This year, the consensus No. 1 pick in the NBA draft is a no-brainer: Zion Williamson.
Some years, the top pick isn’t so simple
While there have been some mind-boggling lottery picks over the years (ahem, Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984 or Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony in 2003), it’s the botched No. 1 picks that stand out.
Here’s a look at the five biggest busts at No. 1 in NBA draft history. And don’t miss our mock draft before Thursday’s festivities (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
No. 1: Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers (2013)
The uncertainty of likely top pick Nerlens Noel’s knee injury made 2013 one of the most unpredictable drafts in history. And boy did the Cavaliers whiff on their pick. Canadian prospect Bennett was a standout at UNLV but hardly the best option over No. 2 and No. 3 picks Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter. (The Milwaukee Bucks won this draft by taking Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15). Noel fell to sixth. The hope was that Bennett’s ceiling was high. It wasn’t. His career averages were 4.4 ppg and 3.1 rpg in 151 games through four seasons.
No. 2: Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards (2001)
We know Michael Jordan likes to gamble, and this pick as the Wizards’ general manager is his biggest public strikeout (even worse than when he played for the Chicago White Sox). Brown, a 7-footer with raw athleticism, was a high school talent expected to blossom into superstardom. It was a train wreck, and even though Brown lasted 12 years in the league, his career average of 6.6 points reflected the mediocrity and underachievement that defined his career. His rejection of a $30 million contract in free agency after three underachieving seasons still invokes laughter. .
No. 3: LaRue Martin, Portland Trail Blazers (1972)
Before the Blazers picked Greg Oden over Kevin Durant or Bowie over Jordan, there was Martin, who had one of the least productive careers of any No. 1 pick. The 7-foot big man from Loyola-Chicago averaged 5.3 points over an unspectacular four-year career. Julius “Dr. J” Erving ended up being the best player in this draft.
No. 4: Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers (1998)
Another 7-foot project gone wrong, the big man from the University of Pacific didn’t play organized basketball until he was 18. The Clippers learned a hard lesson between hype and potential in this draft, passing over the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter. The “Kandi Man,” as they called him, was a decent shot-blocker later in his career but never came along offensively.
No. 5: Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers (2007)
Oden wouldn’t have made this list had it not been for debilitating knee injuries, which limited him to 105 games over six years, three of which he didn’t play at all. But the key here was not that Portland knew Oden’s knees were a concern going into the draft so much as there was also a national college player of the year named Durant as a viable option to go No. 1. The Blazers rolled the dice on Oden (hardly a bad move at the time) but in hindsight they passed on one of the greatest players ever.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson