The NBA is a crazy league. Players come in so young, and often so ready for professional basketball. It’s not like other sports like the NFL where you need those years in college to physically develop and learn the game. Often players make the jump at 19 years old and can play with the big boys.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. For some young players, they make the jump and they can’t hang. They should have stayed in school for another year or two and worked on their game. Sometimes it’s a maturity issue and being a professional athlete at age 19 is just too much for some of these young men.
There is a bright side to all of this though. These guys may have 5 or 6 years in the league but they’re still young. There’s still time for them to get it figured out. We’ve put together a list of these guys, the ones who were supposed to do big things but just haven’t yet.
Take a look and see what you think.
25. Andrew Wiggins: Cleveland Cavaliers, Pick #1
Andrew Wiggins was hot coming out of college. He had played one year at Kansas and scouts were drooling at his game. While at Kansas he averaged 17 and 5 per game and was a second-team All-America selection. He was such a sure thing, the Cavaliers thought about pairing him with LeBron before eventually sending him to Minnesota in the Kevin Love trade.
Since he’s been in the league he’s struggled. Sure, he was the NBA Rookie of the Year, but since he won that award his production dropped off. He’s averaging a respectable 19.7 points per game for his career, but we’re talking about a guy who was a number 1 overall pick. That’s not good enough.
24. Jabari Parker: Milwaukee Bucks, Pick #2
An All-American as a freshman out of Duke, he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. Sounds like a guy you’d want on your team, isn’t it? At 6’ 8” he’s big enough to play the four but yet quick enough to play the 3. He was a coach’s dream.
Then he got drafted number 2 overall by the bucks and everything fell apart. Now in his 7th year in the league at just 24 years of age, Parker is on his 5th team. If he was playing well, he wouldn’t be moved so often. He’s averaging 15 PPG and 5 RPG over those 7 seasons.
23. Dante Exum: Utah Jazz, Pick #5
The red flag everyone should have seen was Exum not playing college basketball anywhere and jumping straight from the equivalent to high school basketball in his native Australia to the NBA. Sure he’d played at the Nike Hoop Summit for the World Select Team, but that’s nothing like the education of a college basketball season.
Sure enough, Exum has struggled. He’s never averaged more than 8.1 PPG and 3.1 RPG. That’s not good enough in the NBA. Injuries have also limited his playing time in all but his rookie season. That’s two major thumbs down for Dante Exum.
22. Nik Stauskas: Sacramento Kings, Pick #8
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. He averaged 6.8 PPG and 2.1 RPG in the NBA.
21. Noah Vonleh: Charlotte Hornets, Pick #9
Vonleh was great in his one season at Indiana. He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year averaging 11.3 PPG and 9 RPG. At 6ft 10in and around 255 pounds, Vonleh was poised to become a great power forward in the NBA.
The Hornets drafted Vonleh and he almost immediately got injured. When his season finally got started, he played four games before being sent to the D-League. Now in his 7th season in the league Vonleh is on his 5th team and has a career PPG average of 5.0 to go with just 5.3 RPG. He’s just not good.
20. James Young: Boston Celtics, Pick #17
As it turns out, James Young should have spent more than one year at Kentucky. Sure, he made the SEC All-Freshman team, but he averaged just 14.3 PPG and 4.3 RPG during that season. He did make 82 3-pointers and in the new NBA, 3’s are king.
James Young never found his shooting touch though and spent more time in the D-League than he did in the NBA. In fact, Young has played for more D-League teams than NBA teams. These days he is playing for Maccabi Haifa in Israel. He averaged just 2.3 PPG in his NBA career.
19. Bruno Caboclo: Toronto Raptors, Pick #20
It was the measurables that had NBA scouts drooling. Caboclo is a 6ft 9in Small Forward with a 7-foot 7-inch wingspan. Those numbers blinded the raptors from the fact that he’d only averaged 4.8 PPG and 3.1 RPG in Brazil’s professional league. Fran Fraschilla even memorably noted that he was “two years away from being two years away.”
Well somehow, he’s still two years away. The big Brazilian Has spent time developing in the D-League, spent time playing in the NBA, and still hasn’t made it. He’s averaging 4.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG. He has a career-high of 8.3 and 4.6, which he registered with Memphis in the 2018-19 season.
18. Jahlil Okafor: Philadelphia 76ers, Pick #3
Jahlil Okafor was amazing in his one season at Duke. He was a consensus first-team All-American, ACC Player of the Year, and a National Champion. Okafor averaged 17.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG for the Blue Devils.
Things got off to a great start for Okafor. He earned All-Rookie first-team honors after averaging 17.5 PPG and 7 RPG. And then the injuries started. He tore the meniscus in his knee and the recovery was slow. After a slow recovery and lack of playing time he was deemed damaged goods and never regained the momentum of that first great season. He has career averages of 11.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG.
