The 2002 NBA Draft class was full of players that carved out long careers, overall there were fifteen players that played ten or more seasons. Going the draft, Dajuan Wagner looked like a prospect that would spend a long time in the league. After being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he only had one productive season with the team. Despite huge hype, he would only go on to play four seasons in the NBA.
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NBA Draft Busts: Dajuan Wagner
Wagner was one of the best players in New Jersey high school basketball history. He had a phenomenal senior season where he averaged 42.5 points per game. In that season, he posted a 100 point game. After a successful high school season, he decided to take his talents to the University of Memphis. In one season in college, he led the team in scoring, averaging 21.2 points per game. After having such successful high school and college campaigns, NBA scouts began to marvel at his talent and he quickly declared for the draft.
Dajuan Wagner’s Downfall
The Cleveland Cavaliers went 29-53 in the 2001-2002 season, and they held the sixth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. With that pick, they were looking for someone to score and provide a spark. Every sign was pointing towards Wagner and they ultimately selected him.
In his rookie season, Wagner definitely showed flashes of still being a scoring machine. He averaged 13.4 points throughout the season, but the Cavaliers went 17-65. Unfortunately, that season was the peak for him. In the next season, his minutes and production would decrease. The downward spiral for him truly began in the 2004-2005 season.
In that season, Wagner only appeared in 11 games and averaged a mere four points per game. He was riddled with injuries and he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He underwent surgery for the condition but never returned to the same playing form. After missing an entire year due to recovery, he attempted a comeback. The Golden State Warriors opted to give him a chance, but he only played one game for the franchise.
Life After the NBA
Wagner lives back in his New Jersey hometown and is involved in sports training. Although he attempted another comeback overseas, his playing days are now over. Instead of focusing on his own playing career, he’s now focused on his son’s career. DJ Wagner currently plays for the same high school his father did. DJ is ranked as the top player in the class of 2023. Wagner’s son looks like he’ll become a professional player in the future, and he has a perfect mentor, his father.
Dajuan Wagner’s Effect
If Wagner became the player that the Cavaliers thought he would be, NBA history would likely be rewritten. Cleveland drafted LeBron James in 2003, one year after they selected Wagner. If his production translated from his early career to the NBA, the Cavaliers probably would’ve won more than 17 games in his rookie season. If they were a playoff team, they likely would not have been in contention for the top overall pick. No top pick means no James for Cleveland. 18 years later, it’s safe to say the downfall of Wagner led to one of the best stories in NBA history.
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