The Step Back

Requiem for Hollis Thompson — and the NBA’s other unluckiest players


Have I already spent an entire post this year e-weeping over a tough break in the career of Hollis Thompson? Yes. It was January, and the 76ers had just unceremoniously cut Thompson after he played far more games than any other player in the Sam Hinkie era. There is probably not a true Hinkie-head, myself included, that does not — unironically — love Hollis Thompson.

It looked like a strong Chapter Two in Thompson’s NBA career was underway just a few weeks later. After spending 16 games with the Austin Spurs in the G League, Thompson was picked up on a 10-day deal by the Pelicans. In true Pelicans-chaos style, Thompson was suddenly a nightly starter alongside Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Even though New Orleans comfortably outscored opponents when Thompson was on the floor, he was suddenly cut loose after eight straight starts.

And now, this week, the curtain has fallen on Thompson’s NBA career. Let us pray that it is just intermission: he signed with Olympiacos in Greece.

Read More: Who has a shot at breaking Chamberlain’s most bizarre record?

For the moment, Thompson’s career NBA record sits at 53-212. That’s good for a winning percentage of exactly 20 percent. Among all active players with at least 100 career losses, that is the very worst win rate.

This doesn’t mean Thompson is the league’s worst player. Far, far from it. The dude ranked 302nd in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus last year. That’s ahead of 166 other players — including Denzel Valentine, Derrick Rose, Stanley Johnson, Allen Crabbe, Kyle Korver and like a lot of other people who are not just warming the bench. Thompson just happened to endure The Process for longer and more thanklessly than anyone else.

With Thompson now out of the league, here are the five remaining players with the lowest career winning percentages. Again, this is just among players with at least 100 career losses. I’m only counting games the player actually appeared in, and ignoring how the team performed when a player was scratched or injured.

There is a surprising amount of talent, I think, on the list. These five players have never been able to partake in the sweet, sweet feast of victories, but it’s not necessarily their fault. You might be thinking like I was thinking: “Wait, isn’t this list probably just going to be five other players who have stuck around Philly for a while?” Well, somehow, the answer is no.

5. Julius Randle: 26.28 percent

It’s been surprisingly easy to forget about Randle, intended cornerstone of the future Lakers. It’s probably because Randle has yet to play meaningful NBA ball with just one year left on his rookie deal. Randle appeared in 74 games for the Lakers last year, but missed out on two of the team’s 26 precious victories.

4. Jordan Clarkson: 24.54 percent

Uh, whoops, another career Laker. Did you know Clarkson has been Los Angeles’ leader in total points and minutes each of the last two seasons? Hey, unlike Thompson, Clarkson at least got a nice long-term deal out of the struggle.

Clarkson’s career winning percentage is worse than it maybe should be because of some really bad luck during his rookie 2014-15 season. With the Lakers going 21-61 on the year, including a massive slide down the stretch, Clarkson appeared in 59 games but only got 11 wins.

3. JaKarr Sampson: 23.80 percent

A Process compadre alongside Thompson, Sampson is currently on a two-way deal with the Kings after spending last year in the G League. Sampson’s career percentage got a bit of a boost from his 26-game stint with the Nuggets in 2015-16, when he went 11-15. (Yes: this counts as a boost.) Like Thompson, Sampson had to deal with mind games from his employers — the Nuggets started him 22 times a few months before they waived him.

Even though Sampson somehow played less than half of Thompson’s total games with the Sixers (256 to 121), he is of equal stature as a Process legend.

2. T.J. McConnell: 22.83 percent

While appearing in a team-leading 81 games as a rookie in 2015-16, McConnell got way too close to an unsavory NBA record. His 71 losses that season — out of the 72 Philly dropped — is a tie for the third-most for any player in any NBA season.

Not even any of McConnell’s Sixer teammates have gotten close to that mark. Next among active players is Brook Lopez, who played in all 70 of the Nets’ losses in 2009-10.

1. Ryan Kelly: 21.47 percent

There is, uh, a bit of a problem here with Kelly. Over his three seasons with the Lakers (2013-2016) and last season with the Hawks, the four teams Kelly has been on have gone a combined 108-220. That’s pretty bad. But! That’s a 32.14 percent win percentage. Kelly’s career mark is more than 10 percent below that.

Kelly has never played more than 59 games in a season, and some awfully funky things have happened when he plays versus when he doesn’t play:

Year Team Kelly Plays Kelly Doesn’t Play
13-14 Lakers 15-44 12-11
14-15 Lakers 11-41 10-20
15-16 Lakers 3-33 14-32
16-17 Hawks 6-10 37-29

What gets really crazy is all four of these teams saw their plus-minus improve when Kelly is on the floor. It feels like it should be impossible for a player to be this unlucky. What is happening. Somebody sign Ryan Kelly so this inexplicable career can get turned around.



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