When the Milwaukee Bucks selected Thon Maker with the 10th overall pick in the NBA Draft this year, they made history. Maker became the first player since 2005 to make the jump from high school basketball straight to the NBA and his move made waves. Maker became eligible for the draft after proving that he had graduated high school a year earlier, therefore fulfilling the NBA’s requirements to enter the draft. The book on Maker’s career is still unwritten and his future is unknown, but the peculiarity surrounding his draft status has gotten people talking about the checkered past of players that made the jump straight from high school to the pros.
Before Maker, a total of 40 high schoolers jumped straight from high school to play minutes in the NBA. Names like Shawn Kemp and Moses Malone won't be included on this list because while they were drafted after high school, they didn't make the direct jump to the NBA right away.
The apex of the prep-to-pro pipeline was in the late 90s and early 2000s. That stopped in 2005 when the NBA and the NBA Player’s Association came to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Contained within the agreement was language that outlined new rules for how players would enter the professional ranks. Players hoping to make the jump into the NBA would need to be at least 19 and be one year removed from college, which killed off the high school to NBA pipeline. The decision came under fire, as critics viewed it as a limiting a person’s earning ability. Defenders of the decision cited worried that players were too young and ill-equipped to handle life as a pro athlete.
The list of players to make the jump is littered with both successes and failures. For everyone first ballot hall-of-famer that came for high school, there is a player that played two seasons and averaged three points.
This column will examine 40 players that jumped from high school and played at least one minute in the NBA, from worst to best. The round and overall pick they were selected didn't factor into their rating. I’m looking at their career as a whole to create these rankings.
*Three additional players were drafted out of high school, but didn't play in the NBA. Satnam Singh, Ousmanne Cisse and Ricky Sanchez were all drafted out of high school, but none of them played in the NBA, so they won't be included on this list.
40 Korleone Young
In what would become of the most iconic examples of the perils that come with players making the jump from high school to college, Korleone Young was selected by the Pistons in 1998 draft with the 40th pick overall. Young’s career lasted four games, where he played a total of 15 minutes across three games. He finished his career with a total of 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. He was cut from the Pistons after an injury limited his relative effectiveness and he never caught on with another NBA team.
39 James Lang
Drafted with the 48th pick overall in the 2003 draft by the New Orleans Hornets, James Lang wouldn’t actually get a chance to play in the NBA until the 2006-07 season with he broke in with the Washington Wizards. Lang would only see a total of 55 minutes over 11 games with the Wizards over his career, finishing with a career total of 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 assists.
38 Ndudi Ebi
The Nigerian-born basketball phenomenon, Ndubi Ebi, was selected with the 26th pick in the 2003 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the Timberwolves' first first-round pick in three years after the Joe Smith debacle, so the franchise really needed him to be a success. The team didn’t want to continue wasting Kevin Garnett’s prime and they hoped the young wing player would be able to an asset, but like most of the moves the Timberwolves made around that time period, it didn’t work out.
37 Leon Smith
The Mavericks felt as though Leon Smith could become a contributor for them, which is why they traded two second round picks to the Spurs to attain the 25th pick of the 1999 draft and grab him. It didn’t work out well, with Smith being found passed out on the floor of his new home after overdosing on aspirin that summer. He would end up in a psychiatric ward and never actually played for the Mavericks.
36 Robert Swift
The majority of Robert Swift’s “fame” came from the off the court troubles. Taken with the 12th pick in 2004 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, Swift spent most of his early career in a backup role. When it finally seemed to be his time to step in for as the starting center, he injured his knee in the preseason. He would finish his career only playing in 97 games across four injury riddled seasons. He would end his short career with splits of 4.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and .3 apg.
35 DeSagana Diop
Originally from Senegal, DeSagana Diop was selected with the eighth pick in the 2001 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Diop was a massive human being, measuring in at 7'0 and 300 pounds. He would make his NBA debut that year and play sparingly as a backup for the Cavaliers. His career in Cleveland lasted for four years. He never averaged more than 13 minutes a game and 2.3 points a game.
34 Jonathan Bender
The first top 5 pick to grace the list, Jonathan Bender was selected with the fifth pick in the 1999 draft by the Toronto Raptors who would then trade him to the Indiana Pacers. Standing at 7'0 and with tons of athleticism, scouts savored at what Bender might become. The excitement reached critical mass when he became the first high schooler to ever score double digits in their NBA debut when he dropped 10 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
33 Bill Willoughby
When Bill Willoughby debuted in 1975, he became the second youngest player to ever play in an NBA game. The small forward was selected in the second round with the 19th pick overall (the first round was only 18 picks in 1975) by the Atlanta Hawks. Willoughby would play a rather forgettable eight seasons in the NBA for seven different teams. He only cracked 21 minutes per game once in his career and only averaged more than 7 points per game once. His final career splits over 488 games were 6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 0.8 apg. He was, for all intents and purposes, 'some dude' in the NBA. The very definition of a journeyman NBA player.
