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Rebuilding the Prep-To-Pro NBA History: Class of 2010

The NBA blocked the prep-to-pros route in advance of the 2006 draft. With the league taking the steps to lift the ban and more and more prospects taking alternative routes to the Association, we’re taking a retrospective look at what could have happened had the NBA not imposed the HS-to-NBA-pipeline ban, one class at a time.

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: MAR 31 McDonald’s Boys All American Game Photo by Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

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!

2010 HS Class: Top-10 Prospects

2010 Top-10 HS Prospects

Yr Rk. Name High School Pos Hgt Wgt Stars Avg Nat Pos St College
Yr Rk. Name High School Pos Hgt Wgt Stars Avg Nat Pos St College
2010 1 Harrison Barnes Ames (Ames, IA) SF 6'7 210 5 9.999 1 1 1 North Carolina
2010 2 Kyrie Irving West Orange (West Orange, NJ) PG 6'2 175 5 9.992 2 1 1 Duke
2010 3 Josh Selby Heritage (Baltimore, MD) PG 6'2 183 5 9.990 3 2 1 Kansas
2010 4 Jared Sullinger Northland (Columbus, OH) PF 6'9 280 5 9.990 4 1 1 Ohio State
2010 5 Brandon Knight Pine Crest School (Fort Lauderdale, FL) PG 6'3 185 5 9.983 5 3 1 Kentucky
2010 6 Tobias Harris Half Hollow Hills West (Huntington Station, NY) SF 6'1 190 5 9.978 6 2 1 Tennessee
2010 7 Perry Jones Duncanville (Duncanville, TX) PF 6'11 220 5 9.972 7 2 1 Baylor
2010 8 Enes Kanter Stoneridge Preparatory School(Simi Valley, CA) C 6'9 240 5 9.968 8 1 1 Kentucky
2010 9 Terrence Jones Jefferson (Portland, OR) SF 6'8 220 5 9.966 9 3 1 Kentucky
2010 10 C.J. Leslie Word Of God Christian Academy (Raleigh, NC) PF 6'7 205 5 9.958 10 3 1 N.C. State
2010 Top-10 HS Prospects

The 2010 class of HS seniors had a little bit of everything but all things considered, it was a pretty solid one when it comes to its top-15 prospects. Not a bad job done by the scouts to open the decade. Harrison Barnes was as close as anyone to a consensus no. 1 prospect by all scouting services with Rivals being the only outlet to slot him as the no. 2 player in the nation behind... Josh Selby! Both Jared Sullinger and Kyrie Irving shared the second position in the RSCI rankings gathering the same points, although 247Sports Composite gave the edge to Kyrie while putting Sullinger and Selby at the same level themselves.

After those four—all of them virtually locked into the upper tier of the class—came a bunch of good-not-great kids in Brandon Knight, Tobias Harris, and Perry Jones. Knight had been making the rounds for long as he was already getting hardware as a junior in 2009 pretty easily—namely, a Player of the Year award. No wonder he became a Wildcat in college. Both Harris and Perry Jones joined the other five aforementioned players in the 2010 MCDAAG.

Enes Kanter was the lone top-10 player to not make it to the exhibition game along with fellow top-15 prospect Will Barton. The absolute whiffs on no. 10 C.J. Leslie can’t be overlooked, being the only player to never make it to the NBA after going undrafted in 2013. He got close to it playing for the Raptors G League team in 2017 and winning the chip with them featuring prominently—playing next to Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Delon Wright no less—but that was it for his never-fulfilled dreams of being part of the Association.

As far as pro-careers ended going, the scouts weren’t even close to bad ranking kids here. While Josh Selby posted a negative total Win Shares in his short NBA stint (minus-0.7 WS), the top-five players in WS from this class all ranked inside the top-12 prospects, in order: Kyrie Irving (61.3), Tobias Harris (45.0), Enes Kanter (43.4), Tristan Thompson (43.1), and Harrison Barnes (33.9).

