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.
Many used Young’s story as a go-to example of why allowing 18-year-olds to jump to the NBA wasn’t a good idea. He became the archetype for a high school athletic phenomenon that was given too much money too quickly. Jonathan Abrams’ Grantland feature on Young best explains Young’s fascinating story if you’d like to learn more about one of the most cited examples that killed the high school to NBA pipeline.
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.
Lang’s story is very sad, as he would suffer a back injury to start his career. The injury forced him to keep bouncing around the league as he tried to show that he deserved to be on the court. Beyond his short stint with Washington, he never stuck anywhere in the NBA, but did play a little in the D-League and overseas. In 2009, Lang suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, and obviously, ended any chances of him making a comeback.
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.
Ebi would only play 19 games over his two-year career, all of which was spent with the Timberwolves. He would finish his career with a total of 86 minutes played for a total of 40 points, 19 rebounds, and four assists. His lackluster play led to the Timberwolves trying to send him to the D-league, before ultimately releasing him in 2005.
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.
His debut wouldn’t actually happen until January 12th, 2002 when he played for the Atlanta Hawks. His career never really got on track after that either, with him only playing 14 games for the Hawks and one more for the Seattle SuperSonics two seasons later. His short career only ended up lasting a total of 104 minutes, where he scored a total of 33 points, 33 rebounds, and three assists.
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.
Swift is more well known for his activities after his professional career, which ended in 2009. In 2013, he refused to leave his foreclosed home after it was purchased. When he finally left the house it was littered with “ animal feces, guns, bullets, beer bottles, and garbage.” The next year, he was found living at the home of methamphetamine dealer with an illegal sawed-off shotgun. Just last year, he was charged with breaking into a home while high on drugs.
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.
Diop would have a long NBA career, though. He ended up playing in the NBA for a total of 12 years for four different teams. His most successful stop was in Dallas, where he earned the reputation as a defensive stopper. Still, Diop’s lack of offensive polish limited his playing time and counting stats. After a 13 year career, Diop checked in with a paltry career line of 2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 0.4 apg while only playing 14 minutes per game across 601 games.
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.
Sadly, injuries and inconsistent play limited Bender’s career. He would only end up playing seven seasons with the Pacers before retiring in 2006. He would attempt a short-lived comeback with the New York Knicks in 2009. In the end, his eight-year career would only last 262 games, with him only breaking 60 games in a season once. His final career split was a meager 5.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, and 0.6 apg.
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.
That isn’t exactly a bad thing compared to some of the names listed before him. People wanted to him to play for their team and he had an actual career. Sure, he was only 26 when his career ended, but he played in the NBA for nearly a decade. He might have been unimportant, but he did achieve the title that many NBA players yearn for: he became a veteran.
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.
Harding also might have served a grim warning about how volatile high school players can be after his trouble staying out of legal problems. He would spend time in jail and struggle with drug problems and allegedly would keep a gun in his bag. He also famously allegedly threatened to shoot his general manager on TV and a teammate in a separate incident. He was shot dead at a Detroit intersection in 1972.
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.
In 2001, Brown became the first ever high schooler to be selected first overall. His talent in high school was undeniable and it’s why the Washington Wizards selected him. He was never able to make good on his talent in his 12-year career. He would end up only averaging only 6.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 0.9 apg over his career. The legend around Brown is well-known, but he should really be remembered as one of the prime examples of why having high school players jumping to college is a bad idea. It’s hard to succeed in the NBA, for anyone, let alone someone that was playing with 17-year-olds months before.
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.
His career line isn’t anything to catch your eye, averaging 7.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, and 1.6 apg across 824 career games. His playing career isn’t anything to sneeze at, but it is not exactly something you’ll be telling your kids about it. Compared to some of the names above him, though, that’s not that bad.
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.
Outlaw would play for another four NBA teams; the Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, Sacramento Kings, and New York Knicks before retiring after the 2014 season. Outlaw would finish his NBA career averaging a modest 8.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and 0.8 apg.
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.
Webster spent the remainder of his career bouncing around teams before ultimately retiring in 2015 after another injury. He was also the source of a famous controversy between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers regarding his health and how much was disclosed between the two teams. When he finally called it quits, Webster sported a career line of 8.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, and 1 rpg.
