Six days from today on June 22nd, the NBA will hold their annual draft. Several names have generated attention from fans and scouts including Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and De’Aaron Fox among several other players in hopes that they will be able to lead a team from the bottom of their conference into a championship contender.

While seventy-three percent (27 out of 37) of number one picks have gone on to be all-stars since the 1980 NBA draft (and Karl-Anthony Towns will surely soon be number 28/Ben Simmons still having not played a game yet), not every single one of those guys picked first overall have found success in the league.

The question is, of those eight guys between 1980 and 2014 what happened? How did their careers pan out? Those are the questions that I hope to find out in my research. In this article, I will explore the first four busts of the eight.

Pervis Ellison

The first player of the eight busts was Mr. Pervis Ellison. Pervis was the first overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 1989 NBA draft. Nicknamed “Never Nervous Pervis”, he was a 6’9” center from Savannah, Georgia.

Ellison decided to play collegiately for hall of fame coach, Danny Crum at the University of Louisville.

Pervis had a bountiful career during his four years at Louisville, including winning the national championship as a freshman along with being named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament.

Pervis at the time was only the second freshman to ever receive the award, following college basketball hall of fame player, Arnie Ferrin. After being drafted by the Kings, Ellison had a rough rookie season when an injury kept him out of 48 games during the season, earning the nickname “Out of Service Pervis” by fellow teammate Danny Ainge.

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Pervis showed promised however when he did play, averaging eight points and nearly six rebounds in just over twenty-five minutes per game. However, the Kings ultimately decided to trade Pervis after the season to the Washington Bullets.

Ellison continued to show improvement in Washington, eventually earning the Most Improved Player award during his third NBA season after averaging twenty points, over two blocks, and eleven Rebounds Per Game. Things were finally looking up for Pervis Ellison, and then chronic knee injuries began to kick in.

Over the next two years, Pervis Ellison would combine to play in just 96 out of 164 games. This led to the Bullets choosing not to re-sign Ellison which prompted him to sign for the Boston Celtics as a free agent.

Over the next two seasons in Boston, Pervis found himself settled into a nice backup role while for the most part, remaining healthy. However, during his next two years for the Celtics, Ellison played in just thirty-nine combined games for the Celtics as his numbers continued to sharply decline.

He then missed the entire 1998-1999 NBA season due to injury. Essentially, the NBA career of “Never Nervous Pervous” was over. He did play two more years after that, one for the Celtics and another for the SuperSonics.

In his final season in Seattle, Pervis appeared in just nine games and averaged under one point per game with just one rebound in four minutes. At thirty-three years old, Pervis Ellison’s career in professional basketball was finished.

Joe Smith

The next bust is the first overall pick of the 1995 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors named, Joe Smith.

Smith, a 6’10” power forward from Norfolk, Virginia was as decorated a collegiate player as you will ever see.

During his two collegiate years for the University of Maryland Terrapins, Smith won the Adolph Rupp Trophy, ACC Rookie of the Year award, AP Player of the Year award, UPI College Player of the Year award, ACC Player of the Year award, and the Naismith College Player of the Year award.

His impressive resume led him to being drafted first overall by the Warriors in 1995 ahead of some notable names at his position including Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett.

Smith had a tremendous rookie season for the Warriors averaging fifteen points and just under nine rebounds per game, earning himself All-Rookie First Team honors and as well finishing in third place for Rookie of the Year award voting.

Smith continued to show dominance by putting up averages eighteen points and eight rebounds per game the following season, and seventeen points and seven rebounds per game during the following season.

However, after requesting to return to the east coast to the Warriors front office, Joe Smith’s career began to fall spiral downhill quickly following his trade during his third season to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Smith finished the season with 76ers, averaging just ten points and two rebounds per game. Smith tried to find a home and consistency during the next thirteen years of his NBA career, as he played for the Timberwolves, Pistons, Bucks, Nuggets, 76ers again, Bulls, Cavaliers, Thunder, Cavaliers again, Hawks, Nets, and finally Lakers.

During those thirteen years, Smith would never average more than 12.3 points per game or 8.5 rebounds per game (he only averaged over 7 rebounds per game 3 times). His first two and a half seasons in Oakland would prove to ultimately be his best, leading many analysts to wonder even to this day if his career would have turned out differently had he decided to remain with the Warriors. The world will never know.

