There are 44 NBA players who have came to the NBA straight from high school. A small minority of these players have taken a year off, but thus, they still technically did not attend a college or university. It is hard to imagine going straight to the NBA from high school. These guys went from prom and graduation straight to the pros.
Some players on this list have enjoyed very successful careers, while others have struggled on the big stage. There is a common argument that NBA players are best developed at the college level, and this is factually true. If more than 90% of NBA players come from a college or university/overseas team, there are real odds in favor of the athlete going to college. Alas, the NBA banned players from going straight from 12th grade to the pros. Starting in 2006, athletes were no longer permitted to skip out on a degree, or somewhat of a degree (most players leave before four years is over). The collective bargaining agreement requires players to be at least 19 and have one year of college under their belt to join an NBA roster. Many fans agree with this, siding with the NBA because they believe athletes should get at least one year of collegiate experience.
Here are 8 players who failed in the NBA, and 7 who made a steady paycheck while becoming solid professional players.
15 Failed: Robert Swift
Robert Swift is now a free agent. He was obviously fantastic in high school. A top 25 recruit in the country he was initially going to attend USC. The Sonics took him 12th in the 2004 draft, proving to be one of their biggest draft mistakes ever. He never panned out. His first season was a bust, as he only played in 16 games. In this period, he averaged 0.9 PPG, 0.4 RPG, and 4.5 minutes per game. Swift was thought to need a couple of years to develop, and so the Sonics did not lose hope in him. He did a little bit better with a new head coach Bob Hill in his second year. He played 47 games and averaged 6.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG. Still, the team was unhappy with his progression, considering where he was drafted.
In 2006, Robert injured his right knee, which would cost a lot of time. He hurt his right knee in 2008, once more, went on to be a total bust. Recently, in 2015, he was arrested for conspiracy to break into a home; additionally, he was high when police came to his house that day.
14 Succeeded: Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar'e may not be in the NBA, but he was quite the big man while he played. His most notable season, with the Phoenix suns, was the 2004-05 season. He averaged 26 PPG and 8.9 RPG, and the year before, he had averaged 20.6 PPG. Stoudemire was a much liked NBA player, who elected to play overseas. Currently, he plays for Hapoel Jerusalem. In 2016, his team won the Israeli Basketball League Cup. He has retired from the NBA and plans on remaining overseas. His last productive season, in 2014, was respectable. He averaged 10.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG off of only 16.7 minutes per game. Stoudemire had a very successful NBA career, and is respected for the way he played the big man position with extreme athleticsm. Amar'e was a six time all star, the 2003 NBA rookie of the year, and a four time All NBA second team canidiate.
13 Failed: Jonathan Bender
Jonathan Bender struggled to stay healthy during his career. The Raptors took him fifth overall in 1999. He was highly recruited because of his size, athleticism, and scoring abilities. Bender, like Robert Swift, had initially committed to attend college - Missisippi State.
Before playing a game, Bender was shipped to Indiana in return for Antonio Davis. He did very well in his debut. He scored 10 points, becoming the only player from high school to score double digits in the first game. Unfortunately, the Pacers signed him to a four year, $28.5 million contract in 2001. This proved to be a horrible mistake, as he was eventually noted as the 11th biggest bust in modern sports history by Sports Illustrated.
In his eight year career, he averaged 5.5 PPG, 11.7 minutes per game and 2.1 RPG. He was heavily hyped from Picayune Memorial High School, but obviously he was not ready to enter the NBA.
12 Succeeded: Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal is a South Carolinian. He considered the idea of going to college, but scored very low on his SAT. O'Neal thought it would make the most sense to go straight to the NBA, like Kevin Garnett had done the year before. In 1996, the Blazers selected him with the 17th overall pick. He proved to be a young prospect, needing some direction. In Portland, he averaged around 4 PPG every year and was not very relevant. His career took a turn when he went to the Pacers, and he would become an integral part of the team.
In 2004-05, with Indiana, he averaged 24.3 PPG - a drastically different number than his poor 4 PPG in 1996. While O'Neal had a successful career, many feel that college would have done him well and would have been a place for him to develop his game. By 2015, he had retired. O'Neal was a great big man who was tenacious in the post. He was selected to six all star games, and was the NBA's most improved player in 2002.
