In 2006 the NBA instituted a new rule regarding high school players making the jump from high school straight to the NBA. The rule was made with the players’ interests in mind, as well as the NBA’s level of play.
It all began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett. Well technically it began in 1963 with Reggie Harding, but the true flood of high school players to the NBA began with KG in 1995. It was Garnett who made it seem possible for a stand-out high school player to jump straight into the NBA and be competitive. The only thing was, most high school players, as talented as they may be, are not always ready to jump into NBA locker rooms and NBA games. Now of course there have been some players who made the jump and did it was grace and success, however the list of players who fell flat on their face is much longer and uglier.
So in 2006 the NBA decided they needed to do something about the epidemic of 18-year-olds trying to compete in a man’s environment. The new rule stated that players must be at least one year removed from high school before they are eligible for the NBA. This does not mean that a player must go to college. Some players such as Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay decided to play overseas for a year before entering the NBA, and that seems to have worked out just fine for them.
Today we will comb through the 44 players who made the jump from high school to the NBA and determine who are the ten best and who are the ten worst to do so.
10. Best – J.R. Smith
Freshly minted NBA champion, J.R. Smith gets things underway. During his time at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School, Smith averaged over 27 points, six rebounds and five assists per game on his way to being a McDonald’s All-American. After winning c0-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, Smith decided to enter himself into the NBA Draft.
With the 18th overall pick, the New Orleans Hornets drafted Smith. After two seasons with the Hornets, Smith was traded to the Denver Nuggets. Smith had success in Denver but he became more synonymous with immature behavior than actual play on the court. Smith played a season in China during the 2011 NBA lockout, and when he came back it appeared he had matured during his time overseas. He signed with the New York Knicks and became a Sixth Man of the Year. Smith was still a bit of a head case in NY but he was certainly better than the younger version of himself. Once he was traded to the Cavaliers in 2015, he became a much more professional basketball player.
10. Worst – Jonathan Bender
In 1999 the Toronto Raptors drafted Jonathan Bender out of Picayune Memorial High School in Picayune, Mississippi. He was projected to be exactly what Kevin Durant turned out to be. Bender was a 7 feet, 200 pound skinny kid with freakish athleticism.
After selecting him fifth overall, the Raptors promptly traded him to the Indiana Pacers, for veteran forward Antonio Davis. The Pacers were hoping Bender would turn into a superstar, but it was still too early to know for sure at the time of the trade. As a teenager, Bender saw minimal court time, but in his third season he had the best year of his career, averaging over seven points and three rebounds. Following that season he signed a $28 million contract extension with the Pacers.
Unfortunately for Bender and the Pacers, Bender would fight injuries for the rest of his career. After retiring in 2010 Bender invented the JB Intensive Trainer, a resistance training device, that strengthened his knees.
9. Best – Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis is a player who has never gotten the credit he deserves for his impact on the current state of NBA basketball. Lewis was one of the first seven footers to be able to knock down the three-point shot with regularity. Lewis and Ray Allen formed the original version of the splash brothers when they teamed up in Seattle during the early 2000s.
Coming out of high school, most teams were a bit weary of Lewis, who at nearly 7′ weighed about 215 pounds. After falling to the second round, the Seattle SuperSonics swooped up the sharp shooter with the 32nd pick in the draft. Lewis spent his 16 year career playing with mostly contending teams, including the NBA champion Miami Heat in 2013. Lewis also proved the critics wrong when he was selected to two NBA All-Star teams, in 2005, and 2009.
9. Worst – Korleone Young
As a high school player, Young was recruited by almost every powerhouse university in the country. With his stock high and money in his eyes, Young decided to skip college and go straight for the NBA. His stock slid drastically in the days and weeks heading into the draft, and in 1998 the Pistons selected him with the fortieth pick. Young’s time with the Pistons was very short lived. He appeared in three games at the end of the 1999 season. After the season, Detroit cut Young, citing his injury problems as the main reason for his departure from the team.
Young attempted to earn his way onto the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000, but he was unable to crack the regular season roster. Korleone is one of the key players that people point to when defending David Stern’s decision to implement the one year removed from high school rule. Ultimately Young played a bit overseas, but his career never took off, and in 2009 he was arrested for failing to appear for a child support hearing.
8. Best – Jermaine O’Neal
Jermaine O’Neal grew up in South Carolina under the guidance of a single mother. Growing up without much parental control, O’Neal was left to fiend for himself much of the time. Luckily for Jermaine, he found basketball at an early age and he was able to devote his time to something that would pay off in the long run.
As a 6’11” high school superstar in South Carolina, O’Neal drew attention from many NBA scouts during his senior year. The fact that he averaged 22.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.2 blocks a game also caught some scouts’ attention. You would assume that Jermaine had his pick of any Division I school he wanted, considering he was named the best player in SC his senior year, as well as being a McDonald’s All-American and a USA Today All-American. However, O’Neal scored poorly on his SAT test and many schools were skeptical to his eligibility once he arrived on campus. Jermaine weighed his options, ultimately opting for the NBA straight from high school.
A big factor in his decision was the fact that one year prior, fellow South Carolinian, Kevin Garnett made a seamless transition to the NBA from high school. Things worked out for Jermaine and he went on to have a very impressive 18 year career.