rookie, scoring a total of 53 points. On the other hand, had the Sonics drafted Redick or Rondo, maybe they would have improved just enough to miss out on 2007’s No. 2 pick—Kevin Durant.7 of 8
Drafted: 8th Overall, 2008
Picked By: Bucks
Passed Over: Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka
Played: 67 games
Joe Alexander’s vertical at the NBA’s pre-draft camp measured 38.5”—which isn’t Zach Lavine territory, but it along with his second-highest 185-pound bench reps total (24) and second-highest max touch (12’½”) helped catapult the 6’8″ West Virginia forward into the lottery. He played 59 games in his rookie year, showing some promise—then just eight more in the rest of his NBA career. He remains the cautionary tale of workout wonders, so at least he accomplished something in his short career.8 of 8