Kings' 10 biggest NBA draft busts since franchise moved to Sacramento


Over the course of the last 35 seasons in Sacramento, the Kings have made some major blunders in the NBA Draft. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20, but the Kings have missed on some franchise-altering players recently and over the course of three and a half decades.

While the early returns on Marvin Bagley III being selected over both Luka Doncic and Trae Young have the Kings' big man trailing early, we need a larger sample size than a little less than two seasons worth of data before throwing him on any list.

In chronological order, here is a look at 10 of the biggest draft gaffes during the Sacramento era of Kings basketball.

Joe Kleine, Pick No. 6, 1985 NBA Draft 

It was a different time in the NBA and drafting bigs was all the rage. This is, of course, the alleged “frozen envelope” draft where the New York Knicks somehow landed the top overall selection where they chose Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing. 

Kleine played 15 seasons in the NBA, but was nothing more than a reserve for much of his career. The next three selections were Chris Mullen, Detlef Schrempf and Charles Oakley, but the biggest miss was Karl Malone, who went No. 13 overall. 

How bad was Kleine? The draft went seven rounds and 162 players were selected. Kleine’s career value over replacement was a -7, which ranks last amongst his own and plenty of other draft classes.   

Kenny Smith, Pick No. 6, 1987 NBA Draft

Everything was lined up for the Kings in 1987. Homegrown point guard Kevin Johnson was on the board when the Kings’ No. 6 pick came around. And then they passed.

Kenny Smith had a solid career and has made a huge name for himself as a broadcaster. He even came in second place to Dominique Wilkins in the 1990 NBA Slam Dunk contest before the Kings sent him to the Atlanta Hawks for Antoine Carr and Cedric Toney two days later.

Johnson went with the No. 7 pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but is more known for his 12 seasons in Phoenix where he made three All-Star teams. Hall of Fame shooting guard Reggie Miller went to the Indiana Pacers with the No. 11 overall pick.

Pervis Ellison, Pick No. 1, 1989 NBA Draft

When you land the top overall pick in the NBA Draft, there should be hope of landing a star-level player. That’s not how things went for the Kings in 1989. 

Sacramento selected Pervis Ellison sight unseen. No pre-draft workout. No combine. Ellison played a total of 34 games in a Kings uniform before they traded him away to the Washington Bullets in the summer of 1990. He would go on to post 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in his third NBA season before falling off the map in the years that followed.   

It wasn’t a great draft, but third overall pick Sean Elliott had a nice career, including a pair of All-Star selections. Fourth overall pick Glen Rice had the best career out of the top 10 selections, making three All-Star games. Tim Hardaway (No. 14) made five All-Star teams and Vlade Divac (No. 24 overall) made the NBA Hall of Fame on the international ticket after a successful 16-year career. 

Quincy Douby, Pick No. 19, 2006 NBA Draft

According to local lore, Damian Lillard walked into Sacramento and missed a total of one shot in his workout for the Kings. A similar thing happened to the team in 2006 when Rutgers scorer Quincy Douby strolled through town.

This pick ushered in the current 13-postseason drought for the Kings. Douby was notorious for lighting it up on the practice court, only to disappear once the game started for real. He shot 38.9 percent from the field over his brief 143 game career. 

Douby would go on to play internationally, including three huge seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association. While you aren’t guaranteed much with the No. 19 overall pick, the Kings could have done better. Rajon Rondo went 21st overall and Kyle Lowry made it all the way to pick No. 24.  

Tyreke Evans, Pick No. 4, 2009 NBA Draft

Evans burst onto the scene in his first season in the NBA, posting 20.1 points, 5.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. He looked like a star in the making and then he put it in neutral. Evans’ career totals aren’t bad, but he’s currently on a two-year ban from the league due to substance abuse and he may never play in the NBA again.

Steph Curry, taken three picks later, is a two-time MVP and a three-time NBA champion. There is no way to know if Curry would have found the same success in Sacramento, but he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

It could have been worse for Sacramento. They passed over Syracuse point guard Johnnie Flynn, who went to the David Kahn led Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 6 overall selection. His career lasted a total of 163 games in the NBA. 

