Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and the Best Preps to Pros NBA Players

Ryan ComstockCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2011

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and the Best Preps to Pros NBA Players

0 of 55

    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    One of the more controversial decisions in recent NBA history was the institution of the 19-year-old age limit and requirement for players to be at least one year removed from high school prior to entering the NBA Draft.

    This rule was put in place in 2005 and took effect starting with the 2006 Draft, eliminating the potential for players to jump straight from high school to the NBA. Some, like Brandon Jennings, have found a way to circumvent the new law, but he was not the first to make his way to the pros in this fashion.

    A more thorough history of preps-to-pros players will be provided on the next slide.

    Supporters of the rule say that the one year of college experience greatly benefits a player due to the extra coaching and increased level of play provided by the NCAA. Opponents view it as a poorly disguised attempt to draw more interest to the college game thanks to pro-caliber players performing against athletes who will never even sniff the professional ranks.

    I've had discussions with some readers on the subject, and they know my feelings on the matter. I believe the rule should be two years of college or nothing at all.

    A year, and really just a semester, at an institution of higher learning does nothing to educate young athletes nor does it allow them to grow as individuals. A commitment of at least two years would mean at least three semesters of college-level education. This provides ample time to broaden a young man's worldview and would also further the skill level of many players.

    And who knows, maybe some of them would even decide they like learning and would enjoy furthering their knowledge on a variety of subjects en route to earning a degree.

    In the meantime, depriving young athletes, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, of the opportunity to make a living and support their families while at the same time forcing them to risk the type of catastrophic injury that would permanently derail their career goal is selfish at best.

    It should be up to those running NBA teams to determine who is good enough to play in the league. For every Kwame Brown there is a Dwight Howard, and there's just as much risk in selecting a highly touted college player as there is a top prospect coming out of high school.

    But I digress. An exploration of the pros and cons of this matter is not the purpose of this article.

    By continuing your reading, you will find a brief history of preps-to-pros players and a ranking of every player to enter the league in this manner will be provided.

    Let's start by going to school ourselves.

A Quick (As Possible) History Lesson on The Subject

1 of 55

    sportsillustrated.cnn.com

    The first to play in the NBA without any college experience were Tony Kappen and Connie Simmons in the 1946-47 season. The league was then known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). In 1949, the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to form what we now know as the NBA.

    Both Kappen and Simmons played for the Boston Celtics, although Kappen did have professional experience from his time in the American Basketball League (ABL). As you will find in this ranking, Simmons had a longer and more successful career than Kappen.

    These two were followed by Joe Graboski, who became the third player in league history to play in the NBA without any college experience when he joined the BAA's Chicago Stars prior to the 1948-49 season.

    In the early years of the league, the NBA had rules in place stating a player must complete his four years of college eligibility before he could be considered for the draft.

    Then, in 1962, a player by the name of Reggie Harding graduated from high school but did not enroll in college. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons that year, but was not allowed to play in the NBA due to a rule forbidding players to join the league until one year after their high school class graduated.

    Harding played minor league basketball before being drafted again by the Pistons the following year. He was the first player to be drafted directly out of high school.

    Connie Hawkins also entered the league in 1969 despite never playing college basketball, but his route to the pros was much more complicated than any of the players mentioned above and will be discussed in further detail later.

    Due to league rules, a number of years then passed before any player went pro without going to college.

    The turning point in all of this was 1971 when Spencer Haywood challenged the NBA's eligibility rules. Haywood played two years of college ball before deciding to turn pro. He could not enter the NBA due to its rules, so he joined the American Basketball Association (ABA), which did not have any such restrictions and was immediately successful.

    After a year there, he was signed by the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA. Along with then Sonics owner Sam Schulman, Haywood challenged the NBA's four-year eligibility rule by filing an anti-trust suit that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

    The Court ruled in favor of Haywood, forcing a change in the rule to allow players to enter the NBA Draft directly out of high school provided they show proof of financial hardship.

    Moses Malone also took the ABA path to the NBA, although he joined the main league due to the ABA-NBA merger, as opposed to Haywood whom was signed by an NBA team. Malone was hugely successful in the ABA and then the NBA, which led other teams to view top-notch high schoolers as legitimate NBA prospects.

    The first player to be drafted and directly enter the league out of high school was Darryl Dawkins in 1975. Dawkins was drafted No. 5 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. Bill Willoughby was also drafted that year by the Atlanta Hawks, although much later, in the second round.

    Dawkins and Willoughby were not as successful as their respective teams hoped they would be, and franchises proceeded to shy away from drafting non-college players.

    This did not prevent athletes from entering the league without playing in college, however, and the most notable example of a player doing so is Shawn Kemp.

    After 20 years of no direct preps-to-pros players, Kevin Garnett declared his intentions to enter the NBA Draft after graduating from high school.

    He was taken No. 5 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the proverbial floodgates were opened. Garnett became an instant force in the league, proving that fresh out of high school players could make a quick impact in the pros.

