Worst NBA Draft Picks of All Time
It's easy to point out the worst No. 1 overall picks in NBA history — even a casual sports fan knows when you're the top pick, there are certain expectations.
What takes a little more nuance is understanding exactly how bad certain No. 1 picks have been in regard to who was picked next — did you miss a Hall of Famer or a perennial All-Star? Or, getting even deeper into the weeds, did you need a shooting guard with your No. 7 pick and take a player who never did much while the guy at No. 8 is now an all-time great?
Drafting is hard, and we can all cut teams slack for some misses — for example, anyone who says they wouldn't have drafted Ralph Sampson No. 1 overall in 1983 is lying through their teeth. Some picks, though, are just historically bad, regardless of position.
Here's a look at the worst NBA Draft picks of all time.
10. Marvin Bagley III
Born: March 16, 1999 (Tempe, Arizona)
High school: Sierra Canyon School (Chatsworth, California)
NBA draft: 2018, No. 2 overall, Sacramento Kings
Bottom Line: Marvin Bagley III
It's great that the Sacramento Kings ended the longest postseason drought in pro sports history at 16 years when they made the NBA Playoffs in 2023 — five years after they decided to go with do-nothing big man Marvin Bagley III at No. 2 overall. After all, he was one pick ahead of once-in-a-generation talent Luka Doncic, two picks ahead of NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson and three picks ahead of two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young.
Bagley, who was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 2022, missed 20 games as a rookie, 59 games in 2019-20, 39 games in 2020-21, 34 games in 2021-22 and 40 games in 2022-23. He's also never played in the postseason.
9. Danny Ferry
Born: Oct. 17, 1966 (Hyattsville, Maryland)
High school: DeMatha Catholic High School (Hyattsville, Maryland)
NBA draft: 1989, No. 2 overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Bottom Line: Danny Ferry
Say what you will about Louisville power-forward Pervis Ellison as a bad pick at No. 1 overall in the 1989 NBA Draft — at least he played for the Sacramento Kings. Duke power-forward Danny Ferry was picked No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Kings and refused to play for the Clippers, where he would've been a perfect fit. Instead, he went to play professionally in Italy for one season before returning to the U.S., where he played for the Cavaliers for a decade.
Ferry won an NBA title in his final season with the San Antonio Spurs when he averaged a whopping 1.9 points, which wasn't much above his career average.
8. Michael Olowokandi
Born: April 3, 1975 (Lagos, Nigeria)
High school: Newlands Manor School (Seaford, East Sussex, England)
NBA draft: 1998, No. 1 overall, Los Angeles Clippers
Bottom Line: Michael Olowokandi
Brit Michael Olowokandi was a surprise No. 1 pick by the Los Angeles Clippers and one of the biggest busts in draft history — he only averaged in double digits for scoring in two seasons.
What's worse for the Clippers is that there were three likely Hall of Famers taken in the first 10 picks — Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. Hell, even No. 4 overall pick Antawn Jamison or No. 7 overall pick Jason Williams would have been better than Olowokandi. We shouldn't let the Vancouver Grizzlies (Mike Bibby, No. 2 overall) and Denver Nuggets (Raef LaFrentz, No. 3 overall) off the hook here, either.
7. All 4 Power Forwards Taken Before Karl Malone in 1985
1985 NBA draft: No. 2 overall, Wayman Tisdale, Indiana Pacers; No. 4 overall, Xavier McDaniel, Seattle SuperSonics; No. 9 overall, Charles Oakley, Chicago Bulls; No. 10 overall, Ed Pinckney, Phoenix Suns
Bottom Line: All 4 Power Forwards Taken Before Karl Malone in 1985
The Utah Jazz changed the fortunes of the entire franchise when it picked Louisiana Tech power-forward Karl Malone at No. 13 overall in the 1985 NBA Draft. Malone's Hall of Fame career included two NBA MVP trophies, 14 All-NBA Team selections and 36,928 points — No. 3 in NBA history.
That he was the fifth power forward selected in 1985 is one of the more head-scratching talent evaluation misses in not just NBA history but the entire history of professional sports. In order, Malone went behind Wayman Tisdale (No. 2), Xavier McDaniel (No. 4), Charles Oakley (No. 9) and Ed Pinckney (No. 10). That Malone got to spend the first part of his career torching Pinckney and McDaniel in the Western Conference was the chef's kiss.
6. Larue Martin
Born: March 30, 1950 (Chicago, Illinois)
High school: De La Salle Institute (Chicago, Illinois)
College: Loyola (Illinois)
NBA draft: 1972, No. 1 overall, Portland Trail Blazers
Bottom Line: Larue Martin
We don't really count Julius Erving as a miss when it comes to the 1972 NBA Draft — he'd already played one season in the ABA by the time this draft rolled around. The real travesty was with what will be a familiar offender on this list — the Portland Trail Blazers. Taking Loyola center Larue Martin No. 1 overall over North Carolina center Bob McAdoo is especially egregious because they played the same position.
