This summer, Thon Maker became the first player since Gerald Green in 2005 to skip directly from high school to the first round of the NBA Draft. However, these days players like Maker are literally exceptions to the rule rather than the commonplace occurrence they were for about 10 years, kicking off with Kevin Garnett in 1995 and wrapping up with Green and Andrew Bynum in 2005.
It was sort of an odd time in NBA history, when this explosion of prep-to-pros hopefuls took their stab at the big leagues. Some landed in a major way and will ride their early success straight to the Hall of Fame, while others fell flatter than plywood. Either way, it was a fascinating era for the league that we probably will never see again, and we’ll also never get to know what certain NBA stars would have done had they actually chosen to attend college. Carmelo Anthony won a title at Syracuse in his lone year. Would LeBron James or Kobe Bryant have done the same?
The following is a look at where many of the biggest high school NBA stars would have gone to college had they chosen that route for themselves. Some of their hypothetical selections are pretty surprising, and they definitely would have changed the course of NCAA history:
Kevin Garnett, University of Michigan or University of Maryland (1995)
While there were a handful of players who skipped college before Garnett, his success definitely set off the movement in the late ‘90s and early aughts that saw so many other young players do the same in hopes of replicating his early achievements. Interestingly, though, Garnett’s head coach at Farragut Academy didn’t seem to believe at the time that Garnett was planning on attending college. “He is not thinking of going pro,” he said in 1995. “He wants to prove that those saying he can’t make it academically are wrong. Going pro would be more a cop-out than anything.”
Unfortunately, Garnett was unable to earn the minimum qualifying ACT score to play college ball, which forced him into his NBA path, but what if he had played college ball? Where might he have gone?
According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, who assembled a really nice oral history of Garnett, Sonny Vaccaro believed he was headed to Michigan.
“He may or may not admit to this, but he was going to go to Michigan,” he said. “The Fab Five guys, that whole era, Juwan Howard being from Chicago—I would’ve bet a million dollars that’s what he was going to do.”
That 1995-96 Michigan team wasn’t a stunner, but Garnett might have changed that. He would’ve been on the same team as Maceo Baston, Maurice Taylor and Tractor Traylor.
Years later, Garnett said he actually was planning on pulling a shocker to play under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, which would have put him on the same team as ‘90s college stud Laron Profit.
Kobe Bryant, Duke University or the University of North Carolina (1996)
For years, the story about Bryant has been that had he gone to college, he would have played under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. That would have been a Trajan Langdon/Roshown McLeod team, and it would have made for quite a daunting group of Blue Devils. However, in a later interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Bryant revealed that his real intentions were to play for that other really good college basketball team in North Carolina.
“I love Coach K,” Bryant said. “But the truth has to come out.” He then revealed that he would have rather played for those mid-90s Tar Heels squads that also featured Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, which actually makes a ton of sense. That could have been one of the better college teams of all-time, which lends at least some credence to Bryant’s claims that UNC really would have been his choice.
Jermaine O’Neal, University of South Carolina (1996)
There’s no mystery to O’Neal’s potential college decision, as the former McDonald’s All-American had already committed to the University of South Carolina as he was leaving high school in 1996. Considering how little he played his first year as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, going Gamecock for a year or two might have been a better option for him.
Even without O’Neal, South Carolina won the SEC championship that season and actually was named a 2-seed in the 1997 Final Four tournament. Coppin State pulled off the tourney’s most shocking upset in the first round that year, however, which is something that may not have happened had O’Neal taken a different route to the NBA.
Tracy McGrady, University of Kentucky (1997)
Over and over again, McGrady has said he’d have gone to Kentucky had he attended college in the late ‘90s, which would have been pretty incredible considering that 1997-98 UK Wildcats won the NCAA championship even without T-Mac’s help.
Adding him to a team that already featured future NBA players like Tayshaun Prince and Jamaal Magloire would have made for some high ratings, but consider this: Dirk Nowitzki, who was drafted in 1998, also made an official college visit to Kentucky at a time when McGrady already could have actually been there. Scott Padgett and Tubby Smith made such a strong impression on Nowitzki that he still roots for the Wildcats even though he never went there.
