It’s always easy to critique a team’s choice in the NBA Draft when you’re given the benefit of hindsight. But even with said hindsight, when you look back at some of the decisions made, they look more and more egregious – especially when you look at it in the context of how it might have changed a team’s history.
That’s why we took a look at 25 of the biggest NBA Draft “mistakes” over the past decade or so, especially when you consider the guys they could’ve (or should’ve) taken.
Markelle Fultz over Jayson Tatum
During his “one & done” season at Washington, Markelle Fultz averaged 23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG & 5.9 APG. Fultz impressed NBA scouts with his elite athletic ability, along with creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. The 76ers viewed Fultz as the final piece in their rebuilding process; leading them to trade up to the #1 pick with the Boston Celtics (who landed Jayson Tatum).
To say that things “didn’t go according to plan” would be a massive understatement. Fultz missed most of his rookie season with a mysterious shoulder injury, and Philadelphia would eventually trade him away.
Malik Monk over Donovan Mitchell
When the Charlotte Hornets took Malik Monk with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, everyone immediately declared the Hornets got one of the biggest steals in the draft; nevermind that Monk looked like someone told him his dog had cancer, as he was totally devastated when the New York Knicks passed on him.
Monk seemingly hasn’t recovered from that devastation, considering that in the first 130+ games of his NBA career, he hadn’t registered a single start, and averaged less than 8.5 points per game. Needless to say, Charlotte would’ve gotten a lot more scoring if they had taken Donovan Mitchell.
Mario Hezonja over Devin Booker
Only the Orlando Magic franchise could take a highly-touted prospect known for his fearless shooting and scoring, and turn him into a player who can’t shoot or score in the NBA. Leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft, Mario Hezonja was viewed as a super-confident scorer who could become a lethal shooter and dynamic finisher around the rim.
But during his three seasons in Orlando, Hezonja started just 41 games on a team that wasn’t exactly loaded with talent. Imagine if Orlando had taken a different wing player, by the name of Devin Booker.
Anthony Bennett over Giannis Antetokounmpo
Anthony Bennett being taken with the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft is your classic case of “groupthink,” when everyone looked at Bennett and just went along with the conventional thinking that he was a can’t-miss prospect.
Instead, Bennett struggled to adjust to the pro game and was out of the league by 2017. This pick looks even worse when you consider the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo was also drafted in the first round, and is now (arguably) the best player in the NBA.
Thomas Robinson over Damian Lillard
Thomas Robinson became one of the hottest names before the 2012 NBA Draft, leading the Sacramento Kings to take the University of Kansas forward with the 5th overall pick.
The Kings, in their infinite wisdom, decided it’d be a good idea to take Robinson with the fifth overall pick, instead of dynamic guard Damian Lillard — who was taken one pick later. Even Andre Drummond, who was taken four picks after Robinson, would’ve been a better choice.
Andrew Nicholson over Draymond Green
If you ever have a conversation about the 2012 NBA Draft with Draymond Green, he will quickly (and loudly) remind you that 34 players were selected ahead of him.
One of those guys was fellow power forward Andrew Nicholson, the 19th overall pick taken by the Orlando Magic. After a 5-year NBA career, Nicholson was out of the NBA, with a career average of 6 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Jimmer Fredette over Klay Thompson
After a wildly successful career at BYU, when he even became an internet sensation when a video titled “Teach me how to Jimmer” came out, guard James Taft “Jimmer” Fredette was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and subsequently traded to the Sacramento Kings.
Now here’s where it gets bad: one pick later, the Golden State Warriors selected another sweet-shooting guard named Klay Thompson.
Derrick Williams over Kawhi Leonard
Derrick Williams struggled to find his true position in the NBA after being taken with the #2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, always being seen as a power forward/small forward “tweener.”
