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!
2014 HS Class: Top-10 Prospects
2014 Top-10 HS Prospects
|2014||1||Jahlil Okafor||Whitney Young (Chicago, IL)||C||6'11||270||5||9.995||1||1||1||Duke|
|2014||2||Emmanuel Mudiay||Prime Prep Academy (Arlington, TX)||PG||6'5||190||5||9.995||2||1||1||SMU|
|2014||3||Stanley Johnson||Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA)||SG||6'7||226||5||9.989||3||1||1||Arizona|
|2014||4||Cliff Alexander||Curie Metropolitan (Chicago, IL)||PF||6'9||240||5||9.988||4||1||2||Kansas|
|2014||5||Karl-Anthony Towns||Saint Joseph (Piscataway, NJ)||C||7'1||248||5||9.986||5||2||1||Kentucky|
|2014||6||Myles Turner||Trinity (Euless, TX)||C||6'10||223||5||9.981||6||3||2||Texas|
|2014||7||Kelly Oubre||Findlay Prep (Sugar Land, TX)||SG||6'7||190||5||9.977||7||2||1||Kansas|
|2014||8||Tyus Jones||Apple Valley (Saint Paul, MN)||PG||6'2||180||5||9.977||8||2||1||Duke|
|2014||9||Justin Jackson||Homeschool Christian Y.A. (Spring, TX)||SF||6'8||189||5||9.967||9||1||3||North Carolina|
|2014||10||Rashad Vaughn||Findlay Prep (Minneapolis, MN)||SG||6'5||203||5||9.959||10||3||2||UNLV|
I’m sorry to upset you, or to not align with whatever you might think, but the 2014 class was a bit disappointing to me. It is not that it didn’t come packed with talent (there were 24 five-star caliber players in it) but none of them really excited my that much. Perhaps the only one who did was Emmanuel Mudiay, which makes sense considering he skipped college to play a year in China following the steps of Brandon Jennings when the latter went to Europe years prior.
The truth is that scouts were split in terms of naming a no. 1 prospect, with both Jahlil Okafor and Mudiay getting ranked at the top stop depending on the service. Jennings already was the no. 1 of his class even though he opted to went pro early, so it is not that it would have been something crazy.
What this was, if anything, was a super-precocious class. Every player other than Justin Jackson ranked inside the top-13 became a one-and-done for the better or the worse, with no. 16 D’Angelo Russell and no. 21 Chris McCollough joining them in time for the 2015 NBA draft. Those decisions aligned with the expectations that all of those kids carried with them into the NCAA, as every top-16 player was named to the 2014 MCDAAG roster.
While this class didn’t feature a true superstar outside of Karl Anthony-Towns (he clearly leads the class with 50.4 WS already in the NBA), the truth is that it contained a lot of good professional players. Obviously, it is still early to judge most of these guys as the majority were drafted in 2018 or later, but things look relatively good for them going forward.
The one mega-dud of 2014 can be found in no. 4 Cliff Alexander. He was part of those highly ranked prospects back then, declared for the draft as a one-and-done, but could only stay in the NBA for a year before going undrafted in 2015. He’s currently playing basketball in France, though.
Which players WOULD have gone prep-to-pros?
Let’s call it a day and assume all top-16 players would have jumped straight from prep-to-pros. No, I was joking, but considering almost all of them took the leap as soon as they were able to do so this class could have actually made history in that sense and bring back the early-aughts trend.
As incredible as it sounds, two players (Jahlil Okafor and D’Angelo Russell) finished the 2015 season as top-15 players in college-Win Shares playing at Duke and Ohio State respectively. Okafor, being the no. 1 prospect in the nation on pair with Emmanuel Mudiay, would absolutely had made the jump as a teen and snatched a first-round draft position without any trouble. He didn’t dominate as others before him, but his 17-8 line in the NCAA proved he was more than ready to be at least useful among pros early.
Speaking of Mudiay, I don’t think I need to tell you that he would have declared for the 2014 draft, right? I mean, he went on to play in China, so you bet he would have taken his chances at getting to the NBA early.
I think KAT would have also jumped. As a coveted big man and in a year when the small-ball, three-point revolution had yet to fully catch up, he would have had chances of getting drafted very early, not to mention that he’s more of a stretch player than a pure, old-school center. More in that guard vein was Stanley Johnson, who was highly ranked in this class and became an absolute earthquake at Arizona even though he “just” averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds per game. He got the PAC-12 ROY award, and was named to the All-Freshman and All-PAC-12 teams in his lone season as a Wildcat. He might have opted to jump early too.
Outside of the top-10 but still the 13th-best player in the class, Justinse Winslow could probably be another candidate to have tried the prep-to-pro path after averaging 27 ppg, 14 rpg and 4 apg in his senior year at St. John’s High.
Which players COULD have gone prep-to-pros?
Knowing what we do now, Towns is the clear winner of this section. After being shadowed by Jahlil Okafor during his high school days, Towns went on to play better college-level basketball, proved a well-rounded defensive player, and entered the draft with the higher upside thus becoming the no. 1 pick in 2015. Okafor won the Natty, though, as part of a not-so-loaded Kentucky team as Duke was that year, proving also his worth as a top draft pick.
Towns’ teammate Devin Booker was a menace in his first year as a pro in the NBA, which leads me to believe that he wouldn’t have looked bad at all had he jumped one year earlier than he was forced to. He finished second to Towns in PPG and third in APG as a rookie, so chances are that he would have become a lottery pick one year prior to his declaration season.
I wouldn’t add any more players here. If anything, a case could be made for D’Angelo Russell, but he had a rough time while playing in Los Angeles for a few years before finding his true footing in the League, so perhaps an early jump would have seen him and his career getting derailed and him not finding a way back to where he is now.
Which players did scouts WHIFFED on the most?
Shout out to my scouts that ranked Cliff Alexander, Rashad Vaughn, and Isaiah Whitehead inside the top-15 of the 2014 class. You the real MVPs! Jokes aside, the truth is that at least all of the top-19 seniors from this class made it to the NBA, so there was definitely a good job done by those scouts. Can’t hate too hard on them.
Also not a blatant whiff, because both players were top-5 players at the end of the day, the scouting services had it wrong in putting Okafor above Towns as the latter is already at 50+ WS compared to Okafor’s 6.4 WS in the NBA, with clear opposite paths going forward in their pro careers.
You probably consider Mudiay a whiff too. I guess I’d have to surrender and accept it, although I’m still a believer in his talent and hell, he’s out there with Utah in the bubble fighting for a role coming off the bench for the Jazz.
The true whiffs from this class were clearly no. 200 Domantas Sabonis (20.6), and no. 187 Kyle Kuzma (8.4). These two are super established in the NBA now yet look at their rank. We’re entering the span of classes with super small samples of NBA games, sure, but it doesn’t get much better than what both Sabonis Jr. and Kuzma have done already.
If you want to consider them “lowly” ranked, then you can also throw in Mikal Bridges (no. 81), Jordan Bell (no. 100), and Dillon Brooks (no. 59).