Written by Bryant Knox
The 2015 NBA Draft is a time to look ahead at the future of the Association. How will Karl-Anthony Towns help improve the Minnesota Timberwolves? Will Jahlil Okafor thrive in Los Angeles? Can Kristaps Porzingis live up to the hype of a rising draft stock?
More importantly for fans in Rip City: What will the Portland Trail Blazers do with the No. 23 pick?
Unfortunately, our crystal ball is broken at the moment, so we’ll cast our predictions aside and take a look back at what the Blazers have done with their picks throughout franchise history.
Conjectures about what constitutes a bust are subjective, but we’ll use the following criteria comprising three main components to analyze the past: How high was the player drafted, how well did the player perform and were there other players available who went on to have considerably better careers?
The Blazers have had their fair share of bad luck on draft night, so here’s to hoping the team’s pick from the 2015 class stays far away from this list.
Wally Walker, No. 5 Overall (1976)
Remember Wally Walker? Probably not, unless you’re thinking of the former front office executive with the Seattle Supersonics. In 1976, Portland selected Walker. The 6’7” small forward played just a season and a half with the Trail Blazers, and went ahead of Boston Celtics legend Robert Parish, as well as other notable names such as Adrian Dantley, Alex English and Dennis Johnson.
Bad move, Blazers. Bad move.
Martell Webster, No. 6 Overall (2005)
Martell Webster was a classic example of a role player who may have been able to fit in had it not been for streaky shooting and high expectations. Selected sixth-overall, fans wanted more than a role player. Webster’s shot from long range was deadly at times, but “spotty” was also an accurate description. The larger issue with the selection was that the Trail Blazers missed out on numerous better options. Hindsight is 20/20, but had they chosen to keep their No. 3 pick instead of trading down for Webster, both Chris Paul and Deron Williams were available for the taking. The Blazers eventually moved Webster for Luke Babbitt. As Andy Glockner so astutely points out, that means the Blazers ultimately passed up on Paul the Point God for Babbitt the Chalupa Guy.
LaRue Martin, No. 1 Overall (1972)
If LaRue Martin is known for anything in Portland, it’s that he started a trend of promising big men earning the “bust” label.
A 6’11” center, the Loyola product was selected first overall in 1972. The Blazers wanted Bob McAdoo, but the two couldn’t agree on contract terms.
Not only did Portland miss out on McAdoo, but it also missed out on the opportunity to draft the doctor—Dr. Julius Erving.
After four disappointing years (5.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG), Martin retired in 1976. Not exactly the career you expect from a No. 1 overall pick.
Sam Bowie, No. 2 Overall (1984)
Sam Bowie has become synonymous with the phrase “draft bust” because of the player who was selected directly behind him. The Trail Blazers could have had Michael Jordan with the second-overall pick in 1984, but instead went with the center out of Kentucky who would spend the rest of his career dealing with injuries and hearing himself compared to the greatest of all time.
What makes the story of Bowie even more interesting is that the Blazers originally never had their eye on Jordan. This isn’t a case where they couldn’t decide between the two and made the wrong choice; the big question was whether they were going to get Bowie or Akeem Olajuwon.
With their fate in the hands of a coin, the Blazers landed the second pick while the Rockets got No. 1. If the Blazers win that toss, we never have this discussion.
After all, you don’t hear Houston Rockets fans questioning their selection, as they landed a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest centers to ever play in the Association.
Greg Oden, No. 1 Overall (2007)
In 2007, Portland did what almost all other franchises would have done. It selected a center in Greg Oden who was supposed to be the league’s next great big man, skipping over a future superstar in Kevin Durant.
Despite his all-world potential, Oden began making headlines for the wrong reasons. His first season was lost before it began, his mental state was understandably in question, and at one point, all anyone could talk about was nude pictures that popped up on the Internet.
Portland missed out on Oden, just as it had struck out with Sam Bowie years before. But while many people around Rip City consider Bowie the biggest bust in franchise history, the truth is that the Kentucky product played for 10 years.
Oden, after playing in just 82 games during his five years with the Blazers (and being waived with absolutely no return for the organization), has only tallied 105 total contests since being drafted in 2007.
Although Oden showed promise when on the floor, he struggled with foul trouble, conditioning and, of course, staying healthy. Going No. 1 and failing to have an impact is crushing for both the player on fanbase involved.
It’s even worse when that player is forced to watch the player behind him find so much success. That’s the hand Oden and the Blazers were dealt; that after going all in on a generational center with the No. 1 pick.