Losing lottery tickets

Losing lottery tickets
By Joe Lago, Yahoo Sports
May 24, 2005

Joe Lago
Yahoo Sports
Twenty years ago, David Stern introduced the best game show in sports – the NBA draft lottery live from Secaucus, N.J. – giving us the chance to see respected personnel men lose their minds and celebrate like Showcase Showdown winners.

Like most real-life lottery winners, teams with the No. 1 selection haven't always known what to do with their sudden good fortune. Not everyone has had a decision as easy as the late Dave DeBusschere, who took Patrick Ewing with the first pick determined by the inaugural lottery in 1985.

For every can't-miss talent (Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal), there have been monumental errors (Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi).

In honor of the lottery's 20th birthday, Yahoo! Sports presents the 10 worst lottery picks of all time (in reverse order):

10. Pervis Ellison, 1989, No. 1 pick
At the time, drafting Ellison first overall was a no-brainer. As a freshman at Louisville, "Never Nervous" Pervis led the Cardinals to the 1986 national championship as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

But injuries kept the 6-foot-10 Ellison from ever living up to his top-pick status. He began his rookie year with the Sacramento Kings on the injured list because of foot and ankle surgery, and played only 34 games. After just one season, the Kings traded Ellison to Washington, where he averaged a career-best 20 points and 11.2 rebounds in 1991-92 and won Most Improved Player honors. But after that breakout year, his game slipped into a severe decline mostly due to bad knees. Ellison ended up missing more than 400 games in his 11 NBA seasons.

9. Jonathan Bender, 1999, No. 5 pick
The Toronto Raptors basically drafted the McDonald's All-American Game MVP for the Indiana Pacers, who acquired Bender to further their long-term plan to become younger and more athletic. The Pacers are still waiting on the 7-foot Bender, who's now 24 and has averaged only 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds a game and just 39 games each season during his six-year career. Knee problems have limited Bender to 28 games total the past two seasons.

8. Chris Washburn, 1986, No. 3 pick
The Golden State Warriors' endless search for a big man includes the brief yet ugly stint of the 6-11 center from North Carolina State. The Warriors ignored Washburn's questionable character and chose to focus on his raw power and immense potential. Unmotivated, Washburn averaged just 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds and played only 72 games in two seasons for Golden State and Atlanta before being banned from the league for testing positive for drugs three times.

7. Jon Koncak, 1985, No. 5 pick
Not easily bent … Lacking in suppleness or responsiveness … Impeded in movement. Look up "stiff" in Webster's dictionary and those are the primary definitions. In NBA lexicon, stiff is the label affixed to grossly underachieving big men. Koncak, a 7-foot center from SMU who averaged only 4.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 11 seasons, became the poster boy for the term. The Atlanta Hawks compounded their mistake by inexplicably rewarding him for four unproductive seasons with a long-term contract in 1989.

6. Robert Traylor, 1998, No. 6 pick
You can question the Los Angeles Clippers' selection of Michael Olowokandi with the first pick all you want. But as far as 1998 lottery picks go, the worst decision involved the Milwaukee Bucks and Robert Traylor. The Bucks dealt their No. 9 selection and Pat Garrity for Traylor, who was selected three spots earlier by the Dallas Mavericks. "Tractor" Traylor never got rolling in Milwaukee, averaging just 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in two seasons. So who did the Bucks trade away for Traylor? A young power forward from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki.

5. Kwame Brown, 2001, No. 1 pick
Perhaps no top pick in the lottery era has had to deal with more pressure than Brown, the first high schooler to be taken No. 1 overall. Not only did Brown endure the pressure of having been hand-picked by Michael Jordan as the Washington Wizards' future franchise player, he also had to withstand the daily scrutiny of Jordan as his teammate. Four inconsistent, injury-marred seasons later, Brown probably will be allowed to walk as a restricted free agent this offseason, his suspension in the playoffs for blowing off practice and a shootaround having secured his ticket out of town.

4. Nikoloz Tskitishvili, 2002, No. 5 pick
Kiki Vandeweghe quietly admitted the mistake of drafting Tskitishvili last February when he dealt the 7-foot Georgian to Golden State in a trade deadline-day footnote. Like the rest of the league, the Denver Nuggets general manager got caught up in the league's search for the next Nowitzki and the growing hype surrounding foreign players. Tskitishvili, due to his size and exceptional outside shooting, drew comparisons to Nowitzki. But Vandeweghe gambled on the wrong 19-year-old. Amare Stoudemire, the eventual Rookie of the Year and Phoenix Suns All-Star, was drafted four spots after Tskitishvili.

3. Randy White, 1989, No. 8 pick
The Dallas Mavericks couldn't resist choosing the 6-8, 240-pound White, who was touted as the next Karl Malone. Problem was, the Mavs could have had the real thing four years earlier. They promised Malone that they would take him with the ninth pick in the 1985 draft, but they ended up passing on Malone and selecting Detlef Schrempf instead. The only thing White had in common with Malone was their alma mater (Louisiana Tech). White totaled 2,083 points and 1,366 rebounds in five seasons with Dallas – or 34,845 points and 13,602 rebounds fewer than the future Hall of Famer Malone.

2. Dennis Hopson, 1987, No. 3 pick
The New Jersey Nets ranked near the bottom in scoring (18th out of 23 teams) in the 1986-87 season, so they chose one of the top collegiate scorers in Hopson, a small forward who averaged nearly 30 points a game as a senior at Ohio State. Hopson averaged 13.1 points in three seasons with the Nets, who traded him to Chicago in 1990 for a first-rounder and a future second-rounder. The small forward taken two spots after Hopson turned into a seven-time All-Star and helped the Bulls win six NBA titles. His name: Scottie Pippen.

And the worst lottery pick in NBA history …

1. Darko Milicic, 2003, No. 2 pick
Maybe the 7-footer from Serbia-Montenegro will play himself off this list and become everything Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars dreamed he could be. But for now, the 19-year-old Milicic stands as the biggest bust because of who Dumars could've drafted instead.

The three players taken after Darko – Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – all have emerged as franchise players and, in the case of Anthony and Wade, superstars that the league can market. Having already built a title contender, Dumars had the luxury of selecting the best player available. Milicic, who has two starts in his 71 career games, has some serious catching up to do to match his fellow lottery picks' success.

Joe Lago is the managing editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Joe a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 5:27 am, EDT

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