One of the biggest concerns in the NBA right now involves the rule that players must spend one year in college after high school before entering the draft. Many athletes and pundits believe this is a horrible rule given the fact that the 18-year-old age means you’re an adult and should be able to make your own choices. The rule is in place because some people in the NBA don’t believe players should enter the league that young without getting at least a year of experience playing in college. History has shown that not everyone needs college to become a great NBA superstar. Quite a few NBA all-time greats came into the league right out of high school. These players had a combination of incredible talent and the right mindset needed to succeed in such a difficult situation.
Other players failed in heartbreaking fashion when joining the NBA before they were ready for such a challenge. These basketball prospects could have been bigger stars if spending a year or two in college to develop their game. Both stories of success and failure show just how different life in the NBA can turn out when coming straight out of high school. The idea of a teenager going against grown men with years of experience is intimidating for anyone entering the league. Find out which players thrived the most and which failed to step up against the pressure. These are ten NBA stars that were right to skip college and another ten that should have stayed in school.
20 Right decision: Tyson Chandler
Not many fans would have guessed that Tyson Chandler was one of the players to skip college when looking back at his career. The maturity and basketball intelligence of Chandler grew throughout his career. Chandler struggled during his first few seasons but took it all as a learning experience.
The high point of Chandler’s career came when he was the starting center for the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. Chandler developed a reputation for being one of the best defensive players over the past decade. His career is still going as a locker room leader for the Phoenix Suns. Chandler didn’t need college to have a great career.
19 Wrong decision: Gerald Green
Gerald Green is a successful NBA role player, but he could have been so much more. Houston Rockets fans saw Green reach the peak of his career playing for the contender last season. Green has bounced around the league for many teams struggling to find a home.
The decision to skip college may have been a mistake when looking back at his overall potential. Green’s athleticism and overall talent could have seen him become a bigger star if he spent a year or two maturing in college. The career of Green could be remembered differently if he didn’t decide to jump to the NBA before he was ready.
18 Right decision: Andrew Bynum
The news of Andrew Bynum planning an NBA comeback isn’t too crazy given he’s only 30-years-old. Bynum made history as the youngest person to play a game in the NBA just six days after his 18th birthday. The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Bynum to be the unofficial replacement once Shaquille O’Neal left.
Bynum had a few great seasons showing his skill set. The big man was an important part to the Lakers winning the 2009 and 2010 NBA Championships. Bynum was on pace to become a superstar until injury issues ruined his career. The success while healthy allowed him to have a strong career and proved he didn’t need college.
17 Wrong decision: Robert Swift
Robert Swift made a bold decision that ended up hurting his career. The decision as a top prospect saw him go back on his word of committing to USC to attend college and play there following high school. Swift wanted to go straight to the NBA for the instant money and chance to prove his skills against the top players in the sport.
The Seattle SuperSonics drafted Swift in the first round of the 2004 Draft, and he was instantly a bust. Swift’s best season saw him average a terrible 6.4 points per game. A combination of lackluster play and injuries saw his NBA career end in five years. The average fan doesn’t even know who Swift is when asked about him today.
16 Right decision: Jermaine O'Neal
The career of Jermaine O'Neal is remembered for being one of the best big men of the 2000s in the NBA. O’Neal was drafted right out of high school by the Portland Trail Blazers due to his impressive talent. Unfortunately, Portland didn’t give him any playing time due to the veteran team looking to contend for a title and not wanting to develop a young prospect.
O’Neal was traded to the Indiana Pacers and instantly showed his talent. The Pacers became a contender in the East with O’Neal as the best player on the team. Indiana could never get to the NBA Finals, but O’Neal made them a relevant franchise towards the end of Reggie Miller’s run.
15 Wrong decision: Josh Smith
Josh Smith had a short run of great play in the NBA during his time on the Atlanta Hawks. The potential of Smith could have seen him become a superstar, but he was never able to reach that status. Smith struggled in a lot of the fundamentals such as hitting his free throws or making the right pass at the right time.