After bouncing around to six NBA teams in seven years, Williams has headed overseas to finish his pro basketball career. In 112 career starts, Williams averaged 8.9 ppg and 4.0 rpg on a lowly .434% shooting. Not exactly the type of efficiency you’re looking for from a 6-foot-8 power forward. And, not a guy you want to brag about taking ahead of Kawhi Leonard.
Hasheem Thabeet over James Harden
As a junior at the University of Connecticut, Hasheem Thabeet helped the Huskies reach the NCAA’s Final Four in 2009. While people thought he could be a modern version of Theo Ratliff, he turned out to be one of the biggest misses in the NBA Draft in years.
Despite being taken with the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, Thabeet has actually spent more time in the NBA’s Development League, and has barely been seen as good enough to stay on an NBA roster. Now here’s the kicker: Memphis passed on James Harden AND Stephen Curry, as well as DeMar Derozan, to take Thabeet.
Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry
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.
But 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.
Trey Burke over CJ McCollum
After a decorated career at the University of Michigan, Trey Burke’s NBA career started bright, averaging 12.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 3 rebounds per game his rookie year. In his second season, he averaged nearly the same.
Since then he’s bounced around the league, even spending some time with the Knicks D-League team. If the Knicks send you to the D-League, something has gone wrong. Utah would’ve been better served to take CJ McCollum, who has emerged as a solid tag-team partner to Damian Lillard.
Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis
After an excellent “one & done” season at Duke, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor with the third pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, Okafor’s back to the basket offensive style was better suited for the 80’s or 90’s.
Aside from the offensive inconsistencies, Okafor has shown that he’s darn near allergic to playing any type of defense in the NBA Philadelphia traded him to the Nets in 2017, for two prospects you’ve likely never heard of. Things could’ve been much different for them if they had taken Kristaps Porzingis.
Andrew Wiggins over Joel Embiid
All you hard in the months leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft was how teams were “tanking” to get themselves into position to draft Andrew Wiggins with the #1 overall pick. And to wit, Cleveland did just that.
But with the return of LeBron James, they dealt Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wiggins hasn’t come close to living up to his pre-Draft hype, which makes you wonder how different things would’ve been for them had Cleveland taken (and traded) Joel Embiid instead?
Kevin Knox over Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Finding themselves out of position to secure the marquee names of the 2018 NBA Draft, few faulted the New York Knicks for taking the “toolsy” forward from the University of Kentucky in Kevin Knox, who shot up draft boards in the weeks leading up to the Draft.
Knox hasn’t quite lived up to that ascension, though. Instead, it was Knox’s teammate at Kentucky, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s turned into a foundational piece in the NBA. In other words, just another chapter in the misery of the Knicks.
Jonathan Isaac over Bam Adebayo
Entering the 2017 NBA Draft, Jonathan Isaac from Florida State University seemed like one of the best bets to turn into a defensive dynamo in the NBA. Between a freakish wingspan and the lateral agility of a two-guard, he had the potential to be a lockdown defender and a multi-positional matchup problem.
But Isaac has struggled with numerous injuries during his time on the Orlando Magic, while another NBA team in Florida (the Miami Heat) are enjoying the services of another defensive dynamo in Bam Adebayo, who was taken 8 picks later.
Brandon Knight over Kemba Walker
While the NBA continues to be a story of “physical tools” versus “collegiate production,” sometimes it’s more important to look at the latter over the former. For instance: everyone knew that University of Kentucky’s Brandon Knight was immensely talented, which is what led to him being taken with the 8th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
But when you consider the fact that Knight was taken one pick ahead of Kemba Walker, who led the University of Connecticut to a National Championship, this pick looks much worse.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over Bradley Beal
On an absurdly dominant University of Kentucky team that won the National Championship in 2012, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the Batman to Anthony Davis’ superman. So many people believed it was a matter of time before “MKG” became one of the best on-ball defenders in the entire NBA.
