Between Vonleh's hands and Gordon's hops, Warren's scoring and Capela's length, every draft prospect looks like a good choice right now. Unfortunately it is almost a mathematical guarantee that at least one, and possibly a few, of these guys will flame out after a couple seasons. It happens literally every single year.
When the discussion turns to NBA draft busts, invariably names like Kwame, Darko, and Olowokandi will surface. Oddly enough, those three players accumulated a combined 31 NBA seasons. While they obviously didn't fulfill their lofty expectations as number one (or two, in Darko's case) draft picks, it's hard to call anyone a bust when teams are still paying them for their services 10 years into their careers.
I'm more interested in the Joe Alexanders of draft infamy. Guys that simply did not belong in the NBA, despite whatever talent they had that made them a lottery selection. Basically, all a guy needs to do to survive past his rookie contract is find one thing that he excels at, be it playmaking or shooting from distance or just being really big and able to somewhat move around the court.
These are the guys that did not find that one thing.
The Real Lottery Busts
In what will basically be my attempt at a Scott Howard post, I'm going to take a different angle on the draft bust phenomenon and highlight only the players that were unable to survive past their rookie contracts, and detail them in a very long article. For the sake of brevity, I'll only go with a six-year sample size.
I'll also include an excerpt of what the draft gurus and experts were saying at the time. This isn't meant to ridicule them, but rather to add context that can be applied to the things we're reading about the class of 2014.
Here's the criteria:
- Drafted between 2004 and 2009
- Lottery picks only (I initially intended to do top-20, but this article became way too long due to the sheer volume of players who have flamed out)
- No active players
- Out of the league in less than 5 seasons
There's a lot of failure to sift through, so I won't waste any more time with the intro. Read on.
Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
Drafted: 8th by Toronto
Career Stats: 3 seasons, 2.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, .405 FG%, 6.3 PER
What they were saying: "Araujo has been one of the most dominant college centers on the offensive end in the country this year. Physically he's huge and very, very strong. He uses his strength to bulldoze opponents in the paint. He's an aggressive rebounder, sometimes a little too aggressive. His solid frame allows him to hold his position in the post. He runs pretty well for a big man. A pretty good free-throw shooter. Plays with a passion that we rarely see in big men."
How it ended: The Brazilian big man out of BYU was traded to Utah for Kris Humphries after two abysmal seasons in Toronto in an attempt to salvage his career near his old college stomping grounds. It didn't work. After his NBA contract expired he found himself in Russia, and a career as an international journeyman was born. This will be a recurrent theme in this article.
Luke Jackson, SG/SF, Oregon
Drafted: 10th by Cleveland
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 3.5 PPG, .357 FG%, 9.3 PER
What they were saying: "Another Mike Miller? Shooting will come at a premium in this draft and Jackson's impressive improvement in that department has really helped his stock. The fact that he's mature and experienced also help him. He's one of the few guys in this draft who can come in right now and help a team."
How it ended: It's hard to fault the Cavs for this pick. They had just drafted LeBron and needed to complement him with shooters. The swingman from Oregon who shot .402 from 3 during his four years in college made perfect sense. Unfortunately, the injury bug never afforded Jackson a fair shot at an NBA career. To get an idea of how ineffective he was as a pro, look no further than the fact that he was traded with cash for former Sun Dwayne Jones in 2006. He managed a few impressive D-League stints and a handful of 10-day contracts, but last played in an NBA game in 2007, and last played professional ball in Jerusalem.
Fran Vasquez, F/C, Spain
Drafted: 11th by Orlando
Career Stats: N/A
What they were saying: "Fran Vázquez is an athletic paint player who displays great speed and mobility, nice coordination and very good leaping ability. He's gifted with very long arms and decent strength despite his skinny appearance."
How it ended: It never began. Not much to be said here; for some reason Vasquez expressed full interest in coming to the states only to back out and return to Europe after the Magic pissed away a lottery pick on him. Apparently, Fran Vasquez is a bit of a dick.
