Some NBA players enjoyed success right from the get-go. Then some had to start from scratch before finally breaking out to become a star. Then some enjoyed a breakout year but could no longer do it again in the succeeding years.
In the history of the NBA, many players were one-hit wonders. They made it big at one point but could not do it all over again.
There are many reasons behind these. Some got hurt and were never the same again. Some moved to new teams and could not adjust. Some could not handle the pressure of success and ended up destroying their careers.
Let’s take a look at the most popular NBA players who were one-hit wonders:
He was dubbed as Big Country by teammate Byron Houston because he grew up from a small community in Gans, Oklahoma. Reeves was picked 6th overall in 1995 by the Vancouver Grizzlies and was the franchise’s first-ever draft. He was named to the All-Rookie team and seemed like he was on his way to superstardom when he averaged 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.08 blocks per game during his third season. But after 1998, his minutes and production dropped as weight issues and injuries hounded him. He retired after playing just six NBA seasons.
Carr was Atlanta’s 8th overall pick in 1983 out of Wichita State. Had six mediocre seasons with the Hawks before moving to the Sacramento Kings in 1990. Carr had three double-digit scoring seasons in Sacramento including the 1991 season where he started 48 out of 77 games and averaged 20.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. That turned out to be the only time in his career where he scored more than 1,000 points in a single season. Carr would go on to become a role player with the Jazz late in his career but he was never able to replicate his one-season success in ’91.
After leading the University of Kentucky to the NCAA title in 1996, Derek Anderson was picked 13th overall in the 1997 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two seasons later, he was traded to the L.A. Clippers and he had a breakout year in 2000 where he averaged 16.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. Anderson ranked 7th in the league in free-throw shooting that year. But his production gradually declined after that season. Later, injuries plagued his career and he retired in 2008.
Howard was a late first-round pick of the Dallas Mavericks in 2003 who steadily improved during his first four seasons in the league. He was even invited to be part of the 2008 U.S. men’s basketball team to the Olympics but he declined. Howard went on to have a successful 2008 season where he put up 20.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Bad knees started a decline in his production and he would be traded to the Washington Wizards, then later to Utah and Minnesota where he floundered.
Simmons was the Seattle SuperSonics 2nd round pick in 2001 but was traded to Detroit, released by the Pistons, and signed by the Washington Wizards before he even played a single game. He had two so-so seasons with the Wizards before moving to the L.A. Clippers where he averaged 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists during his second year with the team. Simmons was named the NBA’s Most Improved player in 2005 and signed as a free agent with the Bucks in 2006. He struggled to reach the same level of play and his numbers steadily went down.
Undersized at 5-11, Dana Barros played off the bench during his first four seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics but he got a break when he was traded to the Sixers in 1994. He landed a starting job and averaged in double digits during his first season with the team. In his second season, Barros had a monster year. He averaged 20.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game and was named to the All-Star team in 1995. He also won Most Improved Player of the Year honors that season but when he decided to sign with his hometown Boston Celtics the following year, his numbers dropped and he was never able to find the form that he had in 1995.
Don McLean is still the all-time leading scorer at UCLA and in the Pac-12 conference with 2,608 career points. He was a first-round pick in 1992 who spent his early years with the Washington Wizards. McLean broke out in his second season, averaging 18.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game and was named as the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1994. But after he was traded to the Denver Nuggets, his numbers faded. Later, he became the first player in the NBA to be suspended due to steroid use.
Magloire was the Charlotte Hornets’ first-round pick in 2000. He enjoyed success when the Hornets moved to a new city as he played and started every game during New Orleans’ first two seasons. Magloire put up a double-double season in 2004 as he averaged 13.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He was also selected to play in the 2004 All-Star game because of his terrific play. But that turned out to be his only All-Star appearance as his production gradually declined until he retired in 2012.
Larry Hughes was the Sixers 8th overall pick in 1998 after a standout career at St. Louis University. Hughes was a solid NBA player throughout his entire career but he was never able to live up to his billing. He averaged in double-digit scoring except during his final three NBA seasons. But Hughes was huge in 2005 when he led the NBA in steals and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team. That year, Hughes averaged 22.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.9 steals per game. But after signing a $70M deal with the Cavs the following season, Hughes never returned to that form again.
Evans was the 4th overall pick in 2009 and had a spectacular freshman year in the NBA where he averaged 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. He was named Rookie of the Year and was touted to be one of the next stars in the league. However, that turned out to be the best season of his career. Injuries slowed him down and although he went on to have a solid career, he never had another 20-point season. He was banned in 2019 for violating the NBA’s drug program.
Aaron Brooks is another former Most Improved Player winner who turned out to be a one-hit-wonder in the NBA. Brooks was the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick in 2007. He struggled in his first two seasons but broke out in 2010 by averaging 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game to win the MIP award. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep up with the big man’s game and his lack of size prevented him from becoming a star. Brooks never averaged at least 12 points per game since 2010.
Larry Sanders was an enigma in the NBA. After doing almost nothing in his first two seasons, Sanders had an impressive third season where he averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. He also shot a career-best 50.6% from the field in 2013. Sanders also had a terrific postseason where he put up 10.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. But aside from injuries, he had off-court issues and walked away from the NBA.
Richard Dumas was a feel-good story. After getting suspended by the NBA before he played his first game, Dumas ended up playing in Israel and the CBA. He finally made his NBA debut during the 1992-93 season where he averaged 15.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game and helped the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls. But after making the All-Rookie team, Dumas entered rehab and was never the same again when he returned.
Linsanity was the talk of the NBA for a short period in 2012. Jeremy Lin emerged as a superstar for the New York Knicks as he averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game in 26 games with the New York Knicks. He took over games and delivered one big game after another. He even made it to Time’s “100 Most Influential People” list, beating out many NBA stars. He moved to Houston but he could no longer replicate the feat that made him a phenom in 2012. He would finish his career winning an NBA ring with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.