Crafting the worst starting five out of former NBA Draft no. 1 selections
~Matthew Morhiser, Sports Editor~
The National Basketball Association (NBA) season is finally behind us, and the Los Angeles Lakers are officially the 2019-20 winners of the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Now we can finally move on to more important things like what to do on Halloween during a pandemic. Maybe you could watch a few scary movies. I’ve heard Shrek is pretty scary, but I haven’t seen it before. Or maybe you could have a mock Halloween party in The Sims. Putting your guests in an empty swimming pool they can’t get out of is fun, right? Well, those are certainly options, but I think I will take the moral high ground. I will reflect on the nature of human beings.
Too often in this world do we focus on the negative. I mean, when you turn on the news, what do you see? Hate and misery. It’s almost as if we, as a collective personage, have a pension for despair. That’s why I will continue that worldly trend by giving you the worst starting five that could ever possibly be assembled out of former NBA Draft no. one selections. Who’s got time for reading about a team comprised of the Oscar Robertson’s and Tim Duncan’s of the world? We’d rather watch the world burn, but in this case, the world is a dumpster.
Before officially getting to the list, I should probably tell you the few arbitrary rules I administered while choosing the five. Only their NBA careers will be taken into account. If they went on to have a successful career in the American Basketball Association (ABA), it won’t matter. Secondly, the NBA Draft is odd in the fact that some players the league claims to be the no. one selections for their draft year were not actually the first player to be picked on the night. For instance, nba.com lists Howie Shannon as the first pick to the Providence Steamrollers in 1949. However, both “Easy Ed” Macauley and Vern Mikkelsen were taken before him as “territorial picks.”
For those, like myself until the writing of this sentence, who are not privy to the notion of the territorial pick, let me explain. From 1949-1965, the NBA would allow its teams to forfeit their first round pick to make a territorial pick of a player within a fifty mile radius of their city. The idea was to increase local support from fans. Interest would be sparked if “one of their own” was on the court. You can now consider yourself privy. Now that we got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s take a peek at the all-time worst no. one pick starting five. Rolls right off the tongue, no?
At guard, I’ll take Andy Tonkovich. Starting us off hazardously frigid, Tonkovich played only seventeen games in his NBA, at the time known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA), career. Out of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, he was the first overall pick in the 1948 BAA Draft by the Providence Steamrollers. Providence must have had high hopes for a guy coming off a consensus Third-Team All-American nomination in college, but time proved their faith to be folly. In his seventeen games, Tonkovich averaged 2.6 points, 0.6 assists and no recorded rebounds. The team finished the season last in the Eastern Division, so we can’t put all the blame on ole’ Andy. He certainly wasn’t helping, though.
Joining Tonkovich in our backcourt is Art Heyman. What more can I say about the guy? No, seriously. I’m open to suggestions. Heyman played significantly more games than Tonkovich did with 310, but much like Tonkovich, Heyman ultimately didn’t produce. After being selected first by the New York Knicks in the 1963 draft, he averaged 15.4 points, 3.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds his rookie season. In the next four seasons, he averaged 4.3 points, 1.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 72 games for the Knicks, Cincinnati Royals and Philadelphia 76ers. He was out of the league after his third season.
In our first forward slot, I’m going with Anthony Bennett. I’m aware the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him in the 2013 Draft with the intentions of him playing power forward, but since it didn’t work out for him there, maybe moving him to small forward will give him a fresh start. Standing at 6’8’’, Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds during his lone season at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). His time at UNLV was ridden by a nagging shoulder injury. However, that didn’t stop voters from awarding him the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and an Associated Press (AP) All-American honourable mention. The Cavaliers saw similar promise in him by taking him over the likes of Victor Oladipo, Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bennett averaged 4.4 points, 0.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds during his career. He’s the most recent “bust” in NBA Draft history, and that imposing distinction earns him a place in the lineup.
Rounding out the five is the 1952 Draft’s no. one pick, Mark Workman, and the 1972 Draft’s first pick, LaRue Martin. Let’s just say any opposing player who drives to the paint won’t be met with any resistance with these two guys guarding the rim. Workman averaged 4.9 points, 0.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds over his two-year-career. Workman’s professional stint can best be summarized by acknowledging the fact he played for three different teams in two seasons.
Martin’s career has been heavily covered and scrutinized over the years. Enough that I don’t feel the need to get into what made the Portland Trailblazers the owners of what is widely considered the worst no. one selection in NBA history. But hey, Martin has crafted a successful life post-basketball as a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago among other community outreach programs, so I guess you could say he’s winning the game of life.
All statistics and award information obtained from: https://www.basketball-reference.com/
List of no. one picks obtained from: https://www.nba.com/history/draft
Information on the “territorial pick” obtained from: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/929031-the-top-eight-hypothetical-territorial-draft-picks-of-the-past-ten-years