Things would get tough for Smith following the end of his run in Atlanta. Smith did have one good playoff run with the Houston Rockets, but nothing else would work out his way. It was a surprise to see how fast he fell out of the NBA. Smith is one player that should have learned more in college before coming to the NBA.
14 Right decision: Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis was among the most underrated players of the 2000s. Seattle SuperSonics and Orlando Magic fans saw the best of Lewis’ career. Two All-Star appearances and three seasons of 20+ points per game averages allowed him to ball out.
Lewis was arguably the second most important player for the 2009 Magic team that made the NBA Finals. It all proved that he was ready for the NBA when entering the league right out of high school. Lewis could not dominate as long as other NBA greats, but his career was clearly a success.
13 Wrong decision: Andray Blatche
The talent of Andray Blatche made Washington Wizards management believe they had their superstar center of the future. Blatche joined the NBA right out of high school and did show signs of developing. Washington signed him to a huge contract after a breakout season to bank on his future.
Sadly, Blatche fell apart right after getting the contract with a lot of maturity issues. The antics of Blatche and his diminishing play led to him becoming one of the most hated players in Wizards history. Blatche lost his spot in the NBA in relatively fast fashion and probably could have used the time in college to mature.
12 Right decision: Dwight Howard
The career of Dwight Howard is one of the more fascinating stories on this list when it comes to deciding if he made the right decision. An argument can be made that his immaturity held Howard back from reaching his true potential as a possible legend.
Howard does deserve credit for dominating the NBA for the first five-to-seven years of his career. Orlando Magic witnessed Howard play superb basketball at both sides of the court. A total of eight All-Star appearances and five All-NBA first team appearances proves his career was a success. Howard made the right call going straight to the NBA.
11 Wrong decision: Eddy Curry
Eddy Curry had the nickname of “Baby Shaq” entering the NBA out of high school due to his dominating playing style. The hype convinced Curry that skipping college to enter the NBA was the right move for his career. Curry would selected by the Chicago Bulls with high hopes to develop into a superstar.
The career of Curry would only see him have one standout season with the New York Knicks. Things fell apart the following season with Curry returning to mediocrity. Curry could not prove he belonged at the NBA level and eventually fell out of the league. College could have helped him work out the kinks in his game before making the jump.
10 Right decision: Amar'e Stoudemire
The combination of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire changed the Phoenix Suns and the NBA together. All three players thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. Nash and Stoudemire provided fits for opposing defenses in their pick and roll plays.
Stoudemire developed a reputation for being one of the top power forwards in the league for quite a few years. Injuries were the only thing to slow him down following a move from Phoenix to the New York Knicks. Stoudemire making the jump from high school to the NBA was right move. He played great basketball at his peak and could still be in the league if not for injuries.
9 Wrong decision: Shaun Livingston
NBA fans today know Shaun Livingston for his role as an impressive member of the Golden State Warriors bench. Livingston has played an important role on the team and helped contribute to all three NBA Championship wins over the past four seasons.
It is forgotten that Livingston once had the potential to become a superstar. The Los Angeles Clippers drafted him out of high school with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 Draft. Livingston struggled in his first few seasons before getting a career-changing knee injury. While it is impossible to say the injury wouldn’t have happened to him anyway, his overall game would have been better served developing in college.
8 Right decision: Tracy McGrady
The talent level of Tracy McGrady was incredible during his run in the NBA. McGrady took a huge risk skipping college to declare for the NBA Draft. The Toronto Raptors was the franchise to take the chance on him, and he got to play alongside his cousin Vince Carter.
McGrady decided to leave Toronto for more playing time on the Orlando Magic and instantly became a superstar. The dominance of McGrady made him the top offensive player in the league at his peak. Injuries hurt the end of his career, but McGrady dominated when healthy. College was not needed for T-Mac to thrive in the NBA.
