When most high school prospects begin their journey to the NBA, it usually involves one year of college basketball. There, they can grow, mature, and tighten their game in preparation of the NBA level. There are, however, a few exceptions to that tradition.
A few special players made the jump right from high school into the NBA. Some didn’t turn out as good as others, but a lot of them became some of the biggest stars in NBA History. Here are the Top 10 NBA players who never went to college:
10. Amar’e Stoudemire
Stat was drafted 9th overall to the Phoenix Suns in 2002 and didn’t waste any time making a name for himself in the NBA, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2003. He played his most consistently dominant basketball during his eight years in Phoenix alongside 2-time MVP Steve Nash, averaging 20 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Over his entire career, Stoudemire was named to 6 All-Star Games and 5 All-NBA teams, flaunting a silky mid-range jumper and vicious assaults of the rim off the pick and roll.
9. Tracy McGrady
This 6’ 8” offensive juggernaut made putting the ball through the hoop look completely effortless during the span of his 15-year career. His game really took off when he joined Orlando for the 2000-2001 season when his scoring average skyrocketed from 15 PPG the previous season with the Raptors to 26 PPG with the Magic.
He went on to average 24+ PPG and was named to an All-NBA team for each of the next seven seasons but was frequently plagued by injury. McGrady was never able to put together a championship run, which is why he sits at such an underwhelming spot on this list.
8. Tony Parker
The French point guard was a major component of four San Antonio Spurs championship teams and has been a master of consistency and efficiency ever since his arrival in the NBA.
The man has averaged 16.2 PPG and 5.8 APG while shooting 49% from the field over a 16-year career in the NBA, which is almost unheard of for someone who stands at only 6’ 2”. Parker must be doing something right because the San Antonio Spurs have never won less than 50 games since Parker was drafted in 2001.
7. Pau Gasol
In his prime, this was a guy who could be penciled in for 20 points and 10 rebounds on a nightly basis. Along with players like Chris Bosh and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol represents an era of versatile big men who can operate from the high post with the ability to shoot, take the ball to the rim, and pass effectively. He was greatly underappreciated as the 2nd best player behind Kobe on a Laker team that won back to back championships. In that respect, he joins the likes of Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen, Kevin McHale.
It’s no surprise that Gasol has carved out an important role on a Gregg Popovich Spurs team that has dominated LeBron’s Cavs and a stacked Warriors team this regular season and hopes to contend for another championship this June.
6. Dwight Howard
Despite the struggle to maximize his talent in the past few years with the Lakers, Rockets, and Hawks, Dwight Howard’s dominance in Orlando can’t be denied. Few players in NBA history can boast a triad of DPOY awards, and “Superman” is one of them. Additionally, Howard made the All-NBA 1st Team in five consecutive seasons and put Orlando on his massive shoulders to reach the Finals in 2009.
The fact that the Magic have become objectively irrelevant since his departure emphasizes Howard's significant impact on both ends of the floor.
5. Dirk Nowitzki
The 7-foot power forward out of Germany marks the beginning of true all-time greats on this list. Dirk’s greatest accomplishment was leading the 2011 Mavericks past a loaded Heat super team during their absolute physical prime, which was astonishing when you take into account his mediocre supporting cast.
He currently sits at 6th all-time in points, largely due to his trademarked fade away jump shot that’s been virtually unguardable. It’s safe to say that Dirk is the single most important player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, and he’s not done yet.
4. Moses Malone
A dominant big man who played professional basketball for almost two decades, Malone is considered one of the most physical to ever step on a court. What did that physicality earn him?
Only 3 MVP awards, an NBA championship, a finals MVP, and some unbelievable stat lines. In the 1981-1982 season, Moses put up 31 points and 14 rebounds through games on 51% shooting. Not to mention a pair of selections to the All-Defensive Team and 10 seasons where he made an All-NBA team.
3. Kevin Garnett
“The Big Ticket” spent his first 12 seasons as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, which unfortunately for him meant not a whole lot of postseason success due to a lack of surrounding talent. Nonetheless, Garnett was arguably the best defender of the decade and one of the most intense competitors the game has ever seen.
His individual statistics and accolades in those years prove his worthiness: 20.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2004 NBA MVP, six 1st All-Defensive Team selections, 2003 All-Star MVP, and 8 All-NBA selections. Then Garnett joined the original Big 3 in Boston alongside Pau Pierce and Ray Allen, going 1 for 2 in the finals against the duo of Kobe and Pau Gasol.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bean Bryant. The Black Mamba. The most comparable player to the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Kobe spent his entire career as a Laker proving that he was undoubtedly a cold-blooded competitor and assassin every time he stepped on the court. When paired with Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers joined only a handful of teams to have ever three-peated.
While most players would be content having scored 40 points in a game, old man Kobe wouldn’t settle for less than 60 in his last game ever. Having won 5 championships and appearing in 7, it’s a shame that he never squared off against LeBron James in the Finals.
1. LeBron James
Topping off this list, from St. Vincent- St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James. The 6’ 8”, 250-pound freight train infamously made his “Decision” to leave The Land in the summer of 2010 and take his talents to South Beach. Under Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra, LeBron learned how to win, and since then the NBA Finals has become his annual business trip.
So far, he’s bested a historically talented Thunder squad, Greg Popovich’s 4-time championship team, and completed the only 3-1 comeback in the Finals against the greatest regular season team of all time in the 2016 Warriors. People are finally starting to come to terms with the fact that James is closing the gap on Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time.