When last we left off (two days ago…whoops), we’d gone through 20 of the 30 current NBA franchises and took a look at the worst player to suit up for at least 400 games, or five full seasons’ worth of time.
These are not guys who show up, stink out the joint, then get thankfully dismissed—either traded, waived, or even stretch-provisioned if their contract is so awful that they’re untradable.
These are guys who are on the team for years even though they stink. And funnily enough, most of these guys have been centers whose sole virtue as basketball players has been being tall.
We left off in New York, where Phil Jackson‘s playing career was a bust compared to his Hall of Fame coaching career, and now it’s on to Oklahoma City—and unlike in my mammoth mega-feature about every team’s best player, I’m not going to make Sonics fans suffer the indignity of remembering the bad times in Seattle.
With that in mind:
Oklahoma City Thunder (via Seattle): Michael Cage
Nick Collison has the worst VORP in Sonics/Thunder history for this many games played—in 910 games as the heart-and-soul glue guy, he managed just 3.1 VORP, while Cage clocks in at 7.9 in barely half as many (490) games.
But at least Collison could shoot, if nothing else, and he was sensibly used as the backup pretty much from the moment he traded his Seattle dark roast for whatever coffee they drink in Oklahoma—and by the gods, you could stick a gym sock into a mug of Folgers, wring it out, and drink it, and it’d be better than anything they serve in this wretched coffee town that thinks it invented the stuff. Boiled charcoal is more like it.
Ahem, I digress.
Cage had a fantastic Jheri curl, but his game wasn’t as slick as his hair. And while not being the first or second scoring option behind Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp is one thing, Cage was always the fifth option, averaging just 9.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes while depressing his TS% by being a wretched free throw shooter (64.1 percent in Seattle; 66.4 overall.)
He was a wretched defender on the Clippers, merely a mediocre one in Seattle—playing center when you’re just 6’9” and 224 pounds can’t help, especially in those days when guys like Shaquille O’Neal threw their weight around in a quite literal sense in the low post. Cage couldn’t guard those big guys. Even Oliver Miller, the rotund ball of hilarity not named Charles Barkley on the Phoenix Suns, always got the better of the physicality against Cage, who had a small forward’s body and a big man’s game.
But hey. If that’s the worst that Seattle and Oklahoma City can combine to do in 53 years of professional basketball between the two cities? That speaks volumes about just what a storied franchise the Emerald City lost in 2008.
The coffee sucks though.
Orlando Magic: Jeff Turner
You notice a pattern with these late-80s expansion teams?
Turner came into the league on the expansion Magic in 1989 after spending two years adrift in Italy after things didn’t pan out with the Nets after he went 17th overall in the legendary 1984 draft.
He then proceeded to stink, hitting just 46.8 percent of his shots in Orlando, averaging a paltry 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Three times, he finished the season with negative Win Shares. Only once—in 1992-93, when he was actually piddlingly average at .100 WS/48 and 0.2 VORP, did he even crack the plus side of zero in that latter stat.
He ended up with minus-5.2 VORP and .037 WS/48 in seven seasons and 411 games played, exactly the kind of career arc the Nets saw coming when they said “arrivederci” and put him on a plane to Italy in the first place—in 201 games in New Jersey, he posted .040 WS/48 and minus-2.0 VORP, meaning he actually got worse after he came back stateside.
Shockingly, the Magic actually played him 10 minutes a game in the playoffs in 1995, giving him run in the Finals. Considering the Rockets’ bench depth that year, no wonder they swept the Magic out of the championship round. (yeah, Nick Anderson getting the yips at the free throw line helped, but it’s all Jeff Turner’s fault.)
Philadelphia 76ers: Willie Green
Between 2004 and 2010, the Sixers gave 422 games’ worth of run to a guy out of Detroit Mercy who made Allen Iverson, the guy he ostensibly backed up at shooting guard, look like a deadeye sniper from the field. Which, of course, he wasn’t—Iverson is one of the least efficient shooters in the entire history of the NBA—but Green was so bad that he actually managed to be less efficient than even that low standard, avoiding the scorn of history simply by not playing enough minutes or hoisting up enough shots to get the attention of statistically-minded basketball writers.
Green was the prototypical volume scorer who couldn’t get to the line enough to cover up his rotten field goal shooting; he ended up with 15.5 points per 36 minutes but he took 14.8 shots in that stretch, proving the Dark Ages maxim that anyone can put up counting stats if they just chuck the ball up enough.
His offense was bad. His defense was atrocious. And all that added up to just .030 WS/48 in Philly, including dipping below zero three times in his first four years (and putting up .007 WS/48 in Year 2) on his way to a truly dreadful NBA career.
Plenty of Sixers failed to crack 40 percent from the field in a season where they played over a thousand minutes. The hitch is that most of them did it wearing the uniform of the Syracuse Nationals before fun was invented. Green did it in the 21st century.
“Putrescent” hardly begins to cover it.
Phoenix Suns: Alvin Scott
Did you know that of all the players to play 400 games for the Suns since 1974, Devin Booker has the third-worst VORP?
