Every year in April, the NBA is injected with new and exciting young talent, ready to lead the new generation of players. The NBA Draft is one of the most followed and beloved events for many NBA fans, and also one of the biggest ordeals for NBA front offices. Evaluating young talent is difficult, especially as recent trends have led to players declaring for the NBA Draft as early as they can.
Who is the youngest NBA player to get drafted? Andrew Bynum was the youngest player to get drafted to the NBA. He was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Bynum was just 17 years and 249 days old (17 years and 8 months).
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Why was Andrew Bynum drafted at such a young age?
Andrew Bynum began receiving national buzz while he was still a junior at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, New Jersey. In 32 games over the course of his junior and senior years of high school, Bynum averaged 19.2 points per game, 14.9 rebounds per game, and 5.6 blocks per game. His dominance led him to appear at the 2005 McDonald’s All-American game, the premier event for the top high school basketball players across the US and Canada. Bynum’s strong performances earned him a scholarship to the University of Connecticut, a prestigious D1 NCAA basketball program, but he decided to forgo college and declare for the 2005 NBA Draft.
Due to his Birthday being 27th October 1987, he would turn 18, meeting the NBA’s age requirement, just before his first NBA game. On November 2, 2005, during the Lakers’ season opener against the Denver Nuggets, Bynum played six minutes and became the youngest player ever to play in an NBA game at age 18 years, 6 days. He had played in pre-season games at the age of 17.
The Los Angeles Lakers drafted him with the 10th overall pick, making him the youngest player to ever be drafted. The Los Angeles Lakers had just finished their first season without star center Shaquille O’Neal, and had finished with a measly 34-48 record. The Lakers needed talent to surround all-star Kobe Bryant, who, despite having a good season, couldn’t carry that Lakers team to any sort of success. By selecting Bynum, the Lakers hoped that they could fill the hole that Shaq left and return to the postseason success that they were accustomed to.
What was Andrew Bynum’s NBA career like?
Despite being selected to be one of the main members of Kobe’s supporting cast, Bynum played very few minutes in his rookie season: instead, the Lakers were content with allowing him to develop with the help of the former Lakers legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In his second season, Bynum’s minutes increased, as he appeared in every game that season, and his production continued to improve. After a great start in his third season, a knee injury derailed him for the rest of the season. Kobe was not a big fan of Bynum, as he infamously publicly called for Bynum to be traded away, as Kobe himself was not content with the talent that the Lakers placed around him.
Although Bynum was injured, the Lakers gave him a new 4-year contract, and the addition of Pau Gasol created a strong starting Lakers cast once Bynum was back. In his 4th season, and still at the age of 22, Bynum cemented himself as one of the best centers in the league. Although injuries still caused him to miss games, Bynum played a pivotal role in helping the Lakers win 2 consecutive NBA Finals in 2009 and 2010. He continued his strong play, earning him his first and only All-Star Game selection in 2012 after averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. However, the Lakers traded him the following offseason.
Bynum ended up with the Philadelphia 76ers, but his knees continued to disturb him, and he missed a whole season. The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Bynum in the 2012-2013 season, and although he had some good performances, Bynum had some attitude issues, and was traded to the Chicago Bulls halfway through the season, who waived him the same day. The Indiana Pacers picked him up for the rest of the season as a backup, but after 2 games only, Bynum was ruled out indefinitely with swelling in his right knee.
Since his release from the Pacers, Bynum’s NBA career has been over, after 8 injury-filled seasons. He averaged 11.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks for his career, and despite showing his ability to dominate, was never able to live up to his complete potential due to injuries and attitude issues. Although he picked up 2 rings with the Lakers, Bynum remains one of the big what-ifs of the NBA 2010s decade.
What other notable players were drafted before their 18th birthday?
Only 2 other NBA players were drafted before they turned 18: Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O’Neal. Both players were highly-valued high school prospects, as they were both McDonald’s All-Americans, but declared directly for the 1996 NBA Draft. Bryant (17 years and 312 days) was taken at the 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets (and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers), while O’Neal (17 years and 261 days) was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 17th overall pick. At the time, they were the 6th and 7th players to ever go from high school straight to the NBA.
Does the NBA have age requirements for the NBA Draft?
A prospective NBA player must be 19 years old during or by the calendar year of the NBA Draft they wish to enter. This rule was implemented starting with the 2006 NBA Draft, making Andrew Bynum one of the last players to ever go straight from high school to the NBA. Interestingly enough, Bynum was the youngest player in the NBA for two straight seasons, as he was still a few weeks younger than the 2006 class of players like #2 pick Lamarcus Aldridge.
The “prep-to-pro” era, as it is remembered, produced some of the best players the NBA has ever seen: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, as well as others. The hype that these young prospects had was enough for NBA executives to take a gamble on, and quite a few paid off. Andrew Bynum, the youngest of these prospects but no less hyped, was definitely a gamble: despite showing his dominance for a few years in the league and helping the Lakers win 2 straight championships, his injuries and attitude issues forced him out of the league relatively young and without having lived up to his potential. While the NBA has introduced age requirements for the draft now, the NBA is full with young talent, and it is exciting but also sometimes sad to see which young stars burn bright and which burn early.