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The 10 Biggest No. 1 Busts in NBA History

Gregory Shamus/Tim DeFrisco/Donald Miralie, Getty Images

All signs point to the New Orleans Hornets taking Kentucky standout Anthony Davis with the first pick of Thursday’s NBA Draft. Davis is widely considered to be the most NBA-ready player in the crop of players vying for the top spots. If the Hornets do select Davis, he’ll instantly be shouldered with the burden of turning around the struggling franchise.

While many players taken with the top overall pick have gone on to have illustrious careers, some of them haven’t exactly made a name for themselves in the league. Here’s a look back at 10 of the worst No. 1 picks in league history:


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This pick is widely blamed on team President Michael Jordan’s instinct to go for the teenager because he had a feeling on him, but Brown was actually considered to be one of the best players available in the 2001 Draft. But Brown was a bust from the beginning, registering just 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in his rookie season, and he never appeared to feel fully comfortable on the floor. After some positive steps forward over the next few seasons when the Wizards showed him immense courtesy and patience, Brown began to fail again, and the team at last let him go. Remarkably, though, Brown has been able to stick around the league, and he’s now with the Bucks.


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The Blazers were on the losing end of a toss-up between Oden and Kevin Durant in 2007. Before he could even take the court, Oden had microfracture surgery to repair his right knee and had to sit out the season while it healed. He began the 2008–09 season as a rookie with high hopes, but he was soon sidelined again. Injuries continued to plague him, and he had his latest set of surgeries in February. By March, the team had waived him to free up space on the roster and salary cap. In five seasons, he’s played only one. He’ll sit out the next campaign to rehab his knee.


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In 1998, the Clippers took him with their top pick hoping that Olowokandi was the big man they so desperately needed to give them size and an edge. During his career, Olowokandi averaged 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, with the 2001–2002 season being his best. It looked like he’d turned a corner, but that’s when injuries set in, and the Clippers eventually grew tired of having him on the sideline. He was out of the league by 2007 and has long been forgotten by most fans.


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Coming out of Louisville, Ellison was as close to a sure thing as there could have been. The Kings rewarded him with the first selection of the 1989 NBA Draft, but an injury kept him from living up to his promise and the team shipped him to the Bullets. He’d go on to earn Most Improved Player honors after averaging 20.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.68 blocks per game in 1990-91, however more injuries undercut his career and forced him out again. After bouncing around the league for several years while he searched for a third and fourth chance, Ellison finally retired in 2000.


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He was the first one drafted in 1972, yet hardly anyone remembers he ever played for the Blazers. During his four seasons in the league, Martin averaged just 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. His story ends well, though, as he used his BA in sociology from Loyola to go into business. With his NBA days behind him, he found his true calling. Today, he’s a Community Services Manager for UPS.


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Benson made a name for himself in ways that other draft picks would hope for. Only it wasn’t what Benson would have wanted either. He was the top pick of the 1977 Draft, and Benson wanted to prove his value in his first outing. That’s when the retaliation set in from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who took exception to a Benson elbow and clobbered the young player, breaking Benson’s jaw. He stuck around in the league for 11 seasons and averaged 9.1 points. It was his jaw that made him famous.


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His scoring prowess at the University of Utah got the attention of NBA executives, and the Chicago Zephyrs selected him with the first pick of the 1962 NBA Draft. He played only three seasons (1962–65) in the NBA and two more in the ABA before calling it quits. Shortly after his career took a downturn, McGill was left destitute and living on the streets. Not only hadn’t he lived up to his potential, he had nothing left after basketball ended prematurely.

Fred Hetzel
Davidson University


Hetzel was the first choice of the San Francisco Warriors in 1965, and he made a mark right away being named to the 1966 NBA All-Rookie Team. He lasted six seasons in the NBA, playing for five different teams. A scouting report on him said, “Looks for the three at times,” yet “poor from the three point line.” Not a great combination. Factor in that he was also not known for his passing ability or his ball handling, and you begin to understand why his career was cut short. Still, he was respected  in his era for his defensive skills.



This sorry basketball story doesn’t have the same crash and burn ending that others do, as Ricketts was gifted in more than one sport. After the St. Louis Hawks took him with the first pick of the 1955 NBA Draft, he payed three seasons in the NBA. But Ricketts soon left the NBA in favor of pursuing his baseball career with the Cardinals. By 1959, he was in St. Louis and started 9games for the team at pitcher. His 1–6 record was nothing to write home about, but Ricketts is one of the few athletes to pull off a two-sport career.

WVU Sports Hall of Fame


Who? Workman played just two seasons after being picked first in 1952 by the Milwaukee Hawks. He averaged just 4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 14.9 minutes per game. Workman had been an All-American the previous year at West Virginia where he was a 23 points per game scorer. This pick showed just how unpredictable NBA draft choices can be as Workman’s career never really got off the ground.

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