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nba rss feed RSS (of our blog) NBA [HOME] July 3, 2003

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 several years.

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 precise).

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 mixed.

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 impressive.

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 shots).

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 league.

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 experience.

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 ( will launch in early July.

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