Jimmer Fredette, Pick No. 10, 2011 NBA Draft

This one hurts. Fredette lit up the college game, scoring an incredible 27 points per game as a senior at BYU. He even tore up Kawhi Leonard at the college level, which is one of the reasons the Kings selected him with the No. 10 overall pick.

Not only did the Kings trade back from No. 7 to No. 10 in the 2011 NBA Draft, passing on both Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight, but they left both Klay Thompson and Leonard on the board. 

Thompson went No. 11 overall to the Warriors and the Spurs selected Leonard with pick No. 15. Fredette played parts of seven seasons in the league and has found success in both China and the Greek leagues. 

Thomas Robinson, Pick No. 5, 2012 NBA Draft

24 hours before the 2012 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings were set on taking point guard Damian Lillard. The Weber State star had put on a shooting clinic in his in-person workout in Sacramento, although the Kings had selected two guards in Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas the summer before.

When Dion Waiters jumped up the draft board at the last minute and pushed Robinson down, the Kings jumped at the chance to take the Kansas product. It was a huge mistake.

Robinson’s game never translated to the NBA and the Kings cut bait on the No. 5 overall pick just 51 games into his career. After bouncing around with stops in Houston, Portland, Philly, Brooklyn and LA with the Lakers, Robinson has been out of the league since the 2016-17 season after totaling 313 games. 

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Ben McLemore, Pick No. 7, 2013 NBA Draft

Prior to the 2013 NBA Draft, the Kings had guard C.J. McCollum in for three visits, including a stop the week of the draft. McCollum will still tell you that he was 100 percent convinced he was going to be a King. 

McLemore was the first official draft pick of owner Vivek Ranadivé’s tenure in Sacramento and it didn’t go as planned for the high flyer. After a brief stop in Memphis and a second tour of duty in Sacramento, McLemore seemed to find a niche as a 3-point specialist this season with the Houston Rockets. 

McCollum has posted five straight seasons averaging 20 points or more for the Portland Trail Blazers. It should also be noted that Steven Adams went with the N0. 12 overall pick and a mystery prospect named Giannis Antetokounmpo went with the 15th pick. 

Nik Stauskas, Pick No. 8, 2014 NBA Draft

Stauskas or Payton? The Kings allowed Grantland into their draft room in 2014 and captured the team debating who would be the team’s pick at No. 8. Nik Stauskas was the unlikely selection and proved to be a disaster.

Sacramento packaged Stauskas along with Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to clear cap space in the summer of 2015. The trade worked out even worse than drafting Stauskas, but that’s a story for another day.

After playing parts of five seasons for five different teams, the former Michigan shooter was out of the league following the 2018-19 season at the age of 25. Elfrid Payton (pick No. 10) would have been a much stronger pick, as would have Zack LaVine (pick No. 13) or T.J. Warren (pick No. 14). 

Georgios Papagiannis, Pick No. 13, 2016 NBA Draft 

The Kings were in the unenviable position of sitting at No. 8 in a seven-man draft in 2015. When their selection came up, they traded the pick to Phoenix for the No. 13 selection, the No. 28 selection and the rights to a European prospect named Bogdan Bogdanovic. 

While the trade worked out, the selection of Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 overall pick left basketball experts around the globe stunned. Papagiannis looked like a player stuck in slow motion. He could pass, rebound, block shots and even hit a jumper, but his inability to do these things at game speed proved problematic.

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Papagiannis played a total of 477 minutes over 39 games in the NBA before returning back to Europe. In fairness to the Kings, they landed Bogdanovic, as well as Skal Labissiere in the trade and the only high-quality pro in the remainder of the first round is Pascal Siakam, who has developed into an All-Star after being taken with the 27th overall selection. 

Marquese Chriss, the player Phoenix selected with the No. 8 overall pick, is currently on his fourth team in four seasons in the league.  

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