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The best NBA player by age group – Hoops Hype

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From top to bottom, the NBA is absolutely loaded with talent in every age group.

Among the young guys, there is a mix of fresh faces who look like future All-Stars and newly minted All-Stars looking to turn into All-NBA candidates, and possibly even more.

And among the older players, you have your proven superstars on the clear downturns of their career and others who are proving Father Time wrong by remaining on the tier of perennial MVP candidates despite their advanced ages.

Below, we choose the best player from each age group in the NBA. Let’s jump right in.

Age 19: LaMelo Ball

Hype aside, there’s no doubt rookie Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball is an absolute stud and one of the most promising talents in the Association.

In just his 10th career NBA game, Ball, at 19 years and 140 days of age, became the youngest player in league history to notch a triple-double, and just the fifth player ever to post a 20-point triple-double in their first 10 career games, joining names like Ben Simmons and Oscar Robertson on the list.

On the season, Ball is averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.6 steals per contest – and he’s doing all that coming off the bench for Charlotte playing just over 25 minutes nightly.

Nevertheless, even in somewhat limited playing time, Ball has still managed to become the first teenager in league history to average a 12/7/6 stat line, an incredibly impressive accomplishment for a player who wasn’t even a Top 2 pick in his draft class.

Ball’s blend of flashy playmaking and perimeter shot-making ability give him the makings of a future All-Star, and he could reach even loftier heights if he’s able to work on his body and become a better finisher around the cup. Either way, Ball has quickly become one of the most exciting young players to watch league-wide.

Honorable mentions: Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman

Age 20: Zion Williamson

Even playing as a frontcourt player in the modern NBA without much of a three-point stroke, Zion Williamson is still one of the most productive and impactful young players in the league.

Thus far in his age-20 season, Williamson is putting up 21.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor.

Williamson’s absurd explosiveness for a player with his size is truly unmatched, making him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Stick a fellow big on him and Williamson will blow by them with his lightning-quick first step; choose to go with a wing or guard instead and it’s barbecue chicken alert down low.

Those abilities have helped Williamson rank in the ‘excellent’ range as an isolation scorer (per Synergy Sports) to this point in the season, producing 1.3 points per play on such possessions.

Williamson’s game may have some warts (lack of shooting being first and foremost), but overall, he’s a huge positive for the New Orleans Pelicans and projects to be a star they’ll be able to build around for years to come.

Honorable mentions: RJ Barrett, Coby White, Tyler Herro

Age 21: Luka Doncic

One of the easiest selections we had to make in this entire article came in the Age-21 section, where Luka Doncic was the runaway winner for top player of his age group.

Despite a slow start to his third career season, Doncic is still averaging 26.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists nightly in 2020-21, making him the only player posting a 26/9/8 stat line so far this campaign.

Doncic has all the makings of a future league MVP, even if it probably won’t happen this year as many predicted it to. He’s too talented of a scorer, playmaker and rebounder, and too passionate about winning, not to put it all together eventually.

Perhaps the Slovenian superstar’s first MVP campaign will happen when he starts taking his offseason conditioning more seriously, something that his former teammate JJ Barea recently said on JJ Redick’s podcast said hasn’t happened as of yet in Doncic’s career:

“He’s still a kid. He’s still chilling. I think he’s still chilling and still growing. In a good way, he still hasn’t taken the next step. When he starts really training and really getting ready for the NBA, he is going to be a monster. Right now, he’s a kid. He still thinks he can pull it off like this, and he’s still getting better every year. When he becomes a man, he is going to be a problem.”

Jacked Luka is going to be a serious problem for the rest of the NBA if and when we do see that version of the Dallas Mavericks star.

Honorable mentions: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr.

Age 22: Jayson Tatum

In comparison to the 21-year-olds, the age-22 bracket had a much more competitive field as far as selecting its best player, but ultimately, we had to go with Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who is managing to get better annually with no end to this upward trajectory in sight.

