Ranking Top 7 draft busts with the No. 5 pick in lottery era

Shelden Williams, Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Shelden Williams, Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /
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The Detroit Pistons head into the 2023 NBA Draft armed with the No. 5 overall pick. That’s certainly not where they hoped to land; with the worst record in the NBA the Pistons had their sights set on Victor Wembanyama and the first overall pick, but in the end they landed where they had the best odds to end up, in the fifth slot.

It’s not the first time that Detroit has picked fifth; they did just last year, taking Jaden Ivey at No. 5 in the 2022 NBA Draft. They are back at it this year, hoping to land a future All-Star to add to their core. That’s certainly possible; players such as Scottie Pippen, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Garnett all came from the No. 5 slot, as did current stars such as De’Aaron Fox and Trae Young.

There’s another side to that coin, however; for all of the stars to come out of the No. 5 pick in NBA history, there is a long list of draft busts as well. The Pistons are no strangers to draft busts themselves, but the league as a whole has whiffed quite a few times with the fifth pick.

Draft Bust Honorable Mentions

We’re going to cut our search for the top draft busts off at the start of the lottery era, which takes us back to 1985. Before then the draft was the wild wild west, with players drafted choosing instead to play in the ABA, or going back to school, or locked in as territorial picks if you go way back. We won’t bother including “John McConathy” and “Wayne Yates” in our list here.

We also will cut the list off at seven players, so a tip of the hat to Jalen Suggs, Isaac Okoro, Alex Len, Tony Battie and J.R. Reid — you’re safe! Taking into account the career of the player selected and the opportunity cost — i.e. who went after them — we have our list of draft failures. Let’s hop in the time machine and look back at the seven biggest draft busts of the past four decades, beginning with a blue-blood forward who didn’t live up to the hype.