There weren’t glaring hidden gems in this class, either. You might want to count Victor Oladipo (no. 136), Marcus Thornton (no. 121), Tim Hardaway (no. 161) or lower-profile guys like Jordan Clarkson (no. 206) or Joe Harris (no. 132), but it is not that scouts totally missed on an all-timer ranking him lower than 200th or something crazy like that.

Which players WOULD have gone prep-to-pros?

There are two kids that came out of this class of 2010 while being clearly forced to spend one year in college: Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving. The former was this close to being a consensus no. 1 prospect in the nation had it not been for Rivals no. 2 rank among seniors (to put Josh Selby first of all possibilities...). Kyrie finished tied-second with Sullinger but was much more heralded back then, committed to Duke, and proved he was worth that no. 2 and everything else in just 11 games as a Blue Devil.

Even playing just 303 minutes for the Blue Devils and three games in March before losing to Arizona in the bracket, Irving would go on to become 2011 NBA draft’s no. 1 pick. And seriously, there wasn’t even a debate about that decision. Had Irving jumped straight from HS he probably wouldn’t have been the first player selected in 2010—remember, John Wall was part of that draft—but odds are high to have heard his name inside the top-5 and definitely as a top-10 pick (a top-10 that included Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, or Al-Farouq Aminu...).

It doesn’t make much sense making a case for Barnes. He was seen as the next big thing, full stop. Only 10 players from 2003 to 2018 have been considered consensus no. 1 prospects or the best of their class by all services except one, Barnes among them. It doesn’t get much better for a teen’s chances to make it to the NBA with a high draft pick that it could have for Barnes, so his what-if potential-jump is out of any type of question.

Things get more interesting going down the ranks. As four to five guys on average jumped from prep-to-pros in the early days, we still have a few guys to include in this would have section. Jared Sullinger, tied with Irving for that no. 2 spot in RSCI could have been our third. The rankings don’t seem to be lying: asked back in 2010, OSU’s head coach Thad Matta labeled Sullinger as the best talent he had ever recruited—that is, considering he had previously snatched Greg Oden and Evan Turner, to name a few. Not only that, but Sullinger was indeed named Naismith Prep POY, made the USA Today All-American first team, and was part of the MCDAAG. Oh, and he’d go on to finish his first collegiate year with the most WS among freshmen and a monstrous 30.3 PER (3rd-best) over 1,172 minutes and 37 games.

The fourth one: Brandon Knight. Knight was talked about already as a junior and as a senior he averaged a 32-4-8-2 line in 24 games at Pine Crest. No joke for the Gatorade POY, who racked up 5.3 WS in his lone NCAA season before declaring for the draft and getting picked before Kemba Walker, who came from capping a three-year run with UConn that ended in a Natty win. That’s insane, and Knight would have been a lottery pick had he declared as a teen.

Had I to try and envision other kids jumping early, I’d probably go with Perry Jones or CJ Leslie. The former might ring a bell. The latter, not so much.

Perry Jones’ tape looked like that of the second coming of Kevin Garnett. You can’t get too high on kids just because of their perfectly-put-together HS mixtapes, but Jones’ looked legit and he remained in-state committing to Baylor where he spent just one season. Jones’ case to make an early jump relies on his actual “incompleteness” as a prospect, leaving the door open for a potential to fulfill if correctly coached when already among pros. As we later saw, he didn’t develop that much in the NCAA, had a disappointing run, and ultimately ended being a borderline first-round pick in 2012. He would have definitely benefited (for his own good, I mean) from that jump.

C.J. Leslie was the typical “rest on your laurels” kid. He was so high on boards and scouting services ranks that he just thought he was at the top of the world. Then, reality stroke. Had he had the chance to go straight to the pros he would have done it, because inside his head he was good enough to do it—and he would have probably become a second-rounder. Making it to the NBA would have been his ceiling, though, as he never truly panned out and was a true bust, never making it to the Association in real life after not doing much at NC State.

