One of the biggest debates going on in NBA circles is whether players should be allowed to leave for the league straight after high school. The argument before was that for every LeBron James, there would be a Kwame Brown. Yes, there were certain players who were bound to be superstars in the NBA no matter what but that wasn’t worth affecting some lives of players that weren’t ready for the jump.
To be clear and to end that argument immediately, this rule was never made for the concern of the players. It was always something that NBA teams wanted because they were continuously misevaluating high school talent. Players going to college gives organizations a better opportunity to scout whom they want with that year under a college coach. Since the rule requiring players to be one year removed from high school went into effect, teams are drafting a lot fewer busts in the draft. There will still be some occasional players who don’t reach their potential like Anthony Bennett, but in those cases, most teams thought that was the wrong move in the first place.
This still has to make people wonder whether some of the players in the NBA now would have been better suited simply making the jump to the NBA right out of high school. There have been other phenoms since LeBron James whose stock would have been helped by skipping college and it’s hard to tell what they really got out of the one year. On the other hand, the players that left early still have a strong legacy which is affecting those who want to skip college now. Here is the list of 10 players who could have joined the NBA out of high school and 10 who should have just gone to college instead.
20 Could've Skipped: Ben Simmons
It was clear that Ben Simmons had the talent to become an NBA player when he was only 18 years old.
Even though Simmons was born in Australia it was obvious to everyone paying attention that he could have skipped college and gone straight to the NBA.
It looked worse when Simmons didn’t give much of an effort to score at LSU. Often, he seemed bored with the game itself and with being forced to play with such inferior talent. That showed in 2017-18 when Simmons won Rookie of the Year and averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, which are incredible numbers already.
19 Shouldn’t Have Skipped: Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche was clearly a dominant player in high school. The issue with his school was that he was enrolled in Henniger High School in Syracuse, New York. Blatche decided to use the extra year to try and show off his talent at South Kent School and the results were much better. He performed so well that he was considered the second best power forward in the nation and the fourth best high school player in 2004.
Blatche decided not to refine his skills in college and became eligible for the draft. After going in the second round of the draft, Blatche did play for eight seasons but only averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds in his career, never reaching his full potential.
18 Could've Skipped: Andrew Wiggins
From the age of 17, people were calling the Canadian-born Andrew Wiggins the next LeBron James. Of course, he wasn’t the first in the long line of players to have this title but Wiggins was perhaps the most hyped from such a young age. It got to the point that Wiggins was determined the first pick in the draft before even playing at Kansas. Even after a year in which he didn’t perform very well, Wiggins was selected with the first pick and then traded to the Timberwolves. He did average 23 points a game in 2016-17, but he has never reached the incredibly high standard of being the next great player.
17 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Dorell Wright
Dorell Wright was another player who had performed great in a small high school, but not enough people noticed him. At Leuzinger High School, Wright didn’t get recognition in his Junior and Senior years, so he also enrolled at South Kent School. Wright had a great year averaging 29 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks per game.
He was the fourth-ranked small forward and 12th overall player in the 2004 high school class.
Wright went to the pros and was selected 19th overall by the Heat. But he never reached his immense potential, only averaging double figures twice in his career.
16 Could've Skipped: Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is one of these cases where going to college has actually hurt the player’s draft stock. Barnes was another version of Wiggins, a player that people thought had the perfect height and athletic ability to undoubtedly be a star in the NBA. However, after one year in college, the luster on what Barnes could do quickly wore off and he dropped to the seventh pick in the NBA Draft.
In this case, college helped NBA teams correctly evaluate what Barnes would become down the road and he’s been good, but has never been a great player in the league.
15 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Sebastian Telfair
The story of Sebastian Telfair is one that can explain both ends of the preps-to-pros argument. On one end people who say that all players should go to college point to Telfair. He was a five-star recruit and was enrolled to play at Louisville where he would have learned to play point guard from Rick Pitino, who is, and was a great coach. Yes, he was drafted with the 13th overall pick in the draft but the added experience could have made him better. Still, Telfair only went into the NBA because there was a shooting at the apartment where he family lived. Telfair had to make a tough life decision and grow up quickly to provide for them, so he didn’t reach his potential for that reason.
