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 should have been stars but weren’t. Take a look at what they did to earn the hype, and what went wrong in the NBA. For some of them, they just weren’t cut out for the league. Others had their promising careers cut short because of injury.
Take a look at this list and think back to what could have been.
Judging talent in the Euro leagues is always hard. The level of competition means that it’s not exactly apples and oranges when projecting how a player’s skills will translate to the NBA. Andrea Bargnani is a perfect example of that.
Bargnani was supposed to be the next Dirk Nowitzki. He was a big man that could put up points in the paint and beyond the arc. The Raptors took him with the 1st overall pick in the 2006 Draft. While earned a spot on the All-Rookie team his first year, he averaged just 14 points and 4.6 rebounds per game over an average 10-year NBA career.
Michael Beasley was a stud in his only season at Kansas State. He was a consensus All-American and was a genuine challenge to Derrick Rose for being the number 1 overall pick. Instead, he was drafted by the Heat with the number 2 pick.
While college ball came easy to Beasley, the NBA was not so simple. Beasley struggled to adapt to the energy required to be a quality player at the next level, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Beasley bounced around the league playing for 8 NBA teams and 3 Chinese teams before last playing in 2019.
Brandon Roy is a tragic example of how injuries can derail even the most promising careers. Given the nickname “The Natural” by the Trail Blazers announcer, Roy was on course for a potential Hall of Fame career through his first 5 seasons. He was a 3-time All-Star and a regular on the All-NBA Teams.
Then in 2010, Roy was diagnosed with a degenerative knee condition that forced him to retire from basketball. He came back in 2012 to play for the Timberwolves, but he played in just 5 games before he suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery. Roy’s career is full of “what ifs.”
Shelden Williams is a confusing story. At Duke he was incredible. He left as the program’s leader in blocks and rebounds. He is just the third player in NCAA history to score 1500 points, grab 1000 rebounds, block 350 shots and pick up 150 steals. Williams was great!
So you can’t fault the Hawks for drafting him with the 5th overall pick in 2006. Those numbers didn’t carry over the NBA. After his rookie year, Williams struggled to see the floor, often missing time through injury. When he was on the floor, he had little to no impact. In 9 NBA seasons, Williams averaged 4.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG.
Everyone knows the name of this next player, but not for the reasons he would have wanted.
Even if Sam Bowie would have been drafted after Michael Jordan, he would have been considered a major bust. That’s right, the Portland Trail Blazers took the 7-footer out of Kentucky with the number 2 pick, one spot ahead of the GOAT.
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.
Shawn Bradley is an enormous human. He stands at a mountainous 7 foot 6 inches tall. However, his height was the only mountainous thing about him. On the court, he looked more like a walking stick come to life rather than an NBA center.
Sure, he was a naturally gifted shot-blocker, but at that height who wouldn’t be? Because he didn’t have much meat on his bones, he wasn’t ever able to establish himself in the post and was often moved around by smaller stronger opponents on both sides of the ball.
Kwame Brown was the first-ever high school player to go number 1 in the draft. He was selected by Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards. The problems started when Jordan came down from the front office to join the team and mentor the young star.
According to reports, Jordan went after Brown repeatedly in practice and challenged him to be more like Mike. Unfortunately, Brown lacked the thing that MJ had the most of; the drive to be the best. Brown managed 12 years in the NBA but lacked the motivation to take himself further than his natural talent would take him.
At Louisville, Pervis Ellison earned the nickname “Never Nervous Pervis” for his calm demeanor under pressure. He led the Cardinals to an NCAA Championship and was named a consensus All-American during his time in college.
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.” Injuries limited him to less than half a season his rookie year and it didn’t get much better after that. Ellison played in an average of 43 games per season over 11 seasons.
In case you forgot, Christian Laettner is more than just that incredible buzzer-beater over Kentucky in 1992. He was the Player of the Year and a consensus All-American during his final season at Duke. He was included in the 1992 USA Olympic “Dream Team” as a college student.
In the NBA, he was just average. He made the All-Rookie team and was an all-star in 1997, but other than those two highlights, there wasn’t really much to write home about with Laettner. He averaged 12.8 PPG, and 6.7 RPG over a 15-year NBA career. Good, not great.
Shaun Livingston broke the mold for point guards when he was chosen with the 4th overall pick in 2004. It was the highest a high school guard was ever taken in the draft. Why was he so revolutionary? At 6’7”, Livingston had size and length that no other guard had.
Unfortunately, during his third year, Livingston suffered one of the most gruesome knee injuries you’ll ever see. With his career and development stunted, he was forced so salvaged his career rather than revolutionize the position. He never got back to what his potential could have been, but he remained a quality pro for many years.
Robert “Tractor” Traylor
Traylor earned his nickname because he was built and moved like an actual 18 wheeler. He was an imposing physical presence at 6’8”, 300 pounds. He broke a backboard while dunking a basketball in a game against Ball State.
