When the ABA started to allow players that had not gone to college, it forced the hand of the NBA to allow these players in down the road. The rule on eligibility in the NBA has changed multiple times over the years, but the current rule states that NBA players must be at least one year removed from high school if they are international players, and at least 19 years old and a year out of high school if they are American.
Players have the option of going to the NBA’s D-League out of high school if they don’t want to attend college, but it’s a much better option to play at the highest level of college basketball. A lot of players have skipped out on college, especially back when the rule was that players could go straight from high school to the NBA. You can't blame players for wanting to make the jump to the pros as quickly as possible. There's been much debate as to whether college players should be paid and many players' stock may be at their highest right after high school. While we won't see players from North America right out of high school for the foreseeable future, we can look back and reflect on those who found success without heading to the NCAA.
Out of these players, which ones have had the best NBA careers? There have been more than 40 players that haven’t played a single second for a college basketball team, but have still had solid pro careers. Here are our top 15 NBA players that didn’t play college basketball.
15 Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum is one of the ultimate ‘what could have been’ NBA stories along with Greg Oden and Sam Bowie. Bynum attended three different high schools, and was drafted 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005. Bynum played in L.A. for seven seasons, winning two NBA Championships and collecting an All-Star and All-NBA Second Team nod in 2012 when he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Bynum has only played in 26 games since his Laker days ended, and he hasn’t played since the 2013-14 season.
14 Kendrick Perkins
Drafted in 2003 with the 27th overall pick by the Grizzlies out of Clifton J. Ozen High School, Kendrick Perkins has spent his career with the Celtics, Thunder, Cavaliers and now the Pelicans. Perkins hasn’t put up very big numbers in his career, averaging 5.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, but he has been a solid role player for teams that have made deep runs, including the 2007-08 Celtics championship squad. Not surprisingly, Perkins doesn’t have many accolades in the NBA.
13 Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson was one of the final high schoolers that was selected in the NBA Draft, getting picked up in 2004 with the 15th overall selection by the Boston Celtics. Jefferson is still playing, and he’s now on his fourth team, the Charlotte Hornets. Jefferson hasn’t made it to an All-Star Game, but he has had a solid revival to his career in which he was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 2014. Jefferson’s career has seen him average 17 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
12 Darryl Dawkins
Some people might rank Darryl Dawkins higher since he was a fan favorite and just passed away in late August, but Dawkins’s numbers don’t really stack up to some of the others on this list with a career average of 12 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Dawkins’s dunking ability was his best feature, as he shattered multiple backboards. Dawkins was drafted fifth overall in 1975 by Philadelphia, and finished his NBA career with a championship as a member of the Pistons in the 1988-89 season.
11 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler was a star in high school, winning Mr. Basketball in California twice at Dominguez High School in Compton, California before being drafted second overall in 2001 by the Clippers. Chandler would get shifted to the Bulls, and he has also played for New Orleans, Charlotte, Dallas, New York and now Phoenix since then. Chandler has one All-Star appearance, an All-NBA Third Team nod, a championship and was the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year. In his journeyman career, Chandler has averaged 8.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, but his defense is what sets him apart from others at his position.
10 Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis was projected to be a fringe lottery pick out of Alief Elsik High School in Houston when he declared for the 1998 NBA Draft, but wasn’t selected until the beginning of the second round by the Seattle SuperSonics and stayed there for nearly a decade before playing his last few seasons with the Magic, Wizards and Heat. Lewis was named to two All-Star Games and won a championship with Miami in 2013. Lewis averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in his career.
