As part of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations in 2005, the players union and then-commissioner David Stern agreed on the policy in which all players selected in the NBA Draft must be (or be turning) 19 years old during the calendar year of said draft, and all non-international players must be at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class.
Given that potential NBA prospects now effectively had to wait one year after leaving high school to enter the NBA Draft, it gave birth to the current “one and done” climate in college basketball: Elite basketball prospects playing college hoops for one year, as they bide their time until they’re eligible to enter the Draft.
With almost a decade-and-a-half of drafts having passed since the institution of this rule, let’s look back at the top 25 “one-and-done” players, based on the combination of both their success (or hype) in college, and their career arc after they arrived in the NBA.
One disclaimer: we also included one super-phenom NBA prospect who’s taken the college basketball by storm, even though he’s still months away from hearing his name called on draft day.
Honorable Mention: Zion Williamson (Duke)
In all honesty, how in the hell are we supposed to describe Zion Williamson? Is he the result of Blake Griffin’s DNA surgically placed into the body of an All-Pro NFL defensive end? Or the basketball gods being bored and concocting random basketball evolution experiments like “what if we made a hybrid of Larry Johnson and Dominique Wilkins?”
Or how about the reincarnation of Charles Barkley, except put into a top-secret military chamber and enhanced with super soldier serum? Regardless of how you see him, in an NBA era dominated by guys so unique that we’ve dubbed them as “unicorns,” it’s fair to say we’ve never seen an overall package of physical abilities, talent, and skills like the one demonstrated by Williamson.
24. Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
As much as any year in recent memory, the 2013-2014 season was one of the most blatant instances of NBA teams trying to tank the entire year to put themselves in position to draft one particular player in the upcoming NBA Draft — the University of Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins was so highly thought of that when LeBron James returned to Cleveland, and forced the franchise to trade away the #1 overall pick in the draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves in order to acquire Kevin Love, many wondered if that was a mistake, with Wiggins’ potentially becoming a better running-mate for James than Love.
Wiggins combination of athletic abilities, lateral quickness, and overall basketball skills had some calling him anything from “a better Vince Carter” to “a next-generation version of Scottie Pippen.”
23. Gerald Wallace (Alabama)
Gerald Wallace was like a human Kamikaze on the basketball court: he attacked opposing teams with reckless and unrelenting abandon, earning him the nickname “Crash” (and leading to him missing a lot of time due to injuries as a result). Simply put, for the majority of his 16-year NBA career, Wallace was one of those “energy guys” that every NBA team needs to have on their roster.
However, he was much more than just a token bench player. He averaged at least 18 points per game scoring during four of his five years with the (then) Charlotte Bobcats, and was named an NBA All-Star and voted to the NBA All-Defensive First Team while there.
22. D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State)
Regardless of how things might have transpired in Los Angeles, hardly anyone batted an eyelash when the Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Some draft analysts said that, at worst, he’d be Brandon Roy-type player, while others said his upside could turn him into a Penny Hardaway-type player.
Obviously, for reasons on and off the court, Russell’s career was a big flop in Los Angeles. But he started showing flashes of success in his first season in Brooklyn, and became a full-fledged breakout star during his second season there.
21. Shareef Abdur-Rahim (California)
Shareef Abdur-Rahim probably never got his full due among NBA fans, because he toiled in what was effectively the NBA’s purgatory, playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies for the first five years of his career.
Taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft (the second-ever draft the Grizzlies participated in), he averaged at least 20.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for four-straight years with Vancouver, after his rookie year. Over the course of his 13-year career, Abdur-Rahim averaged 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.
20. DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M)
Growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, Hyland DeAndre Jordan Jr. passed up the chances to play for schools like Kentucky, Florida, and Indiana, staying home and enrolling at Texas A&M. During his lone season in College Station, Jordan established himself as a dominant presence in the post, hitting 61.7% of his field goals (almost all within a few feet from the basket) while pulling down 6.0 rebounds per game.
Still, Jordan fell to the 2nd round of the 2008 NBA Draft, and was taken by the Los Angeles Clippers. Paired alongside Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Jordan became a key member of the “Lob City” Clippers that were one of the NBA’s most exciting teams. But in addition to the flare on the court, Jordan was a two-time member of All-NBA Third Team, and two-time All-Defensive First Team as well.
19. Zach Randolph (Michigan State)
A big, bruising presence at forward who was just as physically imposing as he was mentally intimidating, Zach Randolph – commonly known by his nickname of “Z-Bo” was a two-time All-Star and member of the All-NBA Third Team in 2011.
Though he was a part of the Portland Trail Blazers teams that were known for controversy throughout the first part of the 2000’s, after coming to Memphis in 2009, he was part of the “grit and grind” Grizzlies teams that were enormous challenges for opponents to play, because of their relentless defensive styles.