    From 1996 to 2005, when the current rule was put in place, 38 players were drafted directly out of high school. There have been four other players in that time span to go pro despite not playing any basketball at the college level. Some of those players enrolled at a university but did not play in any games—think Stephen Jackson—and others have gone to play overseas (a la Brandon Jennings) to fulfill the age and removal from high school requirements.

    In total, 42 players have been drafted into the NBA out of high school. Although they did not go directly from high school to the NBA, another 12 have entered the league without playing any basketball in college, bringing the total number of preps-to-pros players to 54.

    There have been several All-Stars from this category of player, and quite a few that we can reasonably argue are Hall of Fame talents. There are also others who could rise to that level if they continue to develop their skills.

    What will now follow is a ranking of these 54 basketballers, from those you may have never even heard of to those who have made an indelible impact on the game.

    Enjoy.

54. Ousmane Cisse

2 of 55

    usatoday.com

    Cisse was selected in the middle of the second round by the Denver Nuggets during the 2001 Draft after graduating from St. Jude Catholic High School in Montgomery, Alabama.

    After suffering an injury and being released by the team he moved on to the Harlem Globetrotters. He was ultimately signed and released by the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors over the next two years and was last seen playing for the Fayateville Patriots of the D-League during the 2004-05 season.

    He never played in an NBA game.

53. Ricky Sanchez

3 of 55

    daylife.com

    Ricky Sanchez also never played a game in the pros. After being drafted by Portland in 2005, he was immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Jarrett Jack.

    Two years later, he was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers, again never taking part in a game.

    He played a total of 75 games in the D-League, averaging 10.1 PPG and shooting 41 percent from the floor.

52. Latavious Williams

4 of 55

    hoopsaddict.com

    When Williams' name first came up, it appeared he would be playing college basketball for the University of Memphis. He was unable to qualify academically, however, and it was then believed he would play pro ball overseas as Brandon Jennings did.

    Instead, Williams chose to enter the D-League Draft, and was the first high school player to be drafted directly into the NBA's version of the minor leagues.

    Playing as a reserve for the Tulsa 66ers, Williams averaged 7.8 PPG and 7.7 RPG while hitting 53 percent of his shots.

    He was then drafted by the Miami Heat and quickly traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2010 NBA Draft. He played in the Summer League for the Thunder, but did not do enough to warrant a roster spot.

    He continues to play for the 66ers in the D-League, averaging 13.4 PPG on 63 percent shooting while grabbing 8.6 RPG.

51. Korleone Young

5 of 55

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Drafted by the Pistons just prior to the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Young played in only three NBA games and totaled 13 points and four rebounds.

    Detroit let him go after an injury hampered his ability to perform, and Young has not been on an NBA roster since. He has played in various independent leagues as well as overseas.

50. James Lang

6 of 55

    voices.washingtonpost.com

    You ready for this?

    James Lang was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003. After bouncing around the D-League for a few years, he got a shot to prove himself with the Washington Wizards during the 2006-07 season.

    He played 11 games for the Wiz and totaled, wait for it, 11 points and 11 rebounds.

    Lang then found his way back to the D-League. He spent a total of five seasons at the lower level and was reasonably productive—averaging 9.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG.

    Sadly, in 2009 he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body.

49. Leon Smith

7 of 55

    hoopedia.nba.com

    After making it through a difficult childhood that saw him raised in a foster home from the age of five after being neglected by his parents, Smith was drafted at the end of the first round of the 1999 NBA Draft by San Antonio.

    He was then traded to Dallas and released in 2000 after spending time in a psychiatric ward due to an apparent suicide attempt and repeated run-ins with the law.

    An obviously troubled young man, Smith played in a total of 15 NBA games, scoring 33 points and bringing in 33 rebounds.

48. Ndudi Ebi

8 of 55

    nba.com

    Ebi came to the U.S. as a teenager after initially being raised in Nigeria. He was selected in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft by Minnesota and went on to have a rather unceremonious career.

    He played in a total of 19 NBA games, notching 40 points and 19 rebounds. He then went on to a successful two-year run in the D-Leage, where he averaged 12.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG before continuing his career abroad.

47. Thomas Hamilton

9 of 55

    programas.com

    Hamilton (30) graduated from high school in 1993. He intended to play college basketball at the University of Illinois, but was deemed academically ineligible. He then attended the University of Pittsburgh, but never played any ball.

    In 1995, he was signed by the Toronto Raptors and quickly released. The Boston Celtics, for whom he played 11 games at the end of the season, signed him later that year.

    Boston did not bring him back the following year, and he proceeded to be signed and released a total of four times by three teams.

    In 33 career games, Hamilton averaged 3.2 PPG and 3.4 RPG.

46. Jackie Butler

10 of 55

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Butler went undrafted in 2004 and was then signed by the New York Knicks. He played two seasons with the Knicks, seeing significant playing time during the 2005-06 season.

