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Rebuilding the Prep-To-Pro NBA History: Class of 2015

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: APR 01 Basketball - McDonaldÕs All American Games - Boy’s Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire 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!

2015 HS Class: Top-10 Prospects

2015 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
2015 1 Ben Simmons Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL) SF 6'8 220 5 9.998 1 1 1 LSU
2015 2 Skal Labissiere Lausanne Collegiate School (Memphis, TN) C 6'10 200 5 9.998 2 1 1 Kentucky
2015 3 Brandon Ingram Kinston (Kinston, NC) SF 6'9 195 5 9.992 3 2 1 Duke
2015 4 Jaylen Brown Wheeler (Marietta, GA) SF 6'7 217 5 9.989 4 3 1 California
2015 5 Cheick Diallo Our Savior New American School (Centereach, NY) PF 6'9 218 5 9.980 5 1 1 Kansas
2015 6 Diamond Stone Dominican (Milwaukee, WI) C 6'10 246 5 9.979 6 2 1 Maryland
2015 7 Ivan Rabb Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, CA) PF 6'10 210 5 9.974 7 2 1 California
2015 8 Malik Newman Callaway (Jackson, MS) PG 6'3 174 5 9.971 8 1 1 Mississippi State
2015 9 Henry Ellenson Rice Lake (Rice Lake, WI) PF 6'10 230 5 9.959 9 3 2 Marquette
2015 10 Jamal Murray Athlete Institute Basketball Academy (Toronto, ON) SG 6'5 180 5 9.957 10 1 1 Kentucky
2015 Top-10 HS Prospects

This is the last class that had a chance to complete full four-year collegiate careers if we don’t count 2020 as a “real”, fully completed season. Every player from the 2015 crop that didn’t red-shirted or transferred between colleges would have been out of the NCAA circuit in 2019, which means that virtually all of these kids had a chance to getting drafted by an NBA franchise.

When looked at in perspective, this class looks like it could turn into a very good one. It’s still early to truly judge, as even the best of the guys to come out of it have just closed—or are doing so these days—their fourth seasons as pros playing top tier basketball. That being said, a four-year sample has been more than enough to let us know who is who here, and to clearly spot the bonafide superstars of the 2015 class. Oh, and if this class of seniors suffered any sort of hit back when its components came out of HS, that was only because of the hyped Ben Simmons.

Not only was Simmons a great HS senior, but also an international player from Australia, and one that opted to play his high school hoops at powerhouse Montverde Academy moving to the U.S. in 2013 (sophomore year). From that point on he only raised his stock and grabbed all of the attention from scouts north and south. The only player that shadowed him in some scouting services was Skal Labissiere, from Haiti, who spent an extra-season playing prep ball after transferring schools in his senior year.

Being honest, scouts got it mostly right in 2015. All of the top-10 recruits from the 247Sports Composite board have played at least a game in the NBA—that’s a mixed bag of talent, though—while 13 of the top-15 have done so too. In fact, 20 of the top 25 have earned the right to say that they once stepped onto an NBA court. Not bad, indeed.

Almost every player from no. 1 to no. 27 (Jawun Evans) made the MCDAAG’s that year. Only Labissiere (not eligible after transferring), Jamal Murray (who reclassified), Derryck Thornton (five-year prep player), Ray Smith (would have been there if not injured), and no.23 Jalen Adams missed the game, and the only one who got entirely snubbed was Adams. That’s incredible.

All of that said, though, scouts missed on some kids that are on the verge of making a leap of quality in the NBA, as the likes of Malik Beasley, Derrick Jones Jr., Dejounte Murray, Landry Shamet, John Collins, OG Anunoby, and Brandon Clarke slipped through the ranks a bit more than they should in hindsight.

Had I to name a mega dud, that’d definitely be Diamond Stone, who was ranked as the no. 6 prospects of 2015. That’s as of this writing, though, because although Stone has only played seven NBA games for the Clippers after being drafted by New Orleans in 2017, he became a G League champ in 2019 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and is still 23 years old. There is still time to re-route that pro career and make it an NBA relevant one, indeed.

Which players WOULD have gone prep-to-pros?

The only thing keeping Simmons from jumping early was the silly NBA rule that prevented him from doing so. Plain and simple. And in fact, that turned to be a disgrace for Simmons and basketball as a whole. The point forward was forced to attend LSU, completed a 33-game season with the Tigers, didn’t even make it to the Tourney—not that it impacted his stock even by the very least—and got injured in his last NBA pre-season scrimmage, losing a full year of pro ball. What if Simmons had skipped college and entered the 2015 draft straight out of high school? What if that year hadn’t been shelved of his career? Sometimes you hate to even think about those questions.

