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Redefining Draft "Busts"

In Patrick's last piece on tanking, he made the astute observation that the top of every draft class usually has a bust. You might not know who, you might not know why, but they fail to even touch the expectations heaped upon top draft picks. However, one line that Patrick wrote started an interesting discussion on Twitter: that one day, Derrick Rose may be regarded as a bust. And an astute reader was quick to comment:

It's actually hard to argue with this logic. Derrick Rose played very well his first three seasons. Perhaps he was a little overrated, and he was certainly a ridiculous MVP choice by voters that were tired of voting for LeBron, but Derrick Rose was still a stud from 2009 through 2011. And the Bulls signed Rose to an extension right after he won MVP, and before injuries ever touched him. And that's actually the key.

The way a rookie contract works is as follows: when you draft a player, you get their rights for two seasons. If you like them you get a team option on their third year, and then another option on their fourth year. The Bulls did everything right here: they got two good years out of Rose, then picked up his third season, then his fourth season, and finally took advantage of his Bird Rights to sign him to a long term deal. They did all of these moves at "the right time."

I really can't qualify Rose as a bust, then. But as Patrick points out, history may remember otherwise. This brings up a new kind of bust: players that fail to live up to their first extension. The Bulls seem to be kings of this. In 2003 they drafted Kirk Hinrich with the 7th pick. Over his rookie contract he played very well. He then signed a five year $50 million contract and proceeded to play below average. In 2004 they signed Luol Deng, who looked like a future all-time great. They signed him to six-year, $71 million contract, and he's been a good but not great player. And of course, they signed Rose to a long term deal and designated him their franchise player. And thanks to the rule that bares his name, he's eligible for the best contract possible. And of course, his injuries are making him look more like Greg Oden than Kevin Durant. 

That brings me to my questions for you, the reader: what do you call a player that "lives up" to their rookie contract but "busts" on their big extension? Which players qualify? And, if, hypothetically, Rose never plays again, or never plays like a star again after all the injuries, is he a bust? Was three years of great play "worth" a #1 pick?

Thanks in advance!

I return to Sam Bowie. According to Wikipedia, in 2005 ESPN named the Blazers' choice of Bowie as the worst draft pick in North American professional sports history.

But before his career-ending injuries, Bowie looked like a stud. He was well on his way to being a double-double machine. And ESPN would have me believe that a rational person would have predicted that a) Bowie would break two different legs and a tibia in two years AND b) Jordan would go on to be the best of all time?

Anyone who knows the future that well doesn't fuck around managing NBA drafts. They live on private islands secretly controlling the world's governments.

Seriously, calling that the worst pick of all time is an insult to all the draft picks we Timberwolves fans have had to witness.
I agree with Patrick on this one. I think, if you are talking about draft busts, you need to separate players into two categories:

Guys who were reduced in effectiveness because of injuries (Bowie is a good example).

Guys who were not injured, but did not perform well.

For instance, Bargnani is a bust, and he is a bust because despite playing, he never turned into a good player. Jay Williams is also a bust, but you can't blame a GM for drafting Williams; unless a player has an extensive injury history that predicts future injury, it's essentially getting blown out due to random chance. To take a revisionist history approach, what if Michael Jordan had been struck and killed by a meteorite in his third season? Would he have been a poor choice by the GM to select in the first place, as your non-meteorite outcome would have been 6 championships?

To be a poor choice, there has to be information available before the choice is made that indicates something is wrong. Picking a player who is later a victim of freak chance is not a bust in the same sense a picking a player who is just a poor player.
To my mind, "bust" has nothing to do with contracts whatsoever. It is a measure of production, pure and simple. Here would be my suggested definition of a bust: take the average Wins Produced by a player drafted as his draft slot. If the player we are evaluating produces less than 50% of the average Wins Produced, he's a bust -- he didn't even produce half of the number of wins he was expected to produce.

A guy could be a bust AND have a terrible contract (Andrea Bargnani). Or he could be a bust with a fair contract (Jay Williams). They are 2 separate issues.

The key, though, is that you cannot predict it beforehand. One of the points I made yesterday is that you do everything right as a team, and still end up with a bust.