    He then signed a three-year $7 million contract with San Antonio prior to the 2006-07 season, being considered a project that would take some time to develop.

    The Spurs did not give him that chance, trading him to Houston the following summer, and he was soon released.

    Over his three years in the NBA, Butler played nearly a full season in terms of games (69), averaging 5.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG while shooting 54 percent from the field.

45. Tony Kappen

11 of 55

    iamaceltic.net

    As written in the history section of this piece, Kappen (5) was the first player in league history to play without any college experience.

    He lasted just one season, playing for the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Ironmen.

    In 59 career games, Kappen averaged 6.5 PPG.

44. Robert Swift

12 of 55

    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Selected by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 12th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, Robert Swift appeared on his way to solid pro career.

    After not playing much in his rookie season, Swift participated in 47 games during the 2005-06 season, averaging 6.4 PPG on 52 percent shooting and 5.6 RPG. Then, in an unfortunate bit of circumstance, Swift ruptured the ACL in his right knee and was never the same.

    After missing the 2006-07 year, he returned for the 2007-08 season before tearing the lateral meniscus in that same knee about halfway through the schedule.

    The eventual Oklahoma City Thunder would ultimately renounce the rights to Swift, who had a very brief run in the D-League before resuming his career in Japan.

43. Jonathan Bender

13 of 55

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Taken by the Toronto Raptors with the No. 5 overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Bender was quickly sent to the Indiana Pacers.

    Bender's size and athleticism made him a potential All-Star, but his body did not cooperate. After playing in 78 games for the Pacers during the 2001-02 season, Bender played in a total of 76 games over the next four years.

    Indiana waived him following the 2005-06 season, and he was not heard from again until he played in 25 games for the 2009-10 Knicks.

    He is currently out of the league.

42. Reggie Harding

14 of 55

    detroitpslbasketball.com

    A seemingly disturbed individual, Harding was the first player to be drafted directly out of high school in 1962, though he had to sit out a year due to league rules.

    Starting with the 1963-64 season, Harding played professionally for four years with his last being split between the NBA and ABA.

    He was a gifted player who, in his first two years, averaged 11.5 PPG and 11.1 RPG. In 25 ABA games, Harding came away with averages of 13.4 PPG and 13.4 RPG.

    His personal demons cut his career short, as he struggled with drug addiction and displayed violent tendencies. He allegedly raped Florence Ballard of The Supremes at knifepoint in 1960, and was murdered in 1972, when he was shot dead in Detroit.

    He was 30 years old.

41. Gerald Green

15 of 55

    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Green is best known for the "Birthday Cake Dunk" he performed during the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest.

    He entered the NBA out of high school as the 18th overall selection in the 2005 NBA Draft, being taken by the Boston Celtics.

    Green showed promise during the 2006-07 season when he averaged 10.4 PPG, but he was traded away to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett blockbuster of 2007.

    He played in 29 games for the T-Wolves before being again traded to Houston and eventually finding his way to Dallas.

    Green averaged 7.5 PPG in his four-year NBA career and now plays ball in Russia.

40. Lloyd Daniels

16 of 55

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Lloyd Daniels had all the potential in the world. He originally intended to play play college basketball at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), although he was to initially start out playing with a junior college in an effort to improve his academic standing.

    Daniels went to five high schools in three states and could reportedly read at only a third-grade level at the time of his graduation, something the UNLV coaching staff wanted to improve on.

    He never got the chance to play, however, as he was kicked off the team following an arrest that came as the result of his attempting to buy crack-cocaine from an undercover police officer.

    Daniels then spent a number of years toiling around in other professional and semi-professional leagues before finally getting a chance to play in the NBA during the 1992-93 season.

    Despite showing flashes of greatness, Daniels could never shake the notion that he was a tremendous risk off the court and an undisciplined player on it.

    He played briefly for six teams over a seven-year span, averaging 7.1 PPG.

39. DeSagana Diop

17 of 55

    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    In the league strictly for his shot-blocking ability, Diop played a significant role in bringing the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 Finals.

    Diop entered the league in 2001 when he was picked No. 8 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played three seasons there before signing with Dallas, being traded to New Jersey, again signing with Dallas and again being traded, this time to Charlotte where he now plays in relative obscurity.

    Over the course of 10 years, Diop has career averages of 2.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 1.1 BPG.

38. Sebastian Telfair

18 of 55

    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    An unfair amount of pressure was laid on Telfair due to the excessive hype surrounding his name prior to the 2004 Draft. He was taken 13th overall that year by the Portland Trail Blazers and was never able to live up to his supposed potential and was traded to the Boston Celtics.

    Telfair spent a year in Boston before being dealt, along with fellow list-maker Gerald Green, to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett trade.

