The NBA: Where 19-year-old rookies playing against 40-year-old veterans happens! In that spirit, let’s take a look at the best current player at every age, from the newly initiated amateurs to the majority of the New York Knicks‘ roster:
Age 19 – Bradley Beal
Beal had a very solid rookie season, averaging 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Although the Wizards really didn’t take off until John Wall returned, there really isn’t much competition in this category. In a few years, Andre Drummond will be the best player in this category (or maybe even next year), but for now, Beal is the best 19-year-old player in the NBA.
Honorable Mentions: Andre Drummond and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Age 20 -Anthony Davis
Despite missing 18 games in his first NBA season, Anthony Davis has a promising future and was so efficient in his limited minutes that some people even called for the Unibrow winning the Rookie of the Year award. To be clear, none of the voters agreed and selected Lillard unanimously, but Davis’ 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game were a great start. If he stays healthy, Davis will become a force for the Pelicans in the next few years. However, some sort of credit has to be given to Harrison Barnes as well, since Golden State’s starting rookie had a tremendous first season and was a huge part of their surprising playoff run.
Age 21 -Kyrie Irving
Not much competition here, although San Antonio Spurs fans insist Kawhi Leonard is the future after Tim Duncan is gone and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to get older. Kyrie has shown us in two seasons that, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most explosive and exciting point guards to watch in the NBA. If he can start playing full seasons free from being so consistently banged up, great things are on the horizon. Even if he still plays defense like he’s in an Uncle Drew pick-up game.
Age 22 – Jrue Holiday
If DeMarcus Cousins had a reasonable head on his shoulders, he’d probably deserve this pick as Sacramento’s double-double machine. But if you asked every team in the league whether they’d rather have a solid point guard like Jrue Holiday or a head case like Cousins and I guarantee you the majority would be in Holiday’s favor. Although Philadelphia’s season was pretty much meaningless because Andrew Bynum never suited up this year, Holiday was one of the few bright spots. He averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game and was a candidate for the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Greg Monroe and John Wall are also on the rise, but for this season, Holiday was the best player his age.
Age 23 – James Harden
Paul George had a tremendous year, but no one can deny that James Harden is a top three shooting guard in the NBA and one of the league’s breakout performers this season. Harden averaged an outstanding 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while leading the league in free-throw attempts. But the best measure of James Harden’s elite status is Oklahoma City’s early playoff exit. Nobody’s going to tell me the Thunder did the right thing by passing up paying Harden his deserved money and shipping him to the Rockets, especially once Russell Westbrook went down and Serge Ibaka failed to step up and help poor Kevin Durant. Anyone disagree the Thunder regret that move after watching their beloved bearded sixth man emerge into a superstar?
Age 24 – Kevin Durant
If not for Kevin Durant, this would make for a fascinating argument between Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, but the Durantula is the undisputed second-best player in the NBA right now. Only LeBron James could unseat KD from the top of this type of list, so there’s no surprise that Durant sits atop a pretty impressive group of 24-year-olds. Durant submitted his best season thus far, posting averages of 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks per game while joining the prestigious 50-40-90 club. And when Westbrook went down and the rest of his supporting crew disappeared, Durant did his best Marshawn Lynch impression and put the team on his back by averaging 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor. Forget that disappointing Game 5 performance. KD is still Kid Clutch in the book of any smart NBA fan.
Age 25 – Stephen Curry
Before this season, Ty Lawson or Brook Lopez would have easily won this spot. But when Steph Curry is healthy, there are few point guards in the league that are better. His exclusion from the All-Star game made him the biggest snub of the year, but he showed everyone why that was a mistake following the break with a 54-point performance in Madison Square Garden that lit up the Knicks and the Twittersphere alike. Curry engineered the Warriors’ playoff run with a string of impressive third quarters against Denver and San Antonio and was undoubtedly the MVP of the first round. He and Golden State fell short in the end, but there’s no doubt that this deadly shooter easily takes this category.
Age 26 – Al Horford
Horford posted a 17-10 stat line this year for the Hawks as one of the league’s most under-appreciated stars. Roy Hibbert‘s defensive impact with the Pacers makes him an undervalued prospect as well, but Horford is the better individual player, especially on the offensive end. Now if only the Hawks could actually do something in the playoffs.
Age 27 – Dwight Howard
Normally I’d go with Rajon Rondo here, since he’s actually won a championship and all, but factoring in the ACL tear and the fact that Dwight Howard, even at 75-80 percent, is still better than half the centers in the league, D12 gets the nod for the 27-year-olds. Howard’s numbers significantly dipped in his first season with the Lakers, which ended in disappointment after the team was riddled with injury problems and chemistry issues. But with Kobe on the way out in a few years, there’s little doubt that Dwight Howard is the Lakers’ best shot at a bright future for the time being.
Age 28 – LeBron James
There’s really not a lot to say here; LeBron James is undoubtedly the greatest (active) player alive these days. He has some solid competition in Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, but not enough to threaten the four-time MVP. Despite Kevin Durant submitting his best statistical season thus far and improving nearly every element of his game, LeBron was so good there still was no doubt he deserved the award. As long as Dwyane Wade stays healthy, this Miami Heat squad is a dynasty in the making. And even if he doesn’t, King James is still dominant enough to keep whatever team he chooses near the top of the standings.
Age 29 – Andre Iguodala
Not too many top-tier guys in this age group, but I’m going to give Andre Iguodala some love after he was snubbed from the NBA’s All-Defensive team this year. Iggy’s season got off to a rough start in Denver, but as any Nuggets fan will tell you, he earned the city’s trust and respect as the year progressed. He was the team’s defensive stopper and did it all for a Nuggets team that fell way short of expectations (I blame Playoff George Karl. Not George Karl … Playoff George Karl). I was unsure about this move for Denver at first, but Iggy eventually proved me wrong as a great contributor on both ends of the floor.