The bottom line here is that there could have been a version of the 1998-99 University of Kentucky team that featured both McGrady and Nowitzki (and, of course, Scott Padgett). That would have made for even better television!
Amar’e Stoudemire, University of Memphis (2002)
Coming out of high school, Stoudemire had plans to team up with other future NBA players Dajuan Wagner and Qyntel Woods at the University of Memphis to compete for a national championship. Wagner was already at the school, while Woods was considering transferring from a community college, and the three of them would have made for quite a super team that also would have included other future NBA players Rodney Carney and Earl Barron.
It didn’t work out that way, as Stoudemire, Wagner and Woods all ended up declaring for the 2002 NBA Draft and were selected in the first round, but it would have made for a rather impressive Memphis team that, by the way, still hasn’t won a national championship.
LeBron James, Ohio State University (2003)
Honestly, if an alien from outer space dropped directly into the Ohio State campus right now, they would have more than enough evidence to support the fact that LeBron James did actually attend school there. When the university’s new basketball practice facilities opened in 2013, James was inexplicably given a locker with his name and number located in the team’s locker room. He also stops by to hang out with the basketball team once in a while, and those players very often can be found wearing his gear. The man never went to that school, but still acts like an esteemed alum.
Of course, were he not a man of superhuman ability, he probably would have gone there – even though in 2003 the Buckeyes had not made the NCAA Tournament in a decade. James obviously would have changed that, no matter who else was on those teams, and it’s very likely he would have turned recruiting around for the school pretty quickly too. Alas, he’ll just have to settle for being the single greatest prep-to-pros star in the history of basketball.
Dwight Howard, University of North Carolina (2004)
Not that eventual national champion UNC needed Howard in 2004-05, but adding the future No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft certainly wouldn’t have hurt what was already an extremely loaded Tar Heels crew. Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams were part of that team, and had Howard committed to UNC as he claims, they would have been even more legendary.
Howard reportedly considered Duke very seriously at the time, as top prospects have been doing for decades, but between those two powerhouses Howard has said UNC would have won out.
There also have been rumors over the years of serious interest in Georgia Tech, a team that would have allowed Howard to play baseball. Had he been on that particular team, he would have joined forces with Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum.
Al Jefferson, University of Arkansas (2004)
Despite being the No. 4 high school prospect in the country back in 2004, Jefferson wasn’t originally considered a no-brainer prep-to-pros leaper when draft experts started doing their mocks that year. But a lot of that likely came as a result of his playing in a small school down south that simply didn’t garner him the amount of attention as Howard, Shaun Livingston or Sebastian Telfair.
Had Jefferson decided to attend college, he would have joined Ronnie Brewer as a member of the Razorbacks. He would have made them a considerably better team for the year or two that Jefferson remained on the squad.
There were, of course, many other high school kids who skipped college for the glitz and glamour of the NBA’s big stage. Rashard Lewis was reportedly all set to attend Kansas University. Andrew Bynum could have joined Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Hilton Armstrong at UConn. Tyson Chandler would’ve attended UCLA, Darius Miles would have gone to DePaul and J.R. Smith would have been a Tar Heel.
Any of these decisions could have changed the course of NCAA and NBA history, but instead the ink is dry on the stories of these guys’ careers. The last of the old prep-to-pros crew is very close to entering their career twilights, so soon it probably won’t matter much that they skipped college.
But what if Jahlil Okafor had skipped college? Does Duke still win their title in 2015? What about Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist potentially skipping their year at Kentucky in 2011-12?
NBA hypotheticals are fun, especially in the offseason, because there’s just no telling how things may have changed. That won’t stop us from wondering though.
Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17
Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.
It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.
Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.
Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.
By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.
Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.
Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.
His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.
4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)
While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.
Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.
Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.
Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.
The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.
Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.
While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.
It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.
Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.
So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.
NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17
Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.
Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.
The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.
A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.
The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.
This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.
There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.
As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.
So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland
The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.