The Best That Never Were
After watching the The Best That Never Was 30 for 30 on Marcus Dupree last night I got to thinking about some basketball players that never really had a chance to show their immense talent in the NBA. Dupree was a running back in the mid 80's who had a chance to be one of the best running backs of all time. Things didn't go his way and he ended tearing his knee up before he had a chance to play in the NFL. For those of you who haven't watched it, I suggest you check it out. I feel it's the best 30 for 30 ESPN has shown.
Back to the topic. After watching the 30 for 30 I got to thinking about the best basketball players who never made it. I decided to make a starting five. This is obviously just my opinion and I'm only taking guys from the last 30 years. Beyond that I really don't know much about any players that never made it. I'm going to give you guys my starting 5. If anyone wants to add to the list or give me a reason why you would select a different player for any position feel free to do so.
PG: Jay Williams
The 2nd pick in the 2002 NBA draft, Williams looked like a sure thing. He had a tremendous career at Duke and was being considered for the 1st pick in the 2002 draft. Some sources were saying that Houston wanted to pair him with Steve Francis for some odd reason, but Houston decided to take Yao Ming. The Bulls selected Williams with the 2nd pick. He didn't have the greatest rookie season, but he showed flashes of greatness. Unfortunately a motorcycle accident destroyed his leg in the off-season and he lost his chances at being great. He had a few comeback attempts, but to no avail.
SG: Ronnie Fields
Probably the most unknown player on my list, and probably the most questionable player I'm including. Ronnie Fields was a SG from Farragut Academy in Chicago. He played with Kevin Garnett in high school and formed one of the greatest duos in the history of high school basketball. Blessed with world class athleticism, he seemed to be on a path to greatness. He was extremely skilled. He was a great jump shooter and had the ability to get the rim. I feel fortunate to have actually got a chance to see him play in high school. I got to see him as a junior at the state tournament in Illinois. He was a junior and Garnett was a senior. They seemed poised to win state that year, but they were upset in the quarterfinals against Thornton (they had a great team, Melvin Ely was a sophomore and they had a couple other D-1 players).
As a senior Fields was a top 3 recruit and had an extremely bright future. Midway through Ronnie's senior season he was in a devastating car accident. He ended up breaking his neck, and although he wasn't paralyzed, he was never the same. There's no doubt in my mind he could have been a special player in the NBA.
SF: Hank Gathers
Gathers played for Loyola Marymount in the late 80's. He was 6'7" with a ton of skill. I believe he was the only player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both scoring and rebounding. From what I've seen of him there didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t do on the court. He had superior strength and athleticism for his size, and he seemed to be poised for a bright future in the NBA. Sometime during his senior season he fainted during a game. He was diagnosed with having a heart condition for which he was given medicine for but told he would be able to keep playing basketball. I believe he said something to the affect that he didn’t feel the same on the court after taking his heart medication, that the medicine made him weaker or groggy. Slowly he began to take less and less after being diagnosed. A few months later after his first collapse, he once again collapsed during a game and tragically died at half court. It’s truly one of the saddest moments in sports history. It’s hard not to get choked up thinking about his death. In my mind Gathers could have had a great NBA career.
PF: Len Bias
Bias was an ultra athletic power forward from Maryland in the mid 80’s. He was a tremendously talented player. He had a great mid range game and could also mix it up down low. Not only was he athletic, he had tons of strength as well. He entered the NBA draft after his senior year and was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 2nd pick. Unfortunately he would be dead within 48 hours. While celebrating with some friends back on Maryland’s campus, Bias went into cardiac arrhythmia and died due to a cocaine overdose. Many believe he is the greatest player never to play in the NBA. While his death is extremely tragic, the awareness his death gave to cocaine and the risks involved with the drug probably saved a countless number of people’s lives. No doubt in my mind he would have been great and probably a HOF’er.