Now granted, that’s mostly because it wasn’t until the 2019-20 season where Booker finally figured out how to keep the other guy from putting up 40 when he dumped in 50, and then having Chris Paul as a backcourt mate would make any competent shooting guard an All-Star, but that’s just how young players’ careers can look if there’s nobody there to help them find their footing.
Alvin Scott played eight years in Phoenix between 1977 and 1985, and he was Booker’s polar opposite.
He couldn’t score—he averaged just 4.9 points per game and 10.2 per 36 minutes, which would have absolutely nobody confusing him with Devin Booker.
As a small forward, he was the worst-case scenario of “can’t shoot like a guard, can’t play in the post like a big guy, he’s just…there.”
Although at least he was a good defender who finished his career with .102 WS/48 and 5.9 VORP. Much like the Sonics, another product of the NBA’s late-60s expansion push, the Suns have just been a solid franchise for almost the entirety of their history, and it means that the worst guys aren’t actually all that bad.
I mean, if the next guy up the list from you is Devin Booker, two-time All-Star and damn near champion, how bad are you really?
The answer is not all that bad.
Portland Trail Blazers: Mark Bryant
Would you believe that Kevin Duckworth has the worst VORP in Blazers franchise history in at least 400 games? The same Duckworth who was a two-time All-Star and stalwart big guy for a team that went to two NBA Finals?
No. He’s not the worst. Tell your statistics to shut up.
I’m going with the next guy up the list, the backup power forward on those Blazers teams who played scant minutes when Duckworth and Buck Williams sat, and unlike sixth man Clifford Robinson, had no significant role in keeping Portland in the game when he was out there.
He couldn’t score (just 11.8 points per 36 minutes), couldn’t rebound (8.5), was a mediocre to slightly below-average defender, and is testament to the occasional dissonance between the inflated WS/48 of big men on good teams (.100 in seven seasons) and the comparison independent of team metrics (minus-1.4 VORP.)
“Value Over Replacement Player” is particularly telling here because that’s exactly what Bryant was. You could put any semi-decent big man in a Blazers uni, give him 15 minutes a game, and probably get something better than what Bryant gave.
Duckworth is a statistical oddity insofar as he was the fourth- or fifth-best player on a Finals team who nonetheless got All-Star nods. But at least he could wow the crowd.
Bryant just stunk.
Sacramento (etc.) Kings: Jason Thompson
One stat that jumped out at me when compiling this list involved a player named Bucky Bockhorn, who played for the Cincinnati Royals—Oscar Robertson‘s old squad—in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and put up .023 WS/48 by whatever reckoning Basketball Reference uses to estimate the stuff that wasn’t measured back then and was often a bit sketchy in newspaper box scores.
This despite playing on a team with two Hall of Famers—Big O and Jack Twyman—that gave the Boston Celtics all they wanted in the Eastern Division finals in 1963 and ’64. Teams that are that good aren’t supposed to have major contributors play that poorly.
But alas, the advanced stats are a bit too vague for the forgotten shooting guard, and it’s probably for the best, because Thompson played when you could actually measure how much a guy was a waste of minutes out there, and the Kings undisputably stunk for the seven seasons Thompson was there between 2009 and 2015.
Which is how Thompson ended up with minus-2.5 VORP and .074 WS/48 (as a center!) in 541 games and 14,348 minutes in Sacramento. Guys like that are supposed to be the ones you get rid of when you’re rebuilding a franchise, but then again, the Kings haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2006, and prior to that run to the conference finals under Rick Adelman that started in 1999, the franchise hadn’t even had a winning season since they still played in Kansas City.
It’s probably for the best that DeMarcus Cousins isn’t the kind of guy to be loyal to the team that drafted him or he might still be adding games to his record for most games played without a playoff appearance—thankfully, the Golden State Warriors had other ideas for him.
San Antonio Spurs: Mike Mitchell
In general, “Ted Stepien traded me this guy” is not a ringing endorsement of a man’s career, and that’s pretty much how Mike Mitchell ended up in San Antonio, traded alongside Roger Phegley for Ron Brewer, Reggie Johnson, and (wait for it) cash considerations, which for Stepien’s broke franchise is the funniest part of the whole trade.
You get to thinking Stepien would’ve thrown in a few future first-rounders if he hadn’t already traded them all to Dallas.
Mitchell was known for two things in San Antonio.
One, he didn’t turn the ball over—he had the lowest turnover percentage in the entire NBA in 1983 and ’84.
And two, he couldn’t guard a dead cat.
He was actually a decent scoring small forward, averaging 22 points per 36 minutes for his career in both San Antonio and Cleveland.
Except…well…you know how I mentioned how Willie Green’s counting stats for the Sixers were a function of taking a bunch of shots and as a purely statistical matter racking up points by not missing them all?