Martin only played four years in the NBA, and his shy personality was a huge hindrance to becoming a star. He repeatedly said he never got used to the notoriety that came with being the No. 1 overall pick. McAdoo, a Hall of Famer, had no such problem, earning NBA MVP honors in 1975 and winning a pair of NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982 and 1985.
5. Jimmer Fredette
Born: Glen Falls, New York (Feb. 25, 1989)
High school: Glen Falls High School (Glen Falls, New York)
College: Washington State
NBA Draft: 2011, No. 10 overall, Milwaukee Bucks (traded to Sacramento Kings)
Bottom Line: Jimmer Fredette
This one especially hurts because Fredette and Klay Thompson were both shooting guards and selected one pick apart — Fredette at No. 10 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the Sacramento Kings and Thompson one pick later by the Golden State Warriors, where he's been a four-time NBA champion and five-time NBA All-Star.
Fredette was a national sensation for his scoring prowess at BYU, but when you look a little closer, Thompson was pretty much doing the same thing at Washington State. He was just doing it against better competition and was 4 inches taller, at 6-foot-6. Fredette played five seasons for four different NBA teams before he became a star in China.
4. Darko Milicic
Born: June 20, 1985 (Novi Sad, Serbia, Yugoslavia)
Club team: Hemofarm
NBA draft: 2003, No. 2 overall, Detroit Pistons
Bottom Line: Darko Milicic
Darko Milicic ended up with one of the greatest nicknames in NBA history, but not for a good reason. "The Human Victory Cigar" will forever be known for being perhaps the worst pick in the greatest NBA Draft in history in 2003. Milicic went No. 2 overall to the Detroit Pistons behind No. 1 pick LeBron James and right ahead of Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as well as future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony.
Milicic won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons as a rookie in 2004, although he averaged just 1.8 minutes in the postseason. He never had a single season in which he averaged double digits.
3. Greg Oden
Born: Jan. 22, 1988 (Buffalo, New York)
High school: Lawrence North High School (Indianapolis, Indiana)
College: Ohio State
NBA draft: 2007, No. 1 overall, Portland Trail Blazers
Bottom Line: Greg Oden
The 2007 NBA Draft is the 1998 NFL Draft of NBA Drafts, with the debate over the No. 1 pick between Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant equivalent to the debate over Peyton Manning versus Ryan Leaf in football.
If you watched either Oden or Durant play in college the one year they were there, it was easy to see that not only was Durant the better of the two players, but Oden wasn't even the best player on his own team. That was point guard Mike Conley Jr.
Oden missed his rookie season because of microfracture surgery and battled injuries his entire career — he only played 105 games over seven seasons. And, well, Durant is arguably one of the 10 greatest players of all time.
2. Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn
Born: Rubio, Oct. 21, 1990 (El Masnou, Spain)
Born: Flynn, Feb. 6, 1989 (Niagara Falls, New York)
Club team: Rubio, DKV Joventut/FC Barcelona
High school: Flynn, Niagara Falls High School (Niagara Falls, New York)
College: Rubio, none
College: Flynn, Syracuse
NBA draft: Nos. 5 and 6 overall, 2009, Minnesota Timberwolves
Bottom Line: Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn
The most amazing two-for-one draft biff of all time is here. The Minnesota Timberwolves' back-to-back picks at No. 5 and No. 6 in the 2009 NBA Draft were spent on two point guards with European sensation Ricky Rubio and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn. That part was just stupid — picking two point guards. The really crazy thing is another point guard was selected at No. 7 overall when the Golden State Warriors picked Davidson's Stephen Curry.
The sting of this epic miss is still felt to this day — at 35 years old and in his 14th NBA season, Curry has won two NBA MVPs and four NBA championships and is playing the best basketball of his career. Rubio didn't come over from Europe to the NBA until 2011 and has battled injuries throughout his career. And Flynn played for three teams in three seasons and was out of the NBA by 2012.
1. Sam Bowie
Born: March 17, 1981 (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
High school: Lebanon High School (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
NBA draft: 1984, No. 2 overall, Portland Trail Blazers
Bottom Line: Sam Bowie
The worst draft pick to end all bad draft picks was when the Portland Trail Blazers selected Kentucky Sam Bowie instead of North Carolina guard Michael Jordan.
With Hakeem Olajuwon going No. 1 overall to the Houston Rockets as a no-brainer, it's kind of amazing the reasoning on the Portland side was that they already had a shooting guard they'd drafted the previous year with Clyde Drexler.
The fear of playing two shooting guards is understandable — mainly because of size — but with Drexler at 6-foot-7 and Jordan at 6-foot-6 that doesn't really make sense. In the 1980s and 1990s, that's still taller than most small forwards.