Bowie was not a bad pick. Michael Beasley was not a bad pick (his college numbers looked better than Durant's!). Greg Oden was not a bad pick. Yet none of them panned out (and if Beasley has flipped some switch, that won't count as a draft win -- its only a coincidence that he ended up back with the team that drafted him).
I think it is interesting that NBA changed the rules on major contract resignings for players off their rookie contracts just for Rose. At the time it seemed appropriate, the guy was an allstar and MVP at such a young age, why should he have to wait any longer to get a max deal? And yet now Chicago might be stuck with this huge contract as Rose battles injuries for 4 more years. Would the NBA reconsider the Derek Rose rule already?
I think if Beasley flips a switch just on principle you should manipulate his WPs and give 75% of those to Lebron. I don't care if it makes sense it just feels good.
First of all you have to define bust. If bust is a player who you have long term expectations and he didn't accomplish, Rose might be a bust. But if you evaluate these "busts" in terms of actual play, Rose indeed reach the levels you expected. I personally think that if a player gives you 2 or 3 years of great play but the rest of his career is poor, he is a bust, because the expectation you put on him, and all the resources you spend (draft picks, cap space, etc) to be able to win with him were not sustained. Great blog by the way :D
Bust should be reserved for a player whose per-minute production doesn't live up to expectations.

It's hard to say that the Bulls made the wrong decision with Rose, because based on the information they had (good production, major fan interest, no history of serious injuries) signing him to an extension was the right move.

If an otherwise valuable player suffers a career-altering injury, it seems unfair to call him a bust, which, to my mind, has some pejorative connotations.
To me "Bust" is a very strong and harsh label to assign someone even though an athlete can be a total objective failure. With Oden, majority of people don't label him a bust, a lot do but not everyone because with health issues and injuries it's not fair in my opinion. Even if Derrick Rose never plays I don't consider him a bust, never will no matter what because the impact that he had on the game and the city of Chicago was HUGE. This reminded me when I had a friend who had one of the most promising and talented career projection as a pianist but unfortunately he was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to stop and he was never the same, I've heard people call him a bust/failure and I just think it's so wrong, objectively you definitely have a point but even economically he brought more than enough revenue and excitement to Chicago and the NBA just playing, let alone playing great, with DROSE the quality of those 3 years was more than what majority of players achieve with 14-15 seasons in the league.
Count me in the camp wanting better-defined terms. Suggestion: in the case of Bowie/ Oden, the PICK was a bust; With Bargnani, the PLAYER is a bust.
I'm interested to hear if these players were 'busts' by the Derrick Rose definition: David Thompson (a stud before he went on cocaine), Bernard King (a stud before his injury in his prime), Mark Aguirre (#1 pick), Grant Hill (another stud before injuries), Ralph Sampson, Tracy McGrady (because he had injuries), Chris Webber (another #1 pick), Bill Walton (amazing when he wasn't injured), etc

These players were all studs before they got injured, and sometimes a few seasons were enough to qualify them for the Hall of Fame like Ralph Sampson. If that's true, then we should expect Derrick Rose to be in the Hall of Fame based on a few great seasons and an MVP even if he never plays again.
Hey Xitongzou, I think you make a great point and give great examples, don't think you are asking me specifically, but IMO with those players you mention I don't know their contracts from the top of my head but most of them managed to be productive and elevate their franchises, some even to true contenders like Mcgrady and Cwebb. However with health issues like drug uses, that doesn't get a pass because those are lifestyle decisions, at least that's what I think the consensus is with people labeling you a bust/failure or not when it comes to athletes or any profession. I don't think drose is a HOF'mer from those three seasons alone.
Abraham Lincoln was such a bust of a President. Dude barely made it into his second term!
I think Sampson is in the Hall of Fame for his NCAA achievements. Walton is a 2 times NBA champion, 2 times NCAA champion, 1 RS MVP, 1 Finals MVP, 3 times NCAA player of the year... By the way, talking about another player in the Hall but with limited NBA playing, if (it's a multiple what if scenario, but let's take it as a Gedankenexperiment) Sabonis had been picked up high, had never injured, and the USSR had never collapsed, would he have been a bust? We would have (arguably) had a All-NBA caliber of player (just judging from how the old injured version of him was playing), not playing a single NBA match.
I can't believe someone postulates meteorites and not that he bites off his own tongue dunking!
Jordan that is.
@jbrett I think you make really great points with both the draft busts and player busts examples. With the frame of this article about DRose Dre is defining bust as an "extension bust" hence the whole "redefining draft busts in a new light". With this logic you have no choice but to agree that he is a bust in the context that he didn't produce relative to his Max contract extension, but my opinion I feel Dre in this article is indirectly implying that DRose is a Bust in general which I will never consider even if he never plays again. But in the end Dre does ask everyone if we think he is a bust in general and I don't think so.
I picked meteorite because biting off his own tongue dunking could, in theory, have been predicted given the visual evidence...

Joking aside, my point is that I really think it's a matter of classification. Such as:

Was a pick a bad pick with the knowledge possessed at the time?

Was a player a bust due to injuries or due to low skill?

