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Is Hasheem Thabeet the biggest bust ever?

The NBA draft is a tricky business. Should GM’s go for need, or the best player available? Some top-10 picks never live up to their potential, while you can find an absolute gem in the second round (look at Manu Ginobli, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer). When Memphis drafted Hasheem Thabeet from Conneticut with the 2nd pick in the 2009 draft, many experts had mixed views about his potential. At 7 foot 3′, Thabeet is an excellent shot blocker and rebounder but had a very limited offensive game. The Grizzlies first option was Ricky Rubio, but the Spanish prodigy refused to even entertain the idea of playing for Memphis. Thabeet has barely featured for the Grizzlies this season, averaging 2.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10 minutes a game. He may have played more than #1 pick Blake Griffin, but Thabeet is stuck behind Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol in the froncourt and competing with fellow 7-footers Hamed Haddadi and Steven Hunter for spare minutes. Thabeet is also being shown up by rookies drafted after him: the likes of Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn and Brandon Jennings are getting plenty of playing time and putting up points in the league – Jennings lit up Golden State for 55 points in November; Thabeet will be lucky to score 55 points this season.

I’m going to compare Thabeet with previous draft “busts” and the players that were picked after them, as in this current draft class, Tyreke Evans in particular looks like he will be an All-Star in a few years. Some of these are obvious, but they have been the biggest busts in the history of the NBA.

Kwame Brown:

(1st pick, 2001, Washington Wizards. Picked after: Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Gilbert Arenas)

The first high schooler to be selected first, Brown came with high hopes as he was picked by Michael Jordan when he was at the Wizards. Kwame only averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in his rookie year (notice the similarities with Thabeet), and a lack of maturity hindered his progress. Failed stints at the Lakers and Grizzlies followed, and now Kwame is at the Detroit Pistons. Drawing criticsm for lackluster performances and a lack of focus during games, Brown has to be one of the biggest draft busts ever. He has only averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds in his nine year career.

Darko Milicic

(2nd pick, 2003. Detroit Pistons. Picked after: Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh)

Considered such a bust because of the players picked after him. While Melo, Wade and Bosh are superstars and all on the gold-winning “Redeem Team” in 2008, Milicic is now glued to the end of the Knicks’ bench. A mega-skilled big man with massive potential, Darko was picked by the Pistons with the second pick in 2003 but never received significant playing time in Detroit. Stops in Memphis and Orlando failed to impress critics, and even though he is still only 24, I don’t think Darko will ever get it and live up to the hype. He only has career averages of 5.5 points and 4 rebounds per game.

Michael Olowokandi

(1st pick, 1998. LA Clippers. Picked after: Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki)

The London native never developed into the dominant center people expected him to be. While draft colleagues like Dirk, Pierce, Carter, Rashard Lewis and Antawn Jamison are still performing well in the league, Olowokandi only lasted 5 years with the Clippers before injuries curtailed his career. He has career averages of 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Sam Bowie

(2nd pick, 1984. Portland TrailBlazers. Picked after: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton)

Sports Illustrated and ESPN named him the biggest bust in history. Bowie was a bust simply because he was chosen over three Hall of Famers, and arguably the greatest basketball player ever (Michael Jordan). When the player picked a spot below you won 6 championships, 5 MVP awards, 14 All-Star appearances and scores 32,000 points in the NBA, it’s going to make any player look bad. And when the pick before you was Hakeem Olajuwon, it doesn’t improve the circumstances. Bowie was a 7 foot 1’ center and did well in his rookie season, but injuries dogged his career and he retired from basketball in 1995. Bowie has career averages of 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. Does anyone notice the similarities with the 2007 draft – the Blazers select a center with the #1 pick that can’t stay on the court because of injury, and the player taken below is well on his way to becoming a superstar and making his first All-Star appearance. Is Kevin Durant going to be the Jordan to Greg Oden’s Bowie? You never know we might be seeing Oden’s name on this list in 10 years time.

Do you think that Thabeet will be joining Bowie, Brown, Milicic and Olowokandi as the biggest busts in draft history?