17. Mario Hezonja: Orlando Magic, Pick #5
Hezonja came to the NBA after he had a promising start to his career in Spain. After he declared for the NBA draft, he was projected to be a potential lottery pick. He’d only averaged 7.7 PPG and 2.0 RPG in Spain, but apparently, the Magic saw potential when they took him 5th overall.
That potential has still yet to be found. Hezonja has career averages of 7.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG. It just doesn’t seem to be happening for Hezonja, who has never started more than 30 games in a season. That’s not what you‘d expect out of the number 5 overall pick.
16. Emmanuel Mudiay: Denver Nuggets, Pick # 7
Mudiay was a McDonalds All-American out of high school but decided to do things a bit differently. Mudiay went for the cash straight away and headed to China where he played one season for Guangdong Southern Tigers. The move paid off as he earned $1.2 million in China and was then picked 7th overall by Denver.
Worked out off the court that is. On the court, Mudiay has never been that good. He’s never averaged more than 15 PPG or 5.5 APG for a season. If you’re a point guard in the NBA, that just isn’t good enough.
15. Stanley Johnson: Detroit Pistons, Pick #8
Stanley Johnson should have made it. The guy was a 5-star recruit out of high school, and an All-Pac-12 selection in his one season at Arizona. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG. He was described by scouts as a “versatile and two-way player with considerable upside.”
The Pistons liked that upside and took the forward with the 8th overall pick. Johnson’s rookie season he averaged 8.1 PPG and 4.2 RPG. Those numbers are both above his career averages. Johnson is now on his 3rd team, the Raptors, and at just 23 years old there’s still time for him to come good on all that potential.
14. Frank Kaminsky: Charlotte Hornets, Pick #9
Who can resist a 7-footer? What about a 7-footer who was the unanimous National College Player of the Year in his senior season? Kaminsky won everything possible apart from a National Championship, which they lost by 5 points to Duke.
Charlotte snapped him up with the 9th pick in 2015. Kaminsky’s got career highs of 11.7PPG and 4.5 RPG, so he hasn’t exactly set the league on fire with his production. Despite this, he just got himself a 2 year, $10 million move to the Phoenix Suns.
13. Dragan Bender: Phoenix Suns, Pick #4
By the time Bender entered the NBA draft at age 18, he already had a solid professional career started overseas. He was an Israeli League All-Star in 2016 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, before he immigrated to the States.
Bender was compared to the unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis upon his entry to the league, but that hasn’t panned out. He’s averaging 5.2 PPG and 3.7 RPG over 4 seasons of play. Despite his lack of success in the league in his 4 seasons, a 7-footer can almost always find work in the NBA. Most recently he was on a 10-day contract with the Warriors.
12. Kris Dunn: Minnesota Timberwolves, Pick #5
The Big East is a conference full of college basketball blue-bloods, so when you get a guy who is the 2x Big East Player of the Year, you’ve got a guy with talent. Not only that but he was also a 2x Big East Defensive Player of the Year. A true all-around player.
Dunn was listed by ESPN as the number 2 rated point guard in his draft class. True to that rating, Dunn was the second guard taken. Dunn struggled through a rookie season in which he averaged just 3.8 PPG and 2.4 APG. He was then shipped to Chicago where he’s gotten a little better. The jury is still out on Dunn midway through his fourth season.
11. Marquese Chriss: Sacramento Kings/Phoenix Suns, Pick #8
Marquese Chriss spent one season at the University of Washington in which he was a good, but not a great player. He averaged 13.7 PPG and 5.4 RPG. Not exactly setting the conference on fire.
Chriss was projected to be a late lottery or mid-first round pick but as the process went along he climbed up team’s draft boards. The Suns took a chance on the center, who is just 6ft 9in tall, in a draft-night deal with the Kings. Since then he’s played for 4 teams in 4 years and doesn’t look to be a long-term player for any team.
10. Thon Maker: Milwaukee Bucks, Pick #10
Thon Maker made the jump to the NBA straight from high school in Canada. The 7-footer proved his eligibility to the league and was declared eligible. During the combine, he recorded the highest vertical jump of any athlete over 6ft 11in in combine history.
The Bucks jumped at the chance to get a young big man to pair with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Maker wasn’t the right one. He has never averaged more than 20 minutes per game. With that limited court time, you can imagine how low his over numbers are.
9. Georgios Papagiannis: Phoenix Suns/Sacramento Kings, Pick #13
At 7ft 3in tall and Greek, the Suns must have been hoping they’d picked the next “Greek Freak.” Heck, Papagiannis had spent four seasons playing professional basketball in Greece before coming to the NBA. Despite this, he was projected to be just a mid-to-late second-round pick.
