Since 2005, the NBA has not allowed young basketball players to enter the draft directly out of high school. In the years prior to this decision, NBA Drafts were glutted with talented high school players who, though unproven, looked promising. A good deal of those players did not develop into good basketball players, and the teams that drafted these players rued their decisions for several years. These players, according to most NBA experts, could have benefitted from a year or two in college before making the surprisingly big leap to the NBA. Indeed, had Kwame Brown, the Washington Wizards' former number 1 overall pick, gone to college, he could have developed into a better, more versatile player. Even a player like Dwight Howard could have profited from a year in college, though few people remember or care about his sub-par rookie season.
Although Kwame Brown could have availed from a year in college, Lebron James would not have. LBJ was ready for the NBA straight out of high school. He is not the only player, of course, who could play with the big boys fresh out of high school. In the late 90s to early 2000s, many talented players entered the league straight after their prom. The list of player includes the likes of Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Andrew Bynum. The All-NBA teams from the first decade of the new century are littered with these players who skipped college.
As it purports to this day, the NBA instated this rule that bars high school players from the draft because the league wanted younger players to profit from a year of development and, hopefully, education. What if, however, Lebron James or Kobe Bryant were forced to go to college? It would have been enjoyable to see those players dominate at the collegiate level, but what personal advantage would either have accrued? Does a year of undergraduate education make that much of a difference for a player with a NBA-ready body and skill set? What if one of these studs got injured? The injury that undermined Nerlens Noel’s freshmen season at Kentucky illustrates this dilemma. Noel, who now plays in the NBA, would have been drafted high straight out of high school, but his injury hurt his draft stock—not to mention his potential going forward.
Since this rule, there has been an incredible group of players who have entered the league and dominate it today. Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, and Derrick Rose all could have made the leap to the league from high school, but, like Noel, the league’s new rule forced them to attend college. There have even been reports that certain academic institutions—and these “institutions” are not the dubious community colleges at the end of block, but the big publicly/privately funded ones—have created “bird” courses for some of these highly publicized freshmen, making it easier for them to maintain their focus on basketball. This accommodation of priority athletes, then, suggests that the NBA’s original intent, however altruistic it may have been, has been corrupted or at least unrealized. Chances are, for example, Kevin Durant did not learn how to manage his money better in his year at Texas. It seems unfair that corporations or employers would look beyond the pre-requisites of the job they are hiring for and expect something from their candidates beyond what the job entails. In the NBA, the only pre-requisite should be talent and physical readiness. If a player satisfies these two requirements, the player’s progress should not be impeded, especially if teams are salivating for a chance to snag him.
This list thus looks at ten players that, arguably, could have made the jump from high school to the NBA and skipped college altogether. Given this since-2005 preamble, this list only looks at players who have entered the league since the NBA changed the draft-eligibility rule—so no Carmelo Anthony, for instance. It should also be noted that there is no rhyme or reason to the rankings.
10 Greg Oden
9 Kevin Durant
8 Demarcus Cousins
7 Anthony Davis
6 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
5 Kevin Love
4 Andrew Wiggins
3 Derrick Rose
2 Tyreke Evans
1 O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo’s declining effectiveness will lead some to question his inclusion on this list. Indeed, Mayo is on the wrong path in the pros, as he seems to be headed for oblivion as opposed to super-stardom. However, his once-potent scoring ability cannot be denied, especially in his younger and leaner days as a professional. At USC, O.J. Mayo impressed fans with his aforementioned torrid scoring ability, not to mention his above-average athletic prowess. When he came out of high school, Mayo could have made the jump to the NBA with the potential to add a successful year to what has become a declining career.
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