Kwame Brown. Darko Milicic. Adam Morrison. What do these guys all have in common? Well, besides the fact that two of them were drafted by Michael Jordan. They’re some of the biggest busts in NBA history, of course! Sometimes it’s easy to spot a potential bust, but other times they come completely out of left field. Take Adam Morrison for example. No disrespect to the WCC, but he was not exactly facing stiff competition. He dominated the NCAA his junior year, putting up over 28 points per game, but came up very small in the tournament. And then tried to spin that in a positive light. All of the comparisons to Larry Bird were based solely on Morrison being a far from athletic, white jump shooter. In retrospect, it’s absurd that Morrison was the #5 pick in the draft, just another one of MJ’s brilliant personnel decisions over the years. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Morrison pick should’ve been more obvious. He was a one tool player. He was a scorer, but he was used to touching the ball every possession and being the go-to-guy, a role he would clearly never have in the pros. Morrison couldn’t handle the ball, couldn’t rebound, couldn’t play ANY defense, and didn’t come close to making his teammates better.
And yet what makes the Morrison case so frightening was that he wasn’t even drafted on that dreaded word that gets GMs fired: potential. More often than not, GMs will salivate over super athletic players who’ve yet to completely translate their athleticism onto the court. In other words, they’ve underachieved and often look like they’ve never played Basketball before, yet teams still believe it’s just a matter of time before these guys figure it out. This is not to knock athleticism as a guiding principle of drafting players, but sometimes actual college production and talent are overlooked at the expense of athleticism. How do you know you’re dealing with one of these guys? Well, there’s a few key phrases are sure-fire signs. If you hear phrases like “he has an NBA body,” “he hasn’t figured it out yet,” “he’s a tweener,” or “he needs to improve his motor” then stop whatever you’re doing, cover your eyes, and run. Sometimes these guys pan out, but more often than not, their potential is nothing but a pipe dream.
This year’s draft has been called perhaps the worst ever. There are no obvious franchise players or even future perennial all-stars like most years. Most scouts though believe there are many rotation guys in this draft and that the 30th pick may not be much different from the 3rd pick. Let’s take a look at the some of the players projected to go in the first round to see who some of the safest picks are, as well as the most likely busts. We will evaluate each player’s bust potential on a scale from 0-10, with 10 being a definite bust.
Nerlens Noel: 7
It’s likely that Noel will end up being the top pick in the draft, but he’s one of the riskiest prospects in the draft.
Here’s what we know about Noel: he weighed in at 206 pounds at the combine, he tore his ACL in February, he’s a great shot-blocker, and he’s not much of an offensive threat. To put in perspective how light he is, Anthony Davis weighed in at slightly over 220 pounds in last year’s combine and was judged to be extremely slight. His production in college was nice putting up 11 points, 10 rebounds, and over 4 blocks per game, but he’s far from NBA-ready. He would be guarding the likes of Roy Hibbert (280 pounds), Dwight Howard (260 pounds), and Marc Gasol (265 pounds), just to name a few. If I had the choice, I would rather have last year’s Andre Drummond than Noel.
Best-Case: Tyson Chandler
Worst-Case: Hasheem Thabeet
Otto Porter: 1
Porter is one of the safest prospects in the draft. He doesn’t have the ceiling of some of the other top prospects, but he might be the most NBA-ready prospect available. Porter has a well-rounded game. He proved himself as an outside shooter this year, he’s an exceptional rebounder, and he’s a good defender. The biggest knock on Porter is his inability to get by guys who are more athletic than him, but in the NBA he should be more of a catch and shoot guy. In most drafts, he probably wouldn’t be near the top 5, but in a draft zapped of talent, Porter is as safe as they come.
Best-Case: Tayshaun Prince 2.0
Worst-Case: Danny Green
Michael Carter-Williams: 8
I would stay away from Carter-Williams in the top 10. Almost all of the hype surrounding his game centers on his 6’6 size and athleticism, but poor decision-making and horrendous outside shooting make him a risky prospect. Carter-Williams had some character issues, notably being arrested for shoplifting, that don’t make him any easier to evaluate either. If you only look at the stats, MCW looks promising averaging over 7 assists and nearly 5 rebounds a game, yet shooting under 30% from the perimeter and averaging over 3 turnovers per game are major red flags for any point guard.
Best-Case: Poor Man’s Rajon Rondo
Worst-Case: Shaun Livingston
Victor Oladipo: 4
There’s little chance that Oladipo will flame out of the league. Even if he doesn’t reach his potential, he will be a very serviceable player in the NBA for a long time. Oladipo is a freak athlete who will stick in the league because of his defense. The only major question surrounding him is how much his offense will develop in the NBA. He should be able to get the rim in the NBA, but his outside shooting is still developing. A year ago, he wasn’t on anyone’s draft board, but he exploded junior year, making huge strides in his game. His perimeter shooting improved dramatically, from 21% as a sophomore to 44% as a junior, despite a small sample size. Still, going from 10-48 to 30-68 is a notable jump. The Dwyane Wade comparisons have some merit in that their build and game are somewhat similar. Both guys get to the rim and don’t shoot from outside often, but it’s a stretch that Oladipo becomes a superstar in the NBA.
Tim Hardaway Jr: 3
Hardaway won’t go as high as the previous guys, but he will make a solid rotation guy in the NBA. He’s often forget about because of the ridiculous amount of talent at Michigan last year. With Trey Burke, Glen Robinson III, and Mitch McGary getting most of the attention, Hardaway had a quieter season, but he impressed at the combine. Hardaway has the prototypical size for a scoring guard at 6’6 and elite athleticism. Many teams, especially those near the end of the first round that are playoff teams could use a versatile scorer off the bench that could hit open shots.
Best-Case: Quincy Pondexter
Worst-Case: Daequan Cook
Shane Larkin: 5
The most intriguing prospect that isn’t even in the lottery talk, Larkin went crazy at the combine. We knew Larkin was very athletic, but his combine confirmed that he’s a freak athlete when he had the second highest vertical ever recorded. He was also the fastest player at the combine. To add to the hype, Larkin showed his ability to run a team this past season at Miami, averaging nearly 5 assists with a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. Larkin doesn’t simply rely on his athleticism though. Larkin’s biggest red flag is his size, only being 5’11, but his athleticism and shooting should make up for that. He shot over 40% from 3 last season.
Best-Case: Poor Man’s Tony Parker
Worst-Case: D.J. Augustin