You never know what you’re going to get in the NBA Draft. Some players are chosen because of their accomplishments in college. Some are chosen because of their raw potential. Some are chosen because they’re really tall.
Despite all of those factors, it’s just an educated guess as to whether a player is going to make it in the NBA. So many things have to go exactly right to have a successful career in the league. Not everyone can have a long career like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, or even a role player like Kyle Korver.
This list is the guys who just never made it and what has happened to them since. Some of them have stayed in the game, while others have disappeared into obscurity.
Take a look at this list and see where your favorite busts are now.
Robert Swift is a name on the long list of high school-to-pro prospects who would eventually flop in their NBA destination. The 12th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft played just 97 games in his 4 years in the NBA.
Swift’s name has continually been in the news because of run-ins with law enforcement, including the infamous raid on his home in 2013. In an attempt to salvage his life and his remaining basketball skills, Swift has been playing for the Círculo Gijón basketball team in Spain since 2018.
Unfortunately, like another Trailblazers big man, Oden had a devastating history with injuries. Oden started his Blazers career with micro-fracture surgery on his knee and missed his entire rookie season. Once he was able to see the court, he injured his foot after 13 minutes in his debut. Injuries continued to plague Oden at every turn and he would play just 105 career games in the NBA.
Since leaving the game, Oden has gone back to school in the hopes of finishing his degree. He also has plans to get into coaching and has helped the Celtics during their pre-draft workouts.
The Mavericks drafted him with the 6th pick in the NBA draft, only to trade him to the Bucks for Pat Garrity and Dirk Nowitzki. Traylor would battle weight issues and was out of the NBA after 7 seasons while Nowitzki went on to be the greatest player in Mavs history.
“Tractor” Trailer played in the NBA through 2005, and then in Europe through 2011, but was found dead in his apartment in Puerto Rico that year. Traylor had apparently suffered a major heart attack, literally in the middle of a phone conversation with his wife. Traylor was only 34 years old when he died.
Darko. The name still haunts Pistons fans. After a promising youth career in his native Serbia, Milicic was drafted 2nd overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. Seen as having unlimited potential, everyone in the league knew he was more of a project than a plug and play option.
That project never reached completion, at least in the way everyone expected. Darko left the NBA in 2012, and that’s when things get weird. He returned to his native Serbia and began a kickboxing career. As far as we can tell, that ended when he was knocked out in the second round of his first-ever bout. He returned to basketball in 2019, playing for his hometown team called, believe it or not, I Came To Play.
Even if Sam Bowie would have been drafted after Michael Jordan, he would have been considered a major bust. In a day when big men ruled the NBA, Bowie didn’t stand out in the crowd. He averaged 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over a 10-year career. It didn’t help that he had recurring leg injuries that prevented him from playing regularly and continuing his development as a player.
In retirement, Bowie returned to his native Kentucky, where he’s been raising a family and owning racehorses. He spends a lot of his time giving back to his community also.
While he deserves credit for being the first Canadian drafted number 1 overall, Bennett might be the worst of the worst among top picks. It didn’t take Cleveland long to figure out that they didn’t want him, as Bennett ended up spending four NBA seasons with four different teams, earning just four starts in 151 games. He didn’t even play four full seasons before the NBA had enough.
Bennett has spent the last 5 seasons playing at various levels of professional basketball trying to make a career happen. Most recently, Bennett played for the Agua Caliente Clippers in the G-League.
Kwame Brown was the first-ever high school player to go number 1 in the draft. Brown managed 12 years in the NBA but lacked the motivation to take himself further than his natural talent would take him.
He popped up recently in Ice Cube’s BIG3 tournament, where his team made it all the way to the finals. These days he’s living in his native Georgia, but not much else is known about him other than that. Let’s hope he saved some of that NBA money.
A four-year starter for the BYU Cougars, Jimmer Fredette was the 2011 National Player of the Year in college basketball and broke BYU’s career scoring record, previously held by Danny Ainge. His scoring proficiency became a bit of an internet sensation when the term “Jimmer” became a verb for having a large number of points being scored on an opponent by Fredette.
The Sacramento Kings made him the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. However, by 2015, Fredette was relegated to the NBA’s Development League, and he currently plays overseas in Greece.
