In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at 10 NBA teams and asked who their worst player ever turned out to be.
Our criteria included not just advanced stats (although it’s hard to argue with negative Win Shares or a deeply negative VORP) but also a player who hung around long enough to do real damage, playing at least 400 games in that team’s uniform. After all, any player can come in, stink out the joint for a year or two, and then get run out of town or stretch-provisioned out of a bad contract (ask any Pacers fan about Monta Ellis, for example.) It takes a special kind of player to stink for years without getting benched or traded.
Then again, most of the guys on the list so far have been centers, so maybe there’s just an over-abundance of stiffs whose sole virtue is being tall. Who knows? Let’s pick up where we left off and get back to the list:
Houston Rockets: Matt Bullard
Bullard was a guy who was just ahead of his time, a stretch 4 who was actually a pretty good 3-point shooter (38.9 percent in 538 games in Houston, in fact.)
Trouble was, he couldn’t make a two-point shot to save his life (career FG%: 41.8), and he played his final game as a member of the Charlotte Hornets in 2002, long before guys like…well, every power forward in the league in 2021, it seems.
Not for nothing did he never average more than 7.3 points per game, and he was borderline useless on the glass, averaging just 2.0 rebounds a game for his career.
Even per 36 minutes, 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds on .537 True Shooting and .091 WS/48 weren’t exactly world-beating.
And sure, 4.1 VORP isn’t horrendous (in his time in Houston, he averaged over 1 VORP per 2500 minutes, which is decent for a bench guy), but that just again speaks to how Houston just had better players who lasted that long with the team. They got rid of the stiffs and kept the guys who at least did one thing well.
Indiana Pacers: LaSalle Thompson
Thompson should probably be remembered as much for the minutes he took away from Detlef Schrempf as for his minus-1.1 VORP in nine seasons and 417 games in Indiana. He couldn’t shoot (.480 eFG% as a Pacer), he was a lousy rebounder (5.4 a game, compared with Schrempf’s 8.6 largely as a sixth man), and even though he was a competent (0.3 DBPM) defender, that didn’t make up for his minus-0.5 Offensive Win Shares. The Pacers played 4-on-5 when he was on the floor and they had the ball. He was better in his days in Kansas City and later Sacramento for the Kings franchise, but they picked the right time to unload him; he simply wasn’t any good at all with the Pacers.
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Kaman
Kaman is another negative VORP guy (minus-0.2), and surprise, surprise, he’s another stiff center from the Dark Ages. Between 2004 and 2011, he started 425 of the 493 games he appeared in, and if he’s famous for anything, it’s for having his junk grabbed in the middle of a game by Reggie Evans.
Kaman couldn’t range out beyond the arc—he went 0-for-16 with the Clippers and made just one triple in his career, in his last year in Portland, finishing at 1-for-24. He couldn’t shoot particularly well inside the arc—his career FG% in Clipper colors was 48.7. He put up just 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes for the Clippers as well, mediocre numbers for a center.
And perhaps most maddeningly of all, he had just 0.4 OWS in his entire career—0.6 for the Clips and minus-0.2 for everyone else in his final five years in the league—which dragged his WS/48, for a center, all the way down to .060. That is, simply, disgusting. And it’s why Kaman is the worst guy ever to play 400 games for one of the NBA’s longest-running sad sack franchises, a team that had never even made a conference finals until 2021.
Los Angeles Lakers: Sasha Vujacic
Technically, Devean George had worse advanced stats. But Vujacic actually managed a post-rookie-contract extension with the Lakers after the 2008 season and soaked up $9.5 million in salary on the Lakers’ two title teams with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
And sure, George was wasting the owners’ money during the Lakers’ early-aughts title run with Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal. But he was still on his rookie deal. By the time he was making real money, the Lakers stunk. If anything, he deserves credit for being bad enough that the Lakers were able to start poking around for a real supporting cast for Kobe after George left in 2006.
This choice is also made easier by the fact that Smush Parker only played 164 games in the purple and gold, even if those 164 games were as one of the absolute worst starting point guards on teams that actually made the playoffs (between Kobe and LeBron, the sheer ability of a guy in the Dark Ages to drag even the worst batch of YMCA chuckers to glory shouldn’t be understated.)
