When Amir Johnson’s name became part of the 2005 NBA group of draftees after Detroit selected the Westchester High School (Los Angeles) product with the 56th pick, no other true high schooler would hear his name called in such type of event up to these days. Truth be told, all of Satnam Singh (2015), Thon Maker (2016), and Anfernee Simons (2018) made it to the NBA straight out of high school, but their cases are the exception to the rule and all come with an asterisk attached to them.
The reality, though, is that NBA put a ban of the prep-to-pros pipeline leading up to the 2006 draft, making the members of the 2005 HS class the last ones able to jump-start their pro careers making a straight leap from high school to the Association. That, if you ask me, was a bummer. With that route cut out, prospects were mostly forced to make it to the NCAA ranks for a year before declaring for the draft. The latest developments regarding elite prospects getting ready for the pros, though, are watching them ditch college in favor of other options such as playing overseas (LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton did it) or entering the G League as part of its Select Team (Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix, and Kai Sotto will be there next season).
But what if the NBA had not banned the prep-to-pro route back in 2006? With the benefit of hindsight, I’ll go class by class (rankings by 247Sports Composite board) reviewing who could have made the jump straight to the NBA, who was ranked too high and could have flopped after such an eventual jump, who needed the most reps to hone their game, etc. Let’s get to it!
2007 HS Class: Top-10 Prospects
2007 Top-10 HS Prospects
|2007||1||Eric Gordon||North Central (Indianapolis, IN)||SG||6'4||215||5||9.994||1||1||1||Indiana|
|2007||2||O.J. Mayo||Huntington (Huntington, WV)||PG||6'5||215||5||9.994||2||1||1||USC|
|2007||3||Michael Beasley||Notre Dame Preparatory School (Fitchburg, MA)||PF||6'9||235||5||9.991||3||1||1||Kansas State|
|2007||4||Kevin Love||Lake Oswego Senior (Lake Oswego, OR)||C||6'9||240||5||9.991||4||1||1||UCLA|
|2007||5||Derrick Rose||Simeon (Chicago, IL)||PG||6'4||194||5||9.988||5||2||1||Memphis|
|2007||6||Kyle Singler||South Medford (Medford, OR)||SF||6'8||210||5||9.985||6||1||2||Duke|
|2007||7||Donte Greene||Towson Catholic (Towson, MD)||SF||6'9||217||5||9.962||7||2||1||Syracuse|
|2007||8||Nick Calathes||Lake Howell (Winter Park, FL)||PG||6'5||185||5||9.961||8||3||1||Florida|
|2007||9||Austin Freeman||DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD)||SG||6'3||185||5||9.956||9||2||2||Georgetown|
|2007||10||Patrick Patterson||Huntington (Huntington, WV)||PF||6'8||228||5||9.955||10||2||2||Kentucky|
The class of 2007 was definitely loaded and the talent was palpable from the get-go. Over time, with most of the players in the top-10 above already entering their 10+ pro-seasons, this was confirmed, but even back then when these HS seniors made the jump to the NCAA ranks there was a notable sense of quality oozing from this group. You just have to look at no. 2 prospect O.J. Mayo. Not only was mayo tied with Eric Gordon for the no. 1 spot in this class by averaging major scouting outlets ranks, but he had been making headlines for long before his graduation: SLAM magazine named to its All-American teams three times in a row, starting with his sophomore HS season in 2005. Not many can say that.
At the end of the day, though, this class seemed to be truly cursed. Three of the top five players (Mayo, Michael Beasley, and Derrick Rose) were drafted one-two-three in the NBA after just one year of college ball, although the former two couldn’t reach even 22 Win Shares (WS) in their careers while Rose finished 2020 at 39.7 after a career full of injuries—that being said, though, Rose became the youngest MVP ever and the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
If the top-10 of this class looked good, though, scouts “missed” on three prospects by a bit slotting them 12th, 15th, and 17th among their peers. Those three: DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, and Blake Griffin respectively. Between the three of them, they would go on to rack up (and still going) 297+ WS over their careers up to the end of the 2020 season, while the top-10 combined only has 236 WS until now.
Being honest, though, scouts can’t be blamed that much. Nine of the top-10 players end making it to the NBA with Austin Freeman the only blemishes in the list after spending four years playing college ball at Georgetown and being undrafted in 2011.
Which players WOULD have gone prep-to-pros?
There are some pretty obvious would-have-jumped players in this class, starting by the already talked-about O.J. Mayo more than anyone. Until a late ascension from Derrick Rose, Mayo was the clear-cut best player of this class and the most-coveted guard to come from it. He could drop buckets on anyone, plain and simple. He was a bit of a bonehead too, a little cocky, and some even labeled him a “fraud” given they ultra-hype he carried back then. Which is to say, Mayo was your prototypical prep-to-pros candidate.
Rose’s aforementioned ascension could have made him opt to join the NBA early, although without his magical run playing at Memphis it is hard to see him snatching the no. 1 draft pick he would ultimately claim. He was pretty much an “unknown” until his senior year at Simeon, after all.
More probable jumps would have come from long-sought-after prospects such as Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless, and Michael Beasley, all of them hyped since years prior to their senior seasons at the prep level. Kevin Love, one of the best prospects of the class, would have probably skipped the jump and rather declare to play for UCLA one season as he did in real life.
