The retirement of Kevin Garnett is a good opportunity to look at the best players who skipped college and entered the NBA straight out of high school. We made a top 5 list, that included Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Moses Malone, not necessarily in that order.
5. Dwight Howard
You won’t find a lot of people who like Dwight Howard, with his departure from the Orlando Magic, his one season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and ending with the Houston Rockets, not adding him too many fans. But remember this: The Lakers and the Rockets tried to keep him, which says something that there is substance beyond the public persona. And when it comes to on court performance, Howard, the first overall pick in 2004 out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, was a defensive star and very difficult player to handle.
His career can probably be split to pre and post injuries. He missed only 7 games through his first 7 seasons in the league, including taking the Magic to the NBA finals in 2009 and the conference finals a year later. He’s had only one actual season in which he missed a huge chunk of games (2014-2015), but the last two seasons have clearly shown he’s no longer the same player, even defensively. Howard is a 8-time All-Star and 5-time All-NBA first team selection, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award 3 times, back-to-back-to-back.
4. Kevin Garnett
The man who this list was made for wasn’t the best player of his generation, but might have been one of the more influential. He is the only proof that the Minnesota Timberwolves were successful at some point during their franchise existence, making the playoffs with them from 1997 to 2004 consecutively, but only in 2004 getting past the first round, going all the way to the conference finals.
Garnett was at his best that season, winning the MVP, and was a different, older player when he came to Boston. But teaming up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen created the first Big Three in quite a while, and more importantly, added a championship to the Boston Celtics for the first time in 22 years. Success in Boston helps boost you in very different ways, and it also elevated Garnett into a new level in terms of historic significance. He couldn’t capture another one, also trying with the Brooklyn Nets, before spending a less memorable period when returning to the Timberwolves.
The former 1995 5th overall pick who played his high school basketball in South Carolina and Chicago was a 15-time All-Star and a 4-time All-NBA first team selection. He was selected nine times to the All-Defensive first team, and won the DPOY award in 2008.
3. Moses Malone
No matter how many achievements Malone has in his career, it always seems that he’s a bit forgotten, a little bit like the ABA, the first pro league he played for before his actual NBA career began. He was the Finals MVP in 1983, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to their famous fo, fo and fo championship run, losing just one game in that postseason. He led the NBA in rebounds six times and won the league MVP three times, playing for the Houston Rockets and 76ers during his peak in the league.
He wasn’t a very tall center (6’10), but one of the more powerful and savvy ones to play the game, and nicknamed chairman of the boards for his ability on the glass, that included grabbing more offensive rebounds than anyone in league history. He played with the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Bullets Milwaukee Bucks and finally the San Antonio Spurs, dragging out his career until he was 40. Impressively, he had 11 consecutive seasons of averaging at least 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, with injuries not really slowing him down until he was into his 17th NBA season.
2. Kobe Bryant
For all of Bryant’s detractors, it’s easiest to explain what he’s done in this league with numbers: Five time NBA champion, two Finals MVP, one regular season MVP, 18 All-Star games, 11 All-NBA first team selections and if anyone forgot, he was a pretty good defender once upon a time, making nine All-Defensive first team selections. He led the NBA in scoring twice (2006,2007) which included his famous 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors. He averaged over 22 points per game for 14 consecutive seasons and 33,643 career points, he is third on the all-time list behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
1. LeBron James
Why is LeBron greater than Kobe? That argument will never end, but even with less championship rings, James has been the more dominant player throughout his career, capable of doing more things than Bryant on the court. James is a four-time regular season MVP, three-time NBA champion with three Finals MVPs and soon one of the top 10 scorers in NBA history, as he enters his 14th NBA season. He brought a championship to Cleveland, he won twice with the Miami Heat, and unlike anyone else in the list, has something to back him up in the discussion of best NBA player of all-time. Personally, I think he’s in the top 5 with Michael Jordan on top, but James has a few more years before he’s no longer relevant to the discussion.