32 Reggie Harding
The original high school to pro player, Reggie Harding was selected in 4th round of the 1962 draft by the Detroit Pistons. He didn’t actually make his NBA debut until 1965 and would only play for four seasons. He seemed to be effective when he did play, averaging a modest 10.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 1.8 apg. While his stats may warrant him to be higher in these rankings, his short career hurts him.
31 Kwame Brown
In a podcast promoting his upcoming book, Jonathan Abrams talked about a depressing story regarding Kwame Brown and his decision to go pro. After reneging on his commitment to play for the University of Florida, Brown called head coach Billy Donovan to speak to him about the upcoming draft and all the fears he had about it. Sadly, he knew there was no way to back out of going pro because everyone was counting on him. Abrams says that Donovan knew that Brown simply wasn’t ready for the NBA and all its challenges. Donovan turned out to be correct because Brown was never able to capitalize on his immense talent.
30 DeShawn Stevenson
Selected with the 23rd pick in the 2000 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, DeShawn Stevenson had a long, albeit forgettable, NBA career. The young player spent four years in Utah before being traded to the Orlando Magic for a stint. He would then play for the Washington Wizards for another four years, before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks and bouncing around the league with short stints with the New Jersey Nets and Atlanta Hawks. He would retire after his season with the Hawks in 2013 after playing in the NBA for 13 seasons.
29 Travis Outlaw
Selected with the 23rd pick overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2003, Travis Outlaw played for a very respectable 11 years in the NBA. Outlaw played for the Blazers for the majority of his professional career, spending seven years as a tweener forward for them. While he never exactly popped off the screen, he did possess some athleticism and potential to grow, which was especially highlighted in his career high 36 point game against Golden State in 2007. He was never able to really turn into the player the Blazers had hoped for, though, resulting in the front office’s decision to trade him for Marcus Camby.
28 Martell Webster
Another promising career that was cut short by injuries, Martell Webster was selected 6th overall in 2005 by the Portland Trail Blazers. The hyper-athletic forward started off his career in the D-league, becoming the highest drafted player to start his career at that level. When he finally broke into the NBA, he played well and flashed the talent that made him a mouth watering prospect. Sadly, his career took a sharp turn south when he broke his foot five minutes into the 2008-09 season.
27 Darius Miles
Darius Miles has popped up recently in the news for the wrong reasons. It turns out the former third overall pick is bankrupt, which is even more disappointing considering he had a rather lucrative career, making a total of $62 million in his career. As a basketball player, Miles was a high-flying small forward for an interesting Clippers team early in his career. After the luster began to wear off, Miles was traded and began bouncing around the league with knee problems and overall attitude problems.
26 Dorell Wright
The sharp-shooting small forward, Dorell Wright was selected in 2004 by the Miami Heat with the 19th pick overall. He is the first player on our list to have been lucky enough to win a championship, as he recalled from the D-league and join the Heat’s roster for their 2006 championship. Wright would play in the NBA for a total of 11 seasons, the majority of those with the Miami Heat.
25 Kendrick Perkins
The first player to grace our list that is still playing in the NBA, Kendrick Perkins was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 27th pick in the 2003 NBA draft but was immediately traded to the Celtics. While watching Perkins play wasn’t exactly “pretty,” it was enjoyable, as he quickly assumed the role as the team’s “enforcer” and became a fan favorite. He would serve as the starting center for the NBA champion Celtics in 2008.
24 Andray Blatche
In one of the crazier summer stories, Andray Blatche was shot and missed training camp after being selected 49th overall in 2005 by the Washington Wizards. It’s impossible to know how much Blatch’s growth could’ve been stunted by the shooting, but he wouldn’t really make an impact in the NBA until 2007-08 season when he got to play in all 82 games.
23 Sebastian Telfair
A promising point guard prospect, Sebastian Telfair was selected with the 13th pick overall in 2004 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. If you’re a fan of the NBA, you’ve probably seen Telfair play on your team. He has been on eight different teams, with his longest stint being only three years with the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career only lasted 10 years, which makes his long resume even more impressive.
