The NBA made a drastic change in their eligibility requirements back in 2005. That year the NBA and the NBA Players Union agreed to institute a new rule requiring any players entering the NBA to be at least nineteen years old, and one calendar year removed from high school. Prior to 2005 players were free to enter the NBA draft as soon as they were finished with their high school career.
Throughout the 70 years that the NBA has been in existence, there have been a total of 44 players drafted into the league straight out of high school. The first player to do so was Reggie Harding back in 1962. Harding's career didn't amount to much, and his story made many teams shy away from drafting high schoolers. It wasn't until Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby in 1975 that another high schooler was drafted. Again, neither of those players changed the landscape of the league, although they both did have respectable careers.
In 1995 Kevin Garnett changed the perception of what a high school player could do in the NBA. He entered the league with the physical tools needed to make an impact immediately. Once Garnett set the precedent, the flood gates opened and between 1995 and 2005 there were 41 high school players drafted. Obviously not all 41 of these players turned out like Kevin Garnett, but today we will rank the top 20, and we will take a look at what they are up to today.
20 Thon Maker
Thon is an interesting entry as he was drafted in the 2016 draft. You may be wondering how he could have been drafted out of high school with the eligibility rule in place. Maker was able to convince the NBA that he finished high school in 2015 but stayed for an extra year, which was referred to as a "post graduate" year. He was successful in convincing the league of that, thus becoming eligible for the 2016 NBA draft.
Once he received his eligibility he immediately became a high level prospect, with many teams debating his true potential. Ultimately he was drafted 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. He began this season as a bench player, but due to his solid play and some injuries, he is currently in the starting rotation in Milwaukee.
19 Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins was one of five players taken out of high school back in 2003. He was the 27th pick in the first round, a selection made by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies drafted Perkins, then immediately traded him to the Boston Celtics. Perkins would ultimately help anchor a championship defense with the Celtics along side Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo.
Since leaving Boston, Perkins has been bouncing around the league. He has had trouble sticking with a team, it appears he has become a bench player who is used primarily for inflicting punishment on opposing teams in an attempt at discouraging them from bringing the ball to the basket. Kendrick spent last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and is currently a free agent looking to latch on to a team in the playoff hunt.
18 Andrew Bynum
Back in 2009 Andrew Bynum was expected to become an NBA superstar, and potentially become the best big man in the game. Bynum established himself as a bright spot in the league when he was with the Lakers, as he played the role of center during the Lakers' last two NBA titles. It started to become clear that he didn't have the mental skill set to ascend to the heights many believed possible for him.
Once he moved on from the Lakers, he was never quite the same. Perhaps it was the presence of Kobe Bryant that kept him in check, but once he was out of LA he seemed to become more Hollywood than he was while actually being in Hollywood. He began dying his hair different colors, al a Dennis Rodman, except Bynum was often injured, and never had the talent of The Worm. After being released by the Indiana Pacers, Bynum is currently spotted at NBA games, still as off the wall as ever. It seems he is enjoying his early retirement to the fullest.
17 Josh Smith
Josh Smith was drafted 17th overall in 2004 by the Atlanta Hawks. He proved to be worth a first round pick for the Hawks as he averaged double digit points in all but one of his nine seasons there. He was know for his incredible dunking abilities as a youngster, even winning the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
As his career hit its twilight he began to jump from team to team looking to be the missing piece for a championship. He was unable to fill that role, and his last time playing in the NBA came in 2016 with the Houston Rockets. He is currently playing professionally in China, and it appears he still has a bit left in the tank. Perhaps he has plans on an attempted return to the NBA next season? We shall see.
16 Darryl Dawkins
Darryl Dawkins was one of the pioneers of the high school to pro phenomenon. He played fourteen seasons in the NBA, most famously with the Philadelphia 76ers who drafted him 5th overall in 1975. During the 1979-80 season, Dawkins was a vital piece for a Sixers team who made it to the NBA Finals, only to come up short to the Los Angeles Lakers.
