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
- 7 #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)
- Entering the 2021-22 season, 5 teams each had 2 (or more) former #1 recruits
- Lakers – Anthony Davis, Lebron James, Dwight Howard
- Kings – Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes
- Knicks – RJ Barrett, Nerlens Noel
- Warriors – James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins
- Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Josh Jackson
Here is the full list of high school #1 recruits.
2020 – Cade Cunningham
Cunningham played one highly successful season at Oklahoma State and was drafted #1 overall in 2021 Draft by the Detroit Pistons.
2019 – James Wiseman
7 foot Wiseman played only 3 games at Memphis in 2019, where he averaged 19.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg. He was suspended by the NCAA while they investigated potential recruiting violations.
Despite his lack of college experience, the Golden State Warriors saw enough potential to draft Wiseman #2 overall in the 2020 Draft. As a rookie, Wiseman played 39 games, averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.8 rpg in 21 mpg.
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, Williamson was the third best Duke prospect out of high school, ranked 7th behind his teammates Barrett (1) and Hawks guard 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. He started all 72 games (plus 5 playoff games) in 2021 and saw his scoring numbers increase to 17.6 ppg, including 40% three point shooting (up from 32%) and 44% from the floor (up from 40%).
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 averages of 14.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg through three 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 played for the Pistons in 2021, carving out a nice role while playing 25 mpg and averaging 13.4 ppg.
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 he made up for lost time averaging 15.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.7 apg through four seasons. Another notable stat – Simmons is 5-34 in his career 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 and has spent time with the Knicks and Jazz in recent years.
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. Through 83 games in Golden State, Wiggins has averaged 18.7 ppg on 47% shooting, while starting every game.
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 7.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.5 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, where he helped them win the 2020 Championship.
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 13.9 ppg, 5.1 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 returned to Utah in 2021.
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 was cut by the Rockets before last season and never found his way onto another roster.
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 9 seasons after forcing his way out of Orlando, he has played for 7 different teams – Lakers (2 years – 2 different stints), Rockets (3 years), Hawks (1), Hornets (1), Wizards (9 games), 76ers (1 year).
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.