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Ranking The All-Time Biggest NBA Draft Busts By The Numbers

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 11 mins

Ranking The All-Time Biggest NBA Draft Busts By The Numbers

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The NBA Draft offers promise and opportunity for NBA betting fans, and millions of dollars for those players chosen in the first round. But there are no guarantees. 

After an examination of the 40 NBA Drafts from 1980 to 2019, we have created an ultimate list of each team’s top draft bust using a formula measuring each player’s production considering his draft spot and would-be career plus/minus rating. 

Now, some of the more notable busts you may be familiar with didn’t make our list when it came to the numbers. Sam Bowie, who was taken No. 2 in 1984, one spot ahead of Michael Jordan, usually sits in the No. 1 slot when it comes to draft whiffs. 

Bowie did not win six titles nor become the best NBA player of all time, but he did play parts of 10 seasons and averaged 10.9 points in 511 games. At least he did something. Many other first-round picks failed to register any meaningful numbers at all. 

Top NBA Draft Busts By Team: 1980-2019

What defines a “bust”? 

Dozens of “NBA Draft Bust” lists populate the internet. But we sought to quantify it, not related to the context of other available picks on the board (i.e. taking Bowie over MJ), but instead by looking at actual production on the court vs. draft position.

To come up with the Bookies NBA Draft Index (BNDI), we created an algorithm that includes each player’s spot taken in the draft; their career totals in points, rebounds, and assists (PRA); and their approximated box plus/minus per 100 possessions as computed by ProBasketballReference.com (BP/M). 

The player’s draft position was multiplied by five to give it greater weight. Those numbers were totaled, with the lowest score for each team featured on the list below. 

Our list runs through 2019 because the past two drafts are too recent to quantify in a fair manner. 

Top NBA Draft Busts 1980-2019

Ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft on June 23, here are the biggest NBA draft busts over the last 40 years listed with each player, his draft position, year chosen, his career total in points, rebounds and assists, and his total BNDI score. 

TeamYearPlayerDraft PickPRABP/MBNDI Total
Magic2005Fran Vazquez110055
Rockets2012Royce White160-16.963.1
Knicks1999Frederic Weis150075
Jazz1993Luther Wright1829-12.3106.7
76ers1980Monti Davis217-5.1106.9
Celtics 2012Fab Melo2210-7.6 112.4
Lakers1986Ken Barlow2300115
Raptors1999Aleksandar Radojević1269-11.6117.4
Clippers2005Yaroslav Korolev1268-5.2122.8
Warriors1991Shaun Vandiver2500125
Trail Blazers1987Ronnie Murphy1753-11.5126.5
Spurs2015Nikola Milutinov2600130
Hornets2001Kirk Haston1667-13.3133.7
Timberwolves1996Paul Grant2050-8.7141.3
Nuggets2005Julius Hodge2061-3.7157.3
Pacers1993Scott Haskin14116-2.8183.2
Suns1993Malcolm Mackey2757-8.7183.3
Hawks1989Roy Marble2399-0.3213.7
Thunder/Supersonics1995Sherell Ford21119-5.2218.8
Grizzlies2014Jordan Adams221501.7261.7
Cavaliers1980Chad Kinch22196-4.8301.2
Bulls1989Jeff Sanders20240-6.3333.7
Nets1982Eddie Phillips21258-4.7358.3
Mavericks2006Maurice Ager28234-9.4364.6
Pelicans2006Cedric Simmons15318-5.0388
Heat2005Wayne Simien29279-4.4419.6
Wizards1985Kenny Green12382-7.3434.7
Bucks2008Joe Alexander8446-3.6482.4
Pistons1990Lance Blanks26516-3.2642.8
Kings1980Hawkeye Whitney16637-1.6715.4

There are seven players taken in the first round during our period who never played in the NBA. Five are on this list

The other two are Petteri Koponen, who was taken with the 30th overall pick by the 76ers in 2007. He was edged out by Monti Davis, who was taken with the 21st pick in 1980 by the Sixers. The other is Livio Jean-Charles, who was taken with the No. 28 pick by the Spurs in 2013. 

We excluded players who were traded by the team that selected them on draft night, or traded before their rookie season. 

Len Bias is also omitted here. The Celtics chose Bias with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1986 draft out of Maryland. Bias died two days later from cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose. His death, and the subsequent passing of Reggie Lewis in 1993 of heart failure, set back the Celtics franchise for two decades. The team would not win another title until 2008. One of Bias’ former teammates was charged but acquitted in a related case.  