Thus far this season, Tatum is putting up 26.9 points (the No. 8 mark league-wide), 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on an outstanding 58.8 true shooting percentage. What’s more, among players with at least 75 three-point attempts this season, Tatum sits No. 3 in accuracy at 43.8 percent, and when you consider the degree of difficulty on his average shot attempt, that clip only looks all the more impressive.

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of Tatum’s point-producing prowess is the fact that he’s putting up almost 27 points nightly while shooting fewer than four free-throws per contest. Tatum’s 3.6 nightly free throw is the second-lowest free-throw average of any player averaging over 25 points per game.

If Tatum ever figures out how to draw a fairer whistle (although in fairness, even with his current perimeter-oriented play style, there’s no way Tatum shouldn’t be getting to the line more often), we could someday be looking at a 30-plus-point-per-game scorer and maybe even an MVP candidate.

Honorable mentions: Trae Young, Jarrett Allen, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Deandre Ayton, Collin Sexton

Age 23: Brandon Ingram

After a slow start to his career, Brandon Ingram has completely turned things around over the past two seasons, blossoming into an All-Star wing with the age and upside to become even more someday.

This year, Ingram is averaging 24.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game behind a respectable 57.8 true-shooting percentage. Additionally, per Synergy Sports, Ingram ranks in the ‘very good’ range as both a pick-and-roll ball-handler and isolation scorer and as a ‘good’ spot-up shooter, proving what a well-rounded game the 23-year-old has.

Ingram’s pull-up game, ball-handling and shooting touch at 6-foot-7 make him a very unique player, and as long as he continues to improve on the defensive end, the Pelicans have a special player on their hands.

Honorable mentions: Bam Adebayo, Jamal Murray, OG Anunoby, John Collins, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox

Age 24: Devin Booker

Playing on the most loaded roster of his career has taken a slight hit on Devin Booker’s averages across the board, but it’s a trade-off the Kentucky product will undoubtedly take considering how well the Phoenix Suns are doing in the campaign.

Still, Booker is putting up 23.0 points and 4.3 assists per game this season and posting the second-best true shooting percentage of his career at 59.9 percent. Meanwhile, his Suns currently sit at 7-4 and No. 2 in the West with the eighth-best net rating in basketball (+3.6).

Booker has always looked the part of a special player and his numbers have almost always backed that up, but this year, we should finally be able to see what he can do at the highest level of basketball in the world: the NBA playoffs.

For the record, this was the toughest pick of all. We almost went with ‘too close to call’ as our selection here, with Ben SimmonsJaylen Brown (who makes a good case for being the best player of the bunch this season) and Donovan Mitchell all part of this age bracket.

Honorable mentions: Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, D’Angelo Russell

Age 25: Nikola Jokic

If not for the Denver Nuggets relative struggles to start 2020-21, more people would be talking about Nikola Jokic as the early season MVP frontrunner, as the big Serbian has been absolutely spectacular to start the campaign.

Jokic’s raw averages – 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 10.4 assists and 1.3 steals on 58.7/43.3/80.3 shooting splits – are outrageous enough, but the center also currently leads the league in advanced metrics Value Over Replacement Player (1.0), Box Plus/Minus (9.8) and Win Shares (2.1), a ridiculous accomplishment, even if we are just roughly 10 games into the year.

Few big men ever, if any, have possessed Jokic’s playmaking ability, as his vision as a passer would be insane for a point guard, let alone a 7-footer, and now that he’s knocking down threes at by far the best rate of his career, Jokic is approach unstoppable territory.

Honorable mentions: Zach LaVine, Kristaps Porzingis, Christian Wood, Karl-Anthony Towns

Age 26: Giannis Antetokounmpo

It almost feels like two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has gotten off to a slow start this season (missing some time with a back injury may have something to do with that), but when you look at his numbers, you quickly realize how silly that notion is.

In 2020-21, Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.6 points (the ninth-highest mark in the NBA), 10.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.

Almost no other player in the NBA provides the two-way impact Anteotkounmpo does, dominating on both ends of the floor each at top-tier levels, and now surrounded with the most talented he’s ever had around him, the Greek Freak will get every chance to dispel his playoff demons of years past this season.