    The New York native was actually somewhat successful in his first two years with the T-Wolves, averaging 9.6 PPG and 5.3 APG. Even though it appeared he might be on his way to blossoming, Minnesota traded Telfair to the Los Angeles Clippers, who sent him to Cleveland, who eventually dealt him back to Minnesota, where he now plays sparingly.

37. Martell Webster

19 of 55

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Webster started his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers, who selected him No. 6 overall in the 2005 Draft. "The Definition" started slowly, but was beginning to develop before a foot injury, of course, caused him to miss all but five minutes of the 2008-09 season.

    He played one more season with Portland before being traded to Minnesota, where he continues to battle injury woes.

    Webster grew up in the Seattle area and his mother was suspected to be killed by "The Green River Killer" when he was four.

36. Shaun Livingston

20 of 55

    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Shaun Livingston's rise to stardom and the fulfillment of his tremendous potential were sidetracked by an incredibly severe knee injury he suffered in 2007.

    At the end of a seemingly innocent fast break, he fell awkwardly and damaged just about every part of his left knee—tearing his ACL, PCL and lateral meniscus, spraining his MCL and dislocating his kneecap.

    The injury caused him to miss the entire 2007-08 season, and he has since moved between four NBA teams and one D-League team.

    He now plays for the Charlotte Bobcats.

35. Bill Willoughby

21 of 55

    betyudidntknow.blogspot.com

    Entering the NBA in the same year as Darryl Dawkins, Willoughby had a far less successful career than his counterpart. It started with the Draft that year, as Dawkins was a fist-round pick and Willoughby lasted until the second round.

    Playing for six teams in an eight-year span, Willoughby averaged 6.0 PPG and 3.9 RPG. He was later said to regret skipping college, and eventually earned a degree in communications at the age of 44. His education was paid for by the NBA, and he spent time counseling high school players on the risks of jumping straight to the pros.

34. C.J. Miles

22 of 55

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Taken in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, Miles has spent his entire six-year career with the Utah Jazz.

    He initially struggled and saw limited minutes, but has seen an increase in both playing time and production in recent years. This season, Miles is averaging 12.1 PPG while playing a little over 23 MPG.

33. Kwame Brown

23 of 55

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Despite being a tremendous bust as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, Brown has gone on to last 10 years in the league.

    He too has had legal issues, but has never been found guilty of substantial charges.

    There's been some speculation that Michael Jordan was a negative influence on Brown during his time with Washington, as Jordan placed unrealistic expectations on the then very young player and humiliated him in practice on multiple occasions.

    For his career, Brown has averaged 7.2 PPG and 5.5 RPG. Interestingly enough, he was again brought to a Jordan-led team in Charlotte prior to the 2010-11 season.

32. Amir Johnson

24 of 55

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Johnson was drafted late in the second round by the Detroit Pistons in the 2005 Draft. In four seasons with the Pistons, Johnson provided very little production and was eventually traded to Milwaukee who then sent him to Toronto before he even played a game for them.

    It seems as though both teams may have given up on the young man a little too early, as he is now averaging 10.3 PPG and 6.8 RPG while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.

    Looks like somebody made a mistake in their player evaluations.

31. Darius Miles

25 of 55

    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Miles is a bit of a tragic figure in that he was well one his way to being a very good NBA player before a knee injury forced him to undergo microfracture surgery. The procedure resulted in Miles missing two full seasons, and once he came back he was never the same.

    He played in a total of seven seasons, and in the approximately two-and-a-half years before his injury was averaging 12.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG while steadily improving.

    He had a very short stint with Memphis in the 2008-09 season and has not been heard from again.

    His 15 minutes of fame did grant him three movie roles, however, as he starred in The Perfect Score, had an appearance in National Lampoon's Van Wilder and was the co-subject, along with Quentin Richardson, of the 2004 documentary The Youngest Guns.

30. Louis Williams

26 of 55

    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Thought to be a potential first-round pick, Williams instead slipped to the second round where he was taken No. 45 overall by Philadelphia in the 2005 Draft.

    The 2005 Naismith Prep Player of the Year underwhelmed in his rookie and sophomore years, even being demoted to the D-League for a short period of time.

    Then, in the 2007-08 season, Williams began to develop and averaged career highs in nearly every statistical category during the 2009-10 season, highlighted by his 14 PPG, 4.2 APG and 47 percent shooting percentage.

    He has regressed during the 2010-11 year, seeing a decrease in minutes and production. It could just be a momentary road block on his career path, or we could have already seen the best Lou Williams has to offer.

    Only time will tell.

29. DeShawn Stevenson

27 of 55

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    After a very successful 2006-07 season with Washington that saw him average 11.2 PPG while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent on threes, Stevenson struggled offensively and was traded to Dallas where he was relegated to reserve status.

    Originally drafted by the Jazz in 2000, Stevenson survived a rough childhood in which his father, suffering from mental illness, was repeatedly arrested and ultimately killed his own mother in 1993.

    Stevenson wished to play college basketball for the University of Kansas but was ruled ineligible due to a violation involving his SAT scores.

