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5 Most disappointing #1 NBA draft picks of all time

Anthony Bennett #15 looks for a pass against the Brooklyn Nets. Michael Olowokandi #34 dribbles the ball in a game versus the Bucks.
Anthony Bennett #15 looks for a pass against the Brooklyn Nets. Michael Olowokandi #34 dribbles the ball in a game versus the Bucks.
Modified 08 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

The NBA Draft is one of the highlights of the league’s calendar year, giving teams who win the lottery a chance at drafting a Zion Williamson or an Anthony Edwards. But for every LeBron James (2003), there is always a Greg Oden (2007), a player who showed a lot of promise but was a disappointment in the end.

Despite the opportunity to select the top draft prospect, some teams have wound up making terrible choices. And over the past 74 years of the league’s existence, there have been a number of forgettable No. 1 NBA draft picks.

What makes certain No. 1 picks worse draft busts than others is how good some of the players are that came after them. It is this fact that makes it even more baffling how a team can pick an absolute bust.

Here are our 5 most disappointing #1 NBA draft picks in league history

5. Kent Benson (1977, Milwaukee Bucks)

After a notable college career at Indiana, Kent Benson was chosen first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Considering how there were much better players in the draft at the time, choosing Benson was a head scratcher. At 6-foot-10, Benson averaged just 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds as a rookie. He would average double-figures in points three times in his 11-year career, but he had virtually zero impact on the NBA. For a No. 1 draft pick, that’s a major disappointment.

For his career, he averaged 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds while playing for the Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers. Milwaukee’s only saving grace here is that they picked Marques Johnson with the No. 3 pick of the draft.

Other notable draftees that the Bucks passed up were Jack Sikma, Bernard King, Otis Birdsong and Walter Davis.


4. Michael Olowokandi (1998, LA Clippers)

One of the most infamous draft picks in LA Clippers history, Michael Olowokandi was selected No. 1 overall in the 1998 NBA draft when there were clearly several players who could and should have been chosen ahead of him.

Michael Olowokandi #34...

But it didn’t seem to be such a poor choice at the time because the 7-foot Olowokandi had a stellar final season for the University of the Pacific with 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. No one could have foreseen that he wouldn’t get a handle on the professional game.

The “Kandi Man” had a serviceable nine-year NBA career averaging 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, “serviceable” isn’t going to cut it if you’re the first pick of any draft.

The Clippers let him go after five NBA seasons despite showing some promise as a shot-blocker. By selecting Olowokandi, they missed out on players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Mike Bibby, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis.

3. Greg Oden (2007, Portland Trail Blazers)

Easily one of the most disappointing No. 1 draft picks ever, Greg Oden was taken first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers when Kevin Durant was available in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Greg Oden #52 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates with Brandon Roy #7 and Jerryd Bayless #4.
Greg Oden #52 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates with Brandon Roy #7 and Jerryd Bayless #4.

Oden played one season for Ohio State, where he put together 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game for the Buckeyes.

But knee injuries would derail his career. In fact, he had microfracture surgery on his knee before his rookie season even began and it robbed him of playing the entire year.

His knees were so bad that he missed three straight full seasons because of injuries. In his four years in the NBA, he played only 105 games playing 0, 61, 21 and 23 games. He averaged 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for the Blazers and Miami Heat.

Durant would go to the Seattle SuperSonics with the second pick. Other players who were also available at the time were Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Jeff Green, Joakim Noah and Mike Conley.

2. LaRue Martin (1972, Portland Trail Blazers)

In 1972, the Blazers would make the mistake of selecting 6-foot-11 center LaRue Martin first in the 1972 NBA Draft from Loyola Chicago. How could they have chosen Martin when there were two future MVPs just waiting to be picked No. 1?

Bob McAdoo (No. 2) and Julius Erving (No. 12) were taken after Martin with Paul Westphal (No. 10) also waiting in the wings. In 271 NBA games spread out over four seasons with the Blazers, Martin averaged just 5.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

In the summer of 1976, Martin was dealt to the SuperSonics but never played for them, leading to his retirement.

1. Anthony Bennett (2013, Cleveland Cavaliers)


The Cleveland Cavaliers had the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft just two years after they selected Kyrie Irving with the first pick in 2011. But the Cavs would shock everyone by taking Anthony Bennett first overall.

Anthony Bennett of UNLV poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner David Stern after Bennett was drafted #1 overall.
Anthony Bennett of UNLV poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner David Stern after Bennett was drafted #1 overall.

What makes Bennett a worse NBA draft pick than LaRue Martin is the benefit of advanced scouting compared to four decades ago. Despite this advantage, the Cavs managed to fool themselves into thinking that the 6-foot-8 forward was better than everyone else on the board.

Bennett had shown flashes of potential in his lone season for UNLV, where he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. But some NBA executives had him between the ninth and 11th best prospects of a weak draft class, making it more difficult to imagine what went into the Cavs' thinking at the time..

The Cavaliers could have traded down and gotten two lower picks instead to use on a combination of any of these players—Victor Oladipo, CJ McCollum, Otto Porter Jr, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Rudy Gobert.

In four years and 161 games, Bennett played for four NBA teams (Cavs, Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets) with career numbers of 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds. While Oden had injuries as an excuse as to why he was a bust, Bennett had none.

He couldn't make a name for himself even as a role player and this makes him the most disappointing No. 1 draft pick in NBA history.

Also Read: "Bring it on" - LA Lakers owner Jeanie Buss challenges the Brooklyn Nets

Published 08 Apr 2021, 22:37 IST
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