Honorable mentions: Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Julius Randle

Age 27: Anthony Davis

One of the best defenders in basketball since arriving in the NBA nine years ago and a player capable of dropping 25 points on any given night, Anthony Davis is the only person who can be put in the same breath as Antetokounmpo as far as two-way impact goes.

For his career, the Los Angeles Lakers big man is averaging 24.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, making him one of just two players ever to average those marks for an entire career. Joining him on that illustrious list? Another former Lakers big man and an underrated GOAT candidate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Solid company for Davis there.

Davis, a seven-time All-Star, three-time blocks leader and two-time 1st Team All-NBA member, further solidified his legacy last season by winning his first championship. All that’s left now is for him to win a ring where he is his team’s No. 1 option, but even if that never happens, there’s no doubt at this point he’s headed to a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame entry and going down as an all-time great.

Honorable mentions: Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Dennis Schroeder, Spencer Dinwiddie

Age 28: Kyrie Irving

The ever-enigmatic Kyrie Irving may be frustrating at times, but his on-court production can never come into question.

Thus far this season, Irving is putting up 27.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game on a ridiculous 63.0 true shooting percentage, a truly obscene mark for a high-volume perimeter player like the Brooklyn Nets point guard.

In addition, Irving currently ranks fourth in Box Plus/Minus (7.3) and sixth in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (0.255), indicating that the 10-year veteran has been performing like a borderline MVP candidate this year… when he’s actually suited up for action.

That’s neither here nor there, though. What is certain is that when healthy, Irving is one of the best point guards in the world and his resume is probably close to Hall-of-Fame worthy already as is. Now playing for a legit contender in Brooklyn, Irving has plenty of time to add to that already loaded resume, too.

Honorable mentions: Rudy Gobert, Victor Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Tobias Harris

Age 29: Kawhi Leonard

Four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard underwent a major career transformation, starting off as a 3-and-D specialist who was arguably the league’s best defender multiple years running to now becoming a 25-point-per-game scorer as well.

In 2020-21, Leonard is averaging 24.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 5.7 assists per contest with an immaculate 57.6 true shooting percentage to go with it.

Even Leonard’s load management appears to be a thing of the past now, as the two-time Finals MVP suited up in his first back-to-back set of games this season since all the way back in April 2017.

Now as healthy as he has been in years, depending on how the Los Angeles Clippers do this season – and they’re off to a strong 7-4 start – Leonard could even be a darkhorse MVP candidate by year’s end, one of the few honors Leonard has yet to win in his career.

Honorable mentions: CJ McCollum, Khris Middleton, Joe Harris, Terrence Ross

Age 30: Damian Lillard

Arguably the NBA’s best point guard over the past few campaigns, Damian Lillard’s bombastic style from beyond the arc and explosive scoring abilities make him one of the toughest players to defend in the Association.

Even despite a somewhat slow start to this season for the high-scoring Lillard, at least by his standards, the Weber State product is still averaging 26.1 points and 6.4 assists nightly while knocking down over 90 percent of his 6.8 nightly free throws in 2020-21.

Paired with a teammate in CJ McCollum, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career this season, the Portland Trail Blazers possess without a doubt the NBA’s best 1-2 backcourt punch, one that’ll have them right in the mix for another playoff berth in the brutal Western Conference.

Honorable mentions: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Kemba Walker, Jrue Holiday, John Wall, Nikola Vucevic

Age 31: James Harden

Trade request drama aside, James Harden is still one of the very best players in the world and one of the most gifted scorers the league has ever seen.

Asked to play in Year-1 of head coach Stephen Silas’ system more predicated on ball and man movement, Harden’s scoring numbers have taken a slight dip this campaign, but he’s still putting up 26.0 points nightly while posting a ridiculously tidy 63.5 true shooting percentage, the second-best mark of his illustrious career.

Harden is also leading the NBA at 11.0 assists nightly, the second such time he has led the league in assist average to this point in his career.

It remains to be seen whether or not Harden does get traded this season, but either way, he’s clearly the best 31-year-old basketball player in the world right now.

Honorable mentions: Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan

Age 32: Kevin Durant

There was some concern about how Kevin Durant would look after returning from such a long layoff following such a brutal leg injury, but Durant has put those worries to bed quickly this season.