Which players COULD have gone prep-to-pros?

No questions asked about both Irving and Knight. You can read more about them in the section above this one, but basically we’re talking about someone who became a no. 1 pick after 11 NCAA games and a guy who NBA teams thought of as a better-alternative to national-champ Kemba Walker entering the 2011 draft.

Perhaps Jared Sullinger would have never jumped from HS to the NBA and declared as a teen, but the truth is that he dominated NCAA-competition from the get-go and could even improve his performance in his second year of college-ball, which wasn’t bad considering his first year: Sullinger had back-to-back seasons of averaging 17 points and 10/9 boards for an average of around 8 WS per year. He actually finished fourth in WS as a freshman, only behind junior Kemba Walker, and seniors Jimmer Fredette and Kenneth Faried. No wonder he would have been a great NBA rookie too.

Playing for Kentucky surely bumped Terrence Jones numbers up a bit, but he also excelled on his first of two years at Kentucky averaging a neat 16-9 in his 31.5 mpg over 35 games. Can’t blame him for returning as he ended getting the chip in 2012 and becoming a first-rounder in that summer’s draft. Not a lock to make the first round had he jumped in 2010, but he would have been a virtual lock as a second-round pick.

With the benefit of insight, it is easy to peg Tristan Thompson as a surefire could-have-jumped player, but the truth is that he was too much of a project with vast upside and potential to fulfill back then rather than a solid, completed, developed prospect. There is a chance some NBA team would have thrown a late second-rounder his way just as a flier—and they would have gotten a true gem in TT—but not much more than that.

Which players did scouts WHIFFED on the most?

As always, whiffing or not comes down to where do you place the bar. Ranking Josh Selby at the top of the class was an obvious mistake, as he played two years as a pro in the NBA but finished his career there with negative WS. That’s ridiculous considering he was a top-5 prospect for virtually every scouting service but he never reached those expectations. Perry Jones looked incredible in high school, a definitive do-it-all wing expected to take the L by storm once arriving there. Oklahoma City took him and only three years and 143 games later they realized Jones was not getting them anywhere on the positive side of things down the road.

The biggest of whiffs to come out of the top-10, clearly, was C.J. Leslie. Had he really put all of his effort and will into turning basketball into his no. 1 priority and developed his skills, perhaps he would have ended being the player scouts saw in him as a teen. Sadly, his NBA career was finished even before it started, and even if he had declared early to try his luck and getting drafted, it would have probably just been a matter of time to see him getting dumped by whoever picked him.

Those were all busts, but what about actual hidden gems and players that went completely under the radar for scouts 10 years back? Again, a matter of perceptions.

Victor Oladipo is clearly the best player of those outside of the top-100 prospects. He was ranked 136th among his peers yet he’s gone on to rack up the ninth-most WS in the NBA. Can we consider that an absolute whiff? Probably, but let’s not be too harsh with scouts as being ranked 130th isn’t super low all things considered, and it took Dipo three college seasons to develop into something interesting—mostly thanks to his tenacious defense.

In a similar position are Tim Hardaway (no. 161) and Marcus Thornton (no. 121), who have had NBA careers to this date of 19.3 and 20 WS respectively and were ranked outside of the top-100 players of the class. Sandwiched between them in terms of that rank vs. WS relation we might be able to slot Jordan Clarkson (no. 206) as he has 14 WS already as a great role player through his pro career.

Now, if we really delve into the deepest of waters of the 2010 HS class, though, three names came truly out of nowhere while all being ranked virtually as 350+ prospects: Tony Snell (no. 403, 16.1 WS), Tyler Johnson (no. 354, 15.1 WS), and T.J. McConnell (no. 348, 15.3 WS). Now, that’s you call “diamonds” in the rough and hidden gems—at least to an extent.

Defensive stalwart Andre Roberson was ranked 153rd, sharpshooter Joe Harris 132nd, and late-bloomer Langston Galloway 169th.