18. Demarcus Cousins (Kentucky)
The best friend, enforcer, and talented co-star of the University of Kentucky team led by point guard John Wall, NBA teams couldn’t stop gushing about the talent and potential upside of Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins. Countless NBA personnel compared him, for better or for worse, to former Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman, the first overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft.
While Cousins’ penchant for moodiness and outbursts came with him from Lexington to the NBA, eventually exasperating the Sacramento Kings (who took him with the 5th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft) into trading him, few will argue that Cousins was one of the most lethal, well-rounded big men in the game.
17. Stephon Marbury (Georgia Tech)
An electric combo guard who earned the name “Starbury” as a kid on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, Stephon Marbury was heralded as the next great NYC point guard, expected to follow the success of big-name NBA players like Mark Jackson and Kenny Anderson.
While Marbury started out his career paired alongside Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, he really came into his own as a member of the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns, averaging at least 20 points and 7.6 assists per game for six-straight seasons.
16. Jrue Holiday (UCLA)
Despite being named to an All-Star team and an All-NBA Defensive team, and consistently showing that he’ll get you 15 points, 6 assists, and 1.5 steals a game throughout the course of his career, it seems like Jrue Holiday always gets overlooked in the conversation of “top guards in the NBA.”
But during his lone season at UCLA, where he arrived as the Gatorade National Player of the year and a McDonald’s All American, Holiday was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team, and went on to become the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Despite his injuries and off-the-court adversities he’s faced, Holiday has been a steadying presence with his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
15. Ben Simmons (LSU)
The Magic Johnson comparisons weren’t unique to just Ben Simmons’ breakout rookie season in 2017-2018. When he held his own in one-on-one battles against Anthony Davis and James Harden at Nike Academy workouts before even stepping foot in college, and with teams seeing him as a guy whose entire life revolved around basketball, teams saw a teenager who stood 6’10 and 240lbs, with once-in-a-decade passing ability, and immediately believed he was worth taking if his ceiling was even in the same neighborhood as an Earvin Johnson.
Sure, there was a contingent of people who were spooked by Simmons’ near-broken shooting mechanics, and began toying with the idea of taking Brandon Ingram over Simmons, that idea never really gained much traction.
14. Mike Conley (Ohio State)
Heading into the 2006-2007 NCAA basketball season, everything conversation about Ohio State basketball was seemingly about 5-star mega-recruit Greg Oden, whom people projected to be an evolutionary Patrick Ewing.
But even with Oden missing a good portion of the first part of the season with a wrist injury, Conley led the nation in assists, and helped lead the Buckeyes to the final game of the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
After leaving Columbus, having been selected with the 4th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, the argument can become the most important player in the franchise’s history.
13. Kevin Love (UCLA)
Kevin Love was not only the son of former NBA player Stan Love, but his middle name of was given in homage to his father’s teammate on (then) Baltimore Bullets — Wes Unseld. Point being: Love was virtually pre-ordained to play in the NBA himself.
After arriving at UCLA as a 5-star recruit, Love was named consensus first-team All-American, Pac-10 Player of the Year, All-Pac-10, and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. He’d go on to become the 5th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and a key trade acquisition by the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James arrived back in town in 2014.
12. John Wall (Kentucky)
NBA scouting types saw the University of Kentucky’s John Wall as a slightly bigger version of Derrick Rose — an electrifying point guard who could blow past defenders in less than the blink of an eye, and just needs to add a jump shot before he could wreck the league.
If he maximized the potential he demonstrated when taking the Wildcats to Elite Eight of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Wall could have become a bigger Rajon Rondo with a little bit of Russell Westbrook spliced in to his point guard DNA.
The Washington Wizards selected Wall with the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after one year in Lexington, and he was the foundation in which the team’s rebuild took place.
11. Bradley Beal (Florida)
A baby-faced shooting guard with the effortless mechanics and potential to be an assassin from behind the three-point line, Bradley Beal blossomed in his lone season playing under Billy Donovan at the University of Florida.
The Washington Wizards took Beal with the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, pairing him with John Wall and turning them into one of the most dynamic backcourts in all of the NBA.
Though injury issues plagued Beal for the early part of his career, during the 2018-2019 season, Beal enjoyed an enormous breakout season, averaging 26.0 points and over 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game.
10. Victor Oladipo (Indiana)
Despite being a battle-tested star after playing in one of the top high school basketball hotbeds in the nation in the Washington, D.C. area, Victor Oladipo was only a three-star recruit when he chose to play basketball at Indiana University. After a standout season in Bloomington, the Orlando Magic took Oladipo with the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Oladipo’s early career got off to a rocky start, with him appearing to look like a bust while a member of the Magic and later the Oklahoma City Thunder. But when the latter traded him to the Indiana Pacers as part of the Paul George trade, Oladipo’s career arc went on a meteoric rise, with him being named All-NBA third team in 2018.
