Ranking the College Careers of NBA Superstars

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 23, 2013

Ranking the College Careers of NBA Superstars

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    With the stars of tomorrow coming together for that magical basketball masterpiece dubbed March Madness, there's a chance to reflect on how the stars of today performed on that stage just years ago.

    Some of the game's greats never had the chance to play in the sports world's greatest tournament. Freed from restriction in both their ability to enter the NBA and potential of no ceiling when they arrived, some of today's biggest stars bypassed the collegiate world all together.

    This list doesn't concern those players. This is focusing on the players who paid their dues with NCAA service, although the length of their tenure fluctuated.

    For some of these players, college hoops offered the chance to put their stamp on some of the country's most storied programs. For others, it meant the opportunity to write the first chapter.

    But which of these 10 NBA stars shined brightest on the college hardwood? Read on to find out.

     

    Injured players were not considered for this list. College stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

10. Russell Westbrook

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    College: UCLA

    Best Collegiate Season: 12.7 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 46.5% FG

     

    If you don't recognize Russell Westbrook in a Bruins jersey, don't feel too bad about it. He looked nothing like the electric finisher that NBA fans know him as today.

    While UCLA fans were basking in the greatness afforded to them by an elite level of talent (the Bruins made Final Four trips in each of his two seasons), Westbrook's numbers clearly were affected. During his tenure, he shared the floor with the likes of Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Kevin Love.

    Credit a forward-thinking Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder general manager, for nabbing the explosive star with the fourth pick of the 2008 draft.

9. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    College: Texas

    Best Collegiate Season: 15.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 56.9 FG%

     

    LaMarcus Aldridge didn't always dominate the college ranks, but his blend of size (6'11") and fluid athleticism was hard to miss.

    He played two seasons for the Texas Longhorns, making huge strides in his second season after playing just 16 games as a freshman before undergoing hip surgery. He was named to the Big 12 All-Improved team, was the Defensive Player of the Year and was a member of the All-Big 12 first team.

    He started all 53 games of his career and finished with double-doubles in 17 of them.

    The Chicago Bulls made him the second pick of the 2006 NBA draft, then shipped him to the Portland Trail Blazers later that night.

8. Ty Lawson

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    College: North Carolina

    Best Collegiate Season: 16.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 53.2 FG%

     

    Ty Lawson's college career was markedly similar to his pro career—always improving, always overlooked.

    Although his sophomore campaign (12.7 points on 51.5 percent shooting, 5.2 assists per game) had sparked some NBA chatter, he elected to return to the North Carolina Tar Heels along with the rest of the 2007-08 starters.

    It's hard to imagine him regretting that decision while he was cutting down the nets after North Carolina's 2009 championship run.

    Lawson shot better than 50 percent on field goals in each of his three college seasons, using the same blistering speed that's now leaving his NBA opponents gasping for air.

7. Chris Paul

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    College: Wake Forest

    Best Collegiate Season: 15.3 PPG, 6.6 APG, 4.5 RPG, 2.4 SPG

     

    Maybe State Farm is on to something with its Cliff Paul commercial campaign. Chris Paul has always excelled in pairs.

    He needed just two seasons of high school varsity hoops to be named a McDonald's All-American. And he needed only two years of college basketball to become the fourth pick of the 2005 NBA draft.

    Paul led the nation in steals during both of his seasons at Wake Forest and ranked 10th in the country in assists per game in his final season. The Demon Deacons won 48 of the 64 games he played there.

    The 2004-05 consensus first-team All-American had his jersey retired on March 2, 2013.

6. James Harden

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    College: Arizona State

    Best Collegiate Season: 20.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 48.9 FG%

     

    Back when his beard was at a much more manageable state, James Harden still couldn't avoid drawing attention to himself. 

    He was named first-team All-Pac-10 for a dominating freshman season where he tallied 17.8 points on a staggering 52.7 field-goal percentage.

    But that was merely foreshadowing what was still to come.

    Forced to carry a heavier offensive burden, his shooting percentages dipped a bit in his sophomore season. But that didn't stop him from becoming the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year, a consensus first-team All-American and the third pick of the 2009 NBA draft.

5. Dwyane Wade

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    College: Marquette

    Best Collegiate Season: 21.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG

     

    If it seems like Dwyane Wade stuffs a stat sheet a little too easily, that's because he's been doing it for over a decade now.

    The Marquette star shined in his first season with 17.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but he catapulted through the basketball ranks for his stellar performance the next year.

    He led the Golden Eagles to a 27-6 record, but he made his biggest mark in the 2003 NCAA tournament. He battered the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats with a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) in the Midwest Regional final. In doing so, he took the school to its first Final Four since 1977.

    He was named a consensus first-team All-American in 2003. He also still holds the record for the highest single-season scoring average in school history.

4. Stephen Curry

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    College: Davidson

    Best Collegiate Season: 28.6 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.5 SPG, 45.3% FG, 38.7% 3PT

     

    Raise your hand if you'd even heard of Davidson before Stephen Curry arrived in 2006. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

    The son of legendary sharpshooter Dell Curry, Stephen stormed on to the basketball scene with a blistering three-year career there.

    He wasted little time making his presence felt, dropping 32 points in his second collegiate game. During the 2007 Southern Conference tournament, he broke the NCAA record for the most made threes by a freshman.

    Curry's junior season was his strongest from a statistical standpoint, but he's perhaps best known for guiding Davidson to the Elite Eight as a sophomore in 2008.

3. Carmelo Anthony

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    College: Syracuse

    Best Collegiate Season: 22.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 45.3 FG%, 33.7% 3PT

     

    While Carmelo Anthony has been lauded by basketball analysts for elevating his game to new heights this season, there's a chance that the former Syracuse star has simply finally matched his collegiate days.

    That's not a knock on Anthony's prolific play with the New York Knicks but rather a statement on how truly special he was during his lone season in the college ranks.

    Yet somehow he managed only a second-team All-American selection for his efforts. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said (via SUathletics.com) he was by far the best player in college basketball.

    Anthony, along with Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, led the Orange to a 30-5 record and the 2003 NCAA championship.

2. Kevin Durant

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    College: Texas

    Best Collegiate Season: 25.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 47.3 FG%, 40.4% 3PT

     

    Kevin Durant's one-year collegiate career was as fleeting as it was dominant.

    He led the Big 12 in points (903), rebounds (390) and blocks (67). In conference play, he elevated his already-impressive averages to 28.9 points and 12.5 rebounds.

    Dick Vitale called him "the most prolific offensive skilled big perimeter player I've witnessed in many a year." He compared the freshman with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki.

    By the year's end, he became the first freshman to ever win the Naismith College Player of the Year Award.

1. Tim Duncan

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    College: Wake Forest

    Best Collegiate Season: 20.8 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 60.8 FG%

     

    Maybe this isn't a coincidence. The player affectionately referred to as "The Big Fundamental" is the only player on this list to have played four seasons of college hoops.

    His decision to stay in school wasn't for a lack of options at the NBA level. A 16.8-point, 12.5-rebound sophomore season put him in prime position to become a top pick in the 1995 draft.

    But Duncan had no plans of leaving early, no matter how badly his opponents wanted him to go. He improved in nearly all of his statistical categories in each year at Wake Forest and was named a consensus first-team All-American in both his junior and senior years.