Halftime Sports

Each NBA Team’s Worst Draft Pick of the Last Decade: Western Conference

February 14, 2020

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. After previously looking at the Eastern Conference, today I will look at the league’s Western Conference. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Cameron Payne

The Thunder have built most of the talent in their franchise’s history through the NBA Draft. From selecting James Harden to Steven Adams, the Thunder have made some great picks. However, they are not without their blunders as seen with the fourteenth pick in the 2015 draft, when they selected point guard Cameron Payne out of Murray State. Payne would never see the floor much with the Thunder as he played behind Russell Westbrook, and was traded to the Chicago Bulls midway through his second season in the league. The Bulls held onto him for two seasons before waving him, and he was later picked up by the Cavs and Raptors before being waived by both, which leaves him currently out of the NBA. Over his NBA career, Payne has averaged 6 points and 2.5 assists per game on just 39.7% from the field and 33.1% from deep.

Golden State Warriors: Ekpe Udoh

Ekpe Udoh, a 6’10” big man out of Baylor, was known as an elite shot blocker heading into the 2010 NBA Draft. This was enough for the Warriors to select him at number six overall, and he was given a sizable role immediately on the team. Udoh averaged 1.5 blocks per game in his rookie season, but wasn’t able to provide much else for the Warriors as he averaged just 4.1 points on 43.7% from the field. The Warriors would ship him to Milwaukee in his second season, and from this point Udoh would become a bit of a journeyman in the league. He played for the Bucks, Clippers, and finally the Jazz over the final stretch of his NBA career before being unsigned this offseason. Udoh averaged 3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game on just 45.3% from the field over his NBA career, proving to be an elite shot-blocker, but not much else.

Utah Jazz: Dante Exum

Before being selected number five overall in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Jazz, Dante Exum, out of Australia, was considered one of the top prospects in terms of potential upside. Exum was unable to show this in his rookie year as he averaged just 4.8 points in 22.2 minutes per game on a horrendous 34.9% from the field along with a subpar 31.4% from 3-point range. Exum started in 41 games his rookie year and played in all 82 games of that season. Since then,  he has not played in more than 66 games in a season and has started in just 29 games in four seasons since his rookie year. Exum’s career has been plagued by injuries, as he has missed entire seasons as well as major chunks of time after sustaining a torn ACL and requiring shoulder surgery. This season, Exum was traded to the Cavaliers, where he plays off of the bench. It seems he will be in this role for the rest of his career unless he finally shows the potential that he once had so much of. Over his career, Exum has averaged 5.7 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 rebounds on 40.5% from the field and 30.4% from deep, definitely not number five overall numbers by any means.

Sacramento Kings: Thomas Robinson

Where to start with Sacramento. The Kings are renowned as one of the worst drafting teams of the last decade, as after taking Demarcus Cousins in 2010 they missed out on six straight seasons of lottery draft picks who all extremely underperformed in their NBA careers. Sacramento has not made the playoffs since the 2005-2006 season and their inability to draft productive players is the main reason why. Some Kings lottery selections of the decade include Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas, and the fact that neither of those are the Kings’ worst pick speaks volumes to just how bad this team has drafted. While Stauskas and McLemore turned out to be very bad picks, Thomas Robinson takes the award for the Kings worst selection of the decade. The Kings took Robinson number five overall in 2012 out of Kansas after he averaged great numbers in his final season of college. Robinson wouldn’t even make it through his rookie season before being traded to the Rockets in 2013, who would eventually trade him to the Trail Blazers in the summer of 2013, who would trade him to the 76ers in 2015. After not fitting with the 76ers, Robinson would sign with the Nets, and after a season with them, would sign with the Lakers, where he would spend one season to end his NBA career. Robinson, a journeyman in the league by all means, would average 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on 47% from the field over his five year NBA career and never was able to find his footing in the league.