9 Jermaine O’Neal
Jermaine O’Neal starts the next ‘tier’ of players on the list, and he was drafted 17th overall in 1996 out of Eau Claire High School in Columbia, South Carolina by the Trail Blazers. O’Neal played for seven different teams in his career, and while he wasn’t always the best teammate, he was solid on the court. O’Neal reached six consecutive All-Star Games from 2002 to 2007 and three All-NBA teams. O’Neal also added a gold medal to his resume and he averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
8 Amar’e Stoudemire
Just like O’Neal, Stoudemire was named to six All-Star Games in his career, except Stoudemire is still playing (but not very effective these days). Stoudemire was drafted ninth overall in 2002 by the Suns out of Cypress Creek in Orlando, and he famously signed with the Knicks in his first free agency. Over the past year, Stoudemire has been a Maverick and is now on the Heat roster. Stoudemire was named to five All-NBA teams, won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2003 and has averaged 19.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his career.
7 Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp attended two different colleges, but never played for Kentucky or Trinity Valley Community College after academic problems. Kemp was still drafted 17th overall in 1989 by Seattle, and spent eight years there before shifting to Cleveland, Portland and Orlando before retiring after the 2002-03 season. The All-American from Elkhart, Indiana reached six All-Star Games and three All-NBA Second Teams while averaging 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He was a bit of a headcase, but Kemp definitely had a lot of talent.
6 Tracy McGrady
It’s hard to believe that you have to go all the way back to 1997 to find when Tracy McGrady was drafted, where he was selected ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors. McGrady would eventually play for six more teams in his long career and even had a stop in China along the way. McGrady was named to seven All-Star Games, seven All-NBA Teams and led the league in scoring twice. Add in a gold medal and you have a solid career for McGrady, who averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
5 Dwight Howard
While it seems like everyone remembers Dwight Howard as the embattled Laker who is now playing for Houston, it’s easy to forget how good he was in Orlando. Howard is the first player on the list that was drafted first overall, taken in 2004 out of Atlanta, Georgia. Howard is perhaps the best center of the new millennium, and he has reached eight All-Star Games and All-NBA Teams, he has won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and has led the league in rebounds five times and blocks twice. That’s quite the resume that people have seem to have forgotten.
4 Kevin Garnett
Howard and McGrady could be future Hall of Famers we are now in the elite tier of the list that are either already in or will be first ballot players. Kevin Garnett is the first in the tier, who was drafted fifth overall in 1995 by Minnesota, and he spent more than a decade there before going to the Celtics (and winning a title), then to the Nets and is now back with the Timberwolves. Garnett is a one-time MVP, a 15-time All-Star, nine time All-NBA selection and one of the best defensive players of the past 20 years. Just to top it off, Garnett has also won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
3 Moses Malone
Moses Malone is the only current Hall of Famer on the list, and the best high school to pro player of the 1970s and 1980s. Malone was drafted in to the ABA, where he played for two seasons before the merger with the NBA, where he became a member of the New Orleans Jazz, but ended up with the Houston Rockets. Malone also played for the 76ers, Bullets, Hawks, Bucks and Spurs in his career, winning one title with Philadelphia and three Most Valuable Player Awards. Malone was also named to 12 All-Star Games and was a rebounding machine, leading the league six times. Malone was finally named to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 after a career that saw him average 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.4 assits per game.
2 Kobe Bryant
The top two players on the list are likely the clear-cut top two, but there might be a lot of debate as to which one should be on top. Kobe Bryant gets the number two slot on our list, and he was drafted 13th overall in 1996 out of Lower Merion in Ardmore, Pennsylvania by the Hornets, but was traded to the Lakers. Kobe has been with the Lakers ever since, and has helped the team to win five championships and has won an MVP award while being named to 17 All-Star Games and 11 All-NBA First Teams. Kobe also has two Olympic gold medals and has averaged an incredible 25.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game over his career that has lasted nearly 20 years.
1 LeBron James
Of course, the number one NBA player to never play in college is the most famous high school player of all time, LeBron James out of St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio. James was the clear-cut number one pick in 2003 by the Cavaliers, and he famously spent four seasons with the Miami Heat in between his Cleveland stops. At only 30 years old, James has already accomplished more than just about any player that you can think of. James is a two-time NBA Champion, as well as a four-time MVP, 11-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist and has a whole slew of other awards. His career numbers are absolutely absurd, as he has put up 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game over his 11 NBA seasons.