On Thursday, the 2011 NBA Draft takes place. In this year's draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are lucky enough to have both the first and fourth picks in the draft. However, this year's draft class is considered the weakest in years, and even the top players, such as Duke PG Kyrie Irving and Arizona F Derrick Williams, aren't considered likely to develop into superstars. Anyway, the Cavs are at least hoping that whoever they pick won't go on to have the careers of the following men, the worst NBA draft picks of the 1980s. In the first of a three part series, the Canon Review takes a look back at the men who had the hopes of an entire franchise pinned on them, and then proceeded to dash those hopes for any number of reasons. Some men got hurt, some men fell into drugs, while others just weren't good enough to live up to the hype. Whatever the reason, here are the worst NBA draft picks of the 1980s.
1980: James Ray, Forward, Denver Nuggets, 5th Pick
I suppose I could have gone with Joe Barry Carroll or Kelvin Ransay in this spot, but at least those men had a few stretches of solid play in their careers. The same can not be said about Ray, a 6'8" forward from Jacksonville University. After the Nuggets selected him ahead of Mike Gminski, Andrew Toney, and Kiki Vandeweghe, Denver coach Donnie Walsh said that Ray "may be the best out of all the player's in this year's draft" and "There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be a very good player in the NBA for a very long time." So, what happened? Well, Ray started to have knee problems almost as soon as he entered the league, and never stayed healthy long enough to develop his game. As a result, he lasted only three years in Denver, playing 103 games and scoring 334 points. After that, it was off to Europe for Ray.
1981: Al Wood, Guard-Forward, Atlanta Hawks, 4th Pick
Picked over Tom Chambers and Rolando Blackman, among others, Wood was a second-team All American for the North Carolina Tar Heels and helped lead his team to the championship game in 1981. The Hawks decided that was good enough for them, and were so impressed that they traded him after 19 games to the Clippers for the immortal Freeman Williams (who would become part of the deal that landed Dominique Wilkins for Atlanta). Wood lasted two seasons with the Clippers with mixed results, and was soon sent to Seattle along with Tom Chambers for James Donaldson, Greg Kesler, and Mark Radford. While this would turn out to be yet another bad trade for the Clippers, it wasn't because of Wood. Wood had his moments as a Supersonic, though, and in 1984-85 Wood averaged 15.0 a game. By 1986, the Sonics were looking for someone with a little more range, so they traded Wood to the Mavericks for Dale Ellis. While Ellis blossomed in Seattle, Wood languished on the Dallas bench, averaging 6.6 points in 54 games for the Mavericks in 1986-87 before being waived in November. Wood went on to continue his career in the CBA and in Europe, never to regain the glory of his college days.
1982: Bill Garnett, Forward, Dallas Mavericks, 4th Pick
1982 turned out to be a three player draft (James Worthy, Terry Cummings, and Dominique Wilkins). Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they picked fourth that year. So they took Garnett, the 1982 WAC Player of the Year out of the University of Wyoming. Garnett spent two seasons in Dallas, and proved to be too inconsistent to get major minutes on a Dallas team that was desperate for front court help. In two seasons in Dallas, Garnett averaged 5.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. When he was traded to Indiana prior to the start of the 1984-85 season, he was referred to as a "liability" by Dallas GM Norm Sonju. Garnett did little to prove Sonju wrong, lasting two seasons in Indiana and averaging a mere 5.3 points per game. By 1986, Garnett was out of the NBA for good.
1983: Russell Cross, Center, Golden State Warriors, 6th Pick
I suppose I could have gone with Steve Stipanovich, who was picked second by the Pacers, but at least Stipanovich was a decent center for five seasons in Indianapolis. Instead, the choice here is Cross, who came out a year early out of the University of Purdue. Even though he had a history of knee injuries, the Warriors drafted him anyway and teamed him up with Joe Barry Carroll in the hopes that they could become a pair of stalwarts in the Warriors' frontcourt. However, Cross only played one year in Golden State, playing 45 games and scoring a grand total of 166 points. The Warriors released him before the 1984-85 season, and Cross signed with Denver shortly after. But Cross's knees acted up again, and he never saw any action for the Nuggets, or any other team, for that matter.
1984: Sam Bowie, Center, Portland Trailblazers, 2nd Pick
Like Cross, Bowie was a center who had a history of knee problems. Unlike Cross, Bowie at least lasted more than one season and proved to be a halfway decent player on the rare occasions where he stayed healthy. In his first year, the All-American from Kentucky made the NBA All-Rookie Team and finished third in blocked shots per game (2.7). Then the injuries started happening, and over the next four years Bowie played a total of 63 games before Portland traded him along with a first round pick for Buck Williams. While in New Jersey, Bowie actually stayed healthy to play 280 games over the next four seasons, and was a solid player for the Nets (12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.64 blocks per game). After playing two seasons with the Lakers, Bowie retired in 1995. On one hand, Bowie fought his way to have a decent career that lasted over a decade in the NBA. On the other hand, he never stayed healthy and his selection has been question by every basketball fan ever since, mainly because the Trailblazers took him one pick ahead of Michael Jordan, only the greatest player in NBA history.