Adam Morrison always was a different character. It’s really not a big surprise he had such a lackluster NBA career. Taken with the 3rd overall pick by the Michael Jordan’s Bobcats, Morrison went on to a career that ended with averages of 7.5 PPG and 2.1 RPG. He did manage to ride the Lakers’ bench to back to back titles in 2009-2010.
These days Morrison lives in his native Spokane with his girlfriend and their three children. He has been an assistant for the boy’s basketball team at his alma mater, Mead High School, since 2017. He also does radio work for Gonzaga basketball.
The Cavaliers selected Wagner with the 6th overall pick. Wagner was uber-talented and averaged 13.4 PPG his rookie season, but then things started going downhill. Injuries and illness limited his playing time and eventually, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The condition effectively ended Wagner’s career. He played in just 103 games as a professional.
Wagner had attempted various comebacks since he left the game, including an attempt to play in the AmeriLeague in 2015. Just days after Wagner agreed to play for the league, it folded when it was discovered the league’s founder was a con artist. Wagner currently lives in his native New Jersey.
An All-American and Naismith College Player of the Year at the University of Maryland, Joe Smith was the #1 overall pick of the 1995 NBA Draft, taken four spots ahead of a wiry kid from high school named Kevin Garnett. Smith played sixteen seasons in the NBA, but that included 15 different stops along the way (he played for 12 different teams over his career).
If you count his post-playing days, then Smith actually joined a 16th team, as he served as a consultant of sorts for the Phoenix Suns, helping with the development of fellow University of Maryland draftee Alex Len. Smith also does private basketball coaching in the Atlanta area.
Jonathan Bender was part of the high-school-to-pro’s wave we saw in the late 1990’s, as the Toronto Raptors took him with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, and promptly traded his rights to the Indiana Pacers. Bender showed flashes of potential at times, but never really materialized into anything but a role player.
The biggest highlights of his career were the two appearances he made in the NBA’s dunk contest. Bender currently works as a private basketball coach in the Houston area, as part of the “CoachUp” program, for which former NBA player Joe Smith is also a member.
After almost enrolling at UNLV, following in the footsteps of the great UNLV team that won the national championship in 1993, Ed O’Bannon instead enrolled at UCLA, and led the Bruins to a national championship of their own in 1995. The New Jersey Nets selected O’Bannon with the 9th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, but the knee injuries sustained in college by O’Bannon really sapped him of his playing potential in the pro’s.
O’Bannon has found his name in the news quite a bit after his playing days were over, as he’s the lead plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA, an antitrust class-action lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). That lawsuit cost us all the popular video game franchise, NCAA Football. Thanks a lot, Ed.
If we’re using superheroes as metaphors for members of the Duke University basketball team in the early 1990’s, Christian Laettner was undoubtedly Batman, and Bobby Hurley was Robin. Hurley was an All-American in 1993, leading to the Sacramento Kings taking him with the 7th overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. But early in his rookie year, Hurley was involved in a terrible car accident, and because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, he was thrown from the car and suffered life-threatening injuries.
While he recovered, he wasn’t anywhere near the same basketball player again. After retiring, Hurley dabbled in horse racing (he still owns a stable) before turning to coaching. He worked his way up the ranks and currently is the head coach of basketball at Arizona State University.
The first overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, ahead of guys like Mike Bobby, Antawn Jamison, and Vince Carter, Michael Olowokandi is considered to be among the biggest NBA Draft busts in history. Olowokandi did play in the league for nearly a decade, but it was a very forgettable career. But since retiring from the NBA, Olowokandi has been completely “off the grid.”
There’s virtually no news reports or even blog updates on his whereabouts, other than the fact that he’s believed to live somewhere in California. The only thing a Google search turns up about him is an interview in 2011 when NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described Olowokandi as “talented but uncoachable.”
If Raef Lafrentz was born two decades later, he might’ve been one of the hottest commodities in the NBA. The 6’11 forward could shoot it from anywhere on the good side of the court, and could swat shots; he was a two-time All-American at the University of Kansas. But the NBA wasn’t ready for his game, even though he did play 12 years in the league.
These days, Raef spends time tending to his farm in his native Iowa, which spans as much as 10 acres. Lafrentz was also recently accepted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.
Nik Stauskas was a good college basketball player at Michigan. He was Big Ten Men’s Player of the Year before declaring for the draft after his sophomore year. Going into the draft the long shooting guard was a projected late lottery pick. What the Kings did surprised everyone.