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.
The hype seemed real for Darius Miles early in his career. Miles had been drafted 3rd overall straight out of high school and promptly earned a spot on the All-Rookie team, becoming the first player to do that straight out of high school.
Injuries and off the court issues kept Miles from finding a consistent home in any one city for very long. Miles bounced around the league until 2005 when he suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury. Miles attempted a comeback in 2008 and played one final season before retiring. He lasted just 8 seasons in the league.
Ricky Rubio has turned into a fine NBA point guard, but when he was drafted in 2009, he was touted as the next Pistol Pete Maravich. Most experts regarded Rubio as the greatest European guard prospect ever. Those are some lofty expectations to live up to.
After remaining in Spain for 2 seasons after being drafted Rubio finally joined the Timberwolves in 2011. Rubio has had a fine NBA career. He is averaging 11.3 PPG and 7.8 APG. Not bad, but not Hall of Fame numbers. What’s more, the numbers definitely don’t match the hype.
It’s not fair to either party to say the Trail Blazers made a mistake taking Greg Oden with the 1st overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. He was a dominant center at Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes to the National Championship game. He was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in high school. If you have the chance to take a franchise defining center, you take it.
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.
Micahel Olowokandi walked on to the Pacific University basketball team having never played the game before. He was 7-foot tall so they game him a spot on the team. Eventually, he earned a scholarship and led the team to the NIT. This caught the eye of NBA scouts who saw this raw talent in an NBA body.
The Clippers reached and took him with the 1st overall pick in 1998. He was a project player and needed a lot of work to get himself caught up. As a result of the extra practices and training sessions, Olowokandi was frequently injured. This limited his already limited development.
Stromile Swift was an incredibly athletic Power Forward to willed his LSU team to the Sweet 16. The only problem was he was a big man without any post moves. It was all over the scouting reports ahead of the draft but that didn’t stop the Grizzles from taking him with the number 2 pick in 2000.
As it turns out, if you don’t have any post moves in the NBA, it’s really difficult to score points. So, Swift didn’t. In 11 NBA seasons, he averaged 8.4 points per game. He didn’t contribute much on the defensive end either with career averages of 1.2 blocks per game and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Bobby Hurley won it all while at Duke. He was a consensus All-American, two-time NCAA Champion, and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. With that kind of college career Hurley was destined for greatness in the NBA, right?
All that changed during his rookie season when he was involved in a car accident that left him with life-threatening injuries. The recovery was long and hard, but he survived. His game, on the other hand, did not. Hurley averaged just 3.8 PPG and 3.3 APG over 6 seasons before retiring.
Jay Williams was poised for a great NBA career. He had all the skills and pedigree to be a dominant guard in the league for the next 10 years. Then, he made a terrible decision that cost him his career.
During the summer after his rookie season, Williams wrecked the motorcycle he was riding, fracturing his pelvis, tearing ligaments, and severing the main nerve in his leg. To make it worse, Williams wasn’t wearing a helmet, wasn’t licensed to drive a motorcycle and his contract forbade him to. Williams never played in the NBA again.
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.
Another Michael Jordan draft pick gone wrong. Yes, Morrison was great at Gonzaga but the quality of competition always comes into context with conversations about Gonzaga basketball. Morrison should have been drafted but should he have been taken with the third overall pick? No way.
That was quickly proven in the NBA. He has career averages of 7.5 PPG and 2.1 RPG. Not only didn’t he contribute on the offensive end, but he proved to be a liability on defense too. He did, however, ride the bench with the Lakers to back to back NBA titles.
Before he ruined the EA Sports NCAA Football franchise for us, Ed O’Bannon was the Wooden Award winner at UCLA. O’Bannon was dominant in college, averaging 20.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game as he led the Bruin to the National Championship in 1995.
The Nets picked him up with the 9th pick in the 1995 Draft. It was a move doomed from the start. A west coast guy, O’Bannon quickly became homesick in Jersey. On the court, things work working either. He was too lean to play in the post and not quick enough to guard the perimeter. He lasted just two years in the league.
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. Fredette has a career average of 6.0 points per game. That’s a long way from the “pure scorer” reputation he earned in college.
Dajuan Wagner was so talented in college that his coach at Memphis, John Calipari, forced him to turn pro by revoking his scholarship. 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.
By all accounts, Thabeet should have been a great NBA player. He was 7’3” and 265 pounds. He played three seasons at UConn and led the Big East in blocked shots in each season. This wasn’t some tall guy who’d never played basketball before, this was the Big East Player of the Year.
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.
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.
Like so many players on this list, that potential went unrealized. He barely played any minutes with the Pistons before they shipped him off to his second of 6 stops in the NBA. The worst thing about the Darko pick though? He was chosen ahead of future Hall of Famers, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade.