The Sixers Six is a series of top-six lists on a variety of Sixers topics, both past and present.
The NBA Draft is a crapshoot. Hitting or missing on a top draft pick can make or break a franchise for years to come. Today we look at the top six biggest draft busts from the past 25 years. Here is the list in chronological order:
Shawn Bradley (1993: 2nd Overall)
The first season following the trade of franchise superstar Charles Barkley to the Suns went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined. The three pieces that came back for Barkley couldn’t nearly replace his production (Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, Tim Perry) and new head coach Doug Moe was fired after just 56 games. The Sixers finished the 1992-93 season 26-56, its worst season in twenty years and the fifth worst record in the league.
With a revamped lottery system, the Sixers moved up three spots in the draft, picking No. 2 overall, narrowly missing the prize of the draft: Fab Five phenom Chris Webber. With Webber off the board, the Sixers set its sights on 7’6 BYU center Shawn Bradley.
Bradley played just one season at BYU, but was very successful, being named the WAC Freshman of the Year, 2nd-team all-WAC, and newcomer team honors. He left BYU following his freshman season to serve a Mormon missionary in Australia. Two years later, he returned stateside and entered the 1993 NBA Draft. Bradley was a very intriguing prospect with such rare skills but a slender build and limited experience.
The Sixers were searching for its center of the future and decided to take Bradley No. 2, ahead of All-Stars Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Vin Baker, and Allan Houston.
It’s safe to say the Sixers made the wrong decision. With inconsistent play and injury concerns, the Sixers traded Bradley just 12 games into his third season to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Derrick Coleman. The experiment failed, and by missing on the Bradley pick, the Sixers became one of the worst teams of the 1990s, failing to make the playoffs for another six years.
Bradley would go on to have a fine career lasting 12 years while becoming one of the best shot blockers in NBA history (14th all-time in blocks). But he failed to live up to the lofty expectations in Philadelphia and wasn’t able to save the franchise from a decade of disaster.
Sharone Wright (1994: 6th Overall)
One year after drafting Bradley, the Sixers doubled down on its mistake by taking Clemson big man Sharone Wright with the 6th pick of the 1994 draft. The Sixers finished the 1993-94 season with the fourth worst record in the NBA, but lottery luck was not on its side, as they moved back two spots, missing the opportunity to draft All-Stars Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, and Juwan Howard. Instead, the Sixers were left to take Wright, a four-year player at Clemson with the idea of pairing him with Bradley in the front-court for years to come.
The Sixers promptly gave up on Wright in his second season, trading him to the Raptors for Tony Massenburg, Ed Pinckney, and what became two second-round picks. Wright struggled with Toronto before having his career cut short after suffering multiple injuries in a car accident. He played just four years in the NBA. Along with Bradley, the selection of Wright led to the demise of the franchise for most of the 90s.
Larry Hughes (1998: 8th Overall)
This one stills hurts. After Allen Iverson‘s sophomore season in 1997-98, the Sixers were looking for a backcourt mate to match with AI after the team had traded Jerry Stackhouse the previous December to Detroit. When draft day came around, Paul Pierce, a forward out of Kansas, was falling in the draft. There was also an intriguing seven-foot shooting German named Dirk Nowitzki.
The Sixers decided to pass on both to take Larry Hughes, a high-flying guard out of Saint Louis University. Hughes was a talented guard whose defensive potential and athleticism could be matched with Iverson, but many Sixers fans were clamoring for Pierce once he fell right into their laps. Instead, Larry Brown and Billy King stuck with Hughes, keeping their promise to draft him, even though Pierce was still on the board.
Hughes teamed up with Iverson to form the short-lived “Flight Brothers” before he was traded in February 2000 to the Warriors in a three-team deal that netted the Sixers Toni Kukoc from the Bulls.
While Iverson and the Sixers reached the NBA Finals the next season, the team failed over his Sixers’ career to find a complementary star to match with him. Yet, the Sixers could have drafted one of two future Hall of Famers and two of the best players of the 2000s in Nowitzki and Pierce. But instead, Larry Brown kept his promise to Larry Hughes. While Hughes had a productive 13-year career, the Sixers messed up big time by passing on both Pierce and Nowitzki.