In fairness, Kidd-Gilchrist did become a really good one, but nothing close to what we thought he could be; that shortcoming was exacerbated by his horrific shooting. If only Charlotte took the sweet-shooting two-guard who was built like a fire hydrant in Bradley Beal, who’s become a star in Washington.
Chris Singleton over Jimmy Butler
A five-star recruit and former ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Chris Singleton appeared to be a steal of a pick when the Washington Wizards took him with the 18th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
But Singleton was the classic case of maximizing his talent in college, and never really getting better in the NBA. Within four years of being Drafted, he was out of the NBA. Conversely, another on-ball bulldog by the name of Jimmy Butler went 12 picks later and is now one of the best two-way players in the entire NBA.
Guerschon Yabusele over Pascal Siakam
One of the unwritten rules of drafting in pro sports is that when a team has a bunch of picks, they’re more inclined to take a high-risk, high-reward selection with one of them. That’s what led the Boston Celtics to take Guerschon Yabusele from Rouen Métropole Basket in France.
Fast forward to today, when Yabusele has a career average of 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. If Boston had done a better job scouting bigs, they could’ve taken Pascal Siakam instead, as the latter was taken 11 picks after Yabusele.
Ekpe Udoh over Paul George
As hard as it is to remember, there was a time before the great dynasty of the Golden State Warriors when they were a rather unsuccessful organization.
It didn’t help when they would make moves like taking Ekpe Udoh from Baylor University with the 6th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, when they could’ve (or should’ve) taken an Uber-athletic wing from Fresno State University named Paul George, who would go to the Indiana Pacers four picks later. One of them turned into a multi-time All-Star — and it wasn’t Udoh.
Al-Farouq Aminu over Gordon Hayward
A unanimous selection for the ACC All-Freshman Team after posting 10 double-doubles in his first year at Wake Forest University, swingman Al-Farouq Aminu declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore year, and was taken with the 8th overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Few could blame them for the selection at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, they would’ve been much better served by taking a more successful college player by the name of Gordon Hayward. The 2010 Horizon League Player of the Year was taken one pick after Aminu.
Perry Jones III over Khris Middleton
In fairness to many NBA teams, most people were scared off by the knee injury sustained by Khris Middleton while he was at Texas A&M, causing them to ignore his offensive creativity, ability to score off the dribble from the mid-range, and fire off contested shots quickly and effectively.
That’s why a more talented (but less accomplished) wing player like Perry Jones III was taken 9 picks before Middleton. The former was out of the NBA after three seasons, while Middleton became a two-time All-Star.
Lucas Nogueira over Rudy Gobert
When the Atlanta Hawks acquired Brazilian-born Lucas Nogueira (via Dallas) in the 2013 NBA Draft, they thought they would potentially be getting a 7-footer who could run the court and use a crazy wingspan to impact the game significantly on the defensive end in particular.
Ironically, they could have used either that pick, or their other two picks in the teens (Dennis Schröder and Shane Larkin) to take another International game-changing center in Rudy Gobert, who went 27th overall.
Wesley Johnson over Demarcus Cousins
There were plenty of people who believed that personality concerns notwithstanding, Demarcus Cousins was the second-best player in the 2010 NBA Draft, only behind University of Kentucky teammate John Wall.
Yet, despite sitting there at the 4th overall pick with Cousins on the board, the Minnesota Timberwolves took forward Wesley Johnson from Syracuse. Johnson never averaged more than 9 points per game during his lone two seasons in Minnesota, while Cousins would become one of the most athletic (but enigmatic) talents in the NBA.
DeAndre Ayton over Luka Dončić
There is an increasingly likely chance that “DeAndre Ayton over Luka Dončić” turns out to be the latest iteration of “Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan” and/or “Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.”
Ayton doesn’t seem destined to have his career cut short because of injuries, but his defensive deficiencies for a man his size loom large. Conversely, it just feels like a matter of time before we’re calling Dončić a top-5 player in the NBA, and a future MVP.