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The 6 Worst NBA Rookie Seasons Since 2003

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Russell Westbrook may be a superstar now, but back in 2008, he was simply another guard who couldn't shoot.

With NBA Draft coming up tomorrow, I feel it's important to remember that most NBA draftees suck in their rookie seasons. Really, really suck.

Our favorite metric for determining a player's efficiency in a given season is his nERD score. For basketball, this is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a team would be with that player as a starter alongside a league-average team. For example, LeBron had a ridiculous 27.3 nERD this past season, meaning that if the Heat started LeBron and four average players, they would still be expected to go 55-27. Norris Cole, meanwhile, would lead an average team to a 39-43 record with his inefficient play thanks to his -5.3 nERD.

There have been 46 top five selections since 2003 that played the year directly after being drafted (Oden, Griffin, Rubio, and Valanciunas did not). Of those 46 players, only 14 had a positive nERD score. Of those 14, only seven had an nERD score over 1. And of those seven, only '05-06 Chris Paul (4.32 nERD) and '12-13 Anthony Davis (4.84 nERD) added over a full win to their team's totals. That makes one thing explicitly clear: don't expect your rookie sensation to help your team this season.

However, one thing you can hope is that your pick doesn't bomb spectacularly. I wanted to find the ones that did. So in order to find the worst rookie seasons since 2003, I laid some ground rules:

1. Take all Top 5 picks since 2003, the start of the LeBron era. Top 5 picks have high expectations entering their rookie years, so they have further to fall.
2. Find the worst nERD scores of them all. Period.

Here are the gems we dug up.

6. Russell Westbrook - 2008

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
Oklahoma City#4-4.37

I wanted to start off the article on a positive note - these guys can eventually make it, everybody! But that still doesn't excuse Russell Westbrook's ugly rookie season, when most people didn't know whether the Thunder had actually taken the UCLA guard too high.

It seems like forever ago now, but in the Thunder's first season in their new Oklahoma City digs, Westbrook simply couldn't hold onto the ball. Despite assisting on 27.5 percent of his teammate's field goals while on the floor, Westbrook also turned the ball over on 17.5 percent of his total possessions while handling the ball. He hasn't had an assist rate that low or a turnover rate that high since.

But those turnovers were something that everyone expected from Westbrook's reckless play. What they didn't expect, though, was how poorly he came out and shot. Westbrook posted a .414 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) during his rookie year, the single-worst eFG% among players who saw game action in at least 80 games. (Louis Williams was second at .435 eFG%.)

5. Thomas Robinson - 2012

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
SAC/HOU#5-4.51

The 2012 Draft didn't exactly produce a banner year for rookies. Oh, sure, Anthony Davis may have had the top rookie season in the past 10 years, but three other top five picks were among the seven worst rookie seasons (Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 7) over the same timespan. Is there such a thing as a one-person draft?

It may not be fair to pick on the guy who was traded midway through his rookie season, but whether in Sacramento or Houston, Thomas Robinson was just plain inefficient. While playing 51 games for the Kings, Robinson posted an abysmal .424 eFG% while attempting 10.8 shots per 36 minutes of playing time. When he got to Houston, his .449 eFG% in 19 games was a little bit better, but that's like going from Riff Raff to Mac Miller on the Greatest Rappers of All-Time chart.

That poor shooting led to some of the least efficient offense we saw all season in the NBA. All told, Thomas Robinson managed a 90 offensive rating, meaning he scored 0.9 points per possession with a scoring opportunity. Among players who played in at least 70 games, only Draymond Green, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Seraphin were less efficient.

No wonder the Kings didn't mind trading him. Not even a 17.1 percent true rebound rate can overcome that level of ineptitude.

4. Tristan Thompson - 2011

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
Cleveland#4-4.98

The next Great Canadian Hope post-Steve Nash and pre-Andrew Wiggins has looked as effective as the Canadian national soccer team so far. And I'm not sure the Canadian national soccer team actually exists.

Sure, Tristan Thompson was only slightly below replacement level this past season with a -0.45 nERD, but during his rookie year, he was bad to the bone (and not in the positive George Thorogood way). He posted a .454 eFG%, 3.9 percent true rebound rate, 113 defensive rating, and... oh wait, those are his D-League stats that year from when he played with Austin during the lockout. That's terrible, and his NBA stats are nearly as ugly.