14 Could've Skipped: Kevin Durant
Whenever people first saw Kevin Durant play, they all admitted there was nothing else like it. He was the second-best player in the 2007 college recruitment class, but that is only because most people still believed that you should start off the franchise with a big man. Either way, Durant could have jumped right into the NBA as opposed to waiting the year in college.
In his first year in the NBA, KD averaged 20 points a game and has never scored under 25 points a game after turning 20.
He would've been a surefire Hall of Fame player regardless of when he decided to declare for the draft.
13 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Robert Swift
Robert Swift is a situation in which it is unclear if he should have gone to college to hone his skill and abilities, or if he made out like a bandit entering the NBA and getting the money he could. In high school, Swift did manage to get a school called Garces Memorial into the top 25 rankings, which was remarkable. He was a five-star recruit and was going to head to USC but as his stock continued to rise, going into the NBA seemed to be the right move.
Swift was picked with the 12th overall pick in the draft but that was the highlight of his career. Swift only played four years in the NBA and averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds per game before going to the D-League.
12 Could've Skipped: Blake Griffin
From early on in his freshman year with Oklahoma, it was clear that Blake Griffin would be the first pick in the draft. People did want to see if the legends were true but Griffin, who was a good as the four straight high school titles would suggest, ended up being a star at Oklahoma. What caught everyone off guard was the athleticism that he had which no one else could match.
Griffin was tremendous at just being bigger and stronger than other kids and looked like a grown man at 17. He had a great peak, but as attrition has worn down, maybe the extra year in the NBA would have been nice for his career.
11 Shouldn't Have Skipped: James Lang
James Lang is the ultimate cautionary tale of leaving early to go into the draft. Lang performed well in high school and believed that he had the ability to play in the NBA.
He was 6’9" but didn’t have the athleticism to really play in the league unless his skills were refined.
Of course, by leaving early, Lang never had the chance to really develop in college. As a result, Lang was picked in the second round by the New Orleans Hornets and quickly cut. Ultimately, Lang ended up playing 11 games with the Wizards in 2007. It was a sad way for a career to end.
10 Could've Skipped: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony’s draft stock rose incredibly after his freshman season at Syracuse. There was no question that he would be a fit in the NBA with his big scoring ability and his mix of height, quickness, and shooting. Anthony reminded many people of Bernard King with the bonus of being a leader. But most people already considered that he would be the next prep-to-pro player to join the league. Instead, Anthony showed the new way of the one-and-done college player which we see today. Whether he went to college for the one year or not, Anthony would have been the same player you see now and heading into the Hall of Fame.
9 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings was the first player since the NBA created the one-and-done rule that found a way to break those rules and not go to college. Jennings was a monster in high school when he transferred to Oak Hill Academy and managed to set records his senior season.
As the number one ranked player out of high school Jennings could have gone to any college he wanted but instead opted to play overseas so that he could make money.
After a year in Italy, Jennings entered the draft but wasn’t picked until no.10. In the first six years of his career, Jennings averaged more than 15 points a game but has since fallen off. Maybe a year in college would've helped him learn how to manage longevity and would've given him a higher spot in the draft.
8 Could've Skipped: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins has been one of the most dominant forces in the NBA as a big man. Up until his recent Achilles injury, Cousins made consistent All-Star teams and routinely put up incredible numbers, like the 27 points, 11 rebounds and 4.8 assists he averaged in 2016.
But this is always the way it was going to be for Boogie, even when he was in high school. Cousins was clearly the number one player leaving high school before the college season but dropped down to the 5th pick after his one year in Kentucky. This is a reason why.
