Detroit Pistons: Top 10 draft busts in past 30 years

Serbia's Darko Milicic (R) shoots against Greece's Dimosthenis Ntikoudis. AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
Serbia's Darko Milicic (R) shoots against Greece's Dimosthenis Ntikoudis. AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Mateen Cleaves
Future Detroit Piston’ Mateen Cleaves drives against University of Mississippi Jason Harrison in the second half of MSU’s 74-66 victory in their NCAA Tournament. /

The 3rd, 2nd and first worst draft picks of the Detroit Pistons in last 30 years

3. Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State (2000, 14th)

It seemed like the perfect match. After helping lead Michigan State to the NCAA championship, Mateen Cleaves was selected by the home state NBA team, with the No. 14 overall selection.

It was a dream start to an NBA career for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound guard. Unfortunately, once the games started, it turned more into a nightmare.

As a rookie with Detroit, he averaged 5.2 points and 16 minutes a game. That was basically the highlight of his pro career.

Cleaves was traded right before 2001-2002 training camp to Sacramento for Jon Barry and a draft pick, that turned into Carlos Delfino.

In the next four years, Cleaves was on the roster of three teams but played in just a total of 89 games. He finished with a 3.6 points career scoring average.

So, when you think of Mateen Cleaves, remember the great Spartan player, not the Pistons version.

brandon Knight
Mar 11, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight (20) drives to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

2. Brandon Knight, Kentucky (2011, 8th)

This might be a controversial one.

Brandon Knight just played for the Detroit Pistons last season, coming over from Cleveland as part of the Andre Drummond trade. No one has picked him up yet for this year.

It is not that Knight is a bad player. He has eight years in the NBA and sports a career average of 14.1 points.

But, when you look at the players taken right after Knight, it was a really poor selection by then-general manager Joe Dumars.

One would think, having been a small shooting guard himself, Dumars could tell that Kemba Walker would be a better player than Knight. Nope.

So right after Knight was taken by Detroit, the Charlotte Hornets took Walker, who has become one of the top scorers in the NBA.

Drafted soon after Knight went to the Pistons, were Klay Thompson (11th), Kawhi Leonard (15th), Nikola Vucevic (16th) and Tobias Harris (19th). The Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus, were drafted 13 and 14th.

In a very deep draft, Detroit went with a 6-2 combo guard. Again, Knight was not a bad player, but he was inefficient on offense and his size was a problem on defense.

After two years, the Pistons shipped him (along with Khris Middleton) to Milwaukee as part of the Brandon Jennings trade.

With so many future stars to choose from, and not choosing any of them, the Pistons really whiffed in this draft.

Darko Miličić
Former NBA player Darko Milicic prepares for the fights against Radovan Radojcin prior their kickboxing match at the Soul Night of Champions. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images) /

1. Darko Miličić, Serbia (2003, 2nd)

To any long-time Detroit Pistons fan, No. 1 is no surprise. The pick combined horrendous talent evaluation with passing on a few future Hall of Famers.

For those who are not familiar with probably the biggest mistake in Pistons (maybe NBA)  history: In the 2003 NBA Draft, after Cleveland took LeBron James with the No.1 pick, Detroit was next up.

Among the players available for the Pistons to select were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwanye Wade.

Instead, Detroit took Darko Miličić. An 18-year-old (players out of high school were eligible) out of Serbia who was 7-foot, 250-pounds.

Hey, the Pistons won a championship in Miličić’s rookie year. He might have contributed as a lucky charm, but not as a player. He played a total of 14 minutes in the playoffs during Detroit’s title run.

We could do a deep analysis of Miličić’s game, but, he simply was not that good. 

Miličić lasted two-and-half years in Detroit before being traded to Orlando.  He actually lasted nine years in the NBA, despite having a career scoring average of 6.0 points.

Each team hoped they would be the one who would unearth Miličić’s potential, and he would finally show why he was drafted ahead of Wade, Bosh and Anthony. But he never did, and he then would be dealt to the next team that thought they could do it.

Miličić ended up making $52 million in salary for being a deep backup most of the time

After retiring Miličić got into kickboxing back in his native Serbia. Maybe that was his natural sport.

Detroit Pistons history: 10 random players from the 2010’s. dark. Next

The 2003 selection of Miličić and 2011 drafting of Knight helped end Dumars’ tenure as Pistons executive. a team’s roster can take just so many misses i nthe draft.

With a good chance at a top 5 pick in this year’s draft. Detroit fans hope Troy Weaver does not make this list in the future.