After his fourteen years in the NBA Dawkins spent eleven years playing professionally around the world, including a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. In 2000 he finally called it quits as a player, but he stayed involved with the NBA as a Slam Dunk Contest judge. Sadly in 2015 Dawkins suffered a severe heart attack that ended his life.
15 Lou Williams
As a late second round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005, the future didn't look bright for Lou in the beginning. His minutes were very limited during his first two seasons in Philadelphia, but once he was given some time on the court his production began to rise.
Williams has pretty much been a sixth man during his career, but in 2015 he really established himself as an elite bench player. He was crowned 6th Man of the Year when he averaged 15.5 points per game coming off the bench. With the evolution of the game, and the increasing value of three-point shooters, Williams has found himself in high demand. He began the 2016-17 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, but was traded near the trade deadline to the Houston Rockets. He is still finding his role with Houston, but his addition has many believing that Houston is ready to take the next step in their pursuit for a title.
14 Shaun Livingston
Coming out of high school Livingston was regarded as one of the top prospects in the draft. The Clippers needed a point guard to lead their young, fast paced offense, and Livingston was their choice. They selected him 4th overall in 2004, but in true Clipper fashion, Livingston blew out his knee. The injury was so debilitating, many believed he would never play basketball again.
It wasn't until 2010 that Shaun was given a real opportunity to play NBA basketball again. Upon his return he played solidly, but never could get over the hump of being a second string point guard. In 2014 he joined the Golden State Warriors, which would change his career forever. He found a team and a role that fit him to perfection, and in 2015 Livingston played a key role in the Warriors run all the way to an NBA championship. He is still with the Warriors, and is a key reserve on a team with championship aspirations.
13 Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis came into the league in 2005 with an elite level offensive game, but it was his defensive liability and immaturity that caused him to drop into the second round. Ellis was taken 40th overall by the Golden State Warriors, who at the time, were searching for scoring options and viewed Ellis as a potential solution to their problem.
As his career got under way Ellis quickly proved he was able to score on the highest level. In his second season with the Warriors he averaged 16.5 points per game. After seven seasons in the Bay Ellis was traded to Milwaukee where he continued to hover around the twenty points per game mark. Now, at age 31, Monta is suiting up for the Indiana Pacers. He is an offensive catalyst for a team that currently sits firming in the playoff hunt. It is unclear how many years he has left in the tank, but he certainly can still put the ball in the basket.
12 Al Harrington
Originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers back in 1998, Harrington broke into the league just after his 18th birthday. After a few seasons with the Pacers it began to look like Harrington would become another bust drafted prematurely. However, in 2004 the Pacers dealt him to the Hawks, and with that change of scenery, Harrington became a different player. From that point on, Harrington became almost a shoo-in for seventeen points and seven rebounds.
Harrington's best season came in 2008 with the Knicks when he averaged nearly 21 points and eight rebounds. In 2014 Harrington played his final NBA game as a member of the Washington Wizards. That was not the end of his professional career though. In 2015 he played with the Sydney Kings of the Australian league. He is currently retired from the game, but there are rumors of him joining the three on three league being run by rap mogul Ice Cube.
11 Al Jefferson
The most storied franchise in NBA history got into the high school draftee game back in 2004. The Boston Celtics selected Jefferson with the 15th overall pick back in 2004. He lasted three seasons in Boston, which was not enough time for him to realize his potential, but the trade enabled Boston to acquire Kevin Garnett, and we all know how that worked out for the Celtics.
Once Jefferson was able to establish himself and earn some steady playing time it became clear that he was worthy of being a lottery pick. In three season with the Timberwolves, Al averaged just over 20 points and nine rebounds per game. Now in his 13th season, Jefferson is playing a big role with the Indiana Pacers. Jefferson along with Paul George and a few others have the Pacers in the thick of the playoff race, and are likely going to finish somewhere in the top of the Eastern Conference.
10 Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O’Neal grew up in South Carolina under the guidance of a single mother. Growing up without much parental control, O’Neal was left to fiend for himself much of the time. Luckily for Jermaine, he found basketball at an early age and he was able to devote his time to something that would pay off in the long run.