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.
Miles only played in seven seasons and had to miss large chunks of his career because of injury issues. He would finish his career averaging 10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 1.9 apg for four different teams before succumbing to his injury woes.
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.
Wright had a productive NBA career, the majority of his value coming from his three-point shooting, as he sported an impressive 36 percent from behind the arc. His best season was in with the Golden State Warriors in 2010-11, which he averaged 16.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 3.0 apg en route to finishing third in Most Improved voting. The majority of his career was spent as either a role player or backup, and he finished his NBA career in 2015, with a career line of 8.4 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 1.5 apg.
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.
Perkins would be traded in 2011 to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he played for four seasons before being traded and waived. He had short stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans the past few years but had become a bit of a non-factor in the NBA. He hasn’t formally announced that he is retiring but is currently unsigned. His career line of 5.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 1 apg sells his career short, with most of his value coming from making point guards hate driving into the paint.
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.
The big man spent the majority of his NBA career with the Washington Wizards, where he served an effective role player off the bench. Blatche has decent touch around the basket, which played extremely well with second units. He would finish his career averaging 10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 1.4 apg. Blatche is still playing basketball but has been forced to play overseas in China for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.
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.
Telfair never panned out into the franchise point guard he was billed as, but was able to have moderate success around the NBA as a backup. He is currently playing overseas and his final career line of 7.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, and 3.5 apg isn’t exactly eye-popping, but is serviceable for a bench player. It also didn’t help that Telfair had legal troubles, once being cited for a robbery in 2006 and a handgun dispute in 2007.
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.
Green is slated to play for the Boston Celtics this season on a one-year contract. He sports a career line of 10 ppg, 2.5 apg, and 1.0 apg, with his best years coming with the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat. The springy wing player still has value in a bench unit and it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses him this season.
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.
His game has always been suited to come off the bench and provide a scoring a punch and his able to fulfill that need for the Pacers. Last season was one of his best, where he averaged 11.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, and 1 apg. The Pacers have been trying to transition into a more uptempo team and Miles figures to be a big part of that plan.
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.
Johnson’s stats don’t pop off the sheet. His career line is a paltry 7.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 1.1 apg. Those numbers though fail to highlight the power forwards full value, as he has been able to develop into a good defender that can switch between forwards and centers when his team needs him.
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.
Amazingly, Livingston persevered and came back in a big way in Brooklyn after bouncing around the league. He’s become a defensive savant and a quality bench player for the Warriors, where he won an NBA Championship and played a key role in setting an NBA record 73 wins last year. His career line, 6.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, and 3.4 apg, undersell his contributions on the court. He will continue his magical story this year as the Warriors attempt to make the NBA finals for the third year in a row.
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.
Curry also was a bit of a frustrating player, especially in New York. He often struggled to stay in shape, showing up overweight to camp on a regular basis. He was given a massive contract by the Knicks and many view it as a mistake. Still, his career line of 12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 0.5 apg allowed him to have a long and profitable career, even if he was a headache to coach or play with.
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.
He has always been a bit of a black hole on offense, evident by his career field goal percentage of 41 percent. Still, he’s had a relatively successful career and is currently preparing for this NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He has a career line of 12.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, and 2.9 apg.
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.
Playing with the Doctor J on the Sixers, Dawkins had a variety of chances to win a championship but never was able to. He would be traded away as the team tried to address their problem with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That ended his seven-year stint with Philly but kicked off another few productive years with New Jersey. He would finish his career averaging 12 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 1.3 apg. He died last year in August from a heart attack.
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.
He would end his career with a career line of 13.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 1.7 apg. While he may never have really popped off the screen when you watched him, Harrington had a good career. He was a useful contributor in most situations, especially with the Pacers when he helped get them to the NBA finals in 2000. You wonder if he could have been better with a year of college.
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.
Smith eventually left Atlanta after being given a mammoth contract with the Detroit Pistons. He never fit in with the Pistons and he continued to shoot threes for some weird reason. His best years were in Atlanta and before the NBA realized how important spacing and shooting is. He is a bit of dinosaur in that regard. Still, he was an above average power forward for five or six years and still possess value if used properly.
