The NBA Draft is a time of hope and optimism for teams in the associations because drafting the right player completely alters the present and future goals of GMs. That is why the most talented or physically capable player is normally taken out of college with one of the top picks in the draft, and the lower picks are used as wildcards.
But which players were taken out of college at very young ages? Thanks to the spectacular work by Hoopshype, here is the list of the 10 youngest NBA players drafted straight out of college into the pros. While there are some very big names including All-Stars and Hall of Famers on this list, there are also some names that you might not have heard before.
10. Bob Santini - 18 Years, 71 Days
No. 5 Pick In 1953 NBA Draft
Career Stats: 2.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.3 APG
Bob Santini kicks off the list as a bust coming into the NBA with the valuable No.5 pick in the NBA Draft. The 6’5” forward only appeared in 4 games for the New York Knicks, averaging negligible numbers and averaging less than 6 MPG. Santini only lasted 4 games in the NBA before his career came to an end, which probably meant the 18-year old was not ready to be given a spot on an NBA team much less a chance for the New York Knicks.
9. Amir Johnson - 18 Years, 63 Days
No. 56 Pick In 2005 NBA Draft
Career Stats: 7.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Amir Johnson has had a long and successful NBA career, playing for 4 franchises over 14 seasons. But Johnson was chosen 56th by the Detroit Pistons in 2005, a solid choice because the power forward hustled on the court and was a solid defender. Amir Johnson would only appear in 11 games over his first 2 seasons with Detroit, although he did appear in 62 games in his 3rd season. Johnson was able to stay relatively healthy throughout his career and getting drafted early meant he was able to refine his craft.
8. Yaroslav Korolev - 18 Years, 57 Days
No. 12 Pick In 2005 NBA Draft
Career Stats: 1.1 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.2 SPG, 0.0 BPG
In typical “Clippers” fashion, Korolev was unfortunately drafted as an 18-year-old with the No. 12 draft pick. The Russian small forward only appeared in 34 games over 2 seasons with Los Angeles, averaging 1.1 PPG in 4.9 career MPG. Korolev can be labeled a failure of a draft choice due to his lack of opportunities although it was always refreshing to see foreign players get a chance in the NBA, especially young ones in their teens.
7. Ersan Ilyasova - 18 Years, 49 Days
No. 36 Pick In 2005 Draft
Career Stats: 10.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Ersan Ilyasova has had a long career as a journeyman, playing for 7 franchises and even having a 2-year stint abroad in Spain after his rookie campaign. Ilyasova was an effective role player because as a 6’9” power forward, the Turkish player could hit the outside shot and also rebound the ball. Ilyasova probably would have been luckier if he was drafted in the modern NBA game because his skill set translates perfectly as a floor-spacing big man.
6. Tracy McGrady - 18 Years, 37 Days
No. 9 Pick In 1997 Draft
Career Stats: 19.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Tracy McGrady is a Hall of Famer and one of the best scorers of his generation, and he was drafted as an 18-year old by the Toronto Raptors. The young teenager had a slow start to his NBA career, before taking off in the 2001 season by winning Most Improved Player after he was traded to the Orlando Magic. McGrady was a bundle of talent and athleticism at a very young age and was an excellent choice with the No. 9 pick. Injuries derailed McGrady’s career, but he was still a Hall of Fame talent by the time his career was finished.
5. Bill Willoughby - 18 Years, 13 Days
No. 19 Pick In 1975 Draft
Career Stats: 6.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Bill Willoughby was selected by the Atlanta Hawks later in the first round of the draft, lasting 2 seasons with them before bouncing around in his career. Willoughby would go on to play for 5 more franchises, completing an 8-year career. A 6’8” small forward, Willoughby became a sharpshooter in the 1982 and 1983 seasons, nailing 42.9% of his threes over those 2 stints. The forward had a decent career overall and can be somewhat proud of his time in the NBA after getting drafted so young.
4. Darko Milicic - 18 Years, 1 Day
No. 2 Pick In 2003 Draft
Career Stats: 6.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Arguably the biggest bust in NBA history, nobody knows what the Detroit Pistons were thinking when they selected Dark Milicic over the likes of Carmelo Anthony. Detroit was trying to find their long-term replacement for their aging big men, but Milicic could never have the scoring ability of a potential superstar like Carmelo Anthony had. Nonetheless, Milicic would go on to play 10 years in the NBA for 6 franchises that were hoping for immediate development. That never came, as Darko would only be a role player for every team he was on.
3. Kobe Bryant - 17 Years, 312 Days
No. 13 Pick In 1996 Draft
Career Stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
The late and great Kobe Bryant was drafted as a skinny teenager in the 1996 Draft, a class full of Hall of Famers and superstar talents. Kobe was selected by the Hornets but never played a single game for them as he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, the rest was history. After a slow rookie campaign, Bryant became an All-Star in his second season while eventually winning 5 championships with the Los Angeles Lakers including 3 in a row between 2000-2002. Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever play the game and the Hornets were at least smart enough to take him out of college as a 17-year old kid.
2. Jermaine O’Neal - 17 Years, 261 Days
No. 17 Pick In 1996 Draft
Career Stats: 13.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.8 BPG
Taken by the Portland Trail Blazers, Jermaine O’Neal could hardly crack a lineup playing 11.5 MPG over his first 4 seasons. Once he was traded to the Indiana Pacers, O’Neal became an All-Star and developed into one of the best big men in the game. Of course, the “Malice at the Palace” killed his career because his stardom would fade shortly after that. Still, Jermaine was very raw as a 17-year old out of college and would have probably been more effective out the gate had he played more minutes for the Trail Blazers.
1. Andrew Bynum - 17 Years, 249 Days
No. 10 Pick In 2005 Draft
Career Stats: 11.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.3 SPG, 1.6 BPG
When the Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum before the 2006 season, the Lakers were in desperate need of star power to surround superstar Kobe Bryant. They would not get that with a 17-year old Bynum, at least not until his 3rd season where he began showing an offensive game and paint skills. There were reports that Bryant wanted Jason Kidd for Bynum once the big man became a starter, but that never materialized. Still, the 7’0” center was the youngest player to ever be drafted and he did become an All-Star in the 2012 season. Helping the Lakers win 2 straight NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 would be his greatest achievements and he can look back at a successful career despite entering the league as a child.
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