Yaroslav Korolev, SF, Russia
Drafted: 12th by LAC
Career Stats: 2 seasons, 1.1 PPG, 0.5 RPG, .283 FG%, 5.6 PER
What they were saying: "Very few players at this age are able to display the kind of gifts and skills that Yaroslav Korolev enjoys. We're talking about a point forward here, who at 6-9 has the perfect size to play the small forward position, with excellent athleticism to go with it, and the skills of a guard."
How it ended: It only took 34 games for the young Russian to convince the Clippers that he was not an NBA player. He was waived before even reaching the age of 20 and promptly headed back to the Motherland. He is seen as one of the biggest blunders of Mike Dunleavy's tenure as an executive, which is saying quite a lot.
Rashad McCants, SG, North Carolina
Drafted: 14th by Minnesota
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 10 PPG, .431 FG%, 12.9 PER
What they were saying: "An extremely skilled offensive player. Scores from all over the court and just has a great knack for putting the ball in the basket. An outstanding shooter with great range. Has great form on his jump shot and should have no problem making the transition to the NBA three point line. Excellent free throw shooter and has a good mid-range game as well (although he doesn't use it enough). Very strong, has good upper and lower body strength and has a good vertical leap."
How it ended: It's not easy figuring out exactly why McCants flamed out. His numbers weren't eye-popping, but they weren't bad either. He provided adequate scoring from the wing position, which is usually enough to carve out a career, yet after four seasons with the Wolves and Kings he signed on with the Rockets and was waived during training camp after reportedly complaining of an "abdomen problem" (according to Wikipedia) and never played in the NBA again. As a result, he is remembered more as a member of the Kardashian Klub than for his exploits on the court.
Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
Drafted: 3rd by Charlotte
Career Stats: 3 seasons (one lost to injury), 7.5 PPG, .373 FG%, 7.4 PER
What they were saying: "One word: instincts. College basketball hasn’t seen a player with Adam Morrison’s natural feel for the game in a very long time. Obviously Morrison knows how to score the basketball, but his instincts make him much, much more than just that. Mentally, he is just a step ahead of everybody else on the floor."
From DraftExpress.com http://www.draftexpress.com#ixzz344IXgrGN
How it ended: A spotty rookie campaign for Ammo was followed up by a torn ACL that resulted in him sitting out his entire sophomore season. He was traded to the Lakers at the deadline in 2009 with Shannon Brown for the incomparable Vladimir Radmanovich. Morrison was glued to the bench for two Lakers title teams, "earning" a pair of championship rings. He was released following the 2009/10 season and headed to Russia and then Turkey, where he also experienced a dearth of playing time. He has since hung up his jock and headed back to Gonzaga to further his education, and GM's will forever be wary of drafting skinny, mop-headed dudes with porn-staches.
Patrick O'Bryant, C, Bradley
Drafted: 9th by Golden State
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 2.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, .494 FG%, 11.0 PER
What they were saying: "Patrick O’Bryant has the type of body that will always attract NBA attention. O’Bryant is legitimately 7 feet tall, and has an outstanding frame. Despite already weighing in at 260 pounds, O’Bryant has plenty of room to add weight. While O'Bryant doesn't appear particularly athletic at first glance, he is that and more when you consider just how big he is.He posses a 7’5 wingspan and a 9’4 standing reach, freakish even for NBA standards. By the time he is done developing, he could be one of the more physically imposing big men in the NBA."
From DraftExpress.com http://www.draftexpress.com#ixzz344eC7zN4
How it ended: The Warriors picked O'Bryant in furtherance of their proud tradition of drafting raw, long big men with no offensive game. Patty did the tradition proud, becoming the first ever lottery pick to be sent to the D-League during his rookie season, prompting the ever tactful Don Nelson to comment that "He's not only not dominating, he's not playing very well. He's a long-term project. I really liked him the first week of training camp, but I assumed there would be great progress. [...] He hasn't gotten better one bit." (from Wikipedia). Following stints with the Celtics and Raptors, during which time he was traded for Will Solomon, O'Bryant joined the annals of international journeyman after appearing in only 90 NBA games. He is currently playing in Taiwan.