The Lakers dove for a lot of garbage in the Dumpster at Staples Center in the mid-aughts, but Vujacic and his 1.9 VORP stand out as some of the smelliest garbage by even that low standard.
Memphis Grizzlies: Stromile Swift
One thing you notice in the history of the Grizzlies is that seven of the nine guys to play 400 games for them were guys from the Grit-N-Grind days when the team was actually good. The eighth guy on the list is Pau Gasol, who put up 21.8 VORP, still third-highest in Grizz franchise history.
The ninth is Swift, and his 1.8 VORP is less than a quarter of the next-lowest total, which came from Tony Allen.
And Allen was one of the best pure defenders of the last decade in the NBA.
Swift, meanwhile, had a .471 eFG%, was a below-average rebounder, a merely average defender, and the mere fact that he managed 1.8 VORP for Vancouver and Memphis and minus-0.7 everywhere else in his career says that it’s not like the Grizz got this guy at his worst.
He just stunk, but he kept soaking up rotation minutes because that’s how trash a team the Grizz were before 2011.
Miami Heat: Rony Seikaly
I refuse to listen to the advanced stats, which say Udonis Haslem has the worst VORP in Heat history at 0.2 in 859 games. The guy is second behind only Dwyane Wade in career minutes played in a Heat uniform, and once Chris Bosh showed up to take Haslem’s starting spot, the guy became the ultimate cheerleader, face of the franchise, and long-standing de facto assistant for coach Erik Spoelstra. His impact went way beyond anything he did on the court as an actual basketball player, and I will brook no slander of his name no matter what the stats (and oh by the way, at least he posted .113 career WS/48, which is definitely in the realm of capable rotation guy) say.
Now Seikaly, on the other hand, represented everything Miami had to struggle through on their way to respectability after entering the league in 1988. Seikaly started at center for the first six years of the Heat’s existence. And sure, he posted 15.4 points and 10.4 boards a game—but you know how I’ve been describing as mediocre the kinds of centers who posted those per-36 numbers?
Seikaly played 32.4 minutes a game. His .533 TS%, largely a function of poor free throw shooting but also a sign he wasn’t particularly adept at making the shots that were worth two points as well, is low for the era. He posted .085 WS/48, negative BPM numbers on both offense and defense, and stunk out the joint in most of the other places he landed in the five years he played after leaving Miami.
His departure came at the end of the Heat’s first ever winning season, a 42-40 campaign that left them, after the Hawks got through with them, still without a playoff series win.
Three years later, they made the conference finals and probably would’ve won the title if Michael Jordan wasn’t a thing. Miami had just two losing seasons after their core from the ’90s left or retired, and in 2003 they drafted Wade, winning a title three years later.
The Heat are one of the best long-running success stories in the NBA, rarely staying bad for long when they have to blow it up and rebuild. Whether it’s Wade’s early years, the Big Three, or Jimmy Butler taking them to the 2020 Finals, this is a franchise of consistent excellence.
But in their first few years in the league, they sucked. And their center played a role in why, ending up with the second-worst career VORP of any Heat player to suit up in five years’ worth of games.
Milwaukee Bucks: Paul Mokeski
The mere fact that a Bucks team that was actually good enough to make the playoffs every year and the Eastern Conference Finals twice between 1983 and 1989 actually gave Paul Mokeski 14 starts is one of those “who was hurt?” puzzles of NBA history.
Mokeski was mostly a 10-minute-a-game guy, playing in garbage time or as the third-string guy behind NBA legends like Alton Lister, Randy Breuer, and a way-past-his-prime Jack Sikma during his career. If Mokeski was in the game, either someone was in foul trouble or someone was injured.
And to nobody’s surprise, the guy who finished his career in Milwaukee scoring just 3.7 points and grabbing 3.2 rebounds in 438 games, all the while racking up minus-1.8 VORP, stands as the worst the Bucks have ever trotted out there over 400 games or more.
Indeed, of the 24 guys on that list, Lister ranks 18th in VORP and Breuer 21st. Mokeski, however, stands dead last. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who only played two years in Milwaukee when it was possible to even calculate VORP (from 1973-74 onward), still managed 15.1, leading the league in both 1974 and 1975, to place seventh in Bucks franchise history. (yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo is top dog. But you probably guessed that already.)
Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug West
As tempted as I am to put Andrew Wiggins in this spot, since he managed exactly zero VORP in six seasons in Minnesota and made a lot more money than either West or Sam Mitchell (the two guys below him), and as much as I probably would still put Wiggins here had Minnesota not managed to ship his contract to Oakland, the early-years Timberwolves were so bad, so utterly putrid, that special mention belongs to the cadavers they trotted out there for what ostensibly was NBA basketball in the early 1990s.
Unlike the cavalcade of stiff centers populating this list, West was a shooting guard.
And in the face of all common sense, West could actually shoot; he hit 48.4 percent of his shots in a Wolves uniform, even if he never got the hang of the 3-pointer and hit just 19.8 percent of his 187 tries over the course of nine years.
If West were even a mediocre defender, he could probably have ridden that offense to a respectable career. Not a great one, probably not even a good one, but a decent one, a workmanlike one, a “guy who’s on a bad team and gives it what he’s got every night” guy, a lunchpail guy. The NBA has plenty of guys like that.
Not so for West, though. Opposing guards licked their chops and prepared to have a fun night of basketball shooting against Doug West. The guy managed 0.4 Defensive Win Shares in 1992-93, playing 3,104 minutes of sieve-like basketball for a squad that went 19-63.
On the bright side, being that utterly wretched did ultimately pave the way for Minnesota to end up with Kevin Garnett. So…yay?
Nah, that’s a yay if you’re a Celtics fan and could count on Kevin McHale to show his Celtic Pride despite working in the Wolves’ front office during the 2007 offseason and doing his old teammate Danny Ainge a solid. Then again, Celtics fans love that sort of thing, and they can buy Doug West a beer if he’s ever in Boston.
New Orleans Pelicans: Hilton Armstrong
The Pelicans have had just four guys play at least 400 games for them, and they’re the four top dogs in franchise history for career VORP, namely (in order) Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and David West, and no way am I slamming West as the second-best player on a then-Hornets team that was actually pretty good.
Drop the requirement to 300 games and you have the fifth-best player in Pels franchise history, namely P.J. Brown, an essential contributor and role player everywhere he’s gone in the NBA.
I had to cut this all the way to 200 games just to get a 19-man sample, and that’s where Armstrong, who started 37 of his 209 games on those aforementioned Paul/West teams in the late aughts, shines as a garbageman.
His minus-1.5 VORP is bad enough. His plug-awful 9.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes is putrid as well. But his negative Offensive Win Shares (minus-0.1 in New Orleans and minus-0.4 overall) complement his .058 WS/48—as a center—on teams that were actually pretty decent.
Although it does say something about the Pelicans that they needed special treatment just to find more than four guys willing to play for them for any length of time. The NBA needs to just move this team to Seattle or Las Vegas or Ulanbataar or something.
New York Knicks: Phil Jackson
Anyone associated with the Knicks’ title teams in 1970 and 1973 tends to get an inflated reputation.
But Jackson—who didn’t play a game on that 1970 team and picked up just 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 17.4 minutes a game in 1973—was never actually that good as a player.
In 1974 and ’75, Jackson finally played meaningful minutes, 25.0 a game in ’74 and 29.3 in ’75.
He averaged 11.1 and 5.8 points and rebounds the first year and 10.8 and 7.7 the second.
He then dropped off a cliff in his last three years in New York, finally scoring just 2.4 points a game in 1978 in 10.4 minutes a contest.
Oh, and just for funsies, he led the NBA in fouls in 1975.
The guy landed at a dead-even .100 WS/48 with the Knicks for his career but was never a key part of the team’s success and not for nothing is remembered far more for his exploits as a coach than he ever was as a player. As a player he kind of stunk.
OK, 20 down, 10 to go (sorry Seattle, I’m not sifting through the combined records of the Thunder and Sonics on Basketball Reference. It was worth it for Gary Payton. Is it really worth it for the likes of Dick Snyder or Michael Cage?
Part 3 of this series wraps up tomorrow, August 29 (Pacific Time, in case like today I end up getting this written in the early evening out west.) Stay tuned and thanks for reading!