22 Gerald Green
Scouts compared Gerald Green to Tracy McGrady leading up to the 2005 NBA Draft, fueling draft pundits to speculate him going in the top five. That didn’t end up happening, as he would end up sliding all the way to 18th before being snatched up by the Boston Celtics. Green’s talent was never in question, as highlighted by his 2007 Slam Dunk Championship, but he was never able to really put it all together and become a consistent starter. Instead, he would bounce around the league as a bit of an enigma, with each teaming hoping to be the one to strike gold on Green’s talent.
21 C.J. Miles
This powerful wing player broke into the NBA at the early age of 18 after being drafted 34th overall in the 2005 draft. He is currently preparing for his 11th season, where he will be a role player for the Indiana Pacers. C.J. Miles started his NBA career with the Utah Jazz, where he spent seven seasons bouncing back and forth between the Jazz and their D-League affiliates. He spent two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers before finding a home in Indiana.
20 Amir Johnson
Selected by the Detroit Pistons with the 56th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Amir Johnson has parlayed his defensive savvy into a productive NBA career. He is currently enjoying a two-year, $24 million contract with the Boston Celtics. While his career hasn’t been extraordinary by any means, he has been a contributor for every team he has received playing time for. That is probably best exemplified by his play with the Toronto Raptors, where he and a young core helped revive the franchise into relevancy.
19 Shaun Livingston
After being selected 4th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Shaun Livingston saw his game begin to grow every year. The large point guard seemed to be developing into a real NBA starter before a horrific injury derailed everything. He tore his ACL, MCL, dislocated his patella, and much more. Doctors even told him they may need to amputate the leg. Many figured that image of him on the ground writhing in pain would be the last memory of Livingston.
18 Eddy Curry
An absolute bruiser, Eddy Curry would play in the NBA for 11 seasons after being selected 4th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. Make no mistakes, Curry’s game was made for the early 2000s. You could post him up, toss him the ball, and hope that he’d get a bucket, which happened more often than not when you look at his 54 percent career FG percentage.
17 Lou Williams
Drafted 45th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005, Lou Williams could do one thing extremely well. That was getting the ball to the basket. It was far from an all-around game, but the talent he had as a pure scorer was undeniable. This was probably never more evident than when he won Sixth Man of the Year for the Toronto Raptors after averaging nearly 16 points per game in 2014-15.
16 Darryl Dawkins
One of the most feared dunkers in the era, Darryl Dawkins was selected with the 5th pick in the 1975 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. The man known as “Chocolate Thunder” played above the rim, breaking the backboard on multiple occasions. Dawkins took a little while to become NBA ready, spending the first few seasons learning on the bench. When he finally started playing on a regular basis his high-flying athleticism made him a fan favorite.
15 Al Harrington
Selected with the 25th pick in 1998 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers, Al Harrington had a productive 16-year career in the NBA. The forward played for seven different NBA teams, his longest tenure being with Indiana, where he had two stints. Although it took a little while for him to break into the NBA, he was able to be a slightly above average player.
14 Josh Smith
One of the more polarizing figures in the NBA, Josh Smith began his career with the Atlanta Hawks after being taken 17th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. Smith was immediately given the chance to play and showed promise as he was named to the 2005 All-Rookie Second Team. He and the Hawks would have a few years of relative success, often making the first round of the playoffs before being bounced.
13 J.R. Smith
NBA fans welcome J.R. Smith into their hearts when he selected 18th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). He has had a...unique NBA career, to say the least. He didn’t last long with New Orleans, ending up in Denver. He would then fall out of favor and end up in China before a career resurgence with the New York Knicks. He flourished in his role on the frantic three point shooting Knicks team, being rewarded with the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2013.
12 Andrew Bynum
After being selected 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2005 NBA Draft, Andrew Bynum became the youngest player to ever play in the NBA. Bynum’s career would go far beyond this simple footnote, as he became a key contributor for a pair of championship Lakers teams. Bynum and his frontcourt partner, Pau Gasol, created a formidable front line that became known as the “Twin Towers.”
11 Monta Ellis
Much like Lou Williams, Monta Ellis was selected in the 2nd round in the 2005 NBA Draft. He went 40th overall to the Golden State Warriors and both have shown a penchant for scoring and not much more. Ellis evolved from a second-round pick into a legitimate number one scoring option with the Warriors, averaging more than 20 ppg multiple times. Still, Ellis’s tenure with the Warriors would be cut short when they decided to go all in on their pint-sized sniper from Davidson, Stephen Curry.
