Here at The Jump Hub, we love to bicker and argue about lists like this. Who’s the greatest? Who did it harder, faster, or classier than anybody else? Do rebounds count as much as assists? Do we value points scored above all else? Round and round we go. Sometimes we can reach tentative agreements. Other times, not so much. So, if you want a clinical, objectively unbiased list of the top 3 NBA players drafted right out of high school then this probably isn’t it. But if you want to see the results of impassioned debate and genuine love for basketball then read on…
Born: December 30th, 1984 – Akron, Ohio, USA – Age 37
Full name: LeBron Raymone James
Nicknames: King James, LBJ, The Akron Hammer, L-Train, The Chosen One, Bron-Bron, The Little Emperor,
Position: Small Forward, power forward, point guard, and shooting guard
Measurements: 6’9” (2.06m) 250lb (113kg)
High School: St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio
NBA Draft: 2003, 1st pick – Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA Debut: October 29th, 2003
Career length: 19 years (ongoing)
With a talent as prodigious and ground-breaking as that of LeBron James, it’s almost impossible to know where to start or what to say.
Superlatives become overused and meaningless when describing a player who pushes the boundaries of what is humanly possible. LeBron James is a relentless machine that keeps performing season after season and laying waste to records and conventions as it plows ever-forward.
Let’s take a look back at the early days of this juggernaut
As a freshman, LeBron James averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds for “The Fighting Irish”. They swept all before them and went 27-0 on their way to the Division III state title. The following year, James’ stats continued to improve and he was now averaging 25.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 steals per game.
By the start of his junior year, he was already being talked about in a special way. In a magazine feature, he was described as “…the best high school basketball player in America”. He became the first high school basketball underclassman to make the cover of Sports Illustrated soon afterward. After a failed attempt to be eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft, James played out his senior year for the team and averaged a superb 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game. By now, LeBron was already the most hyped high school player the world had ever seen. He had huge corporations vying for his signature when he was just 17 years old. He became eligible for the NBA Draft in 2003.
James was selected by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. This you’d turn out to be a pretty shrewd signing and he began to pay back their confidence in him immediately. He scored 25 points on his debut, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a player coming right out of high school. James’ star did not take long to take off into the stratosphere and commentators and players alike were using the word “great” when he was still only 20 years old…
Franchise records and career highs began early and just kept coming.
Points: 27.1 per game, 37,062 total
Field goal percentage: 50.5%
3-point percentage: 34.6%
Free throw percentage: 73.4%
Rebounds: 7.5 per game, 10,210 total
Assists: 7.4 per game, 10,045 total
Turnovers: 3.5 per game, 4,788 total
Personal fouls: 1.8 per game, 2,516 total
Player efficiency rating: 27.3
He is the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points.
In 2016, he became the first player in league history to lead both teams in all five statistical categories for an NBA Playoff round.
James surpassed Michael Jordan as the league’s all-time postseason scoring leader.
James is the only player in NBA history to win the NBA Finals MVP award with three different franchises.
In the 2022 NBA regular season, he had a streak of 23 consecutive 25+ point games.
He is the second player in NBA history (after Michael Jordan) to score 40 points with zero turnovers aged 35 or older.
He is the oldest player to average 25+ points per game. A nice bookend to add, as:
HE IS ALSO THE YOUNGEST TO HAVE EVER DONE SO…
At 37 years old, James is the oldest player in NBA history to record at least 25 points in ten straight games.
LeBron James passed the legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to become the player that scored the most points in both the regular season and NBA playoffs.
He is currently 2nd of all time for minutes played.
His 18th All-Star selection tied him with Kobe Bryant and leaves him just one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Two 50-point games that represented James’ career-high with the Los Angeles Lakers, saw him become the oldest player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point games in a season. He also became the first Lakers player since Kobe Bryant to have back-to-back 50-point home games.
He also recorded his 10,000th career assist and became the only player in NBA history to record 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 10,000 assists.
Not satisfied with this, LeBron became the second player in NBA history to score 37,000 points soon thereafter.
He then made his 18th consecutive All-NBA Team selection. The record that he extended in doing so was his own.
Yes, he started early by being drafted right from high school but don’t let that fool you. This guy could have started in his 30s and still had an impressive NBA career. He’s that good. We are living at the same time as one of, if not the, greatest basketball players that have ever lived.
Those of you who decry his talents need to take a look at the list of his awards and achievements and give your head a wobble.