Durant looks like he hasn’t missed a single beat thus far in 2020-21, averaging 29.3 points (the second-highest mark in the league), 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists nightly while posting the best true shooting clip of his career, 65.9 percent. For a player who has won four scoring titles so far, it’s insane to consider Durant is still scoring at such a high rate and doing so at the most efficient pace of his career.

What’s more, according to Synergy Sports, Durant grades out as an ‘excellent’ scorer as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a spot-up shooter, in isolation and out of the post. Simply put: The 32-year-old has been absolutely unstoppable this year.

That’s good news for a Nets team that pairs the best 32-year-old basketball player in the world with who we believe is the best 28-year-old, Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn is going to be particularly scary come playoff time.

Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love

Age 33: Mike Conley

After an up-and-down first season with the Utah Jazz, Mike Conley has looked way more look like his usual self this season, providing the team with solid scoring and great playmaking out of the point-guard position.

Conley is putting up 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists nightly while shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc, making him one of just 10 30-year-olds putting up a 17/4/5 stat line this campaign.

Now, not to take anything away from Conley, but he did benefit in this selection from being one of merely seven 33-year-olds on an NBA roster to start the 2020-21 season, so he didn’t face very stiff competition to earn this distinction.

Nevertheless, Conley is one of the better point guards in the league and Utah is undoubtedly glad to have his production on their roster.

Honorable mentions: Danny Green, Joe Ingles, George Hill

Age 34: Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry’s late-career renaissance has continued this season, with the veteran point guard averaging 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game to go with 1.1 steals and 2.9 three-pointers nightly.

Even at 34, Lowry is one of the very best floor generals in the league, capable of putting up 20 points on any given night, creating at a very high level for teammates and who is an absolute pest of a defender.

Honorable mentions: Goran Dragic, Al Horford, Rudy Gay, Lou Williams

Age 35: Chris Paul

Our third point guard in a row on this list, Chris Paul might be the best of the trio despite being the oldest.

Sharing the backcourt with the best 24-year-old on our list, Devin Booker, Paul’s numbers have taken a dip this season, but he’s still averaging 13.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists nightly, the fourth-highest mark in the league.

Paul is also running point for a Suns team with the 10th-best offense in the NBA this season, putting up 112.3 points per 100 possessions, and doing so as one of just nine 35-year-olds in the league.

Honorable mentions: Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap, PJ Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge

Age 36: LeBron James

The one player who is doing his best to prove that Father Time is a mere myth is LeBron James, who still, even as a 36-year-old, has a strong case to be considered the best basketball player in the world, at least based on the nightly impact he makes as a scorer and playmaker.

James is putting up a 24.0/8.3/7.7 stat line, making him one of just three players with a 24/8/7 stat line this year along with Doncic and Jokic, who are both over 10 years his junior. James also ranks 10th league-wide in VORP and sixth in Win Shares, easily the highest ranking for any player his age.

Although James numbers have taken a bit of a dip this season, that could be attributed to the short turnaround between the Lakers’ championship run and the start of this campaign and James – smartly – taking things slowly early on in the season before ramping up the effort come playoff time.

Considering L.A. is still second in net rating (+8.1) and first in the West at 8-3, there’s no need for James to go all out anytime soon.

Either way, James is an MVP candidate and the unquestioned best player on the reigning champions, which is almost unfathomable for a 36-year-old, of which there are just four total in the NBA as of right now.

Honorable mentions: Andre Iguodala, JJ Redick, Carmelo Anthony

Age 40: Udonis Haslem

The oldest player in the NBA and the only 40-year-old in the league, Udonis Haslem has yet to see action for the Miami Heat this season, but that’s to be expected considering Haslem’s role is more of a coach than a player at this point.

Haslem, who has been a member of the Heat since the 2003-04 season (for reference, LaMelo Ball was born in 2001, so he was two years old when Haslem made his NBA debut), is the franchise’s rebounding leader with 5,754, more than all-time greats Alonzo Mourning and Dwyane Wade.


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