Houston Rockets: Sam Dekker

The Rockets are not a team that has been very active in the draft this decade, as the highest they have drafted is fourteenth and four out of the last six seasons they haven’t selected in the first round. Nonetheless, they too have made picks that haven’t worked out. With the eighteenth overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft the Rockets took Sam Dekker, a forward out of Wisconsin. Dekker would appear in just three games his rookie season due to back surgery. The next season he actually played quite well over 77 games, averaging 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds on 47.3% from the field and 32.1% from deep. That offseason though, Dekker would be shipped to the Clippers as a part of the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Rockets. Dekker’s role decreased with the Clippers and over the offseason he would be traded to the Cavaliers where he would spend half a season before being dealt to the Wizards. Dekker finished out last season with the Wizards, but went unsigned in free agency, leading him to take his talents overseas where he currently plays. Dekker averaged 5.5 points and 3 rebounds on 47.8% from the field and just 28.8% from three over his NBA career, which is not bad compared to many others on this list, but he was never able to find a real footing in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies: Xavier Henry

Since taking Hasheem Thabeet at number two overall in 2009 as one of the most infamous picks in recent NBA Draft history, the Grizzlies haven’t had much success in the draft this decade. Taking Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. the last two years look like they will turn out to be very nice picks, but basically every pick the Grizzlies have made this decade other than those two have turned into unproven pros. With first round picks such as Tony Wroten, Dominique Jones, Jordan Adams, Jarell Martin, and Wade Baldwin, the Grizzlies time and time again struck out with their draft selections. Their worst pick of the decade though was Xavier Henry, taken twelfth overall in 2010 out of Kansas. Henry’s NBA career spanned just five seasons, while only his rookie season came with the Grizzlies. After an underwhelming rookie season with Memphis in which Henry played in 38 games averaging 4.3 points per game on 40.6% from the field and 11.8% from three, the Grizzlies traded him to the New Orleans Hornets where he would play two seasons. After those two seasons Henry would be signed by the Lakers, where he would play the final two seasons of his NBA career. He showed real production in 2013-14 when he averaged 10 points per game over 43 games with a Lakers team whose leading scorer was Nick Young. Over five years, Henry put up averages of 5.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game on 40.6% from the field and 32.5% from deep, not numbers that were able to keep him in the league for long.

San Antonio Spurs: James Anderson

The Spurs, the model of consistency in the NBA, have selected no higher than eighteenth overall this decade in the NBA Draft. Even with this being the case, they have nabbed some great pieces late in the first round, as well as in the second round. Their selections include Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Kyle Anderson, among others. The selection of James Anderson at number twenty overall in 2010 however, did not turn out to be a great pick. Anderson, a 6’6” forward/guard out of Oklahoma State, played just five seasons in the NBA. He would go onto play two-and-a-half seasons for the Spurs before being waived, and then would play for the Rockets, 76ers, and Kings to finish his career. His one productive season came with the nineteen-win 76ers in 2013-14, in which he averaged 10.1 points per game. Over his career, Anderson averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game on 41.1% from the field and 32.1% from deep. He was never able to find consistency in his game as he shot above 40% from the field just twice out of his five seasons in the league.

Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender

The 2016 NBA Draft’s top three picks: Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Jaylen Brown, have all turned out to be great players in the league, two of whom are all-stars this season. However, the fourth pick in that draft has not seen the same success. With the fourth pick in the 2016 draft the Suns selected Dragan Bender, a seven footer out of Croatia. The Suns were hoping for a Kristaps Porzingis type player in Bender, but instead got a very underwhelming three seasons before his fourth year rookie option was declined. Over his three seasons in Phoenix, Bender averaged 5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game on just 39.4% from the field and 32.1% from deep. Shooting under 40% from the field as a seven footer in the NBA should be a crime, and Bender committed it with the Suns. This offseason, Bender signed with the Bucks but only appeared in seven games this season before being waived.

Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball

For as many struggles as the Lakers have endured this decade, they have drafted quite well. First rounders such as Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Julius Randle have all turned out to be solid players in the league. Heading into the 2017 NBA Draft, the Lakers were choosing second overall for the third consecutive season, and this pick was vital in starting the transformation from rebuild to contending. With this second pick the Lakers selected Lonzo Ball, a 6’6” point guard out of UCLA who was one of the most hyped up prospects of the draft class. The Lakers selected Ball over players such as Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo, just to name a few. I am by no means saying that Ball is not a good player, because I think he is, but for a number two overall pick with all of those other players available, he has underperformed. Ball had a very inconsistent rookie season in LA as he shot an abysmal 36% from the field and 30.5% from deep, but averaged fine overall numbers with 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. In his sophomore season, Ball put up very similar numbers, while improving his field goal percentage to 40.6% and his 3-point percentage to 32.9%. He was then shipped to the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis deal and has once again put up very similar numbers this season. Health has also been an issue with Ball, as he played in just 52 and 47 games respectively over his first two seasons and has already missed eight games this season. Through his career as a whole thus far Ball has averaged 10.6 points, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game on 38.5% from the field and 33.3% from three. All in all, Ball helped the Lakers acquire Anthony Davis, so there isn’t too much to dwell on with this pick.

Los Angeles Clippers: Brice Johnson

Since taking Blake Griffin with the first overall pick in 2009, the Clippers have consistently been a playoff team, which has led to few high selections in the draft. The Clippers didn’t always have first round picks this decade, and if they did, they were often in the twenties. Brice Johnson, a 6’10” power forward out of North Carolina, was one of these selections at number twenty-five overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Things were not easy for Johnson in his time with the league, as playing behind big men such as Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan and Montrezl Harrell led Johnson to play in just twelve games for the Clips over one-and-a-half seasons before he was traded to the Pistons, who would trade him to the Grizzlies before he played a game. Unfortunately, Johnson would appear in just nine games for the Grizzlies before being waived. Since then, Johnson hasn’t appeared in the NBA and has instead played overseas. Over his very brief NBA career, Johnson averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game on 44.9% from the field in just 21 career games.

Denver Nuggets: Emmanuel Mudiay

In a draft that didn’t go well for many teams, the 2015 NBA Draft had the Nuggets picking at number seven. With that pick they selected Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6’3” point guard who forewent college to play overseas. Mudiay was seen as a high ceiling player, but was very unrefined heading into the league. His unpolished game led to an inconsistent rookie season in which Mudiay averaged 12.8 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1 steal per game on a disastrous 36.4% from the field and 31.9% from three. This production also came on 30.4 minutes per game over 68 games, the highest totals in both categories for Mudiay over his career. Mudiay would play one-and-a-half more seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to the Knicks, where he had a nice season last year, averaging 14.8 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game on 44.6% from the field and the 32.9% from deep. Mudiay then signed with the Jazz this offseason where he is playing a fine role off the bench. Over his career, Mudiay has averaged 11.1 points, 3.9 assists, and 3 rebounds per game on 40% from the field and 32.3% from deep, not showing the type of consistency that the Nuggets or any team expects from a number seven overall pick.

Dallas Mavericks: Justin Anderson

As tempted as I was to make this about Dennis Smith Jr., he played well in his time with the Mavs and helped net Kristaps Porzingis, so I had to shift my focus to another selection. With the 21st pick in the 2015 NBA Draft the Mavs took Justin Anderson, a 6’6” forward out of Virgina. Anderson didn’t do much as a rookie, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game on 40.6% from the field and 26.5% from three. In his next season he was traded to the 76ers who kept him for a season and a half, and eventually traded him to the Hawks where he played last season. Anderson went unsigned this offseason, but recently signed a ten day contract with the Nets, appearing in three games for the team. Over his career, Anderson has averaged 5.3 points, and 2.5 rebounds per game on an underwhelming 41.8% from the field and 30% from deep.