11 Failed: Andrew Bynum
Bynum began his career as a near dominant big man. With the Lakers, he did very well. He had his best season in 2011-12, averaging 18.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG. Bynum was then traded to the 76ers, but he did not play one game in Philadelphia. He was traded in a four team deal, moving Dwight Howard to Orlando and Andre Igoudala to the Nuggets. Unfortunately, Bynum suffered an injury in 2010. He did not play in 2011 or 2012 either, becoming almost irrelevant in the NBA. In 2013, the Cavaliers signed him. He was kicked out of practice on multiple occasions for being extremely selfish and always shooting the ball. Many NBA fans simply wonder: what the hell happened to Andrew Bynum? Did the spotlight get to him?
He retired from the game in 2013 at 25 years old. Bynum had a lot of potential, but he apparently did not take the NBA seriously and regretted being the center of attention on the Lakers.
10 Succeeded: Dwight Howard
Dwight "Superman" Howard is known for his presence down low, but also his legendary dunk contest appearances. Dwight has been a menace in the paint since his enterance to the league in 2004.
A Southwest Christian Academy alum, Howard was a very athletic high school player. He apparently could have played the guard position, and had a lot of ball handling skills. In his senior season, 2004, Howard would lead SW Christian Academy to the state championship game. In his senior year, he was recognized as the best high school basketball player in the country - someone who could go straight to the NBA. His idol, Kevin Garnett, had influences him (not directly) to forego college and enter the league. Howard was the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He decided to be number 12 because his idol, Kevin Garnett, was number 21 (reverse 12). Dwight would prove to be a reliable option down low for the Orlando roster, a player who can easily tower over defenders.
9 Failed: DeSagna Diop
Diop led Oak Hill Academy to a 33-0 season, averaging 14.5 points per game, 13.2 RPG, and 8.1 blocks per game. A player who was such a presence was expected to be a great NBA player, someone who could chase down players in the paint. In 2001, he was selected 8th overall straight from high school. Diop played in 193 games in four seasons with Cleveland, but averaged a poor 1.6 PPG and 0.8 BPG. Scouts wondered why his success was so limited on the professional level, but it was evident that he was too immature on the court. He lacked strength and speed.
Diop would retire in 2013 on the Bobcats. He then would decide to become a coach for the Jazz in 2016. Considering he speaks six languages, Diop seems to be a very intelligent guy. He has been helpful in the rebuilding process for the Jazz roster.
8 Succeeded: Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady was a versatile guard - a very athletic player. "T-mac" played basketball at Mount Zion Christian Academy, before entering the NBA Draft. He was an extremely highly scouted prospect and was named High School Player of the Year.
McGrady was taken ninth overall by Toronto in 1997. McGrady played very little in his first season and was very unhappy with living north of the border (initially). Though he average 7 PPG in his rookie season, he would begin to develop into a superstar by his fourth season. In 2000, with Orlando, McGrady averaged 26.8 PPG, and in 2002, he would average 32.1 PPG. Tracy was a great guard, an athlete who could post up taller defenders. McGrady would retire in 2013 as a seven time All Star and a two time All-NBA first team player. His best years were with the Magic and Rockets, in which he made the playoffs a combined six times.
7 Failed: Ndudi Ebi
Ebi attended Westbury Christian School. He initially decided to go to University of Arizona, but made himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft. Ebi was selected 26th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in 19 games in two seasons, proving to be physically unable to handle the pressure of the NBA. He was ineligible to compete in 2005 due to Development League contract issues. He was released by the team in 2005, and picked up by the Mavericks in 2006. Dallas released him after a couple of preseason games.
Now 32 years old, Ebi plays with Byblos Club. He has had success overseas, but obviously there is worse competition in the Italian circuit. Ebi was never ready for the intensity of the NBA and demonstrated this from his weak performance and instability to compete at a high level. If there is any consolation, he almost averaged 16 PPG with Basket Rimini Crabs in Italy in 2008.
6 Succeeded: Kevin Garnett
KG was an intense big man, who was thought of to have unbelievable potential. He attended Maulin High School in South Carolina. Garnett left the school after a racially charged incident and attended Farragut Career Academy in Chicago his senior year. He was named the National High School Player Of The Year according to USA Today, and led his team to a 28-2 record. Garnett actually was planning on attending college, but he was unable to score a sufficient score on the ACT. Therefore, he could not meet the NCAA requirement. He has noted that he would have went to University of Maryland, a school he thought would give him good experience. He declared for the 1995 NBA Draft.