Labissiere would have tried entering the NBA early too, in my opinion. Keep in mind that he completed a fifth-year of prep basketball, which he could have ditched entirely by becoming a pro in the summer of 2015. Brandon Ingram posses an interesting case, too, as if only because of his high school days abilities he would have possibly thought about jumping, but he was so underdeveloped physically that I don’t know what would have happened with him. He was talented enough as to make a roster even as a late firstrounder with whichever team drafting him stashing and developing him slowly, though if it already has taken him a few years to develop even playing NCAA-ball, who knows if he would have stayed in the L had he jumped early.

Ivan Rabb was an absolute stud in high school. Rabb averaged a monster 24-16-4 line as a senior, helped Bishop O’Dowd to a title, and in the game for the chip he dropped a 19-21 double double. I mean, Rabb was getting profiled by SLAM Magazine already in 2013, labeled “the top prospect in the 2015 class” two years prior to graduation. It is just to hard not to think he would have taken advantage of all of that hype to put his name in the early entrant list.

Two under-the-radar kids that could have tried their luck early are Antonio Blakeney and Tyler Dorsey. Sure, they ranked “only” as the 16th and 28th best prospects of their class, but they finished their senior seasons averaging 32-7-3 and 34-10-4 lines per game, which was truly bonkers. Also, knowing what we know now (Blakeney didn’t doubt moving to China to find a place in the Chinese Basketball Association ; Dorsey moved to Israel in 2019 and became Maccabi Tel Aviv’s no. 1 player) it is quite probable that these two had shown enough determination and willingness to take the chance and make the most of it.

Which players COULD have gone prep-to-pros?

Ben Simmons is clearly out of the question. He would have taken the league by storm even as a teen, as he proved when he debuted one year later than he should with the 76ers. He was a monster in college already ranking as the 32nd-best player (second-best freshman) in Win Shares back in his lone year at LSU, so there’s that.

The other great newcomer? Jamal Murray, who playing for a not-so-loaded Kentucky squad (though they featured Skal Labissiere too) averaged a neat 20 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while hitting 3.1 three-pointers per game. Murray transitioned nicely to the NBA posting averages of 15-3-3 as a rookie in 2017, so I don’t think he would have had many problems jumping early.

I’ve already talked about Ingram, who was a walking bucket in high school, in college, and then in the NBA. The questions were more about his body rather than his skill set, but he could have really jumped without much trouble.

Could Diamond Stone have jumped straight from prep to the pros? I already mentioned him in the intro, and this is a very interesting case. He set records in Maryland, was named the best freshman of the Big Ten conference, and although he has yet to solidify himself as an NBA player—even if he reaches that level—one has to wonder if taking a different route could have changed his development a bit somehow.

Which players did scouts WHIFF on the most?

Three players inside the top-10 of this class have yet to do anything of substance in the NBA—assuming they will eventually do so: Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, and Herny Ellenson. Ellenson. If you have read the sections above, you know I believe in Stone. Newman and Ellenson, not so much. No. 2 Skal Labissier hasn’t looked any good either, and the same goes for no. 7 Rabb.

I am still convinced Antonio Blakeney (no.16) will find a way back to the NBA sooner rather than later. After playing two seasons and 76 games for the Bulls, Blakeney was cut by Chicago in September 2019 but signed with the Jiangsu Dragons for the 19-20 season. He absolutely demolished the CBA to the tune of 35 points and 8 rebounds in his 16 games there playing 38+ minutes a night. Of course, there is more to basketball than scoring, but I still think he can make it in the Association at least as a role player. Anyways, he was a resounding whiff.

If we’re looking at the other side of the coin, though, no. 185 John Collins and no. 29 OG Anunoby are definitely the two true hidden gems of this class. Collins enrolled in Wake Forest and after playing a couple of years there he was drafted as a first-rounder with the 19th pick in 2017. Anunoby followed the same timeline—by the way of Indiana University—and was drafted four picks after Collins in the same draft. They rank second (16.4 WS) and sixth (10.1) in Win Share among 2015 seniors.

Not as lowly ranked as those two, but still very valuable and slept on (outside of the top-50) were Landry Shamet (no. 148), Donte DiVincenzo (no. 124), and Marquese Chriss (no. 58). Special mention also to no. 503 prospect Brandon Clarke, who this very season (as a rookie) exploded as a great bench player for the Memphis Grizzlies and looks like a very promising player going forward.