Playing in the NBA is really tough. It’s even tougher when you have been the best player on your team your whole life.
In this article, I look at all the players that have been the #1 recruit coming out of high school and how they have fared in the NBA. The numbers of success stories is low.
Some key takeaways from this list:
- 5 #1 recruits since 2002 did not go to college
- 6 #1 recruits were also drafted #1
- Most represented colleges – 2 recruits played for Duke, 2 for Kentucky, 2 for Kansas
- 2 dunk contest champions (Dwight Howard, Gerald Green)
- 6 teams each have 2 former #1 recruits
- Lakers – Anthony Davis, Lebron James
- Rockets – Gerald Green, Eric Gordon
- Kings – Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes
- 76ers – Ben Simmons, Dwight Howard
- Knicks – RJ Barrett, Nerlens Noel
- Warriors – James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins
Here is the full list of high school #1 recruits.
2020 – Cade Cunningham
Cunningham, a point guard, will play his one year of college ball at Oklahoma State, who is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2021.
2019 – James Wiseman
7 foot Wiseman played only 3 games at Memphis, where he averaged 19.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg. Wiseman was suspended by the NCAA while they investigated potential recruiting violations and Wiseman ultimately decided not to fight it and begin prepping for the NBA.
Despite his lack of college experience, the Golden State Warriors saw enough potential to draft Wiseman #2 overall in the 2020 Draft.
2018 – RJ Barrett
Despite all the hype and hoopla that surrounded Barrett’s Duke teammate Zion Williamson, it was Barrett who was the top ranked player coming out of high school. In fact, Zion was the third best Duke prospect out of high school, ranked 7th behind his teammates Barrett (1) and Cam Reddish (3).
Barrett was the #3 pick in the 2019 NBA draft to the Knicks, two spots behind his Duke teammate Zion Williamson went #1. He averaged 14.3 ppg as a rookie, while shooting 40% from the floor and grabbed 5.0 rpg.
2017 – Marvin Bagley
After one year at Duke, where he averaged 21 ppg, 11 rpg, Bagley was the #2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to the Kings. Bagley was named a consensus First Team All-American and was named ACC Player of the Year
Bagley will forever be known as the guy the Kings drafted ahead of Luka Doncic (and Trae Young…and Jaren Jackson Jr).
Bagley has career averaged of 14.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg through two seasons with the Kings.
2016 – Josh Jackson
Jackson left Kansas after one year and was drafted #4 by the Suns in 2017.
#3 pick in 2017 NBA draft to Suns. Jackson’s tenure in Phoenix was highlighted by inconsistency on the court and trouble off of it. After two years with the Suns, he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019 and made little impact. He enters the 2020 season as a member of the Detroit Pistons.
2015 – Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons dominated his one college season at LSU, averaging 19.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, and 4.8 apg for a really bad Tigers team that missed the NCAA Tournament.
76ers drafted him #1 in 2016 and he missed his entire rookie season but has made up for lost time averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 8.0 apg in three seasons. Another notable stat – Simmons is 2-24 on three point field goal attempts.
2014 – Emmanuel Mudiay
Mudiay skipped college, but did so after the straight from high school and age limit rules were set. After a year in China, he was drafted 7th by the Nuggets in 2015.
2013 – Andrew Wiggins
Cavs drafted Wiggins #1 in 2014, but he was traded later that summer before ever playing a game in Cleveland. He was traded to Minnesota as part of a package for Kevin Love.
Wiggins spent 5.5 seasons in Minnesota, before being traded to the Warriors (for D’angelo Russell) last February. Wiggins’ whole career has been largely been considered an underwhelming disappointment, relative to expectations when he entered the league and the massive contract (5 years, $147 million) he has. Perhaps, Steph Curry and the Warriors can finally maximize that potential?
2012 – Nerlens Noel
Noel was on track to be the #1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but suffered a horrific knee injury that cut his Kentucky career short. He ended up falling to #7 to the Pelicans, who traded him to the 76ers as part of the launch of “the process” (they traded Jrue Holiday for Noel).
Noel has career averages of 8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1.3 spg. He is known as an excellent defender and rebounder and while he never blossomed into a superstar, Noel is a perfect role player.