7 Wrong decision: Jonathan Bender
The Indiana Pacers selected Jonathan Bender with the fifth overall pick in the 1999 Draft hoping he’d lead them into the future. Indiana struggled to get over the hump and win an NBA Championship in the Reggie Miller. The hope was that a young prospect like Bender would develop in time to be a second star during Miller’s last years in the league.
Things fell apart for Bender with minimal playing time. Bender never averaged more than 7.4 points in a single season and dealt with terrible knee injuries. Any player coming out of high school that fails to make an impact would have been better suited playing in college for at least one season. Bender likely regrets not giving himself the best chance to succeed in the NBA.
6 Right decision: Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is remembered fondly as one of the best power forwards over the past two decades. The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Garnett out of high school and he instantly became the face of their franchise. Garnett won an MVP Award and made an outstanding 15 All-Star appearances.
Most fans remember Garnett for his great run with the Boston Celtics leading them to the 2008 NBA Championship, including an iconic “anything is possible” speech. Garnett was ready for the NBA from day one and thrived to have a legendary career. It is obvious that he would not have improved any more in college.
5 Wrong decision: Kwame Brown
No NBA list about players to regretfully skip college for the NBA is complete without Kwame Brown. The high-profile selection featured Michael Jordan selecting Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 Draft to join the Washington Wizards.
Brown instantly fell apart due to the pressure being too much for him to handle at a teenage age. He wasn’t prepared for the level of competition ready to come after him, especially Jordan trashing him in practice. To his credit, Brown did remain in the league for quite a few years, but his career is still remembered as a huge flop.
4 Right decision: Kobe Bryant
The Los Angeles Lakers have pulled off some of the all-time best moves in NBA history to make them a flagship franchise. One of the decisions saw them take Kobe Bryant out of high school in the 1996 Draft. Bryant ended up becoming one of the top players of all-time.
Not only did Kobe have a great career, but he developed a special bond with the Lakers fans and organization. Bryant played every game of his career for Los Angeles and retired as arguably the best player in franchise history. Any doubts about him skipping college is laughable today looking back at his career.
3 Wrong decision: Sebastian Telfair
Sebastian Telfair was once one of the top prospects in high school basketball history. The success from Telfair in Brooklyn saw him get on the NBA radar as a potential lottery pick. Telfair even was able to don the front cover of Sports Illustrated during his high school years.
All these factors convinced him to skip college and enter the NBA Draft. The Portland Trail Blazers took a chance on Telfair, but it never worked out. Telfair’s career high average was 9.8 points per game making minimal impact on any team he played for. College basketball could have helped prepare him for a better NBA career.
2 Right decision: LeBron James
The greatest example of an NBA player succeeding without college is LeBron James. Cleveland Cavaliers fans literally hit the lottery when Cleveland won the draft lottery to select James with the top overall pick in the 2003 Draft. LeBron instantly dominated and led them to relevance.
The career of James has seen him already enter the conversation for the greatest NBA player of all time with the general belief being he deserves to be in the top five at the very least. LeBron has 14 All-Star appearances, 4 MVP Awards and 3 NBA Championships. All those numbers are expected to rise as he’s still the active best player in the world. King James clearly did not need college become a basketball icon and cultural phenomenon.
1 Wrong decision: Darius Miles
The career of Darius Miles featured one of the biggest wastes of potential in NBA history. Miles had everything needed to thrive in the NBA when it came to his talent. The athleticism, shooting and ability to score made Miles look like a can’t miss prospect when entering the NBA out of high school.
Los Angeles Clippers management selected Miles with the third overall pick in the 2000 Draft. Miles even had the faith from movie studios to land roles in Van Wilder and The Perfect Score early in his career. Unfortunately, the lack of success on the basketball court ruined everything. Mediocre play saw Miles’ NBA career end faster than expected. This is one case when playing against better talent in college could have helped Miles out before joining the NBA.