There is a lot of talk about great college players who busted out of the NBA, but there are an equal number of players who kinda did the opposite. For various reasons, they thrive in the NBA, but never made as much of a mark as college players.
Many of these are guys who were simply too young to be good yet. They spent one year in college, did what they could, and answered the NBA’s call. Others have styles of play that just make more sense for an NBA team and some — possibly many — were poorly utilized by their college coaches.
Whatever the reasons, these are 10 active NBA players who are better in the NBA than they ever were in college.
DeAndre Jordan played for Mark Turgeon at Texas A&M, and either he was simply not any good yet or Turgeon had no idea what to do with him. It struck me as odd that Jordan signed on to play for Turgeon in the first place, and at almost no point during his one year in College Station did it look like he belonged there.
He averaged 7.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 20.1 minutes per game. Those are the numbers of a reliable senior who plays in Turkey for three years before moving back home and opening a bar.
The Clippers took Jordan in the second round on the hunch that a guy that big and athletic couldn’t be too bad. Jordan rewarded them by leading the NBA in rebounding twice, being named to two All-Defensive teams, two All-NBA third teams, and a first-team All-NBA season in 2016.
For the first couple years of Russell Westbrook’s career, I assumed he was a big-ish combo guard who couldn’t shoot. While that remains true all these years later, he has won an MVP award and has averaged a triple double, something I did not see coming when Westbrook was a solid player at UCLA.
He averaged 3.4 points per game as a freshman and 12.7 as a sophomore before turning pro.
Here’s how DraftExpress described him at the time (2008)
Obviously a late bloomer, Westbrook remains a raw prospect as far as his skill-level is concerned, but has just about as much upside to continue to improve as any guard in the NCAA not named Derrick Rose.
He plays a fairly small role in UCLA’s half-court offense (only 8% of his offense comes from either pick and roll or isolation plays) , mostly as a complimentary piece, moving off the ball trying to find holes in the defense to get to the rim with his tremendous strength and leaping ability, or shooting wide open jumpers. It’s pretty clear when breaking down his footage that he lacks quite a bit of polish on this end of the floor, even if he is extremely effective at the few things he does well.
Some might say not much has changed for Westbrook in the last 10 years, other than he gets to shoot as much as he wants now. Either way, I doubt many saw this coming.
Like a lot of college basketball fans, I had never even heard of Jimmy Butler until he was already in the NBA. Despite looking exactly like Michael Jordan, Butler was barely recruited out of high school, and started his career at Tyler Junior College. He averaged 18-7 there as a freshman but wasn’t even ranked among the top 100 JUCO prospects when he accepted a scholarship at Marquette.
His junior and senior years at Marquette, Butler averaged 14.7 and 15.7 points per game, respectively. That got him a couple of honorable mention All-Big East nods, but it wasn’t until the NBA Summer League in 2012, his second NBA season, that Butler turned into a star. He averaged 21 and 7 that summer, got a contract extension, and has now played in four consecutive NBA All-Star games.