The 2020s are in full swing and it’s fair to say they’re off to a bit of a rocky start. With the longer (and somehow also shorter) than usual 2019-20 NBA regular season finally wrapped up and the draft lottery right around the corner, now is a good time to look back on the last decade of drafts and figure out what the most idiotic mistakes were. Apologies in advance to Kings, Suns and Sixers fans.
There will be three key elements to these ranking:
1. Draft position
2. Who was taken after this player in the following three picks
3. Player skill
Some players who had better NBA careers may be ranked ahead of others who flamed out more quickly because of the top two factors. A player who was taken right before an All-NBA caliber star is a worse pick than someone who was taken over a few role players. Also, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re only factoring in players who were taken in the same range as each other. It’s hard to get on the Cavaliers for not taking Giannis Antetokounmpo with the first overall pick in 2013 when he wasn’t even in consideration. Obviously some of these players still have an opportunity to turn their careers around, but this is where things stand right now. Here are the rankings:
Brandon Knight – 8th overall pick by the Pistons in 2011, taken over Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and Klay Thompson
Greg Monroe – 7th overall pick by the Pistons in 2010, taken over Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward and Paul George
Jan Vesely – 6th overall pick by the Wizards in 2011, taken over Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker
Wesley Johnson – 4th overall pick by the Timberwolves in 2010, taken over DeMarcus Cousins, Ekpe Udoh and Greg Monroe
Evan Turner – 2nd overall pick by the 76ers in 2010, taken over Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson and DeMarcus Cousins
10. Jahlil Okafor
3rd overall pick by the 76ers in 2015
Taken oven: Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja and Willie Cauley-Stein
Jahlil Okafor was an easily justifiable pick, he just didn’t work out. He had high pedigree coming out of college, he led his team to a national championship and easily could’ve been selected 1st overall and hardly anyone would’ve batted an eye. He was being compared to Tim Duncan! Whether it was the changing NBA or the 76ers log jam at center, Okafor’s time as a promising young prospect was short lived. Perhaps is Philadelphia hadn’t been so stubborn on their trade compensation demands for him, he’d have had a chance to latch on with another team and continue to develop.
9. Thomas Robinson
5th overall pick by the Kings in 2012
Taken over: Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Terrence Ross
One of many bad picks for the Kings, perhaps the most painful part of this one is that Damian Lillard was selected one spot later. Even coming out of college, Thomas Robinson wasn’t seen as an elite offensive prospect. His best trait was his rebounding, which isn’t exactly a necessity in the modern NBA. Robinson couldn’t even do that much and never found a role with any team in the league.
8. Josh Jackson
4th overall pick by the Suns in 2017
Taken over: De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac and Lauri Markkanen
Like Okafor, Josh Jackson was seen as an elite prospect throughout his high school career, but didn’t have the same impressive college career. Nevertheless, the Suns felt fortunate that Jackson fell to 4, but things couldn’t have turned out much worse. The Suns traded Jackson after two subpar years for pennies on the dollar and can only dream of what a backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Devin Booker could’ve done together.
7. Dragan Bender
4th overall pick by the Suns in 2016
Taken over: Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray
I feel like I’m bullying Suns fans right now, but this is another rough one. The idea behind Dragan Bender wasn’t bad. A 7-footer with some shooting touch is exactly what the Suns would’ve loved to have, but Bender just couldn’t compete at an NBA level. What’s worse? The Suns may have regretted dipping into the European pool with this pick so much that it caused them to pass on Luka Doncic. Ouch.
6. Derrick Williams
2nd overall pick by the Timberwolves in 2011
Taken over: Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson and Jonas Valančiūnas
The players taken after Derrick Williams aren’t great. In fact, the entire top 10 of the 2011 draft class is pretty dull. Only Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving really worked out and lived up to their draft position. Nevertheless, Williams was a quick flame out and wasn’t worth the 2nd overall pick. Even if there wasn’t anyone else that really made sense for Minnesota in this spot, Williams makes the list purely on lack of talent and draft position. The three players taken after Williams aren’t exactly world beaters, but one great quality that they all share is they’re better than Derrick Williams.
5. Jabari Parker
2nd overall pick by the Bucks in 2014
Taken over: Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum
Jabari Parker isn’t that bad, but he’s not what everyone thought he was going to be. Parker was supposed to be Milwaukee’s centerpiece, but Giannis Antetokounmpo quickly took over that role after Parker tore his ACL in 2014. Eventually Parker returned to the court and got his stride back. He even started averaging 20 PPG in 2017 and looked like a future running mate for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unfortunately for Parker, he ended up tearing his ACL again. This time, Khris Middleton took over his role and thrived while he was recovering. Parker never looked the same again. What really hurts Parker is the draft position, but he’s also so high on this list because of Joel Embiid. Aaron Gordon is good too and you’d certainly take him over Parker at this point, but it’s much more forgivable. Embiid and Giannis would’ve made for quite the duo had the Bucks chosen differently.
4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2nd overall pick by the Hornets/Bobcats in 2012
Taken over: Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson
Beal is the real regret here for the Hornets. He and Kemba Walker could’ve formed one of the best backcourts in the NBA and likely led to a lot more playoff appearances for Charlotte. Maybe Walker would’ve stayed in town if Beal were around. Now, the Hornets have to wallow in mediocrity and hope to get their hands on another star’s career to waste (too far?). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wasn’t the defender Charlotte thought he was and his offensive game never devolved the way they had hoped it would. The only thing he’ll be remembered for is having one of the ugliest jump shots in NBA history.
(Side note: Honestly, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the reason for this entire article. When I saw Devin Booker blow past him after a jab step move and I heard someone say his name I just thought “oof” and I knew I had to write this.)
3. Markelle Fultz
1st overall pick by the 76ers in 2017
Taken over: Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson
Markelle Fultz has been playing better in Orlando, but the damage is done as far as Philadelphia is concerned. Their return of Jonathon Simmons and a heavily projected first isn’t exactly what you’d be hoping to get in exchange for a recent 1st overall pick. Maybe Fultz can turn his career around, but the 76ers will have to live with the regret of letting their division rival play them like a fiddle with this move.
2. Anthony Bennett
1st overall pick by the Cavaliers in 2013
Taken over: Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter and Cody Zeller
Not much needs to be said about Anthony Bennett. The pick was confusing at the time and only makes less sense now. While this wasn’t exactly the most talented draft the the top, the Cavaliers could’ve taken pretty much any other player in the entire first round and they would’ve been better than Bennett. He’s one of the worst picks in NBA history and I figured he’d be #1 on this list, but, because of the lack of talent in his draft, he’ll have to settle for second place.
1. Marvin Bagley
2nd overall pick by the Kings in 2018
Taken over: Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young
I’m as surprised as you are. Don’t get me wrong, Marvin Bagley isn’t awful. He still could be a really good player. It’s the next three picks that make this pick so atrocious. Trae Young and Luka Doncic are transcendent talents that will be faces of the NBA for the next decade at least. Even Jaren Jackson Jr. was looking like a potential future All-Star or at least a two-way player capable of averaging close to 20 PPG before his injury. There’s still time for Bagley, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever live up to that. This was one of the major reasons why the Kings and former GM Vlade Divac recently parted ways. He’s not the worst player, but the pick is one of the worst in NBA history barring a significant change. The Kings are going to regret this one of a long time.
Photo: (Rocky Winder – NBAE via Getty Images)