As a 6’11” high school superstar in South Carolina, O’Neal drew attention from many NBA scouts during his senior year. The fact that he averaged 22.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.2 blocks a game also caught the eye of many NBA scouts. It all paid off for Jermaine in 1996 when the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him 17th overall. His career was marred by injuries, but when he was able to stay on the court he was a load to handle. His best season came in 2004 with the Pacers when he averaged 24.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Jermaine still has hopes of returning to the league, even though he has not played an NBA game in nearly two years.
9 Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis is a player who has never gotten the credit he deserves for his impact on the current state of NBA basketball. Lewis was one of the first seven footers to be able to knock down the three-point shot with regularity. Lewis and Ray Allen formed the original version of the splash brothers when they teamed up in Seattle during the early 2000s.
Coming out of high school, most teams were a bit weary of Lewis, who at nearly 7 feet weighed about 215 pounds. After falling to the second round, the Seattle SuperSonics swooped up the sharp shooter with the 32nd pick in the draft. Lewis spent his 16 year career playing with mostly contending teams, including the NBA champion Miami Heat in 2013. Lewis also proved the critics wrong when he was selected to two NBA All-Star teams, in 2005, and 2009. In 2014 Lewis decided he would call it a career. He is currently enjoying the retired life with his family and he is frequently seen courtside rooting on his ex-teammates and friends.
8 J.R. Smith
During his time at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey, Smith averaged over 27 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game on his way to being a McDonald’s All-American. After winning c0-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, Smith decided to enter himself into the NBA Draft.
With the 18th overall pick, the New Orleans Hornets drafted him, and after only two seasons with the Hornets he was traded to the Nuggets. Smith had success in Denver but he became more synonymous with immature behavior than actual play on the court. He played a season in China during the 2011 NBA lockout, and when he came back it appeared he had matured during his time overseas. He signed with the New York Knicks and became a Sixth Man of the Year. However, he was still viewed as immature. In 2015 he was a late addition to a trade which sent him and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since joining Cleveland, Smith has become a man, and a champion. He is still with the Cavs, and hoping to be a major contributor to a second straight championship.
7 Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudamire had one of the roughest childhoods of anyone on this list. His parents split when he was very young. At age 12, Stoudemire’s father died, and his mother was in and out of prison for most of Amare’s youth. With his parents out of the picture, Stoudemire spent time living with coaches and friends. As he entered high school his mother was in and out of his life, causing him much more drama than a teenager should be able to handle. Amar’e bounced to five different high schools in four years, only being able to play basketball two of those years. Both of those years he was named MVP of the Nike Summer League. It was clear he had a future in the game, it was just a matter of him getting the opportunities.
Once his dreams were realized and he made it to the NBA, he became a superstar. Teaming with Steve Nash, Amar'e would become a regular on NBA highlight reels. During his 14 year NBA career he accumulated six All-Star appearances and one All-NBA First Team selection. Currently Amar'e is dominating the Euro League in Jerusalem, winning league MVP last season.
6 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler was one of the greatest high school basketball players in the history of high school hoops. As a 9-year-old, Chandler was already almost 6′ tall. By the time he got to high school he was developed physically into his enormous frame. As a high school player Chandler went to famed Dominguez high near Compton, California. During his four years at Dominguez, Chandler was a celebrity. He drove an Escalade, got the girls, and even had a segment on 60 Minutes about him. In his senior season Tyson led Dominguez to a California state championship, averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks per game.
Once he decided college was not for him, Chandler entered the NBA Draft in 2001. Chandler was selected second overall, right behind infamous draft bust Kwame Brown. Since he joined the NBA, Tyson has accomplished quite a lot. He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and he was the anchor of the Dallas Mavericks championship team in 2011. Currently Tyson is playing the role of big brother to Alex Len and Dragan Bender with the Phoenix Suns.
5 Tracy McGrady
In 1997 anyone who payed attention to high school athletics knew who Tracy McGrady was. Not only was T-Mac viewed as one of the greatest basketball players in America, he was also a top baseball prospect as well.