A forgotten name—because he never truly panned out nor reached the NBA—is that of Austin Freeman. While Freeman spent four years in the NCAA circuit and amassed all of 129 games (starting 117 of them) averaging a 17-3-2 line in his senior year, he still went undrafted in the summer of 2011. Don’t get that wrong, though. Playing for DeMatha he was picked for the MCDAAGs and the Jordan Classic after his HS Senior year and he was one of the most hyped prospects of the class of ‘07 hoopers. I think after his great prep career he would have given serious thought to declaring for the NBA draft early and who knows if that would have changed his career entirely.
Which players COULD have gone prep-to-pros?
Taking advantage of what we know now, it’s easier to see who could and who couldn’t have been a good player if declaring early for the NBA draft. Time proved Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, and Derrick Rose to be really good players with great, mature mindsets from day one. Any of them could have jumped straight to the league, being drafted inside the first round, and go on to have successful NBA careers. I’m a little dubious on Rose’s arc, though, as the season he played in Memphis truly helped him build his game after 40 games playing for the Tigers (the most by a freshman in 2008) as the leading man.
Both Love and Beasley mastered the game of basketball at the collegiate level in their lone seasons there. A little less heralded than the aforementioned players, DeJuan Blair confirmed most scouts opinions by having a monster season playing for Pittsburgh and outperforming his no. 33 rank in the 2007 class. With no powerhouses offering him in college, it would have been hard for him to have declared early for the draft—he might have become a second-round pick, though—but after watching him in the NCAA it was clear he could have been ready for the pros two years earlier than he landed in the NBA (he spent two seasons in Pitt).
Although Kyle Singler committed and played at über-school Duke, and he did so to great levels as a freshman already, it is hard to know if he would have been successful in making the leap early. Even after spending four years in the NCAA and winning a championship in his junior year, then jumping to the NBA after completing his four-year college career, he never truly panned out entirely among pros.
Another player already mentioned in this column that could have jumped straight given his lone collegiate season was DeAndre Jordan. As a freshman playing for Texas A&M he already had a developed frame and was big and sturdy enough to hold his own in the paint, and in just 20 minutes per game, he averaged 8 ppg and 6 rpg, becoming the best freshman-center of the NCAA in his debut season. The jump wouldn’t have been a surefire thing in terms of turning into a successful career step: even after playing a year of college-ball he Jordan still dropped to the second round and was picked 35th by the Clippers in 2008.
Speaking of the Clippers... what about Blake Griffin? Most probably he would have skipped the chance of declaring early—he committed to Oklahoma even before his senior HS year kicked off—but that last prep season saw him average a monster 27-15-5 line and rack up trophies and accolades named to All-American teams left and right. His two years playing NCAA ball did nothing but solidify him and that made him a no. 1 pick in 2009... which he would miss entirely due to a kneecap injury in the preseason. What if he had jumped in 2008? He would have been a first-round pick, perhaps not getting injured and getting two more healthy years of NBA playing time while (who knows) staying healthy all of his career. What could have been.
Which players did scouts WHIFFED on the most?
Scouts nailed the top-5 as all of those players went to the NBA after just one season in the collegiate ranks, and also all of them reached at least 15 WS in the pros. Not bad. With that out of the way, the other half of the top-10 didn’t turn out to be as good as the ranks would have you think. Singler eventually reached the NBA and stayed there for six years, Calathes only lasted a couple, and Donte Greene four. Patrick Patterson has spent 10 years in the NBA already, while no. 9 Austin Freeman never made it to the Association.
Leaving James Harden (no. 15), Blake Griffin (no. 17), DeAndre Jordan (no. 12), or Kosta Koufos (no. 13) out of the top-10 wasn’t a sound assessment, but it is not that they were ranked so lowly as to throw our scouting friends under the bus. At the end of the day, when it comes to five or six spots up or down a board comprised of 1,000+ kids those differences are minimal.
But there were still some glaring mistakes and players that definitely flew under the radar, don’t get it wrong! Down at the no. 52 spot we find Jeff Teague, still active in the NBA and a 50+ career-WS player. Again, ranking 50th among more than a thousand prospects isn’t bad at all, but still.
Now getting into super deep waters, there are a few names that caught my eye, namely Patty Mills (no. 1,009) and Kenneth Faried (no. 1,126). Those were truly unexpected developments right there. Undersized Patty Mills was coming from Canberra, in Australia, and enrolled in St. Mary’s where he played a couple of seasons averaging 16.2 ppg and 3.7 apg to go with 2.2 spg. Not bad, and good enough to hear his name called on the 55th overall pick on the 2009 NBA draft.
Faried’s story is even more incredible. After ranking over the 1,200 spot in his class (pretty much an every-day kid and pure afterthought) he committed to Morehead State where he played for four years. He never stopped improving, going from 10.5 to 13.9, 16.9, and 17.3 ppg, and from 8.0 to 13.0, 13.0 again, and 14.5 rpg in his four seasons there. He also went from 0.8 blocks as a freshman to 2.3 in his senior year, when he racked up all of 8.3 WS—fifth-best in the whole NCAA. All of this made Faried a first-round pick by the Denver Nuggets (22nd overall) in 2011, where he would go on to play seven seasons before moving to Brooklyn/Houston where he’d finish his NBA career in 2019.