Try on for size a 98 offensive rating, .439 eFG%, and a not-great-for-a-guy-who-replaced-Anderson-Varejao-at-starting-center 15.5 percent true rebound rate. While Thompson did block 3.3 percent of opponent's field goals, he also only assisted on 3.3 percent of his own teammate's field goals, a pitiful mark even for a big man.

3. Jeff Green - 2007

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
Seattle#5-5.05

Well, that's one way to leave Seattle even unhappier than they already were. The Sonics had one year with their two top five draft picks from the 2007 Draft, and while Kevin Durant didn't exactly blow anyone away with his -3.69 nERD, at least he wasn't the turd in the Starbucks pot that was Jeff Green.

For a guy who was supposed to be a forward of some sort alongside Durant, Collison, and the immortal Chris Wilcox, I'm not too impressed by a 9.2 percent true rebound rate. Although to be fair, he has only been above 10 percent once his entire career since, so maybe that's just not his game. But then, why would you put up with a 15.4 percent turnover rate, a .441 eFG%, a 94 offensive rating, and a 111 defensive rating? Green did not have a single positive facet to his game during his rookie year.

Since then, Green at least turned into a mediocre player. In the four seasons he's played since (he sat out '11-12), Green has oscillated between a -1.80 and a 0.31 nERD score. Those numbers aren't great, but they're at least enough to put him on an NBA roster. That's not what everyone expected when he migrated to Oklahoma City.

2. Dion Waiters - 2012

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
Cleveland#4-5.58

I'm starting to learn why Cleveland Cavs fans are so tortured. You may remember Dion Waiters for his early season hot streak and his 14.7 points per game. I remember Waiters for his .451 eFG% and his 99 offensive rating. It took a 26.1 percent usage rating and 28.8 minutes per game to even grab those 14.7 points. This is about efficiency, not raw numbers, and it took a huge effort and lots of ball-hogging for Waiters to even grab a mediocre scoring mark.

Waiters was never a great jump shooter while at Syracuse, but in the pros, that aspect of his game was exploited to a whole new level. According to 82games.com, 67 percent of Waiters' total shots were jumpers. Of that 67 percent, Waiters only shot .410 from the field. For a guy whose main contribution on the court is scoring (as his 111 defensive rating and 4.9 percent true rebound rate can attest), not being able to hit a jump shot is a bad omen.

This is where the Russell Westbrook corollary comes into play. He certainly looks to have the athleticism to succeed, and being stuck on a growing, albeit talented, team didn't help his efficiency ratings from last year. Many times, he had to jack up a shot because there weren't playmakers to get him into open space (Kyrie Irving missed 23 games himself, remember). With the No. 1 pick on his side, maybe that changes. But in terms of one-year efficiency, last year wasn't great for Waiters.

1. Adam Morrison - 2007

TeamSelectionRookie nERD Score
Charlotte#3-6.85

Was there really any doubt? It's completely possible that this one pick singlehandedly changed the public perception of Michael Jordan as a GM in a way that even Kwame Brown (-0.95 nERD his rookie year, by the way) never did. And that's because Morrison didn't just come out of the gate and look terrible. He came out of the gate and had the single worst rookie season we've seen since wispy mustaches were actually cool. (So... ever.)

A guy who was drafted as a pure shooter only hitting .422 eFG% from the field, the fifth-worst among players with 75 GP that season, is only the tip of the iceberg. Morrison's horribly inefficient 91 offensive rating was only surpassed by Jason Collins (yes, that Jason Collins) and Antoine Walker among 75 GP players. And at least those guys had some defense to back up their poor offense; Morrison's 112 defensive rating was seventh-worst among 75 GP players.

I could keep rattling stats like a 5.9 percent true rebound rate or a 0.6 percent steal rate, but to me, Morrison's most surprising rookie year number might just be 22.4. That's the percentage of plays on the floor that Charlotte ran specifically for Morrison, just 0.1 percent behind Gerald Wallace for the team lead that season. For Charlotte to keep going Morrison's way is incredible, but it also led to the single-least efficient season in the entire NBA between 2000 and 2011. And that is Morrison's lasting legacy.

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In This Article

Kevin Durant
F, Oklahoma City Thunder

Jeff Green
GF, Boston Celtics

Tristan Thompson
FC, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James
F, Miami Heat

Russell Westbrook
PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Adam Morrison
, Los Angeles Lakers

Dion Waiters
SG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Thomas Robinson
PF, Portland Trail Blazers

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