The worst No. 1 picks in NBA Draft history, ranked: Anthony Bennett, Kwame Brown headline biggest busts

The 2024 NBA Draft class has been labeled as a “bad draft” because it lacks typical star power at the top of the board.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t future stars hiding in plain sight, but the draft class is not expected to have franchise-altering talents like Victor Wembanyama in 2023 or Anthony Edwards in 2020.

Heading into the big day, there are still question marks as to who will go No. 1 overall. Two of the projected top picks — Zaccharie Risacher (France) and Alex Sarr (Australia) — both played overseas, out of the national spotlight in America.

The public’s unfamiliarity with the projected top picks has probably posed the question, “Who are the worst No. 1 picks in NBA Draft history?”

This is not to suggest that either Risacher or Sarr will join that list, but it serves as a way to revisit some of the biggest busts in draft history.

MORE: Ranking the top 60 players in the 2024 NBA Draft

Ranking the worst No. 1 picks in NBA Draft history

Note: We only considered No. 1 picks from the two-round NBA Draft era, starting in 1989.

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1. Anthony Bennett, 2013

Team: Cavaliers

Career stats: Four seasons — 4.4 PTS, 3.1 REB, 0.5 AST

Stars missed on: Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15), Rudy Gobert (No. 27)

Bennett has a case as the biggest No. 1 overall bust in NBA Draft history, even going beyond the two-round era.

The Cavaliers top pick only played four seasons and 151 games in his NBA career. He was traded from Cleveland to Minnesota after his rookie season, then bounced around to Toronto and Brooklyn before he was out of the league by 2017.

His 1,905 minutes played and 658 points are the least of any No. 1 overall pick since 1989.

2. Kwame Brown, 2001

Team: Wizards

Career stats: 12 seasons — 6.6 PTS, 5.5. REB, 0.9 AST

Stars missed on: Pau Gasol (No. 3), Tony Parker (No. 28)

Brown was drafted straight out of high school and it quickly became evident he was not ready for the NBA. He only averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a rookie, coming off the bench in all but three games.

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He was traded to the Lakers after four seasons with the Wizards and moved around to five different teams after that. Brown ended up sticking around the league for 12 seasons but only averaged over 10 points per game once and never averaged double-digit rebounds.

Let Stephen A. Smith’s historic rant serve as the most memorable moment of his career.

3. Michael Olowokandi, 1998

Team: Clippers

Stats: Nine seasons — 8.3 PTS, 6.8 REB, 1.4 BLK

Stars missed on: Vince Carter (No. 5), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9), Paul Pierce (No. 10)

Olowokandi had a serviceable career as a starting center but “serviceable” is not what you’re looking for in a No. 1 overall pick. He showed some promise in his first season, averaging 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds to make All-Rookie Second Team but that was the extent of his accolades.

Olowokandi played nine seasons in the NBA. His high point was averaging 11.4 points and 9.0 rebounds over two years from 2001-03.

With Hall of Famers like Carter, Nowitzki and Pierce going behind him, it’s safe to say the Clippers want a redo with this pick.

MORE: Checking in on the biggest rumors ahead of the 2024 NBA Draft

4. Greg Oden, 2007

Team: Trail Blazers

Stats: Three seasons — 8.0 PTS, 6.2 REB, 1.2 BLK

Stars missed on: Kevin Durant (No. 2), Al Horford (No. 3), Mike Conley (No. 4), Marc Gasol (No. 5), Joakim Noah (No. 7)

Oden falls to No. 4 on this list because nagging knee injuries prevented him from ever having a chance to reach his ceiling of potential. He dominated college basketball at Ohio State, averaging 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, but he couldn’t stay on the court to produce at the next level.

Oden only played three seasons and 105 games in the NBA. He sat out for four full seasons due to knee injuries before retiring at the age of 26 in 2014.

He’s more of a “what could have been” than a “bust,” but future Hall of Famers like Durant, Horford and Gasol going after him still places his name in the conversation.

5. Pervis Ellison, 1989

Team: Kings

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Stats: 11 seasons — 9.5 PTS, 6.7 REB, 1.6 BLK

Stars missed on: Tim Hardaway (No. 14), Shawn Kemp (No. 17), Vlade Divac (No. 26)

Ellison goes hand-in-hand with Oden on being more of a “what could have been.”

The No. 1 pick in 1989 only played more than 70 games in a season once in his 11-year career. He was constantly battling knee and ankle injuries, earning himself the nickname “Out of Service Pervis.”

Ellison had one season where he showed top-pick potential, earning Most Improved Player of the Year with the Washington Bullets in 1991-92. He averaged 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, but couldn’t stay healthy enough to produce consistently after that.

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6. Markelle Fultz, 2017

Team: 76ers

Stats: 11.1 PTS, 4.6 AST, 3.4 REB, 1.2 STL through seven seasons

Stars missed on: Jayson Tatum (No. 3), De’Aaron Fox (No. 5), Lauri Markkanen (No. 7), Donovan Mitchell (No. 13), Bam Adebayo (No. 14)

The 76ers traded places with the Celtics to move up in the 2017 NBA Draft and select Fultz at No. 1. Boston moved back to No. 3 and ended up with Tatum. The rest is history.

Fultz was a prolific scorer in college at Washington but his skill never translated to the NBA. A shoulder injury plagued his first two seasons in the league and tarnished his jump shot and confidence.

Fultz has tried to re-invent himself as a more defensive-minded playmaker after being traded from Philadelphia to Orlando but health continues to be an issue.

7. Andrea Bargnani, 2006

Team: Raptors

Stats: 10 seasons — 14.3 PTS, 4.6 REB, 1.2 AST

Stars missed on: LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 2), Rajon Rondo (No. 21), Kyle Lowry (No. 24)

Bargnani’s name comes up in these discussions more often than it should. No, he was never an All-Star or franchise cornerstone but he did have a solid, decade-long NBA career.

Of course, you’re looking for better than “solid” at No. 1 overall, but Bargnani averaged 21.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game at his peak in 2010-11. He was a reliable rotation player until injuries hit later in his career.

MORE: Who is Alexandre Sarr, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft?

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8. Deandre Ayton, 2018

Team: Suns

Stats: 16.7 PTS, 10.5 REB, 1.0 BLK through six seasons

Stars missed on: Luka Doncic (No. 3), Trae Young (No. 5), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11), Jalen Brunson (No. 33)

Ayton’s name popping up on this list is a bit harsh, but it has more to do with who was drafted after him than it does with his own career.

Ayton has averaged a double-double every season and was the starting center on a team that reached the NBA Finals. That is not “bust” territory, but the Suns would still probably like a do-over if given the chance.

Ayton was drafted ahead of Doncic, Young, Gilgeous-Alexander and Brunson. The latter two were never in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, but Doncic certainly was.

9. Ben Simmons, 2016

Team: 76ers

Stats: 14.4 PTS, 7.8 REB, 7.4 AST, 1.6 STL through six seasons

Stars missed on: Brandon Ingram (No. 2), Jaylen Brown (No. 3), Jamal Murray (No. 7), Domantas Sabonis (No. 11)

An instant reaction might be that Simmons should be higher on this list. But even with his recent disappointments, he is still a three-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA, two-time All-Defensive Team member and won Rookie of the Year.

Injuries have derailed Simmons’ once-promising career. He has been a shell of himself as of late after once looking like a Magic Johnson prototype.

With Ingram, Brown, Murray and Sabonis getting picked after him, Simmons has to be considered an NBA Draft bust despite his early-career accomplishments.

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