Avoiding disaster in the NBA Draft

With the 2010 NBA Draft taking place on Thursday night, front offices throughout the Association are scurrying to find every last-minute detail possible about prospective draft picks. Players have been worked out and interviewed — sometimes multiple times — as team executives will do everything they can to make sure they have thoroughly examined the player or players they are targeting in the draft.

Of course, as we see time after time, year after year in every sport, scouting and drafting is not an exact science. Thus, each year, drafts from every major sports league are filled with busts.

Because I’m not a team executive and I don’t get paid big bucks to essentially be a private investigator into the personal lives of these prospective picks, I can sit back and write posts devoted to ridicule. I decided to research the worst NBA draft picks of all time, with a focus on lottery teams only — the first 14 selections in an NBA draft picked by teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season. Yes, folks, bad teams are usually constructed by poor decision makers.

So good luck tonight to all the NBA executives. My advice: don’t pick these guys. Sorry, that’s all I got.

14. Kris Humphries (2004, Utah Jazz)- Part of the reason for me picking Humphries is because of how poor of a decision it was to come out of college after one year at the University of Minnesota. After initially committing to Duke, Humphries changed his mind and played for the hometown Gophers where he was the 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and also a first-team All-Big Ten selection, becoming the first freshman to lead the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding in the same season. After averaging 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds, Humphries declared for the draft and was taken by the Utah Jazz with the 14th pick in 2004. He averaged just under 12 minutes and less than four points and three rebounds per game in just two seasons before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. He continues to bounce around the league as a mere depth player.

13. Joe Wolf (1987, Los Angeles Clippers)- The Clippers make their appearance in this list early — and you bet they’ll make it often. As the 13th overall selection in the 1987 draft by Los Angeles’ other team, Wolf netted high expectations coming out of the basketball factory that is the University of North Carolina. However, during an 11-year NBA career, he averaged 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. I guess Wolf suffered from not being able to bring Dean Smith with him from Chapel Hill. It should be noted, though, that he was voted in February 2005 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as Wisconsin’s all-time greatest high school basketball player for his four-year run at Kohler high school.

12. Harold Miner (1992, Miami Heat)- Remember “Baby Jordan?” The guy sure could dunk, but that was about all the former USC Trojan could do. Who was a worse professional performer, Miner or former Detroit Lions wideout bust Mike Williams? After being selected by the Miami Heat with the 12th pick in the 1992 draft, Miner won the Slam Dunk contest twice — and that was about all he did right. Unable to garner enough playing time with the Heat, Miner was traded to Cleveland after the 1995 season. Averaging just seven minutes a game in his debut season with the Heat, Miner played just 19 games in his final NBA season with the Cavs. After being a training camp casualty by Toronto the following season, Miner retired without even trying to extend his career in Europe.

11. Keith Lee (1985, Chicago Bulls)- I’d love to put Gary Trent, the “Shaq of the MAC,” or that whiny little Dukie J.J. Redick here, but I have to go with Keith Lee. After leading Memphis State to the Final Four as a first-team All-American, Lee was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 11th pick in the 1985 draft. After being immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lee played just three seasons with the Cavs and Nets before fading into oblivion. Come to think of it, Todd Fuller would have been another option in this slot. The disastrous pick by Golden State in 1996 averaged just about four points and three boards in five ill-fated seasons. I’d almost consider the number “11” even more unlucky than “13.”

10. Ronnie Lester (1980, Portland Trail Blazers)- After being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 10th pick in the 1980 draft, Lester was traded to Chicago and played four underwhelming seasons with the Bulls. In 1984-85, Lester won an NBA championship as a member of the L.A. Lakers. However, his next season with the Lakers would be the last, as all but two seasons in his career were cut short by an incessant knee injury. His best season came with the Bulls in 1981-82 when he averaged nearly 12 points, three rebounds, and five assists in 75 games.

9. Ed O’Bannon (1995, New Jersey Nets)- I’m sparing the great Eric Montross this time — but only this time. After being the star of UCLA’s 1995 National Championship team, O’Bannon battled injuries and played just two seasons in the NBA after being selected 9th by the New Jersey Nets in 1995. Besides suffering from bad knees, O’Bannon’s status as a “tweener” forward prevented him from being able to successfully guard bigger forwards and quicker guards. O’Bannon played professionally overseas but retired at age 30 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

8. Bo Kimble (Los Angeles Clippers, 1990)- It kills me to put Kimble on this list, particularly because I’ll always remember his touching free-throw tribute in honor of deceased teammate Hank Gathers during Loyola Marymount’s NCAA tournament run in 1990. But the guy played in a total of 105 games in just three injury-shortened seasons after being taken by the Clippers with the 8th pick in 1990. No wonder why former Clippers GM Elgin Baylor was a mainstay in Secaucus, New Jersey every spring when the lottery balls are drawn.

7. Bobby Hurley (Sacramento Kings, 1993)- Here we go, I found my token Dukie to include on the list. While the car accident he suffered during his rookie season may have affected his career, there’s no doubt in my mind that Hurley would never have developed into a very good NBA player despite being the NCAA all-time assist leader. Being selected 7th overall in 1993 by the Sacramento Kings was a joke, especially considering that Sam Cassell and Lindsey Hunter were taken after him and were more NBA-ready.