C: Greg Oden
Yes, he still has a chance to be something in the NBA, but due to numerous injuries to his legs, he’s never had a chance to become what everyone thought he could be. One of the best center prospects ever to come along, Oden was selected 1st overall by Portland in 2007 after one successful year at Ohio St. With so much potential, he was taken over another guy who seemed to be a can’t miss player in Kevin Durant. It’s a shame what’s happened to him in his first 5 years in the NBA. With so much potential defensively and a developing offensive game, had he not gotten injured we could possibly be talking about him as the best center in the NBA today. I really hope he can salvage a solid career, but at this point everything is pointing him becoming a “what if” player. I don’t think we’ll ever know what Oden could have been.
I think lenny cook gets an honorable mention, this guy was the epitome of high school hoops and was the ''chosen one'' before LeBron, he really faded away after him and an unknown LeBron James went head to head at a basketball tournament and he lost, to make matters worst he didn't have the grades to play college ball and didn't get drafted into the NBA. Injuries and inconsistency killed his pro career
Yeah definitely. That guy had tons of hype surrounding him and then he completely disappeared. Did he ever play pro ball anywhere?
Yeah he played for the Celtics summer league team and got invited to training camp but got hurt and was cut, he then went to the phillipines but suffered a major knee injury, played a couple more years international but got hurt again, got out of shape and was out of basketball at 28
Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell.
Look the guy up. Sad sad story, with as ton of wasted talent that we will never see realized. There are a few documentaries on him and players like Jason Kidd and Antonio McDyess say he was the best ball player thay have ever seen. Gary Payton and players out of the Oakland area concur with thee guys. I'm going with Hook on this one. The possibilities are endeless...
Great thread... I only have one caveat, Bias was much more a small forward than pf but he sure was lamented enough to play pf in spots... Good job
Thanks man. I feel Bias would have been successful at either forward position in the league. For the sake of my starting five though he has to be the PF.
Richard Dumas: guy was amazing as a rookie started in the NBA Finals but drug problems end his career quickly.
The Messiah himself Dejuan Wagner would be my pick @ SG. The kid could score with the best of them, so sad that injuries took him out of the league.
Hook Mitchel and Earl the Goat Manigault(Kareem said on his retirement Who is the best player you play with or against? That must be the Goat..) Stories about his vertical are stupid,really sad he never played in NBA,drugs destroy both of these guys
If he would have played in the pros he would have been one of the best players ever... his stories are legend (he snatched a dollar bill or a stack of change from the top of the back board)...one of the best ballers from NYC...dude would have been a star...
Damn, d Wagner was nasty in highschool like unstoppable. I wonder if him and lebron could have worked out in cle. I also wish Joe forte from unc could have worked out.
Earl "The Goat" Manigault and len bias comes to mind
In his only two years at LSU Jackson lead the entire NATION in scoring, averaging 30ppg his freshman year (real one-and-done work) and 27ppg his Sophomore year. Drafted 3rd overall by the bum ass Denver Nuggets, and scored 48 POINTS in his 3rd career GAME, ending the season averaging 15ppg, while only starting 17 games and playing 22mpg. His first season consistently starting came in 92-93, where he averaged 19ppg 4apg 3rpg, shooting 94% from the stripe.
Over the next 2 years Jackson converted to Islam and was BLACKBALLED from the league after refusing to celebrate the flag and its political meaning. His last real year in the NBA was 95-96, of which he put up nearly 20ppg and 7apg, putting him in an elite class among point guards in the league. Traded to the bum ass Sacramento Kings and wad oversees by 1997, proof his personal views was just too much for the League.
My man Mahmoud dropped 51 on HOF'er JOHN STOCKTON in 95 (his prime), just to show the league its more a team situation than talent cause he had alot more than Stockton. Even crazier part is that at age 43 Mahmoud Abdul Rauf is still playing overseas, averaging 18ppg in nearly 40 games in Tokyo most recently. Im not sure if he qualifies as "The Best That Never Was" but he is damn sure "The Best They Wish Never Was" lol. Purest jumper EVER, AI handles, and TOURETTES, one of the G.O.A.T., for sure.
Greg Oden in his last seven games before he suffered his last severe injury:
The best NBA game i saw Oden play was against the Bulls, he bullied the Bulls frontcourt with 24 pts and 12 rebs in 27 minutes in a blow-out win. He had a number of important and dominating performances for the Blazers and was improving at a very rapid rate, if he stayed healthy, his trajectory of improvement would put him in the conversation of being the best Center in the West right now.