New Orleans Pelicans: Austin Rivers

Notable first round picks of the Pelicans/Hornets this decade include Anthony Davis, Buddy Hield, and most recently, Zion Williamson. All of these have been good picks, and even though Zion’s career has just begun, I think it’s fair to say he’ll make a positive impact for the Pels as long as he stays healthy. In the same draft (2012) the Pelicans took Anthony Davis at number one overall, they also had the number ten pick, which they used to select Austin Rivers out of Duke. Rivers was one of the top recruits in the nation out of high school and was productive in his lone season at Duke. Rivers has turned out to be a fine pro and wasn’t taken over any great players. Rivers played for the Hornets/Pelicans for two-and-a-half seasons before being traded to the Celtics, who traded him to the Clippers before playing a game. It is on the Clippers under his father Doc Rivers that Austin would see his most prevalent role to date, even averaging 15.1 points per game one season. After four productive seasons in LA, Rivers was traded to the Wizards, who after half a season traded him to the Suns, who waived him immediately. This led to him signing with the Rockets where he currently plays. In his rookie season with New Orleans, Rivers averaged 6.2 points and 2.1 assists per game on 37.2% from the field and 32.6% from deep. In his second season, he improved in each of those categories, but would regress in his third year for the Pelicans, shooting just 38.7% from the field and 28% from three, which was a substantial reason why he was traded. Rivers has panned out as a solid pro, but due to the Pelicans lack of really poor draft selections, Rivers is their worst of the decade.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams

The Timberwolves, along with the Kings, have been one of the worst drafting NBA teams in recent history. Even though they have recently found some nice players through the draft such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Josh Okogie, and Zach Lavine, they have continually missed out on drafting players to help their squad over the decade. The Timberwolves infamously drafted Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn back to back in 2009 before Steph Curry, took Corey Brewer over Joakim Noah in 2007, and selected Wesley Johnson in 2010 over DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, and Paul George. This is a tough list to look at. Another one of the T-Wolves’ many blunders came in 2011, when they took Derrick Williams out of Arizona at number two overall. Williams was selected over Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Tristan Thompson, Kemba Walker, and Klay Thompson just to name a few. Williams would go onto have a seven year NBA career in which he was never able to blossom into the star the T-Wolves thought he would be. He averaged 8.9 points and 4 rebounds per game on 43.4% from the field and 30% from deep over his career. He spent just two-and-a-half seasons with the Wolves before being traded to the Kings for Luc Mbah a Moute, and would finish out his career going to the Knicks, Heat, Cavs, and then Lakers. Williams can be called a bust by most standards,especially for a second overall pick.

Portland Trail Blazers: Nolan Smith

One of the lesser knowns on this list is Nolan Smith, a point guard selected 21st overall out of Duke in 2011 by the Trail Blazers. A 20+ ppg scorer in his senior year at Duke, the Blazers hoped Smith would be a safe pick who could hopefully bring them some scoring. This unfortunately didn’t end up being the case as Smith would appear in 84 games over just two seasons in the league, both with the Blazers. Over that span he averaged 3.3 points per game on 37.1% from the field and 26% from deep. He ended up being a total disappointment in the league, but the Blazers selected Damian Lilliard with their first round pick a year after selecting Smith, so they didn’t have to dwell on this missed opportunity too much.

This list sums up the past decade of NBA draft picks that didn’t pan out for their respective teams. This decade of draft picks treated numerous teams like the Pelicans and Heat well, while others such as the Kings and Timberwolves not so much. As we have seen time and time again, anyone can turn out to be a disappointment in the NBA, no matter their prior pedigree. Therefore it’s vital for teams in rebuild mode to do all they can to scout out talent in the draft, because a bust can be the difference between a playoff team and bottom-feeder in the league. With the next wave of NBA talent starting to move towards the forefront of the league, this next decade of draftees could turn out to be some of the greats or end up on next decade’s list.For now, we’ll have to wait and see. 

Alex Brady
Alex is a sports junkie who loves basketball and his hometown Bulls, and was a former Halftime Sports Editor.

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