Yeah, that was Mitchell’s MO too. Even though he made 49.3 percent of his shots for his career, he couldn’t get to the line to save his life, so all he got was the points he got hitting just under half of his shots. Yeah, he made 3.3 FT per 36 minutes, but when you’re attempting 19 shots in those same three quarters of basketball, and you end up with 22 points, did you play well or did you just shoot a lot?
And sure, product of his era and all that, small forwards didn’t shoot the 3 ball 40 or 50 percent of the time like they do today, but again…couldn’t guard anyone. What good is scoring 20 when your man pours in 30?
All this added up to just .095 WS/48 and 1.2 VORP in seven seasons in San Antonio, which was part of the reason the Spurs were bad enough to be able to draft David Robinson and then wait for him to finish his service in the Navy before launching what ended up being almost 30 years of franchise excellence.
Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
It’s bad enough to be a draft bust. It’s worse when only ten guys have played 400 games or more for your franchise and you stand out statistically from the other nine.
Bargnani, on the other hand, was picked first overall in 2006 and was supposed to complement Chris Bosh in the frontcourt and make the Raptors, who had wandered around in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights in the NBA’s Dark Ages after Carter’s would-be series-winner missed in 2001 against Philly, a force to be reckoned with.
Instead, Bargnani was so awful that he chased Bosh to Miami to go win titles with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James while the Raptors went 22-60, 23-43, and 34-48 and sensibly decided that Bargnani sucked and shipped him out of town.
The very next year, they made the playoffs! Five years after that, never missing the postseason, they won the championship.
So Raptors fans? Thank Bargnani for being a complete garbage fire and one of the worst first overall picks ever to play the game, because the sequence of events he touched off eventually led to knocking off the mighty Golden State Warriors almost a decade later.
Utah Jazz: Jeff Wilkins
San Antonio took Wilkins 37th overall in the 1977 draft, and after he failed to make their roster, he spent the next three seasons in (in order) Italy, Turkey, and the Philippines before coming back to the States and signing on with the Utah Jazz in 1980.
And considering how awful the guy was first as the starter and then as Mark Eaton‘s backup, the Jazz probably wished he’d stayed overseas.
That’s what .044 WS/48 and minus-4.3 VORP buys you when you play for five full seasons and part of a sixth with a team building a much better contender that you increasingly fail to fit into.
The Jazz finally shipped him back from whence he came—but not to the Philippines. Instead, Wilkins finished his career in San Antonio, putting up just 0.2 win shares in 522 minutes and posting a minus-0.5 VORP and a 6.7 PER before finally calling it a career, one brought to a merciful end by the basketball gods, like salmon swimming back to the stream they were spawned in to die.
The guy posted negative offensive win shares for his career and while he at least had a positive number on the defensive side of the ball, that doesn’t mean he was actually a good defender. He, bluntly, wasn’t. He wasn’t a complete and utter garbage fire, but other teams noticed the dramatic dropoff in the ’84 and ’85 seasons when Eaton vacated the middle and let Wilkins take over.
All that added up to some truly dreadful advanced stats for a big man and frankly stats that would suck for a guard.
Washington Bullets/Wizards: Calbert Cheaney
With the sixth pick in the 1993 NBA draft, the Bullets selected Calbert Cheaney, a shooting guard out of Indiana, because frankly they had to choose somebody and the only lottery talent had already gone first (Chris Webber) and third (Anfernee Hardaway.) In fact, the guy with the most career WS/48 in the first round of that ’93 draft didn’t go until the 24th pick, when Houston chose Sam Cassell (and his .141 WS/48 and 87.5 total WS, better than Penny and C-Webb, believe it or not) out of Florida State.
What was Washington supposed to do? Pick Cassell, a consensus late-first-rounder, in the lottery? Pick Bobby Hurley or Vin Baker, who went seventh and eighth in that draft and both absolutely sucked ass in the NBA, with Hurley even managing negative Win Shares in a 269-game career over five years?
Yeah, Cheaney was awful—.050 WS/48 and minus-2.9 VORP over 13 years and 825 games total in the league, worse than all five guys who went ahead of him and five of the six guys who went behind him (after Hurley, you have to get to 13th and Terry Dehere to find worse)—but the Wizards kind of had to take him. They didn’t have another viable option except for maybe Lindsey Hunter (who went 10th) and Allan Houston (11th, and he eventually got a rule named after him for Superfund site contracts thanks to the Knicks.)
Which is why Cheaney’s six garbage fire seasons as the starting shooting guard on a lousy team stand out in franchise history. The Bullets were a power team in the ’70s, making four Finals and winning a title in 1978.
But in the 43 years since then? They’ve either sniffed around .500 while never amounting to anything other than a fairly easy playoff out, or they’ve been utterly putrid and not gotten near the playoffs.
And nobody quite personified that long dark tea-time of the Washington soul when they made the playoffs just once in 17 seasons between 1988 and 2005 quite like Cheaney.
He stunk…but he didn’t smell any worse than what was around him. A turd in the sewer doesn’t stand out.
I’m going back on hiatus for a bit here, until next I’m inspired (or the 30 articles in 30 days leading up to the start of the season tips off in September. Whichever comes first.)
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!