It's a shame about the injuries he's suffered because he's considered by most casual fans as a joke now, which is a shame because Greg Oden, the person, doesn't deserve it. He's often victimised due to being injured all the time, he is injury prone, that is undeniable but he shouldn't be viewed as a subject of ridicule, he should be sympathised with. It's sad that Oden belongs on this list and it's even more sad that he's getting to the point that he may not find an NBA roster next season or ever.
I suppose Oden can live his other dream of becoming a Dentist, returning to college to get his qualifications will give some Oden purpose again in life, he has the finances to open his own practice if he desired.
If somebody did not watch it yet..it is worth to take some time and watch it.
I had heard Len Bias was considered a michael jordan level player. Some rumors were he could have been better. We'll never know.
I hate it when people say "Oden is a bust", or "Portland made the worst decision taking Oden #1 overall". Oden played well in his first year before he was injured. Nobody knew he had those serious injury problems on draft day.
aint a bust yet he can still reach his full potential with luck and if he stays healthy and i think with his team now he could well be like an andrew bynum type of player
This isn't a shot at the OP, just my thoughts in general:
It might be just me, but I think people have really started to overrate Jay Williams and Len Bias after time due to their tragedies. I have no doubt they both would've been good players, but the things people say about them are crazy. I mean Jay Williams entered the NBA after his junior season, didn't even shoot 40% from the field and honestly was not that good as a rookie (nice passer though). I think he would've ended up being at best a top 10 PG. The only thing he showed that season was flashes, and not as many as most remember. He had one great month (8 games) where he was really good, and that was it. Without those 8 games his Fg% goes down to 37, 3 pt% to 29 and PPG goes to almost 9 exactly.
And Len Bias my god. He constantly gets brought up as a guy who might have surpassed Jordan and could've been the best ever. Well if people knew he was that good, why didn't he go #1? Was Brad Daughtry supposed to be better then Kareem too? It's not even that he wasn't great, because he was. He was an exciting athlete, a good defender, had a very good inside game and had great size for a 3. But I don't see how a guy who wasn't taken #1 in his own draft gets considered by some to be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
MJ not being the no 1 draft pick same thing with the len bias assumption
Thanks for the info but that has literally nothing to do with what I said.
I saw a lot of Len Bias. I am not gonna say he would have been as good as Jordan but he sure had the potential to be a Drexler level player. I am not saying their games were exactly alike, but I feel Bias could have been at least that level of player.
He also would have been going to a stocked though ageing Celtics team. Imagine him playing with Bird, Mchale, Parrish etc. I guess they would have brought him along slowly at first but I am convinced that had he lived the great Celtic torch would have been passed from Bird to Bias.
I know Bill Simmons is a Celtic homer, trying to avoid saying he would have a Bias bias, read his what if chapter, He ranks Bias as the second biggest what if and lets just say he has a man crush on what Bias might have done.
Bias didnt go no1,cause of Auerbach,he had his fingers in to it,just that he drops at 2 to them,so dont be stupid
So it's logical to you that the #2 pick in a draft who sadly passed away before playing any game in the NBA can be regarded as highly as he is today? If Tim Tebow died today don't you think in 30 years people would remember him as legend in the making too? I'm just saying his abilties are being exaggerated because of a terrible tragedy. I feel fairly confident in saying he would not be the best player ever, or even close to Jordan's level.
Another would be Shaun Livingston... He was Ricky Rubio before Ricky Rubio. The boy had size, handles and best of all great court vision. Unfortunately that horrific injury he suffered against the Bobcats ruined such a promising career he was never the same when he came back. As a Clips fan I can certently botch for Livy talent his injury set the Clips back yrs
Jonathan Bender... I imagine with his size, shooting ability and basketball skills, he could have been a Kevin Durant type player offensively had he reached his potential.
What about Ben Wilson?
I just skimmed through this, but how has know one said Grant Hill. He was the first next Michael Jordan. He would have went down as one of the best players to ever play the game had he stayed healthy.