Rodney Carney (2006: 16th Overall)
In the 2006 NBA Draft, the Sixers had originally drafted Swiss forward Thabo Sefolosha with the 13th overall pick but dealt him to the Bulls for cash, a second-round pick, and the rights to the 16th pick of the draft, Rodney Carney out of Memphis. The Sixers thought they were getting a quality wing option with plenty of bounce that could compliment Andre Iguodala. Unfortunately, Carney turned out to be a bust, and was traded to the Timberwolves during the 2008 offseason in a salary dump, getting nothing in return (a fake second-round pick).
Carney was out of the NBA by 2011, while the player the Sixers originally selected, Sefolosha, is still going strong heading into his 12th NBA season as one of the league’s better perimeter defenders. At a time where the Sixers had success drafting towards the middle of the first round, Carney was the one obvious miss.
Evan Turner (2010: 2nd Overall)
The Sixers entered the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery with the sixth best odds at the No. 1 pick. Everything fell in line from picks 14 to seven, but once the Sixers envelope didn’t come up at pick No. 6, fans in Philly got excited. After the commercial break, the Nets, Wizards, and Sixers remained. New Jersey picked third, and the Sixers were one pick away from taking Kentucky freshman John Wall. But the Sixers’ envelope came up second, and Washington won the lottery. With no chance at Wall, the Sixers had a tough decision to make at #2.
They decided to take guard/forward Evan Turner out of Ohio State to compliment Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala. While Turner is still a decent NBA player, he was the wrong choice for the Sixers that hurt the franchise for years to come. Of all the players who were drafted in the top ten, only Ekpe Udoh and Wesley Johnson are worse than Turner. The Sixers passed on three All-Stars (DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, and Paul George), two near All-Stars (Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors), and one quality rotation player (Al-Farouq Aminu).
Turner’s game too much mirrored Iguodala’s and his inability to shoot the three-ball demised his Philadelphia career. He was traded for two second-round picks at the trade deadline in 2014 to the Pacers. He has since played for the Celtics and the Trail Blazers but the failure to cash in on a top pick helped lead the decision to blow up the roster for good in 2013.
Jahlil Okafor (2015: 3rd Overall)
Although he still might have time to resurrect his career in Philadelphia, the future doesn’t look great for the former No. 3 overall pick. The Sixers entered the 2015 NBA Lottery with the 3rd best odds at the No. 1 pick and that’s where they remained afterwards. Kentucky star Karl-Anthony Towns was the consensus top pick, as he would head to Minnesota. Sixers’ fans had their eyes on Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell as they waited on the Lakers’ decision at No. 2. Many thought the Lakers would take center Jahlil Okafor out of Duke, the reigning national champions, but instead, took Russell.
That left then-Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie with an interesting decision to make at No. 3. Latvian unknown Kristaps Porzingis remained on the board, as well as Croatian Mario Hezonja and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay who played one season in China. There was no clear choice for the Sixers once Towns and Russell were off the board. They had selected two centers in back-to-back drafts with Nerlens Noel in 2013 and Joel Embiid in 2014.
Reportedly, Hinkie was a big fan of Porzingis, and had seen him play for his club team Sevilla multiple times, but there would have been public outrage/humility if Hinkie had taken the unknown Latvian after taking two players who had both missed their rookie seasons due to injury. Hinkie made the “safe pick” by taking Okafor while the Knicks took Porzingis with the fourth pick.
Fast forward three years later, Okafor is likely to be the third string center behind Embiid and 2015 second round pick Richaun Holmes, while Porzingis is on his way to stardom in New York. Whether Hinkie was forced to take Okafor by ownership remains unclear, but the decision to pass on Porzingis could haunt the Sixers as Jah’s future with the franchise remains murky to say the least. But a now-slimmed down Okafor still has an opportunity to prove himself in Philadelphia with his fourth-year team option deadline looming.