    He spent a little over three seasons in Utah, then another two-and-a-half years with Orlando before heading to Washington, where he began to bloom. His production then dropped and and he was shipped to Dallas.

    He has resumed a starting role with the Mavericks in the 2010-11 season and has regained his shooting touch. In 48 games, he's shooting over 40 percent on this three-point attempts.

28. Travis Outlaw

28 of 55

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Before his massively over-sized contract with the New Jersey Nets caused Outlaw to become the source of many jokes, he was actually quite a productive player for Portland and developed a reputation as a clutch performer for the team.

    In his last two full seasons with the Blazers, the 23rd overall pick in the 2003 Draft averaged 13.0 PPG and showed the ability to strike from anywhere on the floor as a backup who saw crunch time minutes.

    This is in stark contrast to his 9.8 PPG and 38 percent field-goal percentage as a starter with the Nets this year.

27. Andray Blatche

29 of 55

    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Blatche missed a good chunk of what would have been his rookie season after he was shot in a carjacking. The incident occurred in September of 2005, and he recovered rather quickly, playing in his first game that November.

    Prior to the 2005 Draft, it was believed Blatche would be a first-round pick. He fell to the second round and was picked there by the Washington Wizards at No. 49 overall.

    The Wizards brought Blatche along slowly, allowing him to develop and learn the game before forcing him into heavy minutes.

    The strategy appears to be paying off, as the 24-year old is averaging 15.9 PPG and 8.1 RPG this season. While his 43 percent shooting percentage leaves something to be desired, he has shown the ability to be a good pro player.

26. Eddy Curry

30 of 55

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    He was never much of a defensive player or rebounding force, but, when he played, Curry could flat out score.

    From the 2003-04 through 2006-07 seasons, Curry averaged 16.0 PPG and shot well over 50 percent from the floor. He spent five seasons with Chicago before being sent to New York where he resided for four years.

    Heart and knee issues forced a reduction in Curry's play. He also showed up out of shape for training camp two years in a row and was never on the same page as coach Mike D'Antoni with the Knicks.

    Although he is still on New York's roster, Curry does not play and the team is hoping to find a team who will take him off their hands.

25. Dorell Wright

31 of 55

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Wright began his career with the Miami Heat after being the 19th overall pick in the 2005 Draft. While he never produced much in his six years in Miami, he does have a championship ring to show for his efforts.

    This past summer, Wright signed with the Golden State Warriors and has since begun to flourish. As the team's starting small forward, he's averaging 16.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 3.2 APG while shooting over 40 percent on his three-point attempts and 43 percent overall.

    Chosen to participate in the 2011 3-Point Challenge, Wright's shooting form will be on display during the upcoming All-Star weekend.

24. Connie Simmons

32 of 55

    newsday.com

    As those of you who read the history section of this article already know, Simmons, along with Tony Kappen, was the first player to join the professional ranks without playing any college basketball.

    In a 10-year career, Simmons averaged 9.8 PPG and 6.2 RPG (the rebounding number could be higher, or lower, being that rebounding records are not available prior to the 1950-51 season).

    He also won two league championships

23. Joe Graboski

33 of 55

    life.com

    Graboski (9) played 13 professional seasons with six teams. He was the third player to enter the pros without playing college basketball.

    For his career, Graboski averaged 11.0 PPG and 8.1 RPG.

22. Al Harrington

34 of 55

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Al Harrington may be a flawed player, but he is still a very capable scorer. He's averaged at least 16.5 PPG in five of his 12 NBA seasons, even throwing together a 20.1 PPG campaign in 2008-09.

    He was selected with the No. 25 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft and has played for five teams, including two separate stints with Indiana.

    The Denver Nuggets use Harrington in a backup role, and he is currently averaging 11.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG in the 2010-11 season.

21. Andrew Bynum

35 of 55

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The 10th overall pick of the 2005 Draft, a history of injuries have made Bynum a bit of a tease for the Lakers.

    When he plays, he's shown he can score, rebound and block shots. The issue has never been his talent, though, just how much his body can handle, as he's played more than 65 games in a season just once in his five-year career.

    Still, he's just 23-years old and the book is by no means fully written on Bynum. Lakers coach Phil Jackson has steadily increased his minutes after limiting them once Bynum was ready to play in December of the 2010-11 season in an effort to keep him healthy.

20. J.R. Smith

36 of 55

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Unfortunately for the Denver Nuggets and basketball fans everywhere, J.R. Smith does not seem to understand how good he could truly be.

    A tremendously gifted athlete who can really do whatever he wants on a basketball court, Smith too often makes poor decisions with the ball. He often rushes shots and goes for highlight-reel moves when there is a clearly better option available.

    After shooting 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent on threes from the 2006-07 through 2008-09 seasons, Smith has taken a step backwards in recent years by shooting just 42 percent and seeing his three-point shooting percentage dip below 35 percent.