7 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Emmanuel Mudiay
The Brandon Jennings tactic, as explained earlier, didn't work, because not many players have followed his lead. Emmanuel Mudiay was one of the U.S. high school talents who decided to play overseas as well, going to China after having a great high school career. Mudiay was considered by most to be the second-best prospect of the 2014 draft class and a possible number one pick in the 2015 draft. But after injuries took over when Mudiay went to China he dropped to seventh in the draft. Mudiay has been OK in three years averaging 10 points a game in his career, but playing for Larry Brown at SMU could have helped him make the transition to the NBA easier.
6 Could've Skipped: John Wall
While DeMarcus Cousins was busy being one of the best players on the high school circuit as a big man, Wall was doing the same thing in the backcourt. He became known after scoring 28 points against a high school team which had future lottery pick Brandon Jennings on it, at the age of 16.
It was clear that Wall and Cousins were the two best players in the country when they both signed on to play at Kentucky.
Wall got the benefit of Cousins being blamed for the team not reaching expectations and as a result, got picked first overall in the draft. Still, that year was wasted in terms of development because we know the Kentucky way.
5 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Ndudi Ebi
Ndudi Ebi is another example of why not going to college could completely derail someone’s chances in the NBA. The 6’9" forward from Nigeria came over to the States to play high school basketball in Texas. Still, his high school career was good enough that the Timberwolves decided to take a flyer on the big man with the 26th pick of the 2003 NBA Draft. It didn’t work out well for either side as Ebi only played in 19 games as a pro in two seasons with the Timberwolves before being released for the immortal Ronald Dupree. In college, Ebi could have fulfilled his potential and become a very talented big man instead of playing overseas after just two years.
4 Could've Skipped: Anthony Davis
This is one of the tougher ones to put on this side because of the circumstances. Anthony Davis has the incredible story of having a huge growth spurt in high school, which no one saw coming. Davis also got catapulted up to the first overall pick partially because of what he accomplished in that one year of college. In 2011, Davis led a Kentucky team which wasn’t supposed to accomplish much to the NCAA championship.
All the books were already out on Anthony Davis. This wasn’t a Russell Westbrook surprise high school recruit by the time the numbers were in. Davis was the top-ranked player by most scouting sites and could have had the same success without stopping at Kentucky.
3 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Martell Webster
Martell Webster is a player whose hype started to take off so much that you can’t really blame him for going to the pros early. Webster was a great prospect when he was entering the college class of 2005 but not on the level of players like Kyrie Irving or Anthony Davis.
Webster was fifth in the recruiting class but the fourth best shooting guard in the country, beating players like Gerald Green, Monta Ellis, and Lou Williams.
Still, when the time came, Webster seemed like the perfect shooting guard for the new NBA and he was picked sixth overall in the draft for the Trail Blazers. Webster never reached those expectations, never averaging more than 12 points per game in a season.
2 Could've Skipped: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving was a player that people were ecstatic to see in college. Irving put up amazing numbers in high school and was clearly going to be an NBA superstar. He was second on most boards for the high school recruiting class of 2010. Then when he signed on to play with the defending champion Duke Blue Devils, it looked to be a sure repeat. That didn’t happen because Irving was hurt in the ninth game of the season. Even despite that, Irving was picked first in the draft by the Cavaliers and had a great start to his career even though he didn’t play much in college at all.
1 Shouldn't Have Skipped: Kwame Brown
You can hear the sound in your head right now. KWA-MAY BROWN in Stephen A. Smith’s voice because it has to be slowed down and in all capitals. Brown was considered the best player in a high school class which included Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry as big men but there wasn’t much debate. Brown seemed to have everything it took to be a great center with his 6’11 height, athleticism and great ability to score in the post. He looked so good that the Wizards, at this point run by Michael Jordan, took him with the first overall pick in 2001 straight out of high school.
It’s tough to argue against someone skipping college to be the first pick in the draft, but Brown simply needed more time to develop. Brown played in the NBA for 13 years but was seen as an example of why players shouldn’t leave and go straight to the draft. It’s not Brown’s fault that he grew up in this era, but if it happened again, he would probably go to college.