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.
Once again, Smith fell out of favor and became a bit of a punchline for his odd antics like untying opponents shoes at the free throw lines. He would be traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he flourished as an above average wing defender and great (although streaky) three point shooter. He would play a key role in the Cavs’ historic comeback against the Warriors. He has a career line of 13.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, and a very competent 37 percent three-point percentage.
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.”
Bynum was a monster center when he was healthy, made evident by his career line of 11.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, and nearly two blocks a game. He was selected to the All-Star game in 2012 and was held in such high regards in the NBA that he served as a key piece in the Dwight Howard trade. While his eight-year career may have sputtered after being traded, it doesn’t change the impact he had early on.
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.
Ellis has bounced around the league for the past few years. His value is still hard to pin down because he is an effective scorer, evident by his 18.7 ppg over his career, but he is a bit of a ball hog. He will be trying to offer some scoring punch the Indiana Pacers this season.
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.
Jefferson is currently gearing up for his 12th season in the NBA, now in a backup role for the Indiana Pacers. He still has his excellent post moves, which will be useful when he is trying to provide some scoring for a team’s second unit. He sports a career line of 16.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, and 1.5 apg. While he may have been better suited to play in the 70s and 80s, Jefferson has had a very impressive career.
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.
Lewis had a very productive career, playing 16 seasons, making two All-Star games, and winning a championship with the Miami Heat in 2013. Over more than 1,000 games, Lewis averaged 14.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 1.7 apg.
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.
The best version of Chandler came in Dallas, where he played a key role in winning a championship in 2011. Chandler’s career stat line of 8.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 0.9 apg may seem a little underwhelming but it fails to capture how much value his defense brought. His defense wasn’t unnoticed, as he was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year award three times. He is currently gearing up for his 16th NBA season with the Phoenix Suns.
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.
Eventually, O’Neal’s game would decline and he would be traded. He bounced around the NBA playing for different teams as a quality backup big. O’Neal did not play last year but has mentioned that he never formally retired. He sports a career line of 13.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, and 1.3 apg. He may eventually find a home this season.
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.
He was an offensive monster, averaging a career line of 18.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 1.2 apg. While people will note that those Suns teams never made a Finals appearance, don’t blame that on Stoudemire. In 52 games playoff games in Phoenix, Stoudemire averaged a jaw-dropping 24.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, and 1.0 apg. He announced his retirement after last season, his 14th, and the NBA won’t be the same without him.
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.
McGrady was also a gifted defender, who was able to leverage his athleticism into shutting down other wing players. Unfortunately, McGrady struggled to stay healthy, never once playing in all 82 games. That, his modest field goal percentage (he was a volume shooter, much like Kobe Bryant), and steep dropoff after his 2008-09 season are the only dings on an otherwise unassailable record. He sports a career line of 19.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 4.4 apg and will glide into the hall of fame when his time comes.
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.
The guy was an absolute monster defensively. He became the premier rim protector in the NBA, averaging more than two blocks a game six times in his career. He is also an elite rebounder, leading the league in rebounds in five different seasons. He won’t be mistaken as Hakeem Olajuwon offensively, but he understands his skills and is an efficient scorer as evident by his career 58 percent field goal percentage. His most impressive moment of his career was probably the 2009 playoff when he led a Magic team through the Big Three era Boston Celtics and LeBron’s best Cleveland Cavaliers (during his first stint with the team). He sports a career line of 17.8 ppg, 12.7 ppg, and 1.5 apg. He is currently prepping for his first season with the Atlanta Hawks.
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.
Garnett’s fire made him a fan favorite. He was an elite defender, with many teammates gushing about how much he made a defensive system work because of his ability to call out commands and have the team on a string. He has declined in his old age, but he still sports an impressive 17.8 ppg, 10 rpg, and 3.7 apg. He is in the twilight of his career, but he will always be remembered as one of the NBA’s greatest.
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.
He is one of the greatest scorers the NBA has ever seen. He finished his NBA career third in total points scored, with an otherworldly 33,643 points across his 20 seasons. He also has one of the single most impressive games in NBA history, when he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Injuries hampered his final few years of his career, yet Bryant still finished his career averaging 25 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 apg.
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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