    He's still only 25 and could certainly turn things around, but it is unclear whether or not he is part of Denver's future plans.

19. Brandon Jennings

37 of 55

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Jennings was the first player to circumvent the league's new eligibility rules by skipping college and playing in overseas for a year. Given the not-so-great experience he had there, it's not clear how many players will take the same route in future years.

    He did get paid a good amount of money in Italy, but saw limited minutes and had some negative experiences having to do with living conditions and team management. He did, however, state that the experience of practicing with and being coached by a professional team helped his development.

    In the 2009 NBA Draft, Jennings was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and wound up averaging 15.5 PPG and 5.7 APG, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

    Early in the 2010-11 season, Jennings recorded his first career triple-double. His progress was slowed by a broken foot suffered in mid-December, although he has since returned and has improved in a number of the major statistical categories.

18. Tyson Chandler

38 of 55

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Mainly a defensive player, Chandler has carved out a nice role for himself in the NBA after being selected No. 2 overall by the Clippers in the 2001 Draft.

    Los Angeles quickly dealt Chandler to Chicago, where he lasted five seasons before being traded to New Orleans, then to Charlotte and then finally to Dallas where he now plays.

    In his career, Chandler has averaged 8.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 1.4 BPG. He is also a career 56 percent shooter and won a gold medal with Team USA in this past summer's FIBA World Championship.

17. Kendrick Perkins

39 of 55

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    An efficient though not highly productive offensive player, Perkins first became a household name during the Boston Celtics' 2007-08 title run. He is a significant defensive presence in the paint and set a career high during the 2008-09 season with 2.0 BPG.

    He had his best all-around year in 2009-10, averaging 10.1 PPG on a 60 percent shooting percentage to go along with 7.6 RPG and 1.7 BPG. There are also many who believe the Celtics would have won yet another championship last season had Perkins not torn his MCL and PCL in Game Six of the Finals.

    Perkins recently returned from the recovery period for his knee injury and is being worked back into the lineup. In eight games this year he's averaging 6.3 PPG and 8.4 RPG.

16. Darryl Dawkins

40 of 55

    corbisimages.com

    "Chocolate Thunder" never fulfilled the promise he was thought to have when the Philadelphia 76ers selected him No. 5 overall in the 1975 Draft. In his 14-year career, Dawkins showed flashes of being a dominant player, but was never able to do it consistently.

    Dawkins averaged 12.0 PPG for his career and scored at least 13.1 PPG six times while also being among the league leaders in field-goal percentage on multiple occasions.

    Dawkins played in the NBA Finals three times in his career, although he never won a championship.

    He is best known for twice breaking the backboard on dunks, naming his massive throwdown the "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam."

15. Stephen Jackson

41 of 55

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Stephen Jackson is one of the more tenacious and loyal teammates you will find in the NBA, and this trait is largely credited to him seeing his half-brother die violently when Jackson was 14. Jackson has said he often wishes he could have been there to protect a family member, with his teammates now being viewed as his family on the court.

    He took a circuitous path to the league, at first intending to play ball at the University of Arizona before being ruled academically ineligible. He then spent one semester at Butler Community College, where he did not play any basketball.

    Jackson was selected by Phoenix in the second round of the 1997 Draft, although he was waived by the team before playing.

    It was not until the 2000-01 season that Jackson played in the NBA, when he was signed by New Jersey after playing in other professional leagues in the U.S., Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

    He played one season for the Nets before bouncing around the league for 10 years between five teams.

    An intense defender, Jackson has also averaged 16.2 PPG in his career and is currently playing for Charlotte.

    He won an NBA Championship with San Antonio in 2003.

14. Josh Smith

42 of 55

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Like J.R. Smith, Josh Smith has perhaps more talent than he knows what to do with. He was also subjected to an unfair amount of pressure when the Atlanta Hawks picked him 17th overall in the 2004 Draft.

    Smith grew up near Atlanta and was seen as the hometown hero who would rescue the franchise. While he is a very good player, he is not yet at that level and the expectations placed on him were nearly impossible to live up to.

    Still, "J-Smoove" has had a successful NBA career, averaging 14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG and 2.3 BPG in six years.

    In 2010-11, Smith is well above his career averages in PPG (16.3) and RPG (8.9), indicating that the best may be yet to come.

13. Jermaine O'Neal

43 of 55

    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    A six-time All-Star, O'Neal was well on his way to greatness before a multitude of injuries halted his league-wide assault.

    In his peak years with the Pacers (2001-02 through 2006-07) O'Neal averaged 20.6 PPG and 9.8 RPG to go along with 2.4 BPG.

    O'Neal was also slow to breakout due to years spent on the bench in Portland. The Blazers took him with 17th overall pick in the 1996 Draft, but their logjam of frontcourt players prevented O'Neal from cracking the rotation.

