NBA Players Whose Careers Prove the Value of Staying in School All 4 Years
As a college basketball fan, it's frustrating to watch NBA games and see rookies or second-year players who were one-and-done college players sit on the bench because their teams now acknowledge that they were not ready for the pros.
At some point in the history of the NBA draft, it was sort of a red flag if a player had lasted all four years in college. Leaving early became the smart thing to do.
Potential was the name of the game, and it wasn't too intriguing getting a player that you already knew what he was.
The Kwame Browns of the world have helped NBA general managers realize there's some value in a proven, well-schooled product. Most players with NBA talent still leave early, but more often we're witnessing that the well-seasoned fare much better early in their career than the higher-picked projects.
So read up, college kids. Here are 10 players from the modern era who stayed in school for four years and it worked out splendidly for them as professionals.
10. Roy Hibbert
Here's the difference between a player like Roy Hibbert and Hasheem Thabeet, who has been a bust in the league but has similar measurables: Hibbert has a feel for the game. He came into the NBA with the ability to pass from the post or high post, an understanding of spacing and developed post moves.
Hibbert was the product of spending four years in John Thompson III's Princeton offense.
Big men who spend a year or two in college get their numbers through just being bigger than everyone. A guy like Hibbert learned how to score in a system, and that's why he's fit in so well in Indiana.
9. Kenneth Faried
Kenneth Faried probably would have succeeded in the NBA if he had left early from Morehead State, but he may not have gotten the opportunity.
By staying his senior season, Faried passed Tim Duncan for the most rebounds in the modern era. And when you're one of the best rebounders in the history of college basketball, that's a good way to get the attention of scouts who probably would not have been able to tell you where in the heck Morehead State was before Faried started setting records.
We also got to see Faried on the national stage in his senior season because his team made the NCAA tournament, and he helped Morehead State upset Louisville in the opening round.
By the time the draft came around, most fans knew of Faried, his dreads and his ferociousness on the boards. He went 22nd in the draft. If the NBA got a do-over on that draft, Faried would probably go second or third.
8. Damian Lillard
This Damian Lillard a week into his NBA career explaining to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins a play that led to him passing to Portland power forward J.J. Hickson:
I came off a high screen on the left wing, dribbled toward the middle, and his man showed. When you come off that screen, you see a man in the opposite corner, and it's his job to check J.J. rolling to the basket. But if I look to that opposite corner, he'll think I'm making a skip pass over there, and he'll cheat a little back to that side. Then I can throw the bounce pass to J.J. for the dunk.
Think a one-and-done point guard would see the game like this? Not likely.
Lillard got his education on the court at Weber State, and the learning curve in the NBA has been far less steep than most point guards who are drafted strictly on physical ability and potential.
7. David Lee
David Lee never wowed with his numbers at Florida, but by the end of his college career, he was a known commodity. Lee was not a glitzy pick, but he had been consistently good enough throughout his college career to get guaranteed money, and he was the final pick of the first round in 2005.
What we've come to find out about Billy Donovan's big men is that they all play with great effort. Had Lee come out early, he likely would have made it in the NBA as an energy guy off the bench. By staying in school, he had developed his post game.
Lee's NBA production has been similar to what he was at Florida in his final two years, only better. His rookie season is the only year he did not average double figures, and that year he was playing for Larry Brown, who rarely trusts rookies.
Brown should have trusted Lee, as he was ready to play right away.
6. Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince easily could have developed some kind of complex in the trash-talking world of the NBA. Prince is so skinny that it looks like a gust of wind could blow him away.
That's probably what kept him in school for four years, because scouts were wary of a player with his frame.
But Prince's frame and spending four years at Kentucky worked to his advantage. When Prince was thrown into the rotation of a team with experience that was ready to win in Detroit, he was not overwhelmed. He had experienced pressure—playing four years in front of Big Blue Nation—and he had played at a high level.
Turns out a 6'9" wing with a ridiculous wingspan, quick feet and a developed basketball mind was well worth the gamble.
5. Danny Granger
Two athletic 6’8" small forwards were taken back to back in the middle of the 2005 draft. One went to college for four years. The other was the top-ranked high school player that year.
Player X career numbers on one team: 18.1 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 17.5 PER
Player Y career numbers on six teams: 8.0 points per game, 2.3 rebounds, 11.9 PER
Player X is Danny Granger, who played two seasons at Bradley and then two at New Mexico. Player Y is Gerald Green.
This isn’t exactly a fair exercise. I could go back to 1996 and compare two shooting guards. The four-year college guy was drafted eighth and the high school kid went 12th. The former was Kerry Kittles and the latter was Kobe Bryant.
There’s an obvious difference in ability there, but I’m not sure that was the case with Granger and Green. Granger’s game was seasoned from the start. He had learned how to score on a high level. Green has spent his career learning how to play the game. He can shoot and he can dunk, but that only gets you so far in the NBA.
4. Shane Battier
What Shane Battier has become for the Miami Heat is a similar version to what he was at Duke. Battier was an undersized 4 who offensively could stretch the floor with his ability to hit the three and defensively was the best help defender in the country.
In some ways, the college game was ahead of the pros in its acceptance of going small and playing with an undersized 4. It has worked so well for the Heat that a lot of teams are playing this way and no one fits that role better than Battier.
Battier is looked upon as a grizzled veteran who just knows how to win, but I bet if you had put him in the same spot on a roster like Miami's early in his NBA career, he would have been just as valuable. He came into the league after four seasons at Duke with the mental game of a grizzled vet.
3. David West
The NBA should play a public service announced before Indiana games.
All you tall kids at home, quit shooting threes and practicing your dunks for a second and watch the effectiveness of an old-school post man, David West.
This is another player on this list who went much lower in the NBA draft—17th in 2003—than he should have. There wasn't much sexy about a guy with great footwork and a developed post game even though West had just finished a national player of the year senior season at Xavier.
West was another player who wasn't overly athletic and wasn't going to make many highlight reels. He was simply a scoring machine from the blocks who had plenty of post moves, knew how to use his body to get position and could also knock down a jumper off the pick-and-pop.
That combination is so rare in today's game that West is one of the most valuable power forwards in the NBA. Learn from him, tall kiddos.
2. Steve Nash
Steve Nash had the misfortune of starting his NBA career on a team that had both Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd at point guard. Nash didn't get a chance to really shine until he was traded to Dallas after his second season.
Nash made it through those two years with his confidence intact, and the fact that he was a star for four years had Santa Clara could not have hurt.
One reason to leave early, if you're ready, is that your earning potential in the NBA is greater because you start the clock at a younger age.
Nash is one great argument against that thought process. It was beneficial for him to not start logging all those NBA minutes until his body and game were fully developed, which occurred after four years in college and another two learning from some great NBA point guards. That could be one reason he's been able to be so effective later in his career.
1. Tim Duncan
It's as though the basketball gods rewarded Tim Duncan for staying in school for four years.
Duncan would have probably been a Hall of Famer if he had come out after his sophomore or junior year, which was realistic at the time, but it worked out brilliantly for him to stay in school for four years.
There was no doubt in 1997 that he would be the first pick, and he just so happened to get lucky enough that San Antonio had the pick. Again, Duncan would have been great wherever he ended up, but it definitely didn't hurt that he landed with what has become the model franchise of the NBA.
Other notable four-year college players: Greivis Vasquez, Chandler Parsons, Darren Collison, George Hill, Jared Dudley, Kirk Hinrich, Jameer Nelson
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