RELATED: NBA Draft 2022 First Overall Pick Odds And Best Bets

Five Names On Our NBA Draft Bust List

Player: Fran Vazquez

Team: Orlando

Pick: 11 

Year: 2005 

College: N/A

BNDI Score: 55

Fran Vazquez was the highest NBA draft pick taken after Bias who never played in the NBA during our survey span. Vazquez was inexplicably chosen by the Orlando Magic with the No. 11 pick in the 2005 draft even though he was under contract to a Spanish team. 

The Magic tried unsuccessfully to lure Vazquez to play in the NBA multiple times over the next several years. Even without Vazquez, the Magic reached the 2009 NBA Finals but lost the the Lakers in five games. Vazquez finished his career in Europe after playing for 10 different pro teams from 2001-20. 

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Player: Royce White

Team: Houston

Pick: 16 

Year: 2012 

College: Iowa State

BNDI Score: 73.1

The Rockets’ selection of Royce White is ironic in name given that White’s NBA career was curtailed due to a fear of flying. The issue had manifested itself during White’s playing days at Iowa State. White traveled to road games by bus in college. While the Rockets tried to accommodate White’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder, he would never play an NBA game for the team that drafted him

White and the Rockets clashed over the team's lack of a consistent policy in dealing with his mental health issues. Early in the 2012-13 season, White said the Rockets were "inconsistent" in dealing with his emotional and mental well-being. White would eventually be assigned to the Rockets' NBA D-League team Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Edinburg, Texas, but he refused to play.

White was suspended by the Rockets in early 2013 for failing to perform on his contract. He eventually played for the Vipers but would not join the team on the road in the playoffs. His rights were traded to Philadelphia before the 2013-14 season but White was waived by the Sixers in October. In March 2014, he signed a pair of 10-day contracts with Sacramento. White played in just three NBA games and totaled nine minutes of play for the Kings. He missed his lone NBA field goal attempt. 

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Player: Frederic Weis

Team: Knicks

Pick: 15

Year: 1999 

College: N/A

BNDI Score: 75

Knicks fans still bemoan the selection of Frederic Weis. A 7-foot-2 center, Weis was playing pro ball in France when he was chosen by New York at No. 15 in the 1999 Draft. Weis never played for the Knicks, or anyone else in the NBA. Far worse, the Knicks chose Weis over Queens native and St. John's standout Ron Artest. The player known as Metta World Peace and Metta Sandiford-Artest was subsequently taken by Chicago at No. 16. 

Sandiford-Artest would play a pivotal role for the Lakers in their Game 7 NBA Finals win over Boston in 2010. He played for five different NBA teams before joining the Knicks in 2013. Sandiford-Artest ended his career with the Lakers in 2017 after averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and amassing 1,717 steals in 840 games. 

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Player: Monti Davis

Team: Philadelphia

Pick: 21 

Year: 1980 

College: Tennessee St. 

BNDI Score: 106.9

Monti Davis played in just two games during his NBA career – one for the Sixers and another for the Dallas Mavericks. He scored 3 points and logged 4 rebounds in 10 minutes of play. 

Player: Nikola Milutinov

Team: San Antonio Spurs

Pick: 26 

Year: 2015 

College: N/A

BNDI Score: 130

Nikola Milutinov was playing for the Serbian pro team Partizan when he declared himself eligible for the 2015 NBA Draft. But just a month after Milutinov was chosen by the Spurs with the 26th overall pick, he signed with the Greek League club Olympiacos.

His team went on to win the Greek League title.  He has played for four pro teams in Europe. Milutinov was on the roster of CSKA Moscow in February 2022 when EuroLeague Basketball suspended play for the team following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  

Best NBA Draft Picks From 1980-2019

To offer some additional perspective, here is how the BNDI looks for the best NBA draft picks in history across the same time period. For those wondering, Magic Johnson was drafted in 1979 and Larry Bird was taken a year earlier, before his final year at Indiana State. 

Team Year Player Pick PRA BP/M Total
CLE2003LeBron James157,3178.957,330.9
UTA1985Karl Malone 1357,1445.157,214.1
ORL1992Shaquille O’Neal144,7215.147,731.1
DAL1998Dirk Nowitzki9 46,7004.5 46,749.5
CHO/LAL1996Kobe Bryant1346,9964.6 47,065.6
MIN1995Kevin Garnett546,178 5.6 46,207.5
SAS1997David Robinson1 45,8125.645,822.1
CHI1984Michael Jordan344,5979.244,621.2

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About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.