Mouhamed Sene, C, Senegal
Drafted: 10th by Seattle
Career Stats: 2.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, .427 FG%, 13.5 PER
What they were saying: "Sene is a physical specimen in the truest sense, with the type of attributes that would put him in a rare class in the NBA right off the bat. Standing 7 feet tall, he has terrific size for the center position, with a 7’8.5’’ wingspan that will make him the longest player in the league. Sene isn’t particularly bulky at this point in time, but his frame is good enough to lead you to believe that he’ll put on all weight he’ll ever need in his upper and lower body. In terms of athletic ability, Sene passes the test as well. He is quick off his feet and has a terrific second bounce after his initial vertical leap. He has excellent footspeed and overall quickness, and runs the floor extremely well for a player his size."
From DraftExpress.com http://www.draftexpress.com#ixzz344hAhIE3
How it ended: It's hard to find a lottery pick with an NBA resume as bare as Sene's. According to the 9 or 10 people that actually saw him play during his 47 appearances, he exemplified all the dangers of drafting raw international big men. He is currently playing in France, and it looks like that's all she wrote for his American basketball career.
Acie Law, PG, Texas A&M
Drafted: 11th by Atlanta
Career Stats: 3.9 PPG, 1.6 APG, .413 FG%, 9.9 PER
What they were saying: "Law has wonderful body control and the ability to shift gears and change directions almost instantaneously reacting to what defenses throw at him, not being afraid to thread the needle with a lightning quick bounce pass on the drive and dish or take matters into his own hands when the situation calls for it. His offensive game inside the arc is amazingly complete, starting with his excellent mid-range game pulling up on a dime off the dribble with a nifty fadeaway using the glass and continuing with his patented floater that he sinks smoothly with either his left or right hand."
How it ended: Ever heard of an NBA journeyman that played fewer than 5 seasons? This essentially describes the career of Acie Law. Before following in the footsteps of Suns legend Josh Childress and contributing his talents to Olympiacos in Greece, Law played for five different teams in four seasons and started only six games. For some reason he made an excellent trade throw-in -- from 6/25/09 to 2/18/10 he was traded three times.
Julian Wright, SF, Kansas
Drafted: 13th by New Orleans
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 3.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, .499 FG%, .262 3P%, 12.8 PER
What they were saying: "Can create mismatches all over the floor with his size and point guard skills, i.e. dribbling and passing. Can take bigger guys off the dribble and post up smaller players. Able to play the finesse game as well as be a bull in the post. [...] Capable of making eye popping plays either as a distributor, a finisher and also on the defensive end of the floor."
How it ended: Wright was a classic tweener; too small to play down low, but lacking the perimeter skills to be a productive NBA wing. After two seasons, the Hornets decided it was completely nonsensical to have a shot-challenged wing play next to Chris Paul and flipped him to Toronto for a wing that could shoot in Marco Belinelli. After a lackluster season with the Raptors, Wright was unable to find a suitor in the NBA and is currently playing in Russia.
Joe Alexander, SF, West Virginia
Drafted: 8th by Milwaukee
Career Stats: 2 seasons, 4.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, .410 FG%, 9.9 PER
What they were saying: "I’m blown away by him," one Western Conference executive said. "He’s a freakish talent. And it’s scary how good he could be, because he’s just now starting to figure it all out. He isn’t driven, he’s obsessed. I think he’s the next Tom Chambers."
How it ended: Another casualty of the tweener complex, Alexander was hell-bent on proving the old adage, "potential just means that you haven't done anything yet." His draft stock soared as he showed off his 40" vertical and outside touch to scouts, and eventually his hype took on a momentum of it's own and landed him in Milwaukee as the 8th pick. After just a season and a half he was traded to the Bulls, who had every intention of waiving him to make room for the free agent class of 2010. He has since been waived by the New Orleans and Golden State, and after a stint in Russia, is currently lurking in the D-League. He was the first Taiwanese-born player in NBA history, which is neat.
Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Drafted: 6th by Minnesota
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 9.2 PPG, 3.9 APG, .400 FG%, 11.3 PER
What they were saying: "Tremendous athlete who always seems to have the game under control ... A real competitor who wants to take the big shots and excels in the clutch ... Flynn enjoys playing defense and seems to take pride in shutting down opposing point guards ... Displays solid court vision and strong leadership abilities ... Has the basketball IQ, focus and skills to excel as a pick-and-roll point guard at the next level."
How it ended: While it might be too early to shut the door on Flynn's NBA career, his game nose-dived after undergoing hip surgery following his not-too-shabby rookie season. Since then, he has been traded twice and was eventually waived by the Pistons before the start of the 2012/13 season. He was last seen playing for the Sichuan Blue Whales in China, but he reportedly left the team due to injury.
Terrence Williams, SG, Louisville
Drafted: 11th by New Jersey
Career Stats: 4 seasons, 7.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG 2.4 APG, .412 FG%, .317 3P%, 11.5 PER
What they were saying: "Top level athlete. Extraordinary strength and leaping ability. Perfect NBA specimen. Good ball-handler with excellent court vision ... Excellent rebounder and instant fast break. Disruptive defender and defensive playmaker."
How it ended: Williams' career seems to have been doomed by inconsistent shooting. He looked to have a decent rookie season on the surface with 8.4 PPG and a healthy 4.5 RPG, until you look closer and realize that he only shot .401 from the field and he did it for a 17-win Nets team. Since then he bounced from Houston to Sacramento to Boston, and finally all the way out of the league to Philippines. He was last seen being waived by Brujos de Guayama in Puerto Rico. This is probably not a good sign.
What, if anything, can be culled from this? Are there any correlations to be found? Well, not really. Here is the de facto TL:DR roundup.
- 13 lottery picks failed to outlast their rookie contracts. 13 busts / 6 drafts = 2.16 busts per year
- Each of the six drafts "featured" at least one bust, with '05 and '06 "leading" the way with 3 each
- 2 players were tweeners (Alexander, Wright), 4 were true wings (Jackson, McCants, Morrison, Williams), 4 were bigs (Araujo, Vasquez, Sene, O'Bryant) only 2 were point guards (Law, Flynn) and one of them was Yaroslav Korolev (apparently he's a basketball player)
- Average draft position: 9th
- Only one top five pick busted completely out of the league (Morrison, 3rd)
- International players: 3 (Korolev, Vasquez, Sene)
- Players who sustained serious injury: 3 (Flynn, Morrison, Jackson)
- While Robert Swift (2004) and Sean May (2005) technically only played four seasons, since they both missed entire seasons to injury (which would have totaled five seasons apiece) I left them off the list. If they were included in the list, the number of lotto busts per draft would inch up from 2.16 to 2.5
In conclusion, we don't really have any idea what is going on.
These recent lottery picks are still in the league (as of the end of the 2013/14 season), but are in danger of finding themselves out of the NBA either this summer or the next.
Keep an eye on these guys. Soon you might need a passport to see them play live.
The Busts Of 2014
If you've made it this far and read the entire article, bravo. Hopefully the next time you're grabbing a pint at the bar with your homies, one of them says "Hey, I'll bet you all a beer that you can't name the former lottery pick that was traded for Dwayne Jones in 2006!". If that happens, you can thank me. For now, I'm turning the discussion over to you.
Who do you think will be the lottery bust(s) of 2014? Could Dario Saric pull a Fran Vasquez and take his ball and run back to Europe? Will someone take a risk on Clint Capela and end up suffering from Mouhamed Sene Syndrome? Is T.J. Warren destined to be the next Julian Wright in a long line of failed tweeners? Will Zach LaVine be the next Joe Alexander -- all talent, no skill?
Let's hear it.