After his incredible senior year, in which he was named the USA Today High School Basketball Player of the Year, Tracy decided he was ready for the NBA. McGrady’s NBA career started a little slow, mainly because his coach was reluctant to give the slender rookie any playing time. Once a new play caller was hired, McGrady began to see his minutes go up and his production immediately followed. By his fourth year in the league he was averaging 26.8 points a night. Some injuries prevented McGrady from realizing his truest potential, but he was still able to lead the league in scoring twice, as well as make seven all-star teams, and seven All-NBA teams. These days you can find T-Mac doing pre and post game work for ESPN Countdown as well as some work with ESPN's SportsCenter.
4 Dwight Howard
As far as high school players go, there are not many who were more dominant than Dwight. He won practically every high school award there is during his senior season including Gatorade Player of the Year, Naismith Prep Player of the Year, and the McDonald’s Player of the Year.
When he entered the NBA Draft in 2004, the Orlando Magic had little hesitation when they selected him first overall. Dwight didn’t disappoint. In his rookie season he averaged a double-double, as he has every single season of his career. As his career progressed, Dwight got the reputation of being a bad teammate, and a bit of a diva. Regardless of his reputation, the production Dwight has been able to exhibit is unrivaled by any big man during his time in the NBA. Dwight is now holding down he paint for the Atlanta Hawks as they fight their way into the playoffs.
3 Kevin Garnett
There is something to be said about being the first to do something. In 1995 Kevin Garnett did something that had not been done in decades when he entered the NBA Draft straight out of high school.
After 20 years in the NBA Garnett called it quits following the 2015-16 season. He accomplished everything an NBA player could ever want to accomplish. He even spent his last season as a mentor to some of the game's brightest young talent. The career that Kevin Garnett had has to rank as one of the greatest story book careers in the history of the game. Since retirement Garnett has dabbled in the media industry, currently hosting a segment called "Area 21," a play on his number 21. The feature usually has KG sit down with a former or current NBA star as they talk about happenings in the league.
2 Kobe Bryant
What is there to say about “The Black Mamba” that hasn’t already been said? In high school Kobe was named Player of the Year as a junior. He led his high school team to a 77-13 record over his final three seasons, and he went straight to the NBA as an 18-year-old.
Once he got to the NBA, Kobe would become one of the greatest player to ever play the game. After being drafted by the Hornets, he was promptly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where he became one half of the greatest big man-little man combos ever. He and Shaquille O’Neal would go on to win three NBA titles together before the two had to go their separate ways. Kobe retired last season to the greatest farewell tour a basketball player has ever seen, and it was well deserved. Bryant’s legacy is something that can never be taken away and the fact that he was not selected until the 13th pick in the draft is something that twelve unlucky general managers will never live down.
Freshly retired, Kobe is now spending much more time with his wife and children. He also is getting his feet wet in some other industries. He has invested in some media groups as well as getting more involved with Nike. It has been rumored now that Magic Johnson has a big role in the Laker front office, we could see Kobe get back on the Laker payroll as well, in some sort of front office role.
1 LeBron James
LeBron James was a celebrity long before his rookie season in the NBA. During his junior year, he was having his high school games broadcast live on ESPN. His team’s games were often played in college gymnasiums so that they could fit all the people in to see him play.
When LeBron made the jump from high school to the NBA it was a forgone conclusion where he would be drafted. It was a fairytale storyline. His hometown Cleveland Cavaliers owned the rights to the number one pick back in 2003 and LeBron was coming to save Cleveland, or so it seemed. As he progressed through his career he found road blocks at every turn on his way to an NBA championship. James ultimately realized he needed more help than Cleveland could offer, and he infamously “took his talents to South Beach” to join the Miami Heat.
After four straight trips to the NBA Finals, LeBron took his talents back to Ohio, and since then he has guided the Cavs to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances, including last season when he finally brought a championship to Cleveland. At only 32 years old, LeBron is still in the prime of his career. There is no telling how this fairy tale will end but it surely has been interesting so far.