They drafted him 8th overall! Which was made even crazier because they had just drafted Ben McLemore in the same position the year prior. 7 years later and Stauskas isn’t even in the league. He’s most recently played for Baskonia in the EuroLeague, but cancelled his contract with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe.
Jonny Flynn was a lightning-fast McDonald’s All-American coming out of Niagara Falls High School in 2005. After winning the Big East Tournament MVP award, and leading the Syracuse Orangemen to the Sweet 16 in his sophomore season, Jonny Flynn declared for the 2009 NBA Draft.
After being taken 6th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, he’ll forever be known as the guy taken one spot ahead of Stephen Curry. Flynn only lasted four seasons in the NBA, before finishing his basketball career overseas. He has not played professional basketball since 2014. It is unclear what he is up to lately. He’s keeping a low profile.
Even though Bryant Reeves now spends his days tending to his cattle ranch in his hometown of Gans, Oklahoma, he didn’t earn the name “Big Country” because of his farmhand ways. Rather, Reeves’ teammate Byron Houston at Oklahoma State University was amazed at the fact that Reeves had never gotten on an airplane prior to coming to Stillwater.
Reeves was the first selection in the history of what was previously the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise. Reeves played six seasons with the Grizzlies, but struggled with injuries and conditioning issues after two promising seasons early on.
By all accounts, Thabeet should have been a great NBA player. He was 7’3” and 265 pounds. The Grizzlies were thrilled to take him with the second pick in the 2009 draft. Surely they thought they had just found their franchise center. That hadn’t. Thabeet averaged 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game over 7 NBA seasons
Despite his status as a bust, Thabeet is still playing basketball. After a short break from the game in 2015, Thabeet moved to Japan to play for Yokohama B-Corsairs. This earned him a move back to the States and a spot on the roster of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA G-League.
A man whom Shaquille O’Neal took great pleasure in tormenting throughout his NBA career, Shawn Bradley is — unsurprisingly — quite at peace with his post-NBA days. Bradley has worked with the West Ridge Academy, a co-ed private school for at-risk youths in the West Jordan, Utah area. Bradley does everything from coaching sports, counseling students, and serving as the academy’s Vice Principal.
Bradley has also served at-risk kids outside of the US, participating in the “Basketball Without Borders” mission in Africa, alongside NBA alumni like Dikembe Mutombo and DeSagana Diop. But the biggest highlight of his post-playing days might be the fact that he appeared in an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
At Louisville, Pervis Ellison earned the nickname “Never Nervous Pervis” for his calm demeanor under pressure. Once he was drafted by the Kings with the number 1 overall pick in 1989, he earned himself a new nickname: “Out of Service Pervis.” Ellison played in an average of 43 games per season over 11 seasons.
In his post-playing days, Ellison coached basketball at the Life Center in Burlington, New Jersey, which is close by his current hometown of Voorhees Township.
Vesely was drafted 6th overall by the Wizards in 2011 and is more proof that you just don’t know what you’re getting when you draft a guy straight out of Europe. Vesely spent 4 years in the NBA, and never played more than 57 games in a single season. He averaged 3.6 PPG and 3.5 RPG.
You might think those kinds of numbers could kill a man’s career. It did in the NBA, but Vesely managed to return to Europe and start over. He’s played for Turkish club Fenerbahce since 2014 and has been a star. He even won EuroLeague MVP in 2019.
After an incredible career at Iowa State, Fizer was drafted 4th overall by the Bulls. He spent six seasons in the NBA, most of them with the Chicago Bulls. He averaged 9.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG over those 6 seasons.
After leaving the NBA, Fizer continued his career in such exotic locations as Uruguay, Bahrain, and Puerto Rico. These days Fizer spends his time working as a youth minister. It would be quite a sight to see the 6ft 8in, 265-pound Fizer delivering children’s sermons.
Williams spent one brilliant season at UNC where he helped the Tar Heels to the National Championship. Heading into the draft he was described as an “elite-level athlete” that had “upside.” That’s scout-speak for potential. Potential only gets you so far in the NBA, but the Hawks were willing to use the number 2 pick to develop that potential.
Now in his 15th NBA season, Williams is still looking to meet that potential. Career averages of 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game aren’t worthy of the number 2 pick. It seems like Williams should be given some praise for his ability to last this long in the NBA with so little production.