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Preps to the Pros
With all the hype surrounding this year's NBA draft
and the number-one pick LeBron James, one gets the
impression that high school players have been drafted
in large numbers in the first round over the last
Before you read any further, take a guess as to what
percentage of first rounders since 1995 have been high
school players. 10%? 15%? More than 20%?
Try just over 6.5%.
From the 1995 draft (when Kevin Garnett was taken with
the 5th overall pick), through the 2003 draft, 17 high
school players have been drafted in the first round
(out of a total of 258 first round picks). That's an
average of just under two per year (1.8 to be
Whether or not that's a large number is relative.
Some argue that no high school player should be
allowed to enter the draft. For these people, even
one high school player in the draft is too many. For
those "free market" types who think players should
have the right to give the NBA a shot right out of
high school, then this number is irrelevant.
But regardless of your stance on the matter, it is an
interesting aspect of the draft, and the NBA game in
general. Along with the influx of foreign players in
the league, high school players going directly into
the draft is one of the hot topics on the minds of
league commissioner David Stern and fans alike.
But aside from looking at the draft numbers alone,
what type of impact have players straight from high
school had on the game? As you might guess, it's been
Drafting players, whether they've played college ball,
or are coming straight out of high school, is a tough
business. The oft used "it's more an art than a
science" tag really does apply here. Watching a
player progress and mature through a college career
does help give NBA scouts and general managers
somewhat of a better gauge of a player's abilities and
potential, but that's not always the case. Picking a
player from high school adds uncertainty to the mix,
but maybe not as much as you'd think.
Taking a look at some quantitative measures of
performance (i.e. statistics) amongst the
straight-from-high-school bunch, the numbers are
Let's start with the NBA's own Efficiency Rating (a
statistic that takes into account points, rebounds,
assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, made and missed
For the 2002-2003 season, four straight to the NBA
players are in the top-10. KG was rated number one,
and Tracy McGrady was number four. Kobe Bryant was
number five, and Jermaine O'Neal was ranked number 10.
So 40% of the top ten ranked players in terms of
efficiency rating never played a game of college ball.
A peak at some other important statistical categories
might be somewhat of a surprise as well.
Points per game: three of the top-10 (including the
#1 spot: McGrady, #2: Kobe, and #8: Garnett).
Rebounds per game: two of the top-10 spots (including
the #2 spot: Garnett, and #4 Jermaine O'Neal).
Triple doubles: four of the top-10 spots (including
the #1 spot: Garnett, #2: Kobe, #8: McGrady, and also
tied at #8: Jermaine O'Neal).
Needless to say, these guys are impact players. But
that might be selling them short. It's probably more
accurate to call most of them franchise players.
But the draft is always risky, and even more so with
high school players, since they often have a steeper
learning curve, both emotionally and physically than
your average college-experienced player. The NBA game
is tough enough for a 21 or 22-year old college
graduate, let alone a 17 or 18-year old who has only
played against high school kids and has never lived
away from home.
So while there are a few top-performers (KG, Kobe,
McGrady and the like), the class of straight from high
school players has its share of average players and
duds. Of the 14 players drafted prior to this year
only five have career averages over 10 points per game
(Kobe, McGrady, Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, and Amare
Stoudamire who averaged 13.5 points per game in his
rookie season). Of the remaining nine players, eight
have a combined scoring average of just over 6.5 point
per game, and one (Leon Smith) is no longer in the
Granted, some of these younger players will mature
into solid NBA players. But some won't. And that's
also true for guys that have college or overseas
So in the end, it's anyone's guess as to what's a
riskier proposition. Do you snag a high school phenom
and land the next KG, Kobe, or McGrady, or get stuck
with a troubled player like Leon Smith? It might not
be any riskier than the odds of picking a Tim Duncan,
or getting stuck with next Michael Olowokandi.
Patrick Chylinski is a freelance writer and private coach in Los Angeles, CA. His website
(basketballsuccess.com) will launch in early July.