Take a look at 10 of the youngest players to make their mark in the league.
From the league’s inception in 1946 until the Haywood v. National Basketball Association Supreme Court ruling in 1971, players were required to be four years removed from high school before entering the NBA.
After the Haywood ruling, the NBA altered its four-year rule to allow players to enter the league early in cases of hardship. Two players used that hardship rule to enter the 1975 NBA Draft directly out of high school – Darryl Dawkins (No. 5 overall pick) and Bill Willoughby (No. 19 overall pick).
Two decades would pass before the prep-to-pro leap became a trend in the mid-1990s, following the decision by Kevin Garnett to forgo his college eligibility and enter the NBA directly out of high school. Garnett was selected No. 5 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1995 NBA Draft and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Over the next decade, dozens of players made the decision to enter the NBA out of high school, peaking in 2004 (with eight of the first 19 draft picks) and 2005 (with nine total players drafted).
The current rules were established in 2006 and have held over multiple iterations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players’ Association. The ruling states that all drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft, and that any player that is not designated as an international player must be at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class.
Take a look at 10 of the youngest players to make their mark in the league.
YOUNGEST PLAYER: ANDREW BYNUM – 18 YEARS, 6 DAYS
Selected No. 10 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2005 NBA Draft out of St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, Andrew Bynum is the youngest player to ever appear in an NBA game. The 7-foot-1 center made his NBA debut on Nov. 2, 2005 against the Denver Nuggets, just six days following his 18th birthday.
Bynum played seven seasons with the Lakers, winning championships in 2009 and 2010 and earning All-Star and All-NBA Second Team honors in 2012. The final season of his career was split between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers in 2013-14. In 418 career games, Bynum averaged 11.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
2ND YOUNGEST PLAYER: JERMAINE O’NEAL – 18 YEARS, 53 DAYS
After four years in Portland, O’Neal was traded to the Indiana Pacers, where his career took off. In eight seasons with the Pacers, O’Neal was a six-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection. Following the 2007-08 season, O’Neal was traded to the Toronto Raptors and closed his career with stops in Miami, Boston, Phoenix and Golden State before retiring in 2014. In 1,011 career games, O’Neal averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
3RD YOUNGEST PLAYER: KOBE BRYANT – 18 YEARS, 72 DAYS
Selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Kobe Bryant would be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac two weeks later. The 6-foot-6 guard made his NBA debut on Nov. 3, 1996 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and made his first NBA start on Jan. 28, 1997, becoming the youngest player to start an NBA game at 18 years, 158 days old – a record he still holds today.
Over a 20-year career with the Lakers, Bryant built one of the greatest basketball resumes ever:
- 5x NBA champion
- 18x All-Star
- 4x All-Star MVP
- 2x Finals MVP,
- 1 league MVP
- 15x All-NBA selections (including 11 First Team honors)
- 12x All-Defensive selections (including nine First Team honors)
- 2x scoring champion with the second-highest scoring game of all-time (81 points)
- Member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
He is the only player in league history to have two different numbers retired by a single team as his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys hang in the Crypto.com Arena rafters. Bryant is the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 career points as he averaged 25 points per game over 1,346 career games.
4TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: DARKO MILICIC – 18 YEARS, 133 DAYS
Milicic made his NBA debut on Oct. 31, 2003 and averaged just 4.7 minutes over 34 games as the Pistons won the NBA title that season. He does hold the distinction as the youngest player to appear in an NBA Finals game (18 years, 356 days) and the youngest player to win an NBA title (18 years, 360 days). After two-plus seasons in Detroit, Milicic was traded to Orlando, which was the first of five teams he played for over the final seven seasons of his 10-year NBA career. In 468 career games, Milicic averaged 6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 18.5 minutes per game.
5TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: STAN BROWN – 18 YEARS, 139 DAYS
Stan Brown began his professional career while still in high school, joining the Philadelphia Sphas, which played in the American Basketball League, in 1946. A year later, he joined the Philadelphia Warriors of the Basketball Association of America, the league that would rebrand as the National Basketball Association in 1949.
Brown made his BAA/NBA debut on Nov. 13, 1947 as the Warriors faced the Providence Steamrollers. Brown would play 19 games with the Warriors during the 1947-48 and returned to play 15 games with the team during the 1951-52 season. In 34 career games, he averaged 3.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.4 minutes per game.
6TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: BILL WILLOUGHBY – 18 YEARS, 156 DAYS
Selected with the 19th overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1975 NBA Draft out of Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey, Bill Willoughby was one of two players – along with Darryl Dawkins (No. 5 overall) – to be drafted out directly out of high school following the ruling in the Haywood case.
Willoughby made his NBA debut on Oct. 23, 1975 against the New Orleans Jazz. Willoughby was an exceptional athlete with a 47-inch vertical leap; it was that athleticism that made him one of the few players to ever block Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s signature skyhook. Willoughby was a journeyman in the NBA, playing for six different teams over the course of his eight-year career. In 488 career games, he averaged 6.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game.
7TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: TRACY MCGRADY – 18 YEARS, 160 DAYS
After four years in Orlando, he was traded to Houston, where he had the signature moment of his career, scoring 13 points in the final 33 seconds of a comeback win over San Antonio. After five-and-a-half seasons in Houston, McGrady finished his career with the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and Spurs. One of the most gifted offensive players in the game, McGrady was a seven-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2017.
8TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: YAROSLAV KOROLEV – 18 YEARS, 181 DAYS
9TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: ANDRIS BIEDRINS – 18 YEARS, 217 DAYS
Selected 11th overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2004 NBA Draft out of Latvia, Andris Biedrins played nine of his 10 years in the NBA with the Warriors before spending his final season with the Utah Jazz. Biedrins made his NBA debut on Nov. 5, 2004 when the Warriors faced the Jazz. During the 2008-09 season, he averaged career-highs of 11.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
Biedrins battled injuries and inconsistent play in the seasons that followed in Golden State, and he was eventually traded to Utah, where he only played six games in 2013-14 to end his career. In 516 career games, Biedrins averaged 6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 21.6 minutes per game.
10TH YOUNGEST PLAYER: CJ MILES – 18 YEARS, 241 DAYS
After spending his first seven seasons in Utah, Miles played his next two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His next stop was Indiana, where he posted a career-best 13.5 points per game in 2015. Miles then signed with Toronto, where he spent a season and a half before being traded to Memphis, and closed his career with stops in Washington and Boston. In 849 career games, Miles averaged 9.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers in 20.4 minutes per game.