Imagine Papagiannis’ surprise when he was picked 13th overall by the Suns, who then immediately traded him to the Kings. It was quickly clear that Papagiannis was not ready for the NBA level as he played just 38 games his first two seasons in the league and took multiple trips to the D-League to work on his game. He’s now back playing in Greece.
8. Josh Jackson: Phoenix Suns, Pick #4
Josh Jackson has always been good at basketball. He was the number 1 overall recruit coming out of high school, and a second-team All-American in his one season at Kansas. He averaged 16.3 PPG and 7.4 RPG. He was rated as the best wing player in his class.
The Suns agreed and picked him with the 4th overall pick. The knock on Jackson coming into the draft was his jump shot. You can fix a shot though right? He hasn’t been able to fix the shot though. Jackson is shooting under .500 for his career and is averaging just 12.3 PPG.
7. Frank Ntilikina: New York Knicks, Pick #8
Ntilikina spent 3 years playing professionally in his native France before coming to America. HE was named the league’s Best Young Player two seasons in a row. His size and impressive wingspan were touted as major strengths for the point guard position.
Ntikilina is still very raw two and a half seasons into his NBA career. He’s averaging 5.9 PPG and 3.1 APG. It doesn’t help that he’s playing for the Knicks who are a dumpster fire of an organization. Maybe the next coach will be able to get the best out of the young guard.
6. Dennis Smith Jr.: Dallas Mavericks, Pick #9
Dennis Smith Jr. spent just one season at North Carolina State before heading to the NBA, but he was great for the Wolfpack. He was the ACC Rookie of the Year and a second-team All-ACC selection. He was projected to be a top-10 pick, and that’s exactly where the Mavs took him.
Ahead of the draft, Owner Mark Cuban said he was looking for a pass-first guard, and that he was ok with a long-term project. Well, he only gave smith 2 seasons before he shipped him off to NYC. The young guard is doing ok. He’s averaging 14.5 PPG and 5.0 APG.
5. Mo Bamba: Orlando Magic, Pick #6
Mo Bamba was a sensation in his only season at Texas. He averaged a double-double and was named to the Big XII’s All-Newcomer and All-Defensive teams. During the combine it Bamba was measured to break the record for wingspan and reportedly ran faster than Russell Westbrook during a separate private workout.
The size and athleticism combination was too much for Orlando to resist as they took him with the 6th pick. Despite the potential, Bamba has yet to find his groove. He’s averaging just 5.8 PPG and 4.9 RPG in just 15.5 minutes per game. At least he’s got that cool song.
4. Collin Sexton: Cleveland Cavaliers, Pick #8
Once while playing 3 on 5 basketball in a game against the University of Minnesota, Collin Sexton scored 40 points. Sure, Alabama lost the game but he scored 40 points and only had 2 teammates on the floor with him. He was named SEC Freshman of the Year that season.
In his first season with the Cavaliers, Sexton was named to the All-Rookie second team. He averaged 16.7 PPG and 3.0 APG. He played on a bad Cavaliers team that was struggling to find an identity post-Lebron. Now in his second season, Sexton and the Cavs are still trying to figure things out.
3. Kevin Knox: New York Knicks, Pick #9
Kevin Knox was the best player on an average Kentucky team. He led the team with 15.9 PPG, which earned him All-SEC honors. NBA scouts were drooling over his size and shooting range. This made him a prototypical modern NBA wingman.
The Knicks sure thought so and took him with the 9th pick. He’s had an average start to his NBA career as he’s averaged 12.8 PPG and 4.5 RPG. He won the Rookie of the Month award for December 2018. His numbers are down in his second season as he hasn’t played as many minutes for the hapless Knicks.
2. Darius Garland: Cleveland Cavaliers, Pick #5
Garland entered Vanderbilt as their greatest ever basketball recruit. A knee injury left Garland able to play in just 5 games. This meant Garland was going to have to be a workout warrior if he was expected to be a top draft pick.
He must have done just that because the Cavs selected him with the 5th overall pick despite selecting a ball-dominant guard, Collin Sexton, high in the previous year’s draft. It’s too early to call him a bust, especially with the incredible disfunction the Cavs are subjecting themselves to, but Garland is only averaging 12.3 PPG and 3.9 APG.
1. Cam Reddish: Atlanta Hawks, Pick #10
Cam Reddish came to Duke with one of the most heralded recruiting classes Coach K had ever brought in. He came in with RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, all three of which would go on to be lottery picks. Reddish was the least highly regarded of the three, but he still had a quality season averaging 13.5 PPG and 3.7 RPG.
Halfway through his rookie season, it looks like Cam Reddish could have benefitted from an extra year at Duke. He’s averaging just 9/6 PPG on just 35% shooting. In this NBA if you can’t shoot, you can’t play.