With Brandon Jennings (22.3 points, 5.5 assists per game) showing that a year across the Atlantic can do wonders for your career and earning money instead of earning an education (those who actually stay the four years), we honor the best players who also skipped college, but did it in those carefree days (before the 2006 draft), when you could hop from your senior prom to the NBA draft and live your dream of becoming an NBA star/bench warmer – Here are the best players in NBA history coming straight out of high school –

Honorable Mention – Reggie Harding

Reggie Harding

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Reggie Harding didn’t have an impressive NBA career at all – 205 games in four seasons, averaging 9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Nothing flashy at all. But he was the first – the first player to be drafted by an NBA team, the Detroit Pistons, without having to play in college. Harding’s career was cut short due to his constant off-court problems, including drug addictions and jail time. He threatened to shoot Indiana’s GM during a television interview and reportedly other players during the time he spent as a pro. He was shot dead in Detroit, 1972.

And now for the good guys, the Top 5 straight-outta-high-school players in the history of the NBA –

Number 5 – Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady

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T-Mac might not be the most popular NBA figure in recent years, and especially in Houston since he hasn’t played since last season and his contract is the most expensive in the league, but he’s still had a great career, individually, to this point. He was named “High School Player of the Year” by USA Today prior to his draft entrance. He could have partnered up with Michael Jordan, but Jordan torpedoed the Bulls’ attempt to trade Scottie Pippen and gain a higher draft pick. After a couple of not too impressive seasons, McGrady became a starter alongside his cousin, Vince Carter, and started showing his stuff. McGrady was traded to Orlando and bloomed, becoming an All-Star in his first season with the Magic. He went on to lead the league in scoring in two consecutive seasons (2003-2005) before getting shipped to Houston, where he still is but no longer playing despite putting up good numbers until 2008-2009.

McGrady was always considered to be among the most talented players in the league, at times maybe the best in the league (very short times), due to his all-around play and the ability to lead the offense from the Small Forward position and play multiple positions. His inability to  be a part of a successful playoff team (never won a playoff series) makes his career look, as a whole, to be disappointing for a man with such talents. He has put 22.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 12 NBA seasons so far.

Number 4 – LeBron James

Lebron James

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Number 4? Really? Well yeah, we’re not talking potential, or the way the list will look in 10-15 years, we’re talking about November 2009, and right now, Lebron has the fourth most impressive career for a “high schooler”.

The “chosen one” came into the NBA after an amazing (3 times Ohio’s Mr. Basketball) high school career at St. Vincent – St. Mary, where he was touted as a future draft pick since his sophomore year. James was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA draft, as the Cleveland Cavaliers took him with the hopes he’ll save Basketball and maybe even sports in this drought cursed sports city. Lebron was still 18 when he began his rookie season, and there was no rookie wall, or second year wall, or rookie ceiling or whatever people want to call it with him. He wasn’t the best player in the league right away, no. He didn’t single handedly lead the Cavs to the playoffs (not in the first two years at least). But he was amazing, and he seems to be getting better, and a better group of players gradually surrounding him. He’s one of three active players (Nash, Nowitzki) to have an MVP but no title but he’s only 24. He’ll get that ring, in Cleveland or somewhere else (Don’t drool, Knicks fans). His career numbers, 14 games into his seventh season – 27.6 points, 7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game.

Number 3 – Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett

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Garnett broke a barrier (well more like crossed a long-time unused one) and started a tidal wave in1995 (38 Players followed him from 1996 till 2005), becoming the first player to be drafted straight out of high school since 1975.  There was Shawn Kemp, but he did enroll into college before he started his NBA career. Unlike Lebron, Garnett eased into his “franchise savior” role, having a decent rookie season with 10.4 points per game, coming off the bench half the time. A year later, it all changed, for him and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garnett became a full time starter and just a great player, and Minnesota suddenly became a team that won, making it into the playoffs for the first time ever. Garnett improved, he got better players around him but only in 2003-2004, with Sprewell and Cassell, did he break the first playoff round barrier, making it as far as the Western Finals. Garnett won the MVP that season but didn’t make the playoffs again for the next three seasons. He did lead the league in rebounds between 2004-2007. Then came the trade to Boston, Ray Allen also joined him and Pierce, the C’s won their 17th title and Garnett can play in peace. If he avoids injury this season, the Celtics might get their 18th. In his 15th season as an NBA player, one of the best Power Forwards ever (personally Tim Duncan is my #1), Garnett has put up 20.1 points, 11 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game during his career.

Number 2 – Moses Malone

Moses Malone

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It’s getting boring writing about Malone, who is in so many NBA all time leaders list (including 6th in points and 5th in rebounds), but that just shows what an amazing player he was. Moses Malone started in the ABA, becoming the fifth player ever to jump from high school straight into the pro ranks and joined the NBA in 1976 after the dispersal draft and the “swallowing” of the ABA. Malone played in the NBA for 19 seasons, winning 3 MVP award and one championship ring with the 76’ers in 1983. His career averages are 20.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, leading the league in rebounds six times. He is one of the greatest centers of all-time and certainly the best “small” center ever (only 6-10).

Number 1 – Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Last year’s title win, his fourth and first one without Shaq, some (including me) thought that Kobe would maybe be slowing down a bit this season, taking it easier. But with Bynum and Gasol in and out of the DL list, Kobe is scoring almost 30 points per game, after two straight 100+ games seasons including the 2008 summer Olympics. So, no rest until he’s considered the greatest ever? Better than MJ? It’s hard to see that happening, but he is among the ten best players ever to play basketball, and he’s undoubtedly the best player to skip college. He’s the best at a lot of things. Kobe wasn’t considered such a super phenom when he came out of high school, at least not like LeBron or Garnett were. He was traded from the Hornets (13th pick in the 1996 draft) to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, which in retrospect is one of the dumbest deals ever, but who knew? Jerry West knew, and after two seasons of coming off the bench, Bryant became a starter at the age of 20. He won his first championship when he was 21, his third when he was 23, forming that amazing 1-2 punch with Shaq, maybe the best the league has ever seen. He’s been constantly the best or among the top 5 players in the league ever since, winning the scoring title twice (2005-2007) and seems like a man on a mission to grab as many titles and accolades as possible till his body can’t take it anymore. Career averages, playing in his 14th NBA season – 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

Honorable Mentions –

Darryl Dawkins (1975), 14 NBA seasons, 12 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, first high school student to be drafted along with Bill Willoughby.

Shawn Kemp (1989), 14 NBA season, 14.6 points per game, 8.4 rebounds. Attended Kentucky University but was kicked off.

Jermaine O’Neal (1996), in his 15th NBA season, 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds.

Rashard Lewis (1998), 12th NBA season, 16.9 points per game

Amare Stoudemire (2002), 8th NBA season, 21 points and 8.6 rebounds per game

Dwight Howard (2004), 6th NBA season, 17.3 points, 12.5 rebounds per game