I don't know how would they have played but I believe Brazilian Oskar Schmidt and Greek Nikos Galis are worth being mentioned. They both were amazing scorers and I think could definitely make an impact to the league.
Galis was an amazing scorer standing only 6'0 he was able to shoot the lights out every game. In his senior year at Seton Hall he averaged 27.5 points, good enough for 3rd in NCAA only behind Larry Bird and Lawrence Butler. He was actually selected with 68th pick by Boston Celtics in the draft but after injury in training camp went to play to Europe. Eventually, he couldn't play in the NBA although Celts wanted him but he was very loyal to Greece National Team and due to the rules at that time NBA pro's couldn't play in international competitions. According to Wikipedia Red Auerbach once said that not signing Galis was one of the biggest mistakes in his life.*
If there is better international competition scorer than Nikos Galis it's most likely Oskar Schmidt. Schmidt was 6'9 small forward with incredible ability to score the basket. Again, the same story as with Galis, he was offered to play in NBA many times but declined in order to maintain his amateur status which let him play for Brazilian NT. He was a leading scorer in '88, '92 and '96 Olympics ( he was 38 years old in '96 !, 41,9 points a game in '88 ! ). He is unofficially considered to be the all-time leading scorer in history of basketball, with 49,737 career points scored ( club play + NT ), more than Kareem in NCAA + NBA.
And I will give respect to my fellow countryman Modestas Paulauskas. Most of you haven't even heard about him but he was undoubtedly one of the top players in the world in 60's. Standing 6'5 , great athlete ( 36 inch no-step vertical ), very smart on the court, he was leader of USSR at that time, if not injuries that really held him back , he would have even better career, but still is Europe's champion 4 times in a row, two times World champion and was key part of '72 Olympic champions team. I do have very strong opinion that if they would have as high medical level as it is today he would have been even better player. It was pretty tough reading his byography because he was really holding back by his injuries since he was like 23. Story with NBA is quite the same as with those mentioned above, they wanted him , he was playing really really well when participated in friendly games against colleges in States, but signing with NBA ( or ABA, I'm not quite sure about the league's name in 60's ) would mean that he never could go back to USSR and god knows what problems would his family have faced, so he stayed at home.
Watch the movie Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault
"For every Michael Jordan, there's as Earl Manigault. We all can't make it. Someone has to fall. I was the one."
sabonis imo if hed came over too the states early in his career hed be getting mentioned as one of the best c of all time he was dominating euro ball as a teen great olympic performances and even when he came over late in his career was still and all star caliber c with his shooting range and unreal passing for a big
Jay Williams is far from overrated. You will be hard pressed to find a more dominant college pg in the last 10 than Jay Williams. Secondly he struggled in Chicago because at that time Chicago never had a real point guard, and therefore they were still running the TRIANGLE OFFENSE. Anybody that ever played basketball knows that the TRIANGLE is designed for teams without a strong point guard, in order to keep the ball moving without having a setup guy. Gary Payton struggle in this same offense in L.A. The Triangle is anti-good point. Thats why no team in the league with a good pg runs it. J.Will was a victim of a system, not because he could play..
Dont know how old you are, but Jay Williams played against the 3rd Dream Team i believe, and more than held his own. Gary Payton said "when Jason Williams (he was Jason Then) gets to the league I hope im gone, because that kid is a monster. When arguably the best defensive pg in history say you are a monster, then doesnt matter what anyone else saids, there is no bigger compliment than that.
I pretty much disagree with all of this, but that's just my opinion. College dominance means nothing in the NBA. I don't know if the Bulls ran the triangle in 2002 (they had had 2 coahces since Phil already) but either way it doesn't excuse how horribly inefficient he was as a scorer, I mean come on 39% AFTER a hot streak? I've never heard of the 3rd dream team, only the 1st so that doesn't really bother me and Payton can say whatever he wants. Athletes always saw ridiculous stuff. Based on what he did, I don't see how anyone can say he was a sure-fire star and that's all I'm saying. You guys are acting like I called him a career backup, but I never saw it in him to be anything better then a top 10, maybe top 7 PG.