I would argue the criteria of "bust" should incorporate these. As in, if you make the right decision but get unlucky, we should say it didn't turn out well, but also not consider it a mistake (which bust has connotations of). Drafting Sam Bowie and having him get injured is very different than drafting Austin Rivers, for example.
From the point of view of team management, "bust" should probably be defined as some cutoff for a player's lifetime "cost per win contributed". If Rose gets paid the big bucks for four more years but doesn't contribute wins, that number could be very high for him.
Thanks for supplying names! While I'm alright arguing semantics of what a bust is, I was more excited on hearing more players in this realm. (Was hoping someone would get Grant Hill!)

I will agree that Tracy McGrady "busted" he actually did hit one good extension. So we've hit the next level, players that fail to live up to their second contract. Except, I think this would be far more common :)

Thanks on King and Thompson, wouldn't have even thought of them. And I'll have to check Webber. And Walton is interesting because sure he was productive later, he was a far cry from his MVP self.
A player that "lives up to their (sic) rookie contract" is, by definition, not a draft bust. The player has either met or exceeded expectations at the time of the extension. Thus, from the team's perspective, the draft choice is successful in absolute, if not relative, terms. In 1984 - the Jordan draft - draft busts come in both flavors. Sam Bowie, albeit due to injury, is an absolute bust. Sam Perkins, selected by Dallas with the fourth pick, was a relative bust. How? Because Dallas could have drafted either Charles Barkley or John Stockton. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Perkins was a bust as a player, but I am arguing the pick was a bust, from Dallas' perspective. When a team misses on not one, but two, future HOF players, that alters the trajectory of the franchise. That's a bust.

With respect to your question, you can not call a player who "'busts' on their (sic) big extension" a draft bust. But, there is a name for what happens to players like Bill Walton, Grant Hill and Yao Ming (we shouldn't overlook a man who stands 7' 6"?), whose careers were altered, if not ended, by injury: Bad luck. And for those players who turn out to be good, but not great - Luol Deng, to use your example - the term bust would again be a misnomer. Since you've framed this within the context of the player's contract, then I suggest that there is already well-understood description for these players: Bad contracts.


I don't think we can ever predict whether or not a player is HOF material, otherwise every top 5 pick would be a HOFamer right? Who knew John Stockton was gonna be as good as he was? Or Karl Malone? Or heck look at Kobe Bryant and how late he was taken in the draft. There are two categories: Players who we expect to be hall of famers and are top picks: Lebron James, Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Allen Iverson - these are some of the best #1 picks of all time. On the other hand we have Hall of Famers who were taken late like Stockton/Malone/Bryant who we had no idea they were gonna be that good.
Brandon Roy is an interesting case. His knee problems were known at the time of the draft but Portland still went ahead and drafted him. There is no question that the second contract was crazy. But given that other clubs were aware of his issues at the time of the draft, was he a draft bust?

The Portland Trailblazers have probably the worst luck of any NBA team in history. In addition to Brandon Roy, they also busted on LaRue Martin (1972 #1 pick), Sam Bowie (1984 #2), Greg Oden (2007 #1), and even their most decorated player Bill Walton only played 1.5 good years for them before he got injured. They've had the most busts out of any NBA team.
RE: Bill Walton

I don't think it's possible to be a bust if you were the best player on a championship team--no matter how quickly your career was derailed afterwards. As a fan, championships are everything.
I don't think a player should ever be considered a "bust" if they were derailed because of injury UNLESS the team should have known to be cautious (Brandon Roy for example). Other than that, people always like to discount luck when it comes to sports but luck is probably the greatest factor involved. Talent obviously matters to a great degree, especially in multigame series, but in any given game you could expect pocket aces to lose to pocket lower pair about 20% of the time (give or take a bit based on other factors and assuming you all knew I was referring to Texes Hold 'em).

Winning a game or even 4 out of 7 doesn't mean that the best team won. There are bad matchups (no team, not even the Spurs, match up great in all situations), bad refereeing (2006 Heat over Mavs, Lakers over Sacremento a few years earlier, Bulls over Utah in 1998 with the most egregious lack of calling constant zones that I've ever seen in my life (new way IS better, but those Bulls were constant offenders of the old rules)), bad injury luck, bad shooting streak (it happens), good shooting steak (also happens), etc. Injuries are sometimes just freak occurrences, you should consider a player derailed by injury a bust to the same extent that you should consider Ray Allen's 3 in Game 6 last year a "well thought up and high % play", sometimes stuff just happens and it is why we still watch sports.
I do not like the term "bust" for the guys who can't perform because of injury. I use the term "casualty" for them.
Ok, kudos to bills0 who said what I wanted to in a far shorter space.

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