R.J. Barrett, the top-ranked prospect in the 2018 Rivals150, is scheduled to pick between Duke, Kentucky and Oregon on Friday night. Like almost all No. 1 players, Barrett looks like a surefire bet to be a terrific college player for one season before headed on to the riches of the NBA. No. 1 ranked players are usually pretty successful at the college and NBA levels, but there have been exceptions. Who are the biggest busts of players ranked No. 1 by Rivals.com and why?
No. 1 - Josh Selby, Kansas
The skinny: A physical point guard, Selby initially committed to Tennessee early in his junior year before opening things back up - the Volunteers also lost Aaron Craft in this class - over fears he had rushed things. At the time, there were claims that the move was motivated by Nike, but after looking around Selby ended up choosing Kansas over Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky and others. At Kansas, his debut was delayed because of a nine-game suspension due to improper benefits he received from a business associate of Carmelo Anthony’s, Bay Frazier. He debuted with 21 points and a game-winning three against USC, but most of his lone season in Lawrence, where he averaged just under 10 points per game, was marred by inconsistency and injury. A second-round NBA Draft pick, Selby’s NBA career lasted only 38 games over the span of two seasons.
Who was No. 2? Harrison Barnes
Bossi’s take: Selby was ranked No. 1 shortly before I arrived at Rivals.com. At the time I remember much of that being because of strong performances against the top of the class in the McDonald’s All-American Game practices. Selby had the athleticism, strength and scoring aptitude that the NBA covets these days, however he’s never been able to stick in one place for long. It is tough to say that he would have ultimately outperformed Barnes - who has turned into a very good pro for the Dallas Mavericks - or Kyrie Irving, but with a better work ethic and attitude it’s likely that he would still be in the NBA.
No. 2 - B.J. Mullens, Ohio State
The skinny: A native of the Columbus, Ohio area, Mullens was offered and accepted a scholarship from Thad Matta before he had even begun high school. A seven-footer with well above-average athleticism, he was coordinated, could really run and had some shooting touch. He was basically everything that today’s NBA looks for in a big man. During one season at Ohio State, he was the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year and made the All-Freshman team before being drafted in the latter part of the first round in the 2009 NBA Draft. Though he showed flashes of what made him a top ranked prospect in college and the NBA, Mullens washed out of the NBA after four stops in five years.
Who was No. 2? Jrue Holiday
Bossi’s take: The frustrating thing about Mullens is that he had all of the tools to be a high-level NBA player and his bust has to do more with him than a truly bad evaluation. He just didn’t seem to care about being a great NBA player and never seemed motivated to reach his potential. When evaluating teenagers, that’s just not something that you can ever fully account for, along with maturity level.
No. 3 - Greg Oden, Ohio State
The skinny: One of the most celebrated high school basketball prospects of the last 20 years, Oden was a total freak of nature. He ran the floor, he was a dominant defensive force and he was part of a monster recruiting class secured by Thad Matta that included future max contract point guard Mike Conley Jr. and NBA shooting guard Daequan Cook - who both played on the same grassroots team as Oden. Had Oden graduated high school one year earlier he would have never even played college basketball, but he was in the first class subject to the NBA’s one-and-done rule. At Ohio State, Oden was a dominant force, earning first-team All-American honors and leading the Buckeyes all the way to the National Championship game. After an intense debate over who to take between Oden and Kevin Durant, Portland selected Oden No. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. He missed his entire first season due to microfracture surgery on his right knee. During his second season his season was ended early because of surgery on his left knee. The injuries were something he was never able to overcome and Oden only played a total of 114 games over the course of three seasons.
Who was No. 2? Kevin Durant
Bossi’s take: Obviously, Durant has gone on to be a once-in-a-generation type superstar in the NBA. But, were it not for injuries Oden could have enjoyed a similar type career. Nobody can be blamed for ranking him No. 1, it’s simply a matter of his body not being able to hold up to the pounding that it took from somebody his size. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Oden play. I was working for Prepstars.com/The PrepStars Recruiter’s Handbook at the time. At halftime I walked out of my gym and called my colleague Rob Harrington and told him that I was watching a near seven-footer who would be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft within a few years. Oden was an 8th grader at the time. Unfortunately we can only wonder how great he could have been.
No. 4 - Austin Rivers, Duke
The skinny: Rivers was a high-scoring high schooler whose game, lack of true position and the way he carried himself were quite polarizing. He was brash, he was unapologetic and he wasn’t on the floor to not shoot the ball. At the same time, he had skill and toughness and the pedigree of being the son of a former NBA player and one of the top coaches in the league in Doc Rivers. Rivers initially committed to Florida – where his sister played volleyball – before backing off of that pledge and ultimately choosing Duke over Kansas and North Carolina. During his one season in Durham, Rivers scored over 15 points per game before being drafted No. 10 overall by New Orleans in 2012. In New Orleans, he was paired with the guy he was ranked ahead of coming out of high school – Anthony Davis who won a national title and was player of the year in his one season at Kentucky. After three seasons in New Orleans, Rivers signed with the Los Angeles Clippers where he’s currently a starter in his sixth NBA season playing for his father.
Who was No. 2? Anthony Davis
Bossi’s take: The thing about it is that Rivers isn’t necessarily a “bust.” As long as his health holds up, he’s going to end up playing 14 or 15 years in the NBA and he’s going to be fairly productive player for at least the next five or six years. It’s just that looking back, we shouldn’t have ranked him ahead of Davis, who when healthy looks like one of the top six or seven players in the NBA. Had Rivers been ranked No. 4 or No. 5, nobody would bat an eye, but because he was No. 1 it’s hard not to consider him at least a bit of bust.
No. 5 - Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
The skinny: A native of Haiti who came to the United States after surviving the devastating 2010 earthquake, Labissiere rose to prominence because of his skill, length, ability to shoot a jump shot and near seven-foot size. Before his senior season, he was ruled ineligible to play high school basketball in the state of Tennessee and rather than transferring to a prep or private school outside of the state he chose to remain enrolled at Laussane Collegiate Academy in Memphis and play for what was essentially a club team called Reach Your Dreams full of home schooled kids and run by his legal guardian Gerald Hamilton. Labissiere chose Kentucky, where he had some flashes of potential but mostly struggled mightily (6.6 ppg) while being asked to play as more of a back-to-the-basket player. A late first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings, Labissiere actually averaged more points, rebounds and minutes per game as a rookie in 2016-17 than he did during his one season at Kentucky.
Who was No. 2? Ben Simmons
Bossi’s take: While calling Austin Rivers a bust is debatable, it’s really not at all fair to label Labissiere a bust just yet. This is more about my poor decision to rank him over Simmons. Simmons didn’t win a lot in college, but he looked like a star and that’s certainly proving to be the case during his first season in the NBA after sitting out last year due to injury. Labissiere is still going to develop into a very good NBA player, he’s just lacking a little bit of maturity and looking back there are a few places where I made mistakes. One, the entire Reach Your Dreams Prep situation should have been a huge red flag. It cost Labissiere a year of development. Also, Simmons wasn’t at his best during McDonald’s All-American Game workouts and I worried about his suspect jumper too much while putting too much value in Labissiere’s pretty jump shot.