How can he have no weaknesses yet have the season he did? I'm not saying he couldn't be great but there sure as hell wasn't enough of him from that season to show he would be. His last 8 games were great, but at the end of a season you have to take those games with a grain of salt for a team who isn't near the playoffs.
My problem isn't with people saying he could be great. He definitely could've. It's the people who assumed he WOULD after a pretty bad rookie season.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, But I am providing you with good information. The bulls did run the Triangle, and not only was he Dominant in college, he was dominant in a strong conference, led team to a national title, and was player of the year and played three years so you know he wasnt a fluke, Yeah there was only one dream team, but they called this team a dream team as well I know Vince, Pierce, Allen, and few others along with Payton was there. Jason Williams proved to them he belong and you know anything about Gary Payton one of the biggest task talker in the league at time, he doesnt give credit to just anybody. I agree with llperez mostly as well, the only weakness Jay had truly was free throw shooting. Terrible ft shooter for a point guard, other than that he was pretty strong in all aspects.
Yeah he had a rocky first season, but he had a terrible coach in Tim Floyd, the triangle offense, and splitting time with Jamal Crawford, who they had messed up already before Jason Arrived. One season is nothing its a shame the world didnt see more, if we go on the first year, Then where would we rank Gary Patyon, Kevin Johnson, Chauncey Billups, and even Rajon Rondo; These guys did not look like all-stars or even starters in somes cases their rookie year.
I played against Jason Williams in AAU and we played in the same High School Conference in Jersey. The first match against him we were 9th graders and after that game my coach and I both agreed that he was going to be a pro. He just had something about him that you did not see in 14 years that was amazing. The guy would have been one of the best.
@y2g, I disagree completely about jay will. I think he would have been a superstar. He wasn't great his rookie year, but he actully finished the season really strong. He had no weaknesses. Could pull up on dime and drop threes from anywhere. Strong and drew contact and punished defenders with his physicality. He dominated college ball and u could tell watching him that he kinda decided what shots he wanted and when, the defender was just along for the ride.
it was one season on a terrible team. He averaged about 10 and 5 in 26 minutes which isnt terrible for a rookie. I saw enough of him in college to believe he was bound for big things. Lots of great pg's with great careers didnt have great rookie seasons.
steve nash: 3ppg...2apg
gary payton: 7ppg...6apg
kevin johnson: 9ppg...6apg
john stockton: 6ppg...5apg
mark price: 7ppg...3apg
terrell brandon: 7ppg...4apg
baron davis: 6ppg...4apg
None of those numbers are relevant though. Half the guys didn't play and I doubt anyone was claiming those guys were surefire superstars after those years. Like I said before I understand he could've been great, just not the notion that he absolutely no doubt in hell was going to be.
Schea Cotton was supposed to be Lebron before there was a Lebron.
Jay Williams was a MONSTER at Duke, if he would have never messed himself up he def would have been a top PG in the L.
Another guy people forget about is Ed"Booger" Smith, everyone said he would have been big time had he kept his head on straight.
Somebody who would't fall into the "never was" category, but would certainly fall into the "unfulfilled potential" category would be Bill Walton. He could've been an all-time great if not for injuries.
Richard Dumas, been watching the NBA classics the past couple days, this guy would've been a 2 or 3 time All-Star, could've helped Charles win a ring in 94 or 95(Phoenix lost to Houston in game 7 in the 2nd round both of those years). But drugs ruined his career, was suspended for the 94 season, played sparingly in 95 and 96, and never played in the NBA again.
I'm usually not a fan of bumping old topics, but I watched something on Toe Nash (baseball) and it had me thinking about this topic. I think it's pretty relevant, no matter when the posts were made.
The first name that came to my mind was Lenny Cooke. It seems like it was just yesterday, before LeBron James came into the league, that Lenny was the next big "can't miss" prospect. I remember a lot of Cooke v. James arguments at the time. Did anyone see the movie that Joakim Noah co-produced about him? I've been wanting to see it but I'm not sure where to watch it. I saw this trailer for it, and it brought back memories of when he was "the next (insert great player)" ...
Bill Walton is already an all time great, dude.