    When he was sent to Indiana prior to the 2000-01 season, O'Neal exploded and would have had a much more lucrative career without the injuries.

    Now with Boston, O'Neal is playing for his fifth team in a 14-year journey.

12. Al Jefferson

44 of 55

    Elsa/Getty Images

    After the untimely death of his father in a work-related accident created unnecessary stress and confusion in a young Al Jefferson's life, he discovered the game of basketball and proceeded to make something of himself.

    He was originally drafted by the Boston Celtics at No. 14 overall in the 2004 Draft, spending three years there and averaging 16 PPG and 11 RPG in his final season with the C's.

    There were other players involved, but Jefferson is now the third and final player on this list who was shipped to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett mega-deal.

    Jefferson thrived with the Timberwolves, scoring 20.4 PPG and grabbing 10.5 RPG in his three years with the team. For the second time in his career, he was then traded to the Utah Jazz during the summer of 2010.

    He has picked up right where he left off with Utah. His PPG average is down, although this is due to a decrease in shot attempts from his time in Minnesota and is not and indication of any type of downgrade in ability.

    He is also averaging 9.0 RPG and a career-high 1.9 BPG.

11. Monta Ellis

45 of 55

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Many teams will rue the day they let Monta Ellis slip to the 40th overall pick in the 2005 Draft.

    Ellis quickly became a star in the NBA when he averaged 20.2 PPG during the 2007-08 season while also grabbing 5.0 RPG and dishing out 3.9 APG.

    His 2008-09 season was cut short due to a torn ligament in his ankle, but he returned to form in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, averaging 25.5 PPG and 5.4 APG over that season-and-a-half stretch.

    As the saying goes, the sky is the limit for Ellis, and it is surprising that, with all the money spent on player scouting, he was taken so low in the draft.

10. Shawn Kemp

46 of 55

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Before self-destructing, Shawn Kemp was one of the greatest individual talents the NBA has ever seen.

    Kemp was supposed to play college basketball at the University of Kentucky before leaving the team after he was accused of stealing and pawning two gold chains from the head coach's son. He transferred to Trinity Valley Community College, but did not play any basketball and declared for the 1989 NBA Draft.

    With the No. 17 overall pick, the Seattle SuperSonics selected Kemp and he made a near-immediate impact.

    In eight seasons with Seattle, Kemp averaged 16.2 PPG and 9.6 RPG. After a contract dispute, Kemp was traded to Cleveland where his play diminished as he battled weight problems and a had a perceived lack of fire in his game.

    He would eventually bounce around to Portland and Orlando, never again regaining his form. He failed in a number of comeback attempts in the mid-2000's, largely due to continued weight and drug issues.

9. Rashard Lewis

47 of 55

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Lewis entered the 1998 Draft fresh out of high school. To the dismay of him and his hometown Houston fans, the Rockets passed over Lewis three times in the first round and he eventually was selected in the second round by Seattle.

    In 13 NBA seasons, Lewis has posted career averages of 16.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG while shooting 46 percent from the field and being a lifetime 39 percent three-point shooter.

    A two-time All-Star, Lewis has also played for the Orlando Magic and now the Washington Wizards.

    He averaged over 20.0 PPG three times in his career.

8. Amar'e Stoudemire

48 of 55

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Amar'e Stoudemire made it through a difficult early life that saw him lose his father to a heart attack when Amar'e was 12. His mother was in and out prison and Stoudemire went to six different high schools before finally graduating from one in Orlando, Florida.

    Upon graduating, Stoudemire was taken No. 9 overall in the 2002 Draft and made an immediate impact in the NBA.

    In eight seasons, he has averaged 21.8 PPG and 8.9 RPG while owning a shooting percentage of 54 percent. He underwent microfracture surgery in 2005 and played in just three games during the 2005-06 season.

    He made a full recovery, however, and is now playing better than ever as the leader of the upstart New York Knicks. He was an early favorite for league MVP and could regain that standing if the Knicks can put together a run and finish as a reasonably high seed in the Eastern Conference.

7. Tracy McGrady

49 of 55

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Tracy McGrady is a seven-time All-Star who twice led the league in scoring and is a two-time All-NBA First Teamer. In the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, the years he won the scoring titles, he averaged 32.1 PPG and 28.0 PPG, respectively.

    McGrady began his career with Toronto, who made him the ninth overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. He played well with the Raptors, although not at the level he would later perform at with Orlando and Houston.

    In the 2000-01 through 2007-08 seasons, McGrady averaged 26.1 PPG and 6.4 RPG before injuries took their toll and led to a significantly diminished rate of production.

    McGrady played very briefly with the New York Knicks and is currently winding down his career with Detroit.

    In addition to being an immensely talented basketball player, McGrady is also a philanthropist who has spent a great deal of time visiting refugee camps in Darfur and the Sudan.

6. Dwight Howard

50 of 55

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Dwight Howard was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 Draft. Since that time he has become the best young center in the game and maybe even the best big man in the league.