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
4× NBA champion – 2012, ’13, ’16, ‘20
4× NBA Finals MVP – 2012, ’13, ’16, ’20
4× NBA Most Valuable Player – 2009, ’10, ’12, ’13
18× NBA All-Star – 2005-’22
3× NBA All-Star Game MVP – 2006, ’08, ’18
13× All-NBA First Team – 2006, ’08-’18, ’20
3× All-NBA Second Team – 2005, ’07, ’21
2× All-NBA Third Team – 2019, ’22
5× NBA All-Defensive First Team – 2009-’13
NBA Rookie of the Year – 2004
NBA All-Rookie First Team – 2004
NBA scoring champion – 2008
NBA assists leader – 2020
4× AP Athlete of the Year – 2013, ‘16, ’18, ’20
3× Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year – 2012, ’16, ‘20
Time Athlete of the Year – 2020
2× National high school player of the year – 2002, ’03
2× First-team Parade All-American – 2002, ’03
3× Ohio Mr. Basketball – 2001- ’03
Born: August 23rd, 1978 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Died – January 26th, 2020 aged 41. RIP
Full name: Kobe Bean Bryant
Nicknames: Black Mamba, KB24, Vino, The Eighth Man, Lord of the Rings, Showboat, Little Flying Warrior
Position: Shooting Guard, small forward
Measurements: 6’6” (1.98m) 212lb (96kg)
High School: Lower Merion, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
NBA Draft: 1996, 13th pick – Charlotte Hornets
NBA Debut: November 3rd, 1996
Career length: 20 years
Hall of fame – Inducted as a player in 2020
There are names in the annals of sport that will live on long after their holders have left us…
When it comes to basketball players that list is an elite one.
High school superstar Kobe Bryant was contemplating which college he would attend when high schooler Kevin Garnett went right to the NBA and sowed a seed with the young Kobe. When the 17-year-old eventually made the decision to go directly into the NBA, he became only the sixth player in NBA history to do so.
He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers that same night. Not a bad bit of business for the Lakers as it would turn out…
At 18 years and 158 days old, Kobe Bryant became the youngest ever NBA starter in 1996. He did not become a regular starter until his 3rd season.
This was to be the start of a long, accomplished career with the same franchise. You only have to glance at his awards and accolades below to recognize that.
ALONG THE WAY BRYANT SET AND BROKE RECORDS
Hit clutch shots and buzzer-beaters and generally acted like a man possessed on the basketball court.
Bryant scored a career-high of 81 points that smashed the previous Lakers record by 10 points.
In 2006 he scored a season-high 65 points in a home game. The following game, he hit 50 points, then 60. This brought him alongside Michael Jordan as the last man to achieve the same feat. His 50 in the next game made him the second player in NBA history to have four straight 50-point games
He scored 40 or more points in 4 consecutive games 6 times in his career.
Bryant scored 30+ points in seven straight games and took the longest streak by an NBA player after turning 34 years old. Fo his own records, it was only his 4th-best streak…
Bryant became the first player in NBA history to get 47 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals in a single game.
Points: 25 per game, 33,643 total
Field goal percentage: 44.7%
3-point percentage: 32.9%
Free throw percentage: 83.7%
Rebounds: 5.2 per game, 7,047 total
Assists: 4.7 per game, 6,306 total
Turnovers: 3 per game, 4,010 total
Personal fouls: 2.5 per game, 3,353
Player efficiency rating: 22.9
His 20th and final season with the Los Angeles Lakers represented an NBA record for the most seasons with the same team.
Previously, Bryant was well respected among opposing fans but was seen, of course, as the enemy. In his final “farewell” season, he was reportedly astonished to hear fans from all teams cheering and applauding him. Such was the respect he had garnered through 20 years of the best basketball and most professional attitude many people had never witnessed.
In the final game of his last season, Kobe Bryant scored 60 points against Utah. He outscored the entire opposing team in the 4th and became the oldest player ever to score 60+ in a single game. What a way to finish.
We all know what happened next and it is a tragedy that many people now have to live with the consequences of on a daily basis.
Our hearts go out to them
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
5× NBA champion – 2000-’02, ’09, ’10
2× NBA Finals MVP – 2009, ’10
NBA Most Valuable Player – 2008
18× NBA All-Star – 1998, ’00-’16
4× NBA All-Star Game MVP – 2002, ’07, ’09, ’11
11× All-NBA First Team 2002-’04, ’06-’13
2× All-NBA Second Team – 2000, ’01
2× All-NBA Third Team – 1999, ‘05
9× NBA All-Defensive First Team – 2000, ’03, ’04, ’06-’11
3× NBA All-Defensive Second Team – 2001, ’02, ’12
2× NBA scoring champion – 2006, ’07
NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion – 1997
NBA All-Rookie Second Team – 1997
NBA 75th Anniversary Team – 1997
Jersey numbers 8 & 24 retired by Los Angeles Lakers
First-team Parade All-American – 1996
Fourth-team Parade All-American – 1995
Born: May 19th, 1976 – Greenville, South Carolina, USA – Age 46
Full name: Kevin Maurice Garnett
Nicknames: KG, The Big Ticket, The Kid
Position: Power Forward, center, small Forward
Measurements: 6’11” (2.11m) 240lb (108kg)
High Schools: Mauldin, South Carolina. Farragut Career Academy, Chicago, Illinois.
