Over this last decade there have been a plethora of great and not-so-great draft picks made in the NBA Draft. From high potential busts, late-round sleepers, to sure-thing star players, there are always many types of players in each draft. Usually, only a select few end up becoming true stars and difference makers for their select teams. Unfortunately, most players selected in the draft don’t end up in the All-Star Game, and the majority of the picks don’t pan out the way they were expected to. Here we look at each NBA team’s worst draft pick of the decade, and why that is the case. To start, I will take a look at the league’s Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks: Rashad Vaughn
Vaughn, a one-and-done player out of UNLV, was never able to find his footing in the NBA after being selected seventeenth overall in 2015. He played for the Bucks for two-and-a-half seasons before being traded to the Nets, and would bounce around the league for a couple of seasons before landing overseas, where he currently plays. Vaughn averaged just three points per game in his short NBA career on only 33.7% from the field.
Toronto Raptors: Bruno Caboclo
The Raptors thought they had found the next big thing in Caboclo, a 6’9” forward with great athleticism, when they drafted him twentieth overall in 2014 out of Brazil. Over his tenure with Toronto, he was famously characterized as the player who was always two years away from being two years away from living up to his potential. He would never go on to fulfill these prospects with the Raptors, as he would appear in just twenty five games over three-and-a-half seasons and record no more than 2.2 points per game in a season before eventually being traded. Caboclo is currently still in the league and was recently traded to the Houston Rockets where he hopes to find a role.
Boston Celtics: Guerschon Yabusele
The Celtics missed hard when they drafted Yabusele at sixteenth overall out of France in 2016. He was drafted ahead of players such as Caris Levert, Pascal Siakam, and Dejounte Murray, staying with the Celtics organization for just two seasons before being waived. Yabusele would average just 2.3 points per game over 74 games with the Celtics, and is currently playing overseas.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz
Markelle Fultz has had one of the more interesting careers that we have seen in the NBA to date. After being selected first overall by the 76ers in 2017–a pick that the 76ers traded up for–Fultz would appear in just 33 games over two seasons before being traded to the Magic. Over those two seasons, he averaged a respectable 7.7 points per game, but never came close to living up to the potential which earned him the number one spot in the draft. A string of injuries, including nerve damage in his shoulder, lead to Fultz often seeming as though he forgot the fundamentals of shooting the basketball when on the court. These oddities, combined with fan/managerial frustration, lead to Fultz being traded prematurely in his 76ers career to the Magic, where he currently is playing quite well, averaging 11.7 points per game on 46.3% from the field.
Indiana Pacers: Miles Plumlee
The Pacers are a team that drafted relatively well last decade, picking the likes of Paul George, Myles Turner, and well … Kawhi Leonard (traded to SAS). They aren’t however without their blunders, as in 2012 they took Miles Plumlee out of Duke with the twenty sixth pick. Plumlee would have a horrendous rookie season with the Pacers, appearing in just 14 games and putting up 0.9 points per game on 23.8% from the field. This pick wasn’t all bad for the Pacers though, as after his rookie season Plumlee would be shipped to the Suns in a trade for Luis Scola, who would become a key player in the following years for Indiana. Plumlee currently plays overseas, but stuck around the league for seven seasons as a backup big man.
Brooklyn Nets: Chris McCullough
McCullough, a 6’11” big man, was considered a risky pick out of Syracuse going into the 2015 draft, as he had only played in 16 games his freshman year before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Nonetheless, the Nets took a chance and selected him with the twenty-ninth pick, knowing he was still recovering from his injury. McCullough would go on to play just 38 games over a season and a half with the Nets before being traded to the Wizards, where he would later be waived. His NBA career spanned just a brief three years with career averages of 3.3 points per game on 42.6% from the field. McCullough now plays overseas where he has spent the last few years in hopes of one day returning to the NBA.
Miami Heat: Justise Winslow
The Heat have made very few picks this decade, not having a single draft pick in 2013, 2016, or 2018. Due to this, there are not too many players to choose from. Out of the bunch, the least successful has been Justise Winslow, who had a pretty solid five year career for the Heat after being taken 10th overall in 2015. Winslow has averaged 9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game on 41.7% from the field and 33.7% from deep over his career. He has had some very inconsistent seasons shooting the ball and has never been able to stay healthy for a full season, so although a valuable piece, he hasn’t been much of a top ten talent throughout his time in the league. Winslow was recently traded from the Heat to the Grizzlies, where he should be given a larger role.
Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja
In a 2015 draft that consisted of many lottery picks yet to live up to their potential such as Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky, the Magic took Mario Hezonja number five overall. Hezonja was a below-average bench player in his three seasons with Orlando, averaging just 6.9 points per game on 41.8% from the field and 33.2% from three before leaving in free agency. In his two seasons since leaving the Magic he has remained underwhelming, as he hasn’t shot above 41.2% from the field and continues to struggle to find his place in the NBA.
Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson
To say Stanley Johnson underperformed in his three and a half year career with the Pistons, as well as in his career as a whole, would be a bit of an understatement. After becoming a 5-star recruit out of high school and being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year at Arizona, the Pistons took Johnson eighth overall in 2015. Since then, Johnson has shot less than 39% from the field in each of his five seasons in the league and has shot above 30% from 3-point range just once. He’s also averaged around three 3-pointers attempted per game, so it is not as if these percentages are coming on few shots. Lastly, Johnson has contributed negative offensive win shares every season of his career and is yet to show any significant progress in his game up to this point. Johnson currently is a reserve on the Raptors, and unless he starts to improve, his time in the league may be running out.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett
Anthony Bennett had one of the worst rookie seasons of all-time by a first pick after he was chosen by the Cavaliers in 2013. Bennett averaged 4.2 points per game as a rookie on just 35.6% from the field and 24.5% from deep. He also averaged more turnovers than assists and was overall just a huge disappointment for Cleveland. After his rookie season, he was shipped to the Timberwolves in the Kevin Love trade and would stay in the league for just three more seasons. Over the course of his career, Bennett shot 39.2% from the field, 26.1% from 3-point range, and averaged just 4.4 points per game, all while never playing more than 57 games in a season. While Bennett is not part of any organization, he landed a training camp deal with the Rockets this season before being waived, so he still has a shot to make it back to the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets: Noah Vonleh
The 2013 NBA Draft is infamous for the amount of underperforming lottery picks that were taken. These include Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, and Noah Vonleh. Vonleh, a big man out of Indiana, was taken ninth overall by the Hornets and averaged just 3.3 points per game on 39.5% from the field, while appearing in just 25 games his rookie year. That offseason he would be traded to the Trail Blazers, and although he is still in the league today for the Nuggets, he has yet to prove worthy of his lottery selection.
Atlanta Hawks: Adreian Payne
Coming out of Michigan State after four strong college years, Adreian Payne was seen as a high-floor big man heading into the 2014 NBA Draft. The Hawks would end up taking him at number fifteen, hoping that he could be a formidable backup to All-Star big men Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Payne proved to be the exact opposite as he appeared in just three games with the Hawks in his rookie season before being traded to the Timberwolves. Payne’s NBA career lasted four seasons,and he averaged 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds on 40.6% from the field and 25.4% from beyond the arc. Since his NBA career came to an end, Payne has continued playing basketball overseas.
New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina
Ntilikina, a guard out of France, was just nineteen when he was drafted by the Knicks number eight overall in 2017. Due to his age, it was well-known that he was a project piece with tons of potential rather than an immediate impact player. Regardless, the Knicks were willing to make the investment. However, to this date that investment hasn’t paid off in the slightest, with Ntilikina consistently struggling in his first three seasons in the league. Ntilikina has averaged just 5.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 3 assists per game along with a putrid 36.1% clip from the field and a 30.9% 3-point percentage over his career. Not only are the stats themselves poor, but what’s even more alarming is the lack of overall development for the young guard as there seems to be little growth and learning resulting from his struggles. Even though he’s shooting a career-high from the floor this year, his percentage still sits at just 38.3%, which isn’t much to get excited over. The Knicks have been in a tough spot for the majority of the decade, and missing out big time in the lottery with picks such as these are a huge reason why.
Washington Wizards: Jan Veselý
Jan Veselý, a 7’0” big man out of the Czech Republic, is one of the least known and talked about lottery busts in recent history. A lot of this is due in part to the fact that after being taken sixth overall by the Wizards in 2011, Veselý played just three seasons in the NBA before going overseas. He was never able to make an impact in the league as he played no more than 57 games per season and averaged just 3.6 points per game over his career. The Czech big man spent two and a half seasons with the Wizards before being traded to the Nuggets, and after just a half season with Denver, he decided to sign overseas. Ever since heading overseas, he has been dominant and he even won EuroLeague MVP in 2019, so he isn’t in as bad a spot as some other players on this list.
Chicago Bulls: Marquis Teague
The Chicago Bulls have only been in the draft lottery three times this decade, which makes for a lack of big-time busts. There was however the selection of Marquis Teague out of Kentucky at number twenty-nine in 2012, which really didn’t pan out. Teague’s short-lived NBA career consisted of career averages of 2.4 points and 1.5 assists per game on a dreadful 34.3% from the field and 22.2% from deep. Marquis played one and a half seasons for the Bulls before being traded to the Nets, who later traded him to the 76ers, who in turn waived him. Teague then spent three seasons out of the NBA before reappearing in three games as a G-League call-up for the Grizzlies during the 2017-18 season. However, he has not found his way back into the league since.
Check out part two of my exploration of the worst NBA draft picks of the 2010’s here, where I turn to the Western Conference.