10 Al Jefferson
While his game may not fit into the current NBA, Al Jefferson is a very successful pro to prep players you’ll find. Jefferson was selected 15th overall in the 2004 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. After a few rocky years to start his career, Jefferson finally arrived and began to unveil his impressive repertoire of post moves. While injuries and general athleticism limited Jefferson’s defensive ability, there was no doubting his ability to score.
9 Rashard Lewis
Taken with the 32nd pick in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, Rashard Lewis quickly grew into one of the NBA’s best shooting forwards. Lewis is the kind of player that would be commanding mountains of cash in today’s NBA. He is able to switch and defend a variety of wing players and converted threes at a clip of 38 percent. He is still the Sonics' all-time leader in made threes, with 973 made while wearing the green and gold. He was the archetype of the three-and-D wing player that teams covet today.
8 Tyson Chandler
The second overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Tyson Chandler began his career with the Chicago Bulls after a draft day trade. Chandler was meant to be paired with Eddy Curry to form a fearsome high school to pro front court. The two both had relative success, but Chandler’s defensive ability made the Bulls choose him they had to decide which young big man they wanted to keep.
7 Jermaine O'Neal
Selected with the 17th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, Jermaine O’Neal’s career started slowly. He would play sparingly across his first four seasons before being traded to the Indiana Pacers. It was with the Pacers that O’Neal exploded, being named to the All-Star game for six straight seasons. During this run, O’Neal averaged 20.6 ppg and 9.7 rpg and was regarded as one of the game’s premier centers.
6 Amar’e Stoudemire
One of the NBA’s best scoring big man, Amar’e Stoudemire was selected with the 9th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. The uber-athletic big man became a staple of ESPN highlight reels in the mid-2000s as Steve Nash’s high-flying sidekick. Stoudemire’s career, almost predictably, would be derailed by injuries, the majority of which coming in his knee and ruining his transcendent athleticism. Still, in his prime, Stoudemire was one of the league's best. He was selected to six All-Star Games, five All-NBA teams, and was the 2003 Rookie of the Year.
5 Tracy McGrady
Selected with the 9th pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, McGrady became his generation's Kevin Durant. The 6’8 wing player could score at will, and quickly became one of the most popular players in the NBA. He would be selected to the All-Star game and All-NBA team seven times in his career. He also led the league in scoring twice, once in the 2002-03 season when he scored a ludicrous 32.1 ppg and in the 2003-04 season after averaging 28 ppg.
4 Dwight Howard
Possibly the most dominant big man since Shaq, Dwight Howard was selected first overall in 2004 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. It didn’t take long for Howard to make an immediate impact with the Magic, as he averaged a double-double in his rookie season. That became a trend, as he has averaged a double-double for every year in his career thus far. He has been selected to the All-Star and All-NBA teams eight times and is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
3 Kevin Garnett
A lot was made of Kevin Garnett being selected with the 5th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the first player to be selected right out of high school in 20 years and people wondered if it was a good idea. It turned out to be fine, as the Timberwolves benefited from having one of the greatest big men in NBA history. Garnett was named to 15 All-Star games and 9 All-NBA teams. He was also given the NBA’s highest individual honor, the MVP award, for his ridiculous 2003-2004 season where he averaged 24.2 ppg, 13.9 rpg, and 5 apg. He would also win a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
2 Kobe Bryant
Selected with the 13th pick in 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, Kobe Bryant decided he didn’t want to play for them and forced a trade to Los Angeles Lakers. The rest is pretty much history, as Bryant became the best shooting guard in NBA history whose last name wasn’t Jordan. He was named to the All-Star game 18 times, the All-NBA team 15 times, and was awarded the league MVP in the 2007-08 season. He has also won five NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards.
1 LeBron James
The best player on earth right now was originally selected first overall in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. James had become a household name before the draft because he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was anointed the chosen one. The expectations for James were unfairly high, but he somehow lived up to every single one. He has won the league MVP four times, been named to the All-Star and All-NBA team 12 times, and won three NBA championships and three Final’s MVPs.
James is literally Atlas from Greek mythology. He has never suffered a major injury and sports an ungodly career line of 27.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 6.9 apg. He is the greatest forward to ever play the game and is easily one of the five best players in NBA history. He has been to six straight NBA finals, which hasn’t been since the Bill Russell Era in the 1960s. Watching James has been an absolute treat and he is still only 31. Who knows what the future holds for James, but he is without a doubt the best player to ever come straight from high school.
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