We all know the scenario. Top college prospect gets selected with a high draft pick, there’s a load of expectations, and ultimately it all goes sideways. NBA Draft busts are basically league lore at this point.
There have been situations, however, where a player was written off too quickly, only to come out guns blazing to prove everyone wrong. Lakers fans remember all too well what happened with D’Angelo Russell. The No. 2 overall pick, underwhelming first two seasons, then traded to the Brooklyn Nets to make room for another 2nd overall pick. In Brooklyn, however, he successfully reinvigorated his career to that of a borderline star, culminating in an All-Star berth.
Another case would be J.J. Redick, who developed into an extremely valuable catch-and-shoot player. People forget, however, that he was bordering on NBA Draft bust status after a disappointing start in the league at the back of an awesome college career.
These players showed the world that we shouldn’t give up on our young players so early. Here, we look at five NBA Draft busts who might emulate the aforementioned feats.
Let’s take a gander at the players that who still have a shot.
Career Averages: 19.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists
It’s safe to say that Andrew Wiggins has not lived up to the sky-high expectations. His hype was Zion Williamson-like; he was supposed to be Maple Jordan, the LeBron James’ heir, and all that. It’s fair to say he’s not reached those insane level of expectations, though.
To be fair to the Canadian, no one ever does. That type of pressure placed on such young shoulders is hardly beneficial for anyone. Nonetheless, he does have the natural ability and the athleticism to be very successful.
From his high school and college pedigree, he should have had at least an All-Star season by now. Year after year, he threatens to finally have that breakout season that we’ve been expecting. He looked especially good at the first part of last season; he was averaging almost 25 points per game through the first 20 games. However, something always tends to go wrong each season, with Wiggins finishing each year as he always have: pretty disappointing.
One can point at Jimmy Butler’s sentiments on Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive effort to find out what the latter’s problems may be.
Wiggins, however, finds himself in a rather good situation, particularly for next season. He is with the Golden State Warriors after getting traded by the Wolves for former All-Star D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors, meanwhile, could potentially have a lineup of Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Wiseman next season: this team is undoubtedly a threat to the Western Conference. Wiseman would fill the team’s long-standing void at center, while Wiggins could be a better version of what Harrison Barnes was.
We now wait to see whether Wiggins gels successfully with the returning Curry and the rest of the Dubs next season. That is, of course, dependent on whether or not he gets involved in potential trades. Here’s to hoping that Maple Jordan finally gets it together and breaks that glass ceiling.
Career Averages: 10.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists
James Harden, D’Angelo Russell, Russell Westbrook. Such were Markelle Fultz’s draft comparisons coming out of the University of Washington. He looked like a bona fide scorer and shot creator in his one season with the Huskies; his skill looked like it would have a seamless NBA transition. This hasn’t happened as of yet for the 6’4″ point guard for a number of factors. In turn, he’s often tossed in the bin with other NBA Draft busts.
Fultz’s situation coming into the Philadelphia 76ers appears to be a huge factor for his downfall. He was a crafty, slashing playmaker able to create his own shot. However, the Sixers already had a similar player at the one: Ben Simmons. Fultz consequently had to play off the ball and be a glorified catch-and-shoot player, with the Australian being the main playmaker. Another problem stems from this: J.J. Redick was already on the roster, and he certainly beats Fultz out in catch-and-shoot ability. Not the best scenario for a player like Fultz to immediately be thrust into.
There was also the matter of his strange shoulder injury. The aftermath of this resulted in a broken-looking jump shot, as well as his strange free-throw form. His Sixers career ultimately came to an end, with Fultz getting traded to the Orlando Magic.
In truth, we only really got to see more of Fultz in Orlando, particularly last season. He showed more than a few glimpses of his Huskies form. He had good nights against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 21-10-10 game, and another against the Brooklyn Nets with 25 points, 9 points coming in the fourth. Last season saw Fultz average career-highs of 12.1 points and 5.1 assists to go with 3.3 boards.
Yes, we may never get the Harden/Westbrook hybrid that Fultz was said to be. However, his strong showing with the Magic in a much better situation shows a lot of promise. There’s a lot of potential, and a lot of time, for Markelle to carve out a more-than-average NBA career. Quite a bit to be optimistic about for a Markelle Fultz away from the spotlight.
Career Averages: 9.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists
2013 saw a rather wayward draft class, with the likes of Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Cody Zeller, and Nerlens Noel getting drafted inside the Top six. Yes, this draft did produce a certain Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it was generally a weak class full of alleged NBA Draft busts.