    He has led the NBA in RPG three times and BPG twice. He was also the league-leader in field-goal percentage for the 2009-10 season and has had two 20-10 seasons while being well on his way to a third.

    There is really no telling how much of a monster Howard will become as his career plays out.

5. Connie Hawkins

51 of 55

    hoopedia.nba.com

    Larry Brown has said of Hawkins, "He was simply the greatest individual player I have ever seen." That is high-praise coming from a Hall of Fame coach who has witnessed more great players grace NBA courts than we can count.

    Hawkins graduated from high school in 1960, but did not play in the ABA or NBA until 1967.

    Although he was never found to have done anything wrong, Hawkins was implicated in a point-shaving scandal that prevented him from playing college basketball and led to the NBA banning him.

    He went on to play in the American Basketball League and for the Harlem Globe Trotters and Harlem Wizards before joining the ABA for its inaugural 1967-68 season.

    In two years in the ABA, Hawkins averaged 28.5 PPG and 12.5 RPG. He was eventually allowed into the NBA, but not until he was already 27 years old.

    In his first three NBA seasons, he scored 22.2 PPG and brought down 9.3 RPG. While those numbers are not as daunting as some of the others on this list, we must remember that Hawkins was not permitted to play in the NBA until after his best years had passed.

    We can only wonder how good of a pro he would have been if he were allowed to enter the league when he was initially eligible, instead of being prohibited from playing on what turned out to be nothing but guilt by association.

    The league did its best to make amends by inducting him into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

4. LeBron James

52 of 55

    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    LeBron James entered the NBA with more hype than any player in the history of the league. Rather than crumbling under the weight of the enormous pressure, James responded by averaging 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 5.9 APG in his rookie season.

    He was named Rookie of the Year in 2004 and has only gotten better.

    For his career, James has posted averages of 27.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 7.0 APG. At 26, he has already won two MVP awards, played in seven All-Star games and been a scoring champion, a four-time All-NBA First Teamer and a two-time All-Defensive First Teamer.

    His controversial move from Cleveland to Miami has caused many speculate on how the decision will ultimately impact his legacy. If he is able to win multiple championships, it will likely be a minor blip on the radar.

    If, however, James and Co. fail to win a title, there is little doubt the choice will forever haunt him in terms of his perceived greatness.

3. Kevin Garnett

53 of 55

    Elsa/Getty Images

    Fresh out of high school, Kevin Garnett was taken No. 5 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1995 NBA Draft.

    In what has undoubtedly been a Hall of Fame career, Garnett averaged 19.6 PPG and 10.8 RPG over 15 years and had nine consecutive 20-10 seasons, leading the league in rebounding four times.

    Garnett played the role of the selfless warrior for 12 seasons in Minnesota, always performing at an elite level though not having the talent around him to consistently contend for a championship.

    In a trade that has been mentioned a number of time throughout this article, he was dealt to the Boston Celtics in 2007 and immediately won an NBA Championship at the end of the 2007-08 season.

    Garnett has been an All-Star 14 times, won the MVP award in 2004 and the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008. He has also been named to the All-NBA First Team four times and the All-Defensive First Team eight times.

    As he plays through the tail-end of his career, he is in good position to win at least one more title with the Celtics.

2. Moses Malone

54 of 55

    sportige.com

    Moses Malone has been an NBA Champion, a three-time MVP and a 13-time All-Star. He made the All-NBA First Team four times, the All-Defensive Team once, was inducted into the Hall of Fame and named one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time.

    Malone jumped straight from high school to the ABA, where he averaged 17.2 PPG and 12.9 RPG in two seasons. He then joined the NBA after the ABA-NBA merger.

    A draft was held as a result of the leagues combining. Malone was initially drafted by Portland, who then traded him to Buffalo, who followed that up by trading him to Houston.

    Oops.

    In 19 NBA seasons, Malone averaged 20.6 PPG and 12.2 RPG. He led the league in rebounding six times and in the 1981-82 season scored 31.1 PPG while also totaling a league-high 14.7 RPG.

    He played for a total of nine NBA teams, bouncing around the league a bit near the end of his career.

1. Kobe Bryant

55 of 55

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    It was a very tough call to place Bryant ahead of Moses, but his list of achievements was too much to pass over.

    After being selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Bryant was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and the rest is history.

    Kobe has won five NBA Championships, an MVP award, two Finals MVP awards, been selected to 13 All-Star Games, is a two-time scoring champion, has been named to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team eight times each and won an Olympic gold medal in 2008.

    His career-high scoring numbers are 35.4 PPG and 31.6 PPG, numbers he accumulated in consecutive seasons.

    For his career, Bryant has averaged 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 4.7 APG, and he has a very good chance of bolstering his Hall of Fame resume by winning another title or two.

    Simply put, he is one of the greatest players we have ever seen and is the No. 1 preps-to-pros player of all time.

    We may never see another like him.