6. Dajuan Wagner (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2002)- This may be the saddest story of my selections. Wagner, the son of former NBA player Milt Wagner, is perhaps most known for tallying 100 points in a high school game than anything he did on the college or professional level. After playing just one season at the University of Memphis, Wagner turned pro and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite his poor shooting percentage, he managed to average 13.4 points per game in limited minutes in his rookie campaign. However, injuries and health issues plagued him the rest of his career. He started just four games in his second season and played in just 11 in his third. After being hospitalized for ulcerative colitis and unable to treat the condition with medication, he had his colon removed in October 2005. However, the Cavs did not exercise their contract option for the coming season. After a year out of the league recovering, he played just one game with the Golden State Warriors in 2006-07. After playing overseas, Wagner is currently training for an NBA comeback.

5. Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver Nuggets, 2002)- I remember loving this guy on tape because he looked a lot like John Mayer, who at the time was my favorite musician. On draft night, TNT s howed highlights of him playing for the Italian team coached by Mike D’Antoni, and it looked like he could do everything on the court as a seven-footer, specifically scoring in transition and hitting from the outside. It’s safe to say that he did neither in his short career. Selected one pick before Wagner in the same draft by the Denver Nuggets, Tskitishvili eventually would be traded to Golden State before signing with Minnesota as a free agent. Halfway through the 2005-06 season, the Timberwolves traded him to Phoenix before he was put on waivers and claimed by Portland. Five days later, he was waived. After signing with the Knicks, he was waived again. There was surely “No Such Thing” as the NBA real world for this draft bust.

4. Bill Garnett (Dallas Mavericks, 1982)- This one was the most difficult pick of them all. I couldn’t go with Shaun Livingston because the “china doll” still could turn things around with Washington. Eddy Curry? He at least had one very solid offensive season with the Bulls and led the league in field goal percentage in 2002-03. Marcus Fizer? Two decent seasons with double-digit points per game — and he did average 9.6 for his career. Garnett, however, played in just four NBA seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers after being selected 4th overall in the 1982 draft. The 6-9 small forward averaged 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in his short career.

3. Billy Owens (Sacramento Kings, 1991)- I’m letting M-Jeff off the hook on this one, as his pick of Adam Morrison in 2006 easily could have been trashed here. The Nets’ selection of Dennis Hopson in 1987 wouldn’t have been a bad choice either. But Billy Owens, dubbed as “the next Larry Bird,” takes the cake. After leading his high school team to four consecutive state titles, the 6-9 Syracuse University star was taken 3rd overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 1991 draft. However, Owens held out into the regular season before being traded to Golden State in exchange for Mitch Richmond — one of the reasons why Owens will live in NBA draft infamy. He played ten seasons with six teams and averaged less than 12 points per game in his career.

2. Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers, 1984)- Poor Sam Bowie. I tried not to go with the overriding choice by many in this spot, but even without Michael Jordan being the next pick in the draft, this selection by Portland would have still been horrible. After the Houston Rockets made Hakeem Olajuwon the first pick in 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Bowie ahead of Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. The Blazers were intent on drafting a center with the second pick and were set on Bowie if Houston drafted Olajuwon. My contention with this pick was not so much missing out on Jordan, who was not projected to be the dominant player he was to become. The problem was Bowie’s injury history, as he battled severe shinbone injuries in two collegiate campaigns at Kentucky. While he did make the NBA All-Rookie team, Bowie played in only 63 games over the next four seasons, including just five games from 1986-88. He did manage to stay relatively healthy after being traded to New Jersey, and he averaged nearly 13 points and over 8 rebounds per game with the Nets. However, he finished his career with two injury-shortened seasons with the Lakers before settling into retirement.

1. Michael Olowokandi (Los Angeles Clippers, 1998)- I give M-Jeff a pass again — mostly because 2001 1st overall selection Kwame Brown (and Jordan’s first-ever pick as an executive) is still active and because he was never given the chance to consistently start in the league (even though that’s more a product of his ineffectiveness). But to his credit, Brown improved each year with the Washington Wizards, averaging 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in his second season and a career high 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in his third. While controversy marred his exit from Washington and his up-and-down career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown did earn the starting center position from coach Phil Jackson in 2006-07 after a strong playoff showing the previous year. But Olowokandi will forever define the ineptness of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. He was a 10 and 8 guy in his Clippers tenure, but that’s just not good enough when you are the face of a franchise. His stints with Minnesota and Boston were nothing short of disastrous, mostly due to a knee injury that he could never fully rehab. Being taken ahead of Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Rashard Lewis, among others, certainly don’t help “The Kandi Man” in our beautiful world of revisionist history. But you cannot overstate how bad of a draft pick this was for a team that needed to do just one thing right on draft night: go with the surest thing possible. Sadly for the Clips and Elgin Baylor, Olowokandi was furthest from the surest thing.

So if an NBA general manager is reading this right now hours before the draft, I just have one piece of advice for you: always avoid drafting a player from the University of Pacific, and always — always — keep your fingers crossed.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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