The NBA draft is extremely unpredictable. Some players will be important contributors right out of the gate, like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant. Others, such as Ben Wallace, Steve Nash, and Stephen Curry, may take a few seasons before breaking out. But, some players will peak early on in their career and then fizzle out, leaving teams to wonder if their vast potential still exists.
Here are the top 6 NBA one-hit wonders who faded quickly.
6. Jonny Flynn
Drafted sixth overall in 2009, the Minnesota Timberwolves expected big things from Flynn. He rewarded them with an impressive rookie season, in which he averaged 13.5 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game. But during the offseason, Flynn had surgery to repair a torn labrum, similar to the injury Cavs’ point guard Isaiah Thomas is currently recovering from.
This injury stripped Flynn of much of his lateral quickness, which greatly reduced his overall effectiveness. The next season, he averaged just 5.3 points per game. He was then traded to Houston, then to Portland, and eventually signed with Detroit, Indiana, and the Los Angeles Clippers. He has not appeared in an NBA game since the 2011-2012 season.
5. Bryant Reeves
The Vancouver Grizzlies made Bryant Reeves their first ever draft pick in 1995. Through his first three seasons, he looked to be worth the sixth overall pick, as he averaged 13.3, 16.2, and 16.3 points per game. A true big man, Reeves’ physical style of play paired well with Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
However, back pain lowered his quality of play, and eventually forced him to retire after the 2000-2001 season, prematurely ending what was originally a promising career.
4. Josh Howard
Josh Howard was drafted 29th overall in 2003 by the Dallas Mavericks. After making the 2003-2004 all-rookie 2nd team and the all-star game in 2006-2007, Howard’s career was on an upward trajectory.
Unfortunately, knee injuries robbed him of his ability to play extended minutes as a starter, and he played in just 11 games in his final season, 2012-2013.
3. DaJuan Wagner
In 2002, DaJuan Wagner was selected sixth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He impressed during his rookie season, averaging 13.4 points per game. The Cavs chose LeBron James first overall the next year, and hoped that Wagner would be Robin to James’ Batman.
Unfortunately, Wagner’s playing time dwindled due to ulcerative colitis. He averaged just 6.5 points per game that season, and played in just 11 games in 2004-2005. After sitting out the 2005-2006 season, his comeback attempt with the Golden State Warriors lasted just one game, and his medical condition forced him to retire subsequently.
2. Mike James
Undrafted out of Duquesne University, Mike James was signed by the Miami Heat before the 2001-2002 NBA season. He played in Miami for two years, averaging 22 minutes per game in his second season.
In 2003-2004, James averaged 10.7 points per game for the Boston Celtics, and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons after being involved in a deal that also sent Rasheed Wallace to Detroit. James and fellow guard Lindsey Hunter were nicknamed “the Pit Bulls” by Wallace, due to their aggressiveness on defense.
After splitting the 2004-2005 season between Milwaukee and Houston, James finally got his shot at starting with the Toronto Raptors during the 2005-2006 season. In 37 minutes per game, averaged 20 points and 5 assists. But despite his strong season, James continued to bounce around the league, as he played for Minnesota, Houston, New Orleans, Washington, Chicago, and Dallas, before retiring in 2014.
James was the definition of an NBA journeyman, a player with the potential to be an important contributor, but who never found a home.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
The only active player on this list, MCW currently plays for the Orlando Magic, where he averaged 7.2 points per game before the NBA's hiatus.
Selected 11th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013, his career’s highest moment occurred in his debut game, where he finished with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, and nine steals, leading the 76ers to an upset of the defending champions, the Miami Heat.
After averaging 16.7 points per game in his inaugural campaign, Carter-Williams’ numbers have gradually declined since. On average, 14.6 points in 2014-2015, 11.5 in 2015-2016, 6.6 in 2016-2017, 4.6 in 2017-18, and 4.8 in 2018-19. Known primarily as a scorer, his shooting has been subpar, with his career FG% at 40%. Although he’ll likely never return to his rookie form, he should continue to have a place in the NBA as a reserve guard who can provide some scoring.
The NBA is full of “what if?” scenarios, but some of the most disappointing examples are players whose careers started off strong, but who could not continue their success, whether the reason was an injury, disease, or otherwise. Fans of teams with players who have exhibited long periods of sustained success should count themselves very fortunate.