Ben McLemore was the 7th overall pick of that draft, and was one of the Sacramento Kings’ more disappointing picks to date.
McLemore was a highly-touted prospect coming out of the University of Kansas. His smooth jumper combined with his athleticism and explosiveness led to comparisons to the great Ray Allen. He hasn’t exactly lived up to the standards of prime Jesus Shuttlesworth, and he hasn’t shown signs that he ever will.
Last year, however, McLemore saw an unlikely resurgence with the Houston Rockets. This was following a disappointing 2018-19 season wherein he only played 19 games for the Kings. In his first season with the Rockets, he led the team in three-point percentage with a 40.0% clip. He also averaged his highest PPG since his sophomore season, with 10.1.
Last year was pretty promising for Ben McLemore. He showed that he had the capability to be a very reliable 3-and-D player in the NBA, the type that every team would love to have. That is a much, much better situation than what his Kings career was turning into.
Career Averages: 9.0 points, 5.4 assists, 2.7 rebounds
Memphis hosts two players who have been labelled as NBA Draft busts at points in their careers: 2017 4th overall pick Josh Jackson, and 2015 10th overall pick Justise Winslow. The latter certainly has the greater potential upside.
Winslow was drafted into a post-LeBron James Miami Heat to be the team’s starting small forward. Save for Winslow’s rookie season, the Heat were in purgatory, circling the 6th-9th seeds. Winslow himself was not having a good first couple of years; he averaged just 7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in that time frame. Not the greatest numbers for a wing picked above the likes of Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, and Josh Richardson.
Coach Eric Spoelstra, however, had something up his sleeve for the underperforming former lottery pick. His solution? Point Winslow.
The long-time Miami Heat coach tasked Winslow with ball-handling duties in the 2019-20 season. This came to full fruition after main point guard Goran Dragic went down with a knee injury in the middle of the season. This meant that Winslow had to slide in to be the team’s full-time point guard. Winslow excelled in the backcourt with his ball-handling, vision, crafty finishing, and size; he averaged about 15 points and 5 assists in his short stretch at the quarterback position.
Winslow would continue being one of Miami’s ball handlers the next season. However, he was only able to play 11 games for the Heat before sustaining a hip injury; he averaged 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in this time span.
The point forward is now with the Memphis Grizzlies, and has a chance to reprise his unlikely playmaking role in the future. With the team already having an established point guard in Ja Morant, Winslow can be a viable secondary ball handler in the starting lineup. He can be the second unit’s point guard as well, a rather good Plan B for Memphis.
Career Averages: 10.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists
We mentioned in the intro that D’Angelo Russell was traded by Magic Johnson to the Nets to make room for that year’s #2 overall pick. This pick was the polarizing Lonzo Ball out of UCLA. The hype for Lonzo, and his other Ball brothers, was unreal, as they were already in the national spotlight even while playing for Chino Hills in high school.
Sadly, many assumed at the time all three Ball brothers were destined to be NBA Draft busts simply by nature of their hype.
Ball is a curious case. His draft report labelled him as a tall, defensively-astute point guard with excellent vision. In his three years in the league, Ball has exemplified these qualities. He has actually been better defender than anticipated, with great playmaking and passing abilities. Yes, his awkward shooting form has indeed been in a need of a fix, but even that has looked better as of last season. So what’s the problem with the eldest Ball?
Maybe it’s the fact that he hasn’t shown any real improvements besides his improved shooting form; in particular, his numbers stayed relatively average in three drastically different seasons in the league. This is in direct contrast to teammate Brandon Ingram, who has shown tremendous improvement after getting traded to the New Orleans Pelicans with Ball. Perhaps it’s how he hasn’t shown much aggression in offense, even after considering that he is a pass-first point guard. Besides all of these , it could have something to do with how he was ridiculously hyped at the start of his career, both by Magic Johnson and his outspoken father, LaVar Ball.
Lonzo Ball is more passive than his father, and all the expectations and succeeding media criticism could not have done him good.
It’s not all bad for Lonzo, however. He started to form a deadly partnership to rookie sensation Zion Williamson at the tail end of last season. People have correctly predicted that the two would be complementary once Zion was drafted to New Orleans; the two looked devastating in their 19 games together.
Who knows? Lonzo might finally be able to appease the media and finally be a great player himself, if he and Zion elevate each other enough. Of course, he has to be more aggressive, as well as be a much more effective and fearless perimeter scorer. He’s taken strides to better himself; separating himself from Big Baller Brand was a good preliminary step.