9. DeMar DeRozan (USC)
Growing up on the rough streets of one of Los Angeles’ most notorious suburbs (Compton), DeMar DeRozan became a McDonald’s All-American playing for Compton High School. After passing up a scholarship to play at North Carolina to instead enroll at nearby USC, DeRozan was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team during his lone season with the Trojans.
The Toronto Raptors would go on to make DeRozan the 9th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, and over the next few years, DeRozan would go on to become one of the best shooting guards in the Eastern Conference, being named to the All-Star game four times between 2014 and 2018.
8. Lamar Odom (Rhode Island)
Lamar Odom was effectively the NBA equivalent of when we talk about a baseball prospect being a “five-tool player.” At 6’10, Odom could rebound like forwards of his size, but could dribble and distribute the ball as well as most point guards that were a half-foot shorter, and he also happened to be an effortless scorer.
While he was part of the laughing-stock Los Angeles Clippers franchise during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, everything changed after Odom was finally able to get out of there. He became an integral piece of both the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers teams that won championships over the next decade.
7. Derrick Rose (Memphis)
Scouting services referred to Derrick Rose’s package of overall athletic abilities as “extraordinary” and “breathtaking,” acknowledging that if he cleaned up what they saw as wonky mechanics on his jump shot, he would develop into one of the most unguardable point guards in the NBA.
Many of the things we remember about Derrick Rose during his heyday on the Chicago Bulls — the blinding speed in which he attacked the basket, the variety of ways he could finish around the basket, and the balance in which he could either create for his teammates or take over the game himself — were evident during his one year at the University of Memphis
6. Chris Bosh (Georgia Tech)
We’re always going to remember Chris Bosh as the “third banana” on the Miami Heat teams led by LeBron James, even though he was a four-time All-Star and All-NBA Second-Team selection during his first seven years with the Toronto Raptors. Between 2005 and 2010, Bosh averaged at least 22 points and 8 rebounds per game, and even hit 40% of his three-point attempts one year with the Raptors.
While with the Heat, Bosh was named to the All-Star team two of his first three seasons there – both seasons in which the Heat won the NBA Championship.
5. Joel Embiid (Kansas)
Even as a five-star recruit joining a college basketball program with a long history of producing NBA Draft lottery selections, Joel Embiid was all but overlooked by the rest of the college and NBA world, being overshadowed by his ballyhooed one-and-done teammate Andrew Wiggins. But after his one season with the University of Kansas Jayhawks, nearly everyone in the NBA began asking themselves if they would — or should — take Embiid even ahead of Wiggins in the 2014 NBA Draft.
But after suffering a late-season foot injury right before the draft, Embiid fell to the third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and missed almost the entirety of his first two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. But once he got on the court, he quickly transformed into one of the best centers in the NBA, if not one of the best players.
4. Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse)
In his lone season at Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds, and paired guard Gerry McNamara to lead the Orangemen to their first-ever National Championship. Anthony was named both the Big East Conference Freshman of the Year, and later the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Most people were dumbfounded when Anthony fell to the #3 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, as it was no secret that he was bound for stardom. While many will point to his lack of playing in an NBA Championship and the numerous seasons he missed the playoffs as blemishes on his overall career resume, the fact remains that during his 17 years in the NBA, there were few players who were more gifted scorers than Anthony.
3. Kyrie Irving (Duke)
The stories about Kyrie Irving’s fearlessness, rare set of offensive basketball skills, and overall “alpha dog” demeanor began to permeate even when while Irving was sitting on the sidelines, during his injury-curtailed freshman year at Duke University.
Irving eventually went on to become the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and while the early part of Irving’s career was defined by a lot of “empty calorie” statistics, once LeBron James arrived in Cleveland, Irving was able to join forces with James and make it to three straight NBA Finals, helping the franchise win it in 2017 with his iconic shot in Game 7.
2. Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
A 6’10 big man with the fluidity and agility of a guard, but with the wingspan of a condor (7’6) allowing him to absolutely suffocate anyone he guarded and protect the rim (almost 5 blocks per game in college) as well as anyone we had seen in years, Anthony Davis was the no-brainer, don’t-even-think-twice consensus top prospect in the 2012 NBA Draft.
The only two questions about him was whether he would continue to build on his offensive game (which he did) and put some bulk and muscle on his frame (a little more debatable), but if they were answered sufficiently, he was easily a franchise-changing talent with all the talents in the world to be a perennial All-Star.
1. Kevin Durant (Texas)
A man who was seemingly put on this planet to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kevin Durant averaged 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists as a freshman at the University of Texas, and put up 30 points and nine rebounds in the Longhorns’ loss against USC in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Durant still went on to win the John R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year Award. It wasn’t long after the former 2nd overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft became a bona fide superstar.
Between 2009 and 2012, Durant led the NBA in scoring three consecutive seasons, averaging 28.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game over that span. Two seasons later, Durant averaged a league-high 32 points per game, along with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists, earning him his first NBA MVP.