Michael Olowokandi

The third bust is the #1 pick of the 1998 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Nigeria’s Michael Olowokandi. Olowokandi was born in Lagos, Nigeria but moved at a young age to London due to his father’s work as a diplomat.

At the age of twenty, he transferred from Brunel University in East Sussex to Pacific University on a basketball scholarship. During his final year of college, Olowokandi averaged twenty-two points, eleven rebounds, and three blocks per game and racked up the Big West Conference Player of the Year award.

After being drafted by the Clippers, Olowokandi spent the first half of the season playing for Italy’s Kinder Bologna due to the NBA lockout.

After returning from Italy, Olowokandi showed promise for the Clippers, averaging nine points and eight rebounds per game.

Over the next four season, Olowokandi continued to improve, eventually averaging as high as twelve points and nine rebounds per game during his fifth and final season for the Clippers. Obviously not the numbers of a star nonetheless, Olowokandi was a solid player. That was, until he left the Clippers that offseason to sign with the Timberwolves.

Olowokandi would go on to play 2 ½ seasons for the Timberwolves before being traded to the Celtics during the middle of the season.

Olowokandi’s numbers sharply declined the second he got to Minneapolis. In fact, his best statistical season was his first season for the Timberwolves in which he averaged 6.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

After being traded to the Celtics, Olowokandi’s impact on the court became practically invisible. Averaging just over ten minutes a game and playing in just twenty-four games in his last season: with under three points and three rebounds per game both years. After 8 ½ seasons, a player who once showed promise as a solid starter in a lineup, was out of professional basketball. Another number one pick who bit the dust.

Kwame Brown

The fourth bust is the first overall pick of the 2001 NBA draft, out of Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, Kwame Brown. While Kwame Browns career might be best known for the rant that ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith had upon a trade involving Brown going to the Grizzlies in 2008, Brown started off as a pioneer of superstar high school prospects, being the first player to be drafted 1st overall out of high school in NBA draft history.

During Kwame Browns high school career, he won the Mr. Georgia Basketball award, was a McDonald’s All-American, and finished as his high schools’ all-time leading rebounder/shot blocker.

This all contributed to Kwame Brown being the first pick of the 2001 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards.

During his rookie season, Kwame Brown fell flat on his face: averaging just 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Maybe it was because to the hype or maybe it was because of the expectations, but that rookie season would only be a sign of things to come for Kwame Brown during his professional basketball career.

During his third season, Kwame Brown had what was the best season of professional basketball during his career. Brown averaged eleven points and seven rebounds per game. What may have looked like hope that Brown was eventually coming around to reach near his potential, quickly dissipated.

After rejecting a five-year thirty-million-dollar extension during that offseason by the Wizards, Brown began to suffer from what would be the first of a series of injuries. It limited him to just forty-two games. Following the conclusion of his fourth NBA season, Kwame Brown was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins.

Brown would just continue to disappoint on the court following his fourth season, which was rare because of how many games Brown began miss due to injury. He would never play a full 82 game season again his career.

After being traded to the Grizzlies after 2 ½ seasons for the Lakers in a trade that focused around Pau Gasol in 2008, Brown started to wander around the league looking for anywhere he could carve out a role; he would never find it.

After half a season for the Grizzlies, Brown joined the Detroit Pistons for two seasons. After that it was the Charlotte Bobcats for a year, then the Warriors for nine games the following season, and finally the 76ers in 2012-2013: he would play just twenty-two games that season.

Up until Anthony Bennett was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2013 NBA draft, many analysts, players, and fans of basketball had considered Kwame Brown to be the worst number one pick in NBA history.

Since retiring from the NBA, Kwame Brown has been training to attempt a comeback somehow into professional basketball. It was considered mostly just talk until it was announced that this summer, Kwame Brown will be playing for the 3 Headed Monsters in rapper Ice Cube’s new and experimental, BIG3 basketball league.

While Brown may be back in basketball, it is most certainly not the way that he envisioned or wanted it to be and, it is certainly not the way most people saw Brown’s career turning out back in 2001. That concludes the first part of my investigative series of the eight number one busts in NBA draft history since 1980.

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