1985: Benoit Benjamin, Center, Los Angeles Clippers, 3rd Pick
If you look at Benjamin's stats, you might come to the conclusion that all in all, he wasn't a bad player. After all, for his career he averaged 11.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 2.0 bpg. During his days with the Los Angeles Clippers, he was constantly in the top 10 in the league in blocked shots, and in 1987-88 Benjamin averaged 3.4 blocks per game to finish second in the NBA. However, stats are only part of the story, as Benjamin was one of the most frustrating players to ever put on a uniform. He constantly struggled with his weight, put in inconsistent effort, and nearly every coach he ever had despised him for his attitude and lackadaisical play. During his 15 year career, Benjamin played for nine teams, as every one of them tried to convince themselves that they were the team that could turn Benjamin around. As it turns out, no one could, and Benjamin, who had all the talent in the world, is remembered today as a bust and as a cautionary tale.
1986: Len Bias, Forward, Boston Celtics, 2nd Pick
The 1986 Draft class is one that is full of heartbreak and disappointment. Just in the top 10 alone, there's Chris Washburn, Kenny Walker, William Bedford, Roy Tarpley, and Brad Sellers. All those guys, for a number of reasons, were colossal disappointments, but at least they suited up for their teams. The same can not be said for Bias, as I'm sure most of you know. Coming out of the University of Maryland, Bias was supposed to be the man that challenged Michael Jordan's status as the best player in the league and would be the next star of the Celtics' dynasty. Instead, just two days after being drafted, Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Sadly, we'll never know what kind of player Bias would have been in the NBA.
1987: Dennis Hopson, Guard, New Jersey Nets, 3rd Pick
Hopson was an All-American guard at Ohio State who averaged 29 points a game his senior season. The Nets, in dire need for backcourt help, picked Hopson with the third pick in the Draft over Scottie Pippen and Kevin Johnson. Hopson was supposed to be the Nets' version of Michael Jordan, even wearing the number 23 during his first year in the NBA. However, he played more like Michael Ruffin, shooting just over 40 percent from the field in his first season. In 1989-90, Hopson was the Nets' leading scorer with 15.8 ppg. But his shot continued to be inconsistent (.434 field goal percentage) so they traded him to the Bulls for a first round pick. Hopson won a ring in Chicago, but was buried on the bench and fell out of favor with coach Phil Jackson, so off he went to Sacramento, where he average 10.7 ppg coming off the bench for the Kings in 1991-92. After that season, Hopson went on to play in Spain, and over the next eight years traveled the world, playing for 10 different teams in six different countries.
1988: Tim Perry, Forward, Phoenix Suns, 8th Pick
1988 was actually a pretty decent year for draft picks, so we had to go all the way down to number eight to find a selection that didn't quite work out. That pick was Perry, a 6'9" power forward from Temple. In his first three seasons with the Suns, Perry spent most of the time on the bench, averaging 4.2 points a game in those first three years. In 1991-92, Perry stepped up his game somewhat, starting 69 games for the Suns and averaging 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. After the 1992 season, Perry was one of three players traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley. While it would be unfair to suggest that the 76ers expected Perry to become the next Charles Barkley, it would be fair to say that Perry was a bit of a disappointment for the 76ers. As the Great Book of Philadelphia Sports Lists put it; Perry "was a tall guy who couldn't pass, couldn't shoot, couldn't rebound". That may be overestimating things slightly, but Perry averaged a mere 7.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg during his four years with the Sixers. After that, Perry finished his career with the New Jersey Nets, getting released by the team in 1996.
1989: Pervis Ellison, Center, Sacramento Kings, 1st Pick
Ellison was the MVP of the Final Four as a Freshman at Louisville in 1986 and picked up the nickname "Never Nervous" for his play. Even though at 6'9", he was undersized for a center, the Kings picked him first anyway and figured at the worst, he could play at the power forward spot. After an injury plagued rookie season, the Kings shipped Ellison to the Washington Bullets in a three team trade in which the Kings ended up with Eric Leckner, Bobby Hansen, and some low draft picks. I'm not sure what the Kings were exactly thinking here, but Ellison turned into a heck of player in 1991-92, averaging 20 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award. However, Ellison couldn't stay healthy after that season long enough to repeat that year's success, and in 1994 the Bullets let Ellison go. Ellison signed with the Celtics during the 1994 offseason, and spent the next six years either backing up at center or on the injured list. Had Ellison's body held up, it's likely that he would have been an All-Star at least once in his career and Danny Ferry would have been on this list. But instead, here we are, and Ellison is just one of many who couldn't reach greatness due to injury.
Well, that's it for the Worst NBA Draft Picks of the 1980s. Tomorrow we'll have the Worst NBA Draft Picks of the 1990s and rest assured there's a whole lot of centers to be featured. Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this list, then feel free to share them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org