For a decade or so between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, there were a whole bunch of basketball players drafted to the NBA without any college experience. Before and since that period it has been pretty uncommon for players to not bother with college basketball and head straight to the NBA.
Players often back themselves to do well in the big leagues, but for every success story, some players struggled. We’re looking at the ups and downs of skipping college and heading straight into the NBA. These are the players who either sunk or swam.
Tracy McGrady was one of the first real success stories of players who went right into the NBA after high school. The shooting guard was drafted by Toronto in 1997 after being named the High School Player of the Year. He was the ninth overall pick and was taking a huge risk by skipping out on college, but it all worked out for McGrady.
The 6ft 8 shooting guard took a few years to get into his stride, but once he did, he was a force to be reckoned with. After trading to Orlando McGrady found his peak and in the 2002-03 season, he had a career-high 32.1 ppg ratio. In 2017, McGrady was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a career that saw him named a seven-time All-Star.
It seemed as though Darius Miles had it all back in the early 2000s. He was drafted right out of high school by the LA Clippers, who took him as the third overall pick in 2000. Hopes were high for Miles, and by the looks of it, he had all the tools he would need to succeed in the NBA. Miles was athletic, could shoot, and was looking like he’d be a heavy scorer.
The young star had also captured the imagination of Hollywood and found himself in movies such as The Perfect Score and Van Wilder. Perhaps the fame and attention got to his head because Miles didn’t prove to be a worthy 3rd overall pick for the Clippers. By the end of the decade, Miles had limped out of the NBA after starting just 190 regular season games.
There aren’t many better success stories when it comes to joining the NBA right out of high school than Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba is one of the most outstanding players to ever feature in the league, and his five NBA championships prove how good he was. Bryant entered the league in 1996 and even had an epic on-court battle with the living legend Michael Jordan.
He is a Lakers legend and is third on the all-time points list, though LeBron James might overtake him in the coming years. The gamble definitely paid off for the Lakers who got themselves a franchise player in Kobe. Kobe wasn’t thrown in at the deep end when he was drafted to the Lakers, and after several years of coaching, he made a huge impact.
Knowing whether a young player is going to come good or not is like a dark art, and some scouts get it horribly wrong with some players. Without seeing them play at a more mature level, it’s hard to know what a young basketballer will develop into, and this was the case for Jonathan Bender.
Bender was snapped up by the Pacers in 1999, but he struggled to find a role in their roster before a knee injury cut his career short. The power forward was just 25 years old when he suffered his injury which ruled him out for several seasons, effectively ending his career.
LeBron James really is the best high school player to ever come into the NBA. He was the number one overall pick back in 2003 and was drafted to his hometown franchise in the Cavaliers. While many young players are given time to adjust to the physical nature of the NBA, James was thrown right in and played 79 games in his first season.
He was an instant phenomenon, and James has gone on to put himself in the conversation for the greatest player of all time. He has won three NBA championships, including an inspirational individual season to bring glory to the Cavaliers. James finds himself fourth on the all-time points list and has Kobe in his sights for a top three place.
There is no doubt that Satnam Singh is a talented basketball player, but it might have surprised a few when he became India’s first NBA player. He was drafted to the Dallas Mavericks in 2015, but the only NBA action he ever got to see was in the Summer Leagues.
His first season was spent in the D-League, and he only managed to average 2 points and 2 rebounds per game. With height and time on his side, Singh may yet develop into an NBA-worthy player, but it looks like the risk didn’t pay off for the Mavericks.
There are risks when drafting high school players to the NBA. They might not develop how franchises want them to, but if they do, they can go on to be some of the most impressive players the league will ever see. Things worked out for players like LeBron and Kobe, but there is no guarantee that skipping crucial development at college will work out for the best.