2011 – Anthony Davis
In this era of one-and-done, Anthony Davis has become the most successful player. Davis and Kentucky won the National Championship in his lone college season and he and the Lakers just won the 2020 NBA title. Davis is also a 7x All-Star. The next most successful one-and-done is Carmelo Anthony, who won the championship in college but not the NBA.
Davis was drafted #1 by the Pelicans in 2012 and played 7 years in New Orleans. A lack of success (2 playoff appearances in 7 years) weighed on him and he forced his way out, via trade to the Lakers. Davis recently signed a 5 year, max dollar extension to remain in LA long term with the goal of winning more championships.
2010 – Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the only player on this list to stay in college for more than one season. During both of his seasons at North Carolina, they lost in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. Barnes averaged 16.0 ppg in two seasons.
In 2012 he was the #7 pick to the Warriors, where he spent 7 seasons and helped them win an NBA Championship in 2015. Barnes was also part of the 73-win tea in 2016, before departing as a free agent for Dallas. In February 2019, he was traded to the Kings and that summer signed $100 million contract extension.
Barnes has career averages of 13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg.
2009 – Derrick Favors
Favors led Georgia Tech to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and a first round victory. That’s actually the last time the Yellow Jackets made the tourney.
Favors was the #3 pick in the 2010 NBA draft and played 56 games for the New Jersey Nets, before being dealt to the Utah Jazz as part of a package for Deron Williams.
Favors has had a really solid career and while he has never been the best player on the floor, he has always been consistent and plays a valuable role. In 9 seasons with Utah, Favors averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg. After a year with the Pelicans in 2019-20, Favors opted to signed with the Jazz and return to Utah.
2008 – Brandon Jennings
Jennings, like previously mentioned Mudiay, skipped college. This was at the start of the one-and-done era and Jennings had initially committed to Arizona, but instead opted to play professionally in Italy. There, he averaged 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 19.6 minutes per game.
Jennings was the 10th pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Bucks. From 2009-2015, Jennings averaged 16.5 ppg with the Bucks and Pistons.
However, since the start of the 2015-16 season, Jennings scoring dropped significantly to 8.1 ppg in three seasons, with 5 different teams (Pistons, Magic, Knicks, Wizards, Bucks). Jennings has been out of the NBA since the 2017-18 season.
2007 – Eric Gordon
Gordon was a huge star in his one season at Indiana, after committing to the school as “Mr Basketball” in the state of Indiana in 2006. He played 34 mpg, scoring 20.9 ppg. The Hoosiers, however, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2008, the Clippers drafted Gordon 7th overall and a few years later traded him to New Orleans as part of a package of assets for Chris Paul. He has been with the Rockets since 2016, and won NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 2017.
2006 – Greg Oden
Oden’s promising career was doomed from the start. Blazers drafted Oden #1 in 2007, ahead of Kevin Durant. From the second Durant stepped on an NBA court, this pick was criticized as Durant dominated almost immediately. Oden just missed so much time with injuries and unfortunately, his body never allowed him the chance to play in the NBA
2005 – Gerald Green
Green is one of the final “straight from high school” prospects and the first (of three) on this list. While guys like Jennings and Mudiay were forced to go overseas (NBA rule is one year removed from high school), Green went straight from high school graduation to being the 18th pick in the 2005 Draft (to the Celtics).
He has had a roller coaster career, playing for 8 different teams (Celtics, Suns, Rockets, Heat, Pacers, Mavs, Nets, Wolves). He is currently on his second tenure with the Rockets, where he has played since 2017.
2004 – Dwight Howard
It sure has been a weird career for Dwight Howard. He spent the first 8 seasons of his career in Orlando and averaged 18 ppg and 13 rpg, while being considered the top center in the game. He helped lead the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 2009, which is Hall of Fame worthy on it’s own.
In the 7 seasons after forcing his way out of Orlando, he has played for 5 different teams – Lakers (1 year), Rockets (3 years), Hawks (1), Hornets (1), Wizards (9 games).
Howard returned to the Lakers for the 2019-20 season. Ironically, Howard’s one year in LA (2012-13) was the last time the Lakers made the playoffs until this year. Howard averaged 7.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg off the bench. He opted to sign with the 76ers during free agency.
2003 – Lebron James
James is one of the very few athletes in all of sports who not only matched the ridiculous amount of hype surrounding him, but has clearly surpassed him. He has been to 10 NBA Finals (4-6) and is one of the all-time greatest players in NBA history.