- The NBA is considering ending their age mandate, allowing players to join the league straight out of high school.
- While there have been mixed results, there have been several All-Stars, Hall of Famers, and all-time great players who have thrived without attending college.
- Players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett have proven that they don’t need college to succeed in the NBA.
The NBA is considering ending their age mandate where players usually must attend college or play professional basketball for a year after high school. This rule was enforced after a couple of dozen players joined the league straight out of high school with mixed results. More names struggled to last and showed the risks involved.
However, there was a select group of names of All-Stars, Hall of Famers, and all-time great names to prove they didn’t need college. The league saw the youngsters joining and learning how to play against older names stronger and more experienced. Each of the following basketball stars was the best to come straight out of college and thrive.
UPDATE: 2023/10/31 18:00 EST BY ETHAN SCHLABAUGH
The early days of the NBA had a rule that a player could not be drafted until they finished their four-year college eligibility to have the chance of being drafted. Reggie Harding was the first person to graduate from high school and not enroll in college while joining the NBA once he was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the 1962 draft. So while the concept of drafting a player out of high school certainly has some controversy around the subject, it has proven to produce a few amazing players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett. It doesn’t happen often either with the most recent examples being from the 2005 draft. So to add to the pile, here are a few more names that had great careers coming straight from high school.
13 Andrew Bynum
The Los Angeles Lakers invested in Andrew Bynum as their center of the future shortly after trading Shaquille O’Neal and having a top-ten draft pick. Bynum skipping college made him a tempting prospect for NBA teams due to his raw talent.
The career of Bynum didn’t pan out as hoped due to injuries, but he accomplished a lot in a short time. Bynum made two All-Star games and even had one All-NBA selection as the second-best center of 2012. The Lakers winning two NBA Championships with Bynum as their center was the ultimate success for him.
12 J.R. Smith
Smith was picked up as the 18th overall pick from the New Orleans Hornets, a team he stayed with for two seasons after having some issues with the head coach at the time. Some time with the Nuggets saw the first hint of what Smith could do but ended with him leaving and playing in Zhejiang for a season.
Upon his return to the NBA, Smith seemed to come back with a vengeance and put on some of his best work with the New York Knicks. Smith’s career ended with 12,148 points, a two-time championship, and Sixth Man of the Year in 2013.
11 Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis was drafted straight from Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi in 2005. He was selected 40th overall in the second round by the Golden State Warriors and quickly proved to be a great pick for the team. Ellis stayed on the Warriors until 2012 and during his time with the team was one of the best scorers in the league putting up 40-point games.
Ellis ended his career playing with the Indiana Pacers with his final games coming in 2017. His accolades include 14,858 points over his career and being the Most Improved Player in 2007. Many fans believe he deserved an All-Star appearance for his 2010-2011 season.
10 Louis Williams
Lou Williams decided to retire from the NBA after playing for 17 years with teams like the 76ers, Lakers, and Clippers. After all was said and done, Williams scored 13,396 points off the bench, an active NBA record. Williams also holds achievements such as three-time Sixth Man of the Year and Naismith Prep Player of the Year in 2005.
Williams came from South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Georgia, and made plans to play for the University of Georgia before declaring for the NBA Draft instead. He was selected in the 2nd round after a few disappointing workout performances.
9 Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis is another name who felt going straight to the NBA was the right move for his career. The Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic had the best years of Lewis’ underrated peak. Lewis’s best season saw him averaging over 22 points per game.
The two All-Star appearances for Lewis prove that he was among the better players at his position for a short time. Lewis was arguably the second-best player on the 2009 Magic team that made the NBA Finals. However, it wasn’t until his later seasons that he won a ring with the Miami Heat as a role player.
8 Jermaine O’Neal
Jermaine O’Neal is arguably the most underrated player from the 2000s when looking at his accolades. The former Indiana Pacers All-Star rarely gets talked about today due to his run feeling shorter than most other top talents of the time.
O’Neal made six All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams as a top big man of the era. Indiana built a title contender around him that never got over the hump. Many pundits believed that the Pacers had a chance to win it all with Jermaine as their best player the year Ron Artest’s Malice at the Palace suspension ruined it.
7 Tyson Chandler
The NBA career of Tyson Chandler showed both the ups and downs of someone joining the league out of high school. Chandler was drafted to a young Chicago Bulls team that failed with their plan of rebuilding with young pieces.
It took Chandler a few years to find his ideal role in the NBA as a winning player. The Dallas Mavericks 2011 NBA Championship would not have happened without Chandler as their starting center. Chandler’s other biggest accolade was winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award as a dominant defender.
6 Amar’e Stoudemire
The Phoenix Suns took a risk drafting Amar’e Stoudemire out of high school when they wanted to contend shortly. Stoudemire rewarded them by instantly becoming a player winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
Steve Nash’s signing with Phoenix took Amar’e to the next level as the dynamic duo remained a top threat in the West for years. Stoudemire made four All-Star teams, received five all-NBA selections, and he was considered one of the best power forwards of his era.
5 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard was the last great player out of high school before the NBA changed the rules with an age limit. The Orlando Magic made the right call drafting Howard with the first overall pick of his draft class over successful college players like Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.
Howard was the best center in the league for a few years and dominated on defense. Eight All-Star appearances and eight all-NBA selections showed how much the league respected him. Howard even made history as the first player to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award three rows in a row.
4 Tracy McGrady
Any NBA fan of the early 2000s will remember just how spectacular Tracy McGrady was during his peak. McGrady’s run ended faster than expected and never had much postseason success causing a lot of media personalities to overlook him.
The seven consecutive All-Star appearances and eight consecutive all-NBA selections showed how great he was during the decade. McGrady was a two-time scoring champion and joined the select name of elite scorers to average over 30 points in a single season.
3 Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett became one of the all-time great NBA power forwards coming straight out of high school. The Minnesota Timberwolves took the risk of drafting Garnett, and it paid off with him becoming the greatest player in franchise history even winning the MVP Award.
Boston Celtics fans also adore Garnett for his epic run there as an NBA Champion and Defensive Player of the Year. Garnett dominated for so long with 15 All-Star appearances and nine all-NBA selections. The competition of power forwards like Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, and Amar’e Stoudemire saw KG always in the conversation for the best each season.
2 Kobe Bryant
The confidence of Kobe Bryant started at a young age when he declared for the NBA Draft out of high school and made it clear he wanted to face the top stars from the start. Bryant was tempting enough for the Los Angeles Lakers to trade for him on draft night. The Lakers had Kobe on the roster for his entire career with many fans viewing him as the best player in franchise history.
Bryant had an iconic career with rare achievements like five NBA Championships, an MVP Award, and the memory of scoring 81 points in a game. A total of 18 All-Star appearances and 15 all-NBA selections showed how much he dominated for almost two full decades.
1 LeBron James
LeBron James had by far the most hype of any NBA talent coming out of high school and perhaps more hype than any talent entering any sports league. The freak athleticism and basketball intelligence made LeBron a relevant figure in basketball before he was an adult.
Fans are still in awe of James today after almost two decades in the sport with both 18 All-Star appearances and 18 all-NBA selections. LeBron winning four NBA Championships for three different franchises and having four MVP Awards remind us just how great he’s been. The wildest thing about James is that his career is still going, and he’s expected to become the all-time leading scorer.