Youngest NBA Players Ever

10 of the Youngest Players in NBA History

The current average age of NBA players is 26.2 years, but many of the greatest players began their careers when they were just 18 or 19 years old. While numerous players were drafted at this age, the 10 youngest NBA players of all time were only 18 years old during their first game. A few of them were drafted before their 18th birthday. Additionally, all of the players on this list were drafted straight out of high school, a practice which the NBA has prohibited since 2006. None of these players ever played college basketball and went straight to the pros. Some had short careers, while others became legends.

10. Andris Biedriņš (April 2, 1986 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 7 months, 3 days
Date of First Game: November 5, 2004
First Team: Golden State Warriors
Position: Center

Andris Biedriņšphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Andris Biedriņš, who is originally from Latvia, was selected as the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. Biedriņš was one of several new European hopefuls, picked high in the draft during the early 2000s, that ended up not really working out. Although Biedriņš never really improved after his first year, the Golden State Warriors kept him on the team until 2013. That year,  Biedriņš was traded to the Utah Jazz, who decided to cut him the following year. In addition to his NBA career, Biedriņš played with the Latvian national team for several years.

Did You Know?

When Andris Biedriņš first arrived in the United States, he barely spoke English, but he taught himself to speak English in six months while training in Los Angeles prior to the 2004 NBA draft.

9. Yaroslav Korolev (May 7, 1987 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 5 months, 28 days
Date of First Game: November 4, 2005
First Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Position: Power Forwad

Yaroslav Korolevphoto source:

Yaroslav Korolev is a relatively unknown professional basketball player in the West because of his NBA career was short lived. Korolev was the 12th overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft and was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers. Although Korolev looked like a promising player due to his career in professional junior Russian basketball, which began when he was only 16 years old, he never lived up to the high expectations set on him.

The Clippers let Korolev go before the start of the 2007 season and he returned to professional basketball in Russia. Korolev played for several pro European basketball teams before retiring in 2016.

Did You Know?

Following his departure from the Los Angeles Clippers, Yaroslav Korolev did stick around in the U.S. for awhile and briefly played for the NBA G League teams, the Albuquerque Thunderbirds and Reno Bighorns.

8. Tracy McGrady (May 24, 1979 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 5 months, 7 days
Date of First Game: October 31, 1997
First Team: Toronto Raptors
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Tracy McGradyphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady is yet another player who was drafted when he was just 18 years old. McGrady was selected as the 9th overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA draft. After starting as a low-minute player, McGrady eventually gained a better role with the Raptors. McGrady formed a strong duo with his cousin Vince Carter and they led the team to qualify for the 1999-2000 season playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

McGrady went on to play for the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and the San Antonio Spurs. During the height of his NBA career, McGrady was one of the league’s most prolific scorers. McGrady’s final years were plagued with injuries and he retired in 2013.

Did You Know?

Before retiring in 2013, Tracy McGrady had a brief stint with the Qingdao   Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

7. Bill Willoughby (May 20, 1957 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 5 months, 3 days
Date of First Game: October 23, 1975
First Team: Atlanta Hawks
Position: Small Forward

Bill Willoughbyphoto source: Pinterest

New Jersey native Bill Willoughby, was the 19th overall pick in the 1975 NBA draft. Willoughby was selected by the Atlanta Hawks, who he played with for a few seasons. Despite being a fairly high draft pick, Willoughby did not have a distinguished career. Willoughby was traded often and he played for six different teams – Atlanta Hawks, Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and the New Jersey Nets – over his eight years in the NBA.

Like everyone else on this list, Willoughby skipped college to turn pro. However, he later said that he regretted not attending college. Willoughby did earn a degree in communications when he was 44 years old. The NBA fully paid all of his college expenses, and, in return, Willoughby is a special advisor to the NBA who counsels high school players considering forsaking college basketball for the NBA.

Did You Know?

Bill Willoughby gained some brief fame in the 1981 NBA postseason while with the Houston Rockets by becoming one of the few players ever to block Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s “skyhook” at its apex.

6. Stan Brown (June 27, 1929 – August 2, 2009)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 4 months, 17 days
Date of First Game: November 13, 1947
First Team: Philadelphia Sphas
Position: Forward

Stan Brownphoto source:

Stan Brown was the first ever high school basketball player to jump straight into professional basketball. At the time, Brown was considered the best scholastic basketball player in Philadelphia and in 1946, legendary basketball coach Eddie Gottlieb recruited Brown, who was only 17 at the time, to play pro basketball. Brown had wanted to go to college, but the money Gottlieb offered was too good to turn down and he was signed to the Philadelphia Sphas.

Brown went on to play for the Philadelphia Warriors (which are now the Golden State Warriors) and the Trenton Tigers. He played basketball until 1952 and then went on to work as a elivery- truck driver for the old Evening Bulletin for 30 years. Brown passed away in 2009 from a heart attack while recovering from a hip replacement.

