The Worst Second Overall Picks in NBA Draft History
There was a time when you could mention Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant in the same breath while talking about basketball, and not be laughed out of the room. This was back around six years ago when Super Cool Beas and KD had just come up through the same high school AAU team, and the friends had just taken turns dominating at the college level; you can see Durant’s numbers here, and Beasley’s, which are arguably better, here. They both wound up as second overall picks in the NBA draft, going back to back in 2007 and 2008, and from there, the convergence ends. One of them is Kevin Durant, NBA MVP, and one of them is Michael Beasley, recent Chinese League MVP, who had been reduced to playing for non-guaranteed contracts stateside.
Word is that the money from China was too good to pass up for the Kansas Alum, but this is still an illuminating bit of knowledge — that at 25, a second round draft pick in the NBA was already out of the league (Beas eventually resigned with the Miami Heat, who needed wing depth after the departure of LeBron James, before returning to China). Projecting the eventual NBA career from any prospect is almost always a bit of a crap shoot. The exceptions, like LeBron James, are just that: Players who exist to show just how difficult the process is. That said, there’s a reason people wind up in the top end of a draft. The talent is there, the drive is there — because no one accidentally winds up in the NBA — and yet, it’s far from a guaranteed success.
Some of these players are famous, some of these players are footnotes, and some of these players are famous for being footnotes. Read on to find out which players constitute the worst overall decisions with the second pick in the NBA draft.
One quick note here: We’d like to point out that Len Bias, selected with the second overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Boston Celtics, could reasonably fall under the purview of this piece since the Celtics did, indeed, use a draft pick on him only to see him tragically overdose on cocaine before actually playing in the NBA. That’s not really what we’re talking about here. Also, we’re mostly going to be discussing the modern day NBA, since the league’s earlier years, particularly surrounding the draft, were fairly “wild west” in their construction. So, nothing before the Larry Bird rule was implemented.
Out of the available candidates, then, no one stands taller — literally or figuratively — than Darko Miličić. Taken second overall in the 2003 NBA Draft Class behind LeBron James but ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, Miličić won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, but his actual contribution to the team was minimal. After wandering from team to team, he would ultimately quit playing basketball, after a career marked by disappointment, to start kickboxing.
Right alongside the now-free Darko is the other famous second draft pick who couldn’t: Sam Bowie. Famously picked before Michael Jordan (less famously picked after Hakeem Olajuwon), Bowie was a talented center who was decidedly injury prone, even in college, and didn’t have the most sterling professional career — although he’s likely to be nicer than Jordan in person. Those two, Bowie and Miličić, have to head any list about the worst second picks ever, even if it reflects more poorly on the general managers of the time rather than the players themselves.
Then there’s the guys like Stromile Swift and Michael Beasley — good college players who just kind of wind up as non-entities in the NBA. It’s probably too early to say the same for Evan Turner or Derrick Williams, but they’re both leaning toward that diagnosis as well.
So, without any further discussion, here’s a bulleted list of the worst NBA second round picks ever. If ‘worst’ is too impolite for you, consider it, instead, a pick that didn’t pan out to the detriment of the franchise.
- Sam Bowie, Portland Trail Blazers, 1984
- Darko Miličić, Detroit Pistons, 2003
- Michael Beasley, Miami Heat, 2008
- Stromile Swift, Memphis Grizzlies, 2000
- Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies, 2009
- Marvin Williams, Atlanta Hawks, 2005
- Shawn Bradley, Philadelphia 76ers, 1993
- Jay Williams, Chicago Bulls, 2002
All draft information gathered from Basketball Reference.