The Worst Draft in NBA history: 1952

When discussing the worst NBA draft classes in NBA history, two classes often get brought up: The 1986 NBA draft and the 2000 NBA draft. Both drafts, while disastrous, did produce multiple NBA all-stars. However, only one draft class has failed to produce multiple NBA all-stars and that is the draft of 1952: The worst draft in NBA history.

1952 was just the beginning of NBA history and drafts until the 1990s were truly crap-shoots as few if any of the teams had video or scouting on the majority of the players they drafted. The 1952 draft class was just the sixth draft in NBA history, but teams had begun getting use to the process and some of the preceding and succeeding drafts provided the league with some of the all-time greats.

Excluding the two most recent draft classes of 2019 and 2020, every other draft in NBA history has produced at least 3 all-stars except for 1951 and 1952. Even the dreaded 2000 draft was able to give the league three all-stars in Michael Redd, Kenyon Martin and Jamal Magloire. While the 1951 draft only produced two all-stars in Mel Hutchins and Don Sunderledge, it was able to produce several solid role players who played multiple seasons in the NBA such as Whitey Skogg, Lew Hitch, Al McGuire and George Dempsey. The 1952 draft was not even able to do that.

The 1952 draft saw 106 selections made by the ten teams making up the NBA, but only 33 of them ever played in the NBA – which is an all-time low for a draft class. Of the 33 who played in the NBA, only 12 played more than one season – again, an all-time low for a draft class.

Usually a bad draft class will give up some solid role players who stick around the NBA for a while. For example, the 2000 draft produced Jamal Crawford and Mike Miller. But the 1952 draft class did not even do that, only 1 player played more than 10 years and that is the lone all-star Clyde Lovellette.

Without Lovellette the draft class would have been an even bigger disaster. Lovellette was taken 9th by the Minneapolis Lakers and immediately began taking over some of the scoring duties from aging legend George Mikan. When Mikan retired at the end of the 1953 season, Lovellette became the focal point of the offense and his scoring jumped to 18 points per game.
Lovellette had a fantastic career in the NBA, playing 11 seasons with the Lakers, Royals, Hawks and Celtics. From 1956-1962 he averaged over 20 points per game every season except for won and helped guide the Lakers and Celtics to NBA titles. He was named to the all-star game three times and all NBA once.

After Lovellette it gets hard to find the next high point in the draft. The next best player in the draft is arguable Jack McMahon who was a key role player on the Hawks 1958 championship team. McMahon only averaged double figures once in his career and was a reserve in most of his 8 seasons in the NBA.

Dick Groat, who was the third pick in the draft by the Fort Wayne Pistons had a solid rookie year averaging 12 points a game, but Groat left the NBA after one year and joined the army. Likewise, Eddie Miller had a solid first year for the Hawks and followed it up with a solid second year with the Bullets but than quit the NBA,

The first pick of the draft belonged to the Milwaukee Hawks who selected Mark Workman out of West Virginia. West Virginia was a power house school back in the 1950s and 60s and was putting out a lot of top picks including Rod Hundley, Rod Thorn, and Jerry West; All three are in the Hall-of-fame. Workman however, was not at their level and just five games into his rookie season he was traded to the Warriors for Don Sunderlege. Workman played his second season in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets before leaving the NBA.

Jim Baechtold, the second overall pick, had a nice five year career with the Knicks and was part of their finals runs, but was nothing special.

The fourth pick, Joe Dean, the sixth pick, Bob Stauffer, and the 8th pick, Chuck Darling, did not ever play in the NBA. The fifth pick, Ralph Polson, and the 7th pick, Bob Lochmueller, only played one season in the NBA.

The Warriors used a territorial pick on Temples Bill Mlkvy, and yes his name lacks a vowel which is why he earned the nickname the Owl without a vowel (Temple is known as the Owls). Mlkvy lasted all of 31 games in the NBA.

The remaining picks are not really notable either. Of the non-first round picks the most notable might be Walt Davis who was on two championship teams with the Warriors and Hawks in his five year career.

Ironically, the first ever rookie of the year award was given out this season. The award was won by Don Meineke of the Fort Wayne Pistons. Meineke edged out Lovellette by virtue of having a slightly better scoring average. Meineke lasted a total of 5 seasons in the NBA.

The only other player from this draft worth mentioning in Gene Conley, a late round pick by the Boston Celtics. Conley split his time between the Celtics and the Milwaukee Braves of the MLB. Conley was a four time MLB all-star and focused primarily on baseball but would occasionally join the Celtics roster. He played his rookie season for the Celtics, a year he took off from baseball, but rejoined the Braves for the next five seasons before rejoining the Celtics. While a member of the Celtics he did manage to win 3 NBA titles and paired with his 1957 World Series win, he is one of only a few players to win championships in multiple major leagues.

The draft class did not have a lasting effect like a modern draft does today, and the 1953 draft saw one of the better draft classes with seven all-stars being drafted. Still, the teams with the top 4 picks in the draft all ended up having trouble in the seasons following the draft. The Olympians and Bullets both disbanded and the Hawks and Pistons both soon relocated.

The reason why the 1952 draft class is not seen as one of the worst is because it was so long ago in an ancient era were the NBA was not very popular and when drafting was a shot in the dark.

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