Did You Know?

According to Stan Brown, during his best year playing professional basketball, he earned $3,500.

5. Darko Miličić (June 20, 1985 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 4 months, 11 days
Date of First Game: October 31, 2003
First Team: Detroit Pistons
Position: Center

Darko Miličićphoto source: CBS Sports


Darko Miličić, who hails from Serbia, is another NBA player who was drafted when he was still a teenager. Miličić was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft and he was selected by the Detroit Pistons. Despite being such a high pick, Miličić did not live up to the potential expected of him and he is now widely regarded as a draft bust. However,  Miličić continued to play in the NBA until 2012.

Following his departure from the NBA and several years of reflection, Miličić revealed that he was never really that into playing basketball. Rather, it was a way for him and his family to gain financial security and stability. Miličić had been a child during during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s and saw basketball, something he was good at, as his way toward a better life for his family. After leaving the NBA, Miličić had a brief stint as a kickboxer.

Did You Know?

Darko Miličić is the youngest foreign player to have played in the NBA, and is the youngest player to have played in an NBA Finals game and the youngest player to win the NBA championship.

4. Kobe Bryant (August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 2 months, 11 days
Date of First Game: November 3, 1996
First Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Position: Shooting Guard

Kobe Bryantphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The late, great Kobe Bryant, who was regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was also one of the youngest players ever. Bryant was drafted in 1996 when he was still 17 years old and he played in his first game with the Los Angeles Lakers when he was 18 years, 2 months, and 11 days. The legend was explosive from the start and Bryant quickly earned a reputation as a high-flyer by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and was named an All-Star by his second season.

Bryant spent his entire professional career with the L.A. Lakers and his name became synonymous with with the team. He won five NBA Championships with the Lakers. Although he was still at the top of his game during the last few years of his career, Bryant suffered knee and shoulder injuries as well as a torn Achilles heel. Citing his physical decline, Bryant decided to retire after the 2015-2016 season. Following his NBA career, Bryant enjoyed his life as a celebrity, but he died in early 2020, along with his daughter Giana and seven others, in an unfortunate helicopter accident.

Did You Know?

During his NBA career Kobe Bryant set numerous records, including being the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history and being the first guard in NBA history to play 20 seasons.

3. Jim Browne (October 3, 1930 – April 23, 2003)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 1 month, 27 days
Date of First Game: November 30, 1948
First Team: Chicago Stags
Position: Center

Jim Brownephoto source: Wikipedia

Jim Browne had a very short career in the early years of the NBA. Browne’s only notable accomplishment was being the youngest NBA player for several decades before this record was eclipsed by Jermaine O’Neal in 1996. Like many of the other players on this list, Browne skipped college an went straight to the NBA. Browne started with the now-defunct Chicago Stags before moving on to the Denver Nuggets. He only played for two seasons and went on to work as a contractor.

Did You Know?

Jim Browne only played in 35 games during his short-lived NBA career.

2. Jermaine O’Neal (October 13, 1978 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 1 month, 23 days
Date of First Game: December 5, 1996
First Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Position: Center/Power Forward

Jermaine O'Nealphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Before his record was broken by Andrew Bynum in 2005, Jermaine O’Neal had been the youngest NBA player ever for nearly a decade. O’Neal was 18 years, 1 month, 23 days when he was selected 17th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1996 NBA draft.

Despite being on the top prospects in high school, O’Neal’s college career was uncertain because of his poor grades. He was also advised not to make the jump from high school straight to the NBA. However, Kevin Garnett had successfully done this just the year before O’Neal was set to graduate high school and O’Neal felt he could do the same. O’Neal went on to play for numerous teams, including the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors, before retiring in 2014.

Did You Know?

On January 22, 1997, Jermaine O’Neal became the youngest player at 18 years, 3 months and 11 days to score 20 points in a game.

1. Andrew Bynum (October 27, 1987 – Present)

Age at First Game: 18 years, 6 days
Date of First Game: November 2, 2005
First Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Position: Center

Andrew Bynumphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Bynum played his very first professional basketball game at the age of 18 years, 6 days, making him the youngest NBA player ever in history. Bynum was selected 10th overall in the 2005 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. This was the final year that high school basketball players were allowed to jump straight to the NBA.

After drafting Bynum, the Lakers hired basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to work with Bynum. This initially did not work out as Bynum struggled for his first few seasons. Eventually, Bynum found his rhythm and he continued to play with the Lakers until 2012. Bynum spent most of the 2013-2014 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but signed with the Indiana Pacers for the remainder of the season. A knee injury ended his season and subsequently his career at just 26 years of age.

Did You Know?

Andrew Bynum played in a preseason game when he was just 17 and he became the first player younger than 18 to play in the NBA.



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