Age 30 – David Lee
David Lee’s season-ending injury (or what should have been a season-ending injury) gave rise to Stephen Curry’s emergence as a superstar and the Warriors’ surprising playoff run, but Lee wins here as the first All-Star from Golden State since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. But his tenacity on the boards and his ability to outwork taller, more athletic forwards is what really sets this guy apart.
Age 31 – Dwyane Wade
Wade isn’t holding up too well these days, but even with the Heat’s health being a slight playoff concern right now, D-Wade is still a top three shooting guard and constant threat to to opposing defenses. Wade will go down as one of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history and rightfully so given the way he carried Miami to its first title and willingly sacrificed his alpha male status for a better player. Robin doesn’t normally get as much credit as Batman, but Wade won’t get beat out by Tony Parker here, as tempting as it may be at times.
Age 32 – David West
Pau Gasol would definitely have claimed this spot just a few years ago, but his injuries and David West’s unquestionable leadership and tough guy mentality gives the Pacers their edge and a legitimate shot of competing with the Heat in the next round should they advance. Paul George’s emergence as an All-Star has been the main story in Indiana all season and rightfully so, but don’t forget who sets the tone for the Pacers in the paint with a veteran mindset, tough rebounding and a good old-fashioned pound-it-in-the-paint offensive game.
Age 33 – Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford really disappeared on the Clippers in their disappointing first-round loss to Memphis, but he had a terrific season in Lob City coming off the bench as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Crawford provided instant offense and although he could be a bit streaky, he made up for it with dazzling crossovers and ridiculous shots that seemed like they had no business going in. And since Luis Scola seems to be on the decline and all Tayshaun Prince really brings to the Grizzlies is better chemistry, Crawford earns the nod here.
Honorable Mentions: Tayshaun Prince and Luis Scola
Age 34 – Kobe Bryant
Torn Achilles or not, Kobe Bryant is easily the best player in this group and one of the top 10 players in the league at age 34. Despite his tendency to force the issue on the offensive end at times, Kobe submitted 27.3 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds per game this year. His somewhat amusing skirmish into playmaker territory this year proved to be little more than a passing fancy, but Kobe is a versatile force to be reckoned with even though he’s said he plans on retiring in two years. Recovering from a torn Achilles is no easy task as Charles Barkley can tell you, but if you think that Achilles injury is how Kobe goes out, you don’t know the Black Mamba.
Age 35 – Paul Pierce
Poor Paul Pierce. He’s hobbled, he just gave an injury-decimated Boston team 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game this season and he still might be traded in the offseason. Despite the fact that he’s really showing signs of his age, Pierce will go down as one of the greatest Celtics of all time, which is no easy feat considering the fact that Boston was home to the likes of Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and more. It’s sad that the Pierce-KG era in Boston might come to an unceremonious end like this, but Pierce redefined his career midway through his time in Boston and gave the city a championship and memorable performances for many years.
Age 36 – Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is the warrior who proved to us that Adidas’ “Impossible is nothing” campaign meant business. KG was the anchor of yet another stifling Boston defense, and though they couldn’t overcome the odds and shock a superior Knicks team, there’s no doubt that Garnett is the best player his age. True, his competition is only Vince Carter, but KG should go down in history as one of the greatest (and most fearless) power forwards to ever play the game.
Honorable Mention: Vince Carter
Age 37 – Tim Duncan
Speaking of great power forwards, Tim Duncan will go down in history as THE greatest power forward of all time. Consider these numbers over Duncan’s long and impressive career: 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. Then, throw in the fact that his team has made the playoffs EVERY SINGLE SEASON since he came into the league. Add the fact that he’s won four championships. Finally, don’t forget that Duncan’s teams never won fewer than 50 games, except for the lockout season in 1999 when the Spurs went 37-13. That’s just an absurd career. People argue that Kobe is the greatest player of the early 2000s … I say they’re overlooking Tim Duncan.
Age 38 – Derek Fisher
Never mind the fact that Derek Fisher getting extended minutes is a big reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder fell short in the playoffs this year. Because when you’re competition is the injured Rasheed Wallace and a slightly washed up Jerry Stackhouse, knocking down a couple of crucial 3s in the postseason makes this a pretty easy selection.
Honorable Mentions: Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse
Age 39 – Steve Nash
Steve Nash’s injuries this season hurt the Lakers’ chances of building team chemistry and ultimately kept him sidelined during the playoffs, but had he stayed healthy there’s no doubt in my mind he would have eventually found a way to make L.A. a better and more cohesive team. Nash’s constant injury problems speaks volumes about the incredible training and medical staff in Phoenix (Grant Hill would also agree), but if Nash can regroup next season, the Lakers would greatly benefit from his intelligent passing. Plus, come on. I couldn’t give this one to Marcus Camby!
Honorable Mention: Marcus Camby
Age 40 – Jason Kidd
One thing you have to know about me: I’m a huge Grant Hill fan and I think if he hadn’t signed with Fila way back when, we’d be mentioning his name in this never-ending MJ-Kobe-LeBron debate. But like the majority of his prime, Grant Hill sat out this season with numerous injury problems and didn’t really contribute to Lob City, so I have to go with Jason Kidd here. Although his unprecedented awful shooting streak is really hurting the Knicks’ chances of advancing against Indiana, he did have a great season and shut up a lot of people who said the Knicks were too old and had made a mistake signing him. Kidd has knocked down 3s, made the extra pass and provided veteran leadership all season long and for that, we say thank you, 40-year-old Jason Kidd.