NBA Draft: 1995, 5th pick – Minnesota Timberwolves
NBA Debut: November 3rd, 1995
Career length: 21 years
Hall of Fame – Inducted as a player in 2021
When he joined the Minnesota Timberwolves right out of his senior year at high school in 1995, Kevin Garnett became the first player to be drafted directly out of high school since 1975.
At the time, Garnett became the youngest NBA player in history, aged 19 years and 11 months
During the following season, Garnett improved his averages to 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.7 steals. He even had two games where he registered 8 blocks apiece and made his first All-Star appearance that season.
Despite tensions and incredible media focus on his new contract, the following season Garnett continued to improve, to average 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.7 steals per game. Again, he was an All-Star, and the Minnesota Timberwolves finished with a winning record for the first time in the franchise’s history.
The next season was when Garnett really broke through as a superstar. He averaged 20.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game, and he was named to the All-NBA Third Team.
In the 1999/’00 season, those stats climbed again to 22.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. This was reflected in the first of his four All-NBA First Team appearances. He was also 2nd place in the voting for MVP. 2000/’01 was another cracker for Garnett as he posted averages of 21.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 steals. This was good enough for another All-NBA Second Team nomination.
NOT SATISFIED, GARNETT’S NEXT SEASON WAS ONE OF HIS CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
23.0 points, 13.4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game gave him his 2nd All-NBA First Team nomination and, yet again, second place in the MVP voting. An improved supporting cast helped to elevate Garnett even further the following season and he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game for the season.He was finally named NBA MVP after hitting career-highs for points, rebounds and blocks.
Into 2005 and Garnett kept pushing. A career-high 47 points didn’t hurt and he was named the All-NBA Second Team. In spite of his continued excellence, the franchise logged its 2nd-worst record since his arrival. The following season was no better and it seemed that after 927 games and 12 seasons there, it was time for Kevin Garnett to leave Minnesota.
Points: 17.8 per game, 26,071 total
Field goal percentage: 49.7%
3-point percentage: 27.5%
Free throw percentage: 78.9%
Rebounds: 10 per game, 14,662 total
Assists: 3.7 per game, 5,445 total
Turnovers: 2.2 per game, 3,179 total
Personal fouls: 2.4 per game, 3,561 total
Player efficiency rating: 22.7
The next 6 years of his NBA career were spent with the Boston Celtics. He was traded to them in a 7-for-1 deal that remains the most number of players traded for a single player to this day.
Garnett passed 20,000 points for his career playing for the Celtics, only the 32nd player ever to do so.
13 YEARS INTO HIS ILLUSTRIOUS 21-YEAR CAREER AND GARNETT WAS NAMED DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER
The Celtics took their 17th NBA Championship, and Kevin Garnett played his part in their success.
In 2008, Garnett became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 career games. He was 32 years and 165 days old. A series of injuries plagued the following seasons but Garnett continued to face the challenge and even in 2011 was posting averages of 19.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.
In 2013, Kevin Garnett was traded to the Brooklyn Nets and kept on trucking. 14,000 career rebounds came and went (pun intended) and he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only 3 players ever to hit 25,000 points, 14,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists.
2 seasons later and Garnett waived his ‘no trade’ clause in order to be able to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves for an emotional reunion.
He became the fifth player in NBA history to play at least 50,000 minutes, then the NBA’s all-time leader in defensive rebounds. An old knee injury marred the remainder of his time there and he announced his retirement the following year.
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
NBA Champion – 2008
NBA Most Valuable Player – 2004
15× NBA All-Star – 1997, ’98, ’00-’11, ’13
NBA All-Star Game MVP – 2003
4× All-NBA First Team – 2000, ’03, ’04, ‘08
3× All-NBA Second Team – 2001, ’02, ’05
2× All-NBA Third Team – 1999, ’07
NBA Defensive Player of the Year – 2008
9× NBA All-Defensive First Team – 2000-’05, ’08, ’09, ’11
3× NBA All-Defensive Second Team – 2006, ’07, ’12
4× NBA rebounding champion – 2004-’07
NBA All-Rookie Second Team – 1996
J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award – 2006
NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Jersey number 5 retired by the Boston Celtics
Mr. Basketball USA – 1995
2× First-team Parade All-American -1994, ’95
Illinois Mr. Basketball – 1995
College basketball players can often have a lot to offer to their respective schools and the college experience is one that many young people should experience if they can.
But there are players who come along that would be wasting their talents and potential in spending several years at college. That’s not to say that college basketball isn’t played at a very high, intense standard. It is. But these players are already of a stature that makes them able to jump straight from high school graduation into the NBA Draft. Do they miss out on some of the fun of college this way? Sure. But if they skip college then they hit the NBA early and become overnight millionaires.
The way that the NCAA system works means that they might otherwise have to continue to struggle and scrimp like those from underprivileged backgrounds that have paved the way before them.