In 1995, KG was selected fifth overall by the Timerwolves. He was the first player to go straight from 12th grade to the NBA since 1975. Garnett would prove to be an amazing big man, someone who would revolutionize the power forward position. In his best season, 2003-04, he averaged 24.2 PPG. He retired in 2015 as a 15 time NBA All Star.
5 Failed: Korleone Young
Young was selected 40th overall in 1998. The Wichita East High School player decided to skip out on college after his senior season. Korleone did not tell his coach about his plans. His coach said this about his decision.
"Normally, when a kid is thinking about something like this, you'll hear about it. But with Korleone, it was a total surprise," said coach Kevin Seats.
Young would only play three games by the end of 1999, and was constantly questioned for his horrible work ethic. He scored a total of 13 points by this time, a number earning him significant bench time. He played in the summer league with the 76ers, but was not mature enough to remain on the team. Young was one of David Stern's biggest arguments for raising the minimum NBA age, an example of the immaturity of younger athletes. In 2005, he played for Heilongjiang Zhaozhou Fengshen - this would be his last season ever playing basketball.
4 Succeeded: Kobe Bryant
"The Black Mamba" made an immediate impact in the NBA. After a stellar senior season at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, Bryant was set to go to the NBA. He has commented about his initial desire to attend University of North Carolina, but he eventually decided against it. Bryant was selected 13th overall in the 1996 NBA draft by the Hornets, but was then traded to the Lakers. The Hornets were not aware they were trading a hall of fame athlete and one of the best basketball players of all time to Los Angeles.
Kobe's most notable season was in 2005-06, in which he averaged a whopping 35.4 points per game. His career would prove to be one of intensity, and he would cement himself as the best player in the NBA along with LeBron James. He is a five time NBA champion, a two time NBA Finals MVP, and an 18 time All Star. He is probably the best shooting guard of all time, and probably one of the top five to ever play the game.
3 Failed: Sebastian Telfair
Sebastian Telfair was once on the cover of SLAM magazine alongside LeBron James, with the feature story of the mag being called "The Takeover". Telfair was a young prospect out of Brooklyn who was expected to take the NBA by storm. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School in the Surfside Gardens Projects and initially was expected to go to Louisville. He ultimately decided on making the jump to the NBA and was selected 13th overall in 2004 by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Telfair managed to play 10 years in the NBA, but kept bouncing around several teams, playing for nine teams in 10 seasons. In 2014 he left the NBA to play in China with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers and is now playing for the Fujian Sturgeons. Telfair has gone on record saying he'd like to return to the NBA.
2 Succeeded: LeBron James
LeBron James is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Straight from St. Vincent St. Mary's High School in Ohio, James stayed local with the Cavaliers. In his first season, LeBron would average 20.9 points per game. He was a lanky and athletic presence on the court, an athlete who fans knew would yield wins for his organization.
His accolades speak for themselves. James is a three time NBA champion, a three NBA Finals MVP and a 13 time All Star. James was obviously prepared for the intensity of the NBA, whereas many prospects simply could have benefited from a year or two of college. LeBron, along with Kobe Bryant, are the undoubtably best high school draftees to ever play in the NBA. They handled the spotlight accordingly and worked hard to get where they are now. This season, Lebron is in the MVP race once more, along with Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
1 Failed: Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown is often noted as the biggest bust in NBA history. After a very successful high school career in Georgia, he was noted as the best prospect in his class. Like many players who transitioned from high school to the NBA, he initially had decided to attend the University of Florida. He then declared for the 2001 NBA Draft, disregarding the idea of attending college. Apparently, in a workout before the draft, Brown told Collins that he wouldn't regret drafting him. Unfortunately for Doug Collins, he would regret taking him, more than any other player in Wizards history.
Brown averaged 4.5 PPG and 3.5 RPG in his rookie season. He floated around the NBA there on, eventually ending up with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2012-13 season. This would be his last season, in which he would average 1.9 points per game. Brown was unprepared for the NBA and the heightened competition. He was obviously overhyped and this is known by every person who initially said he was going to be a great player.