The Greatest NBA Player at Every Age Right Now
Although the NBA doesn't have the possibility of a 19-year-old playing against a 49-year-old as we've seen the possibility for in baseball (i.e. Bryce Harper vs. Jamie Moyer), basketball isn't far behind.
Some "geezers" in their late 30s still manage to compete at the highest level with the young legs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The talent level from year-to-year in the NBA varies, but no matter what age you look at, there are always gifted players to be found (for the most part).
Here's a list of the greatest NBA player at each age, starting with the players who have been around the block: the veterans—or, the "old guys" who remind us of a different generation.
39-Year-Old: Grant Hill
After multiple injuries in Grant Hill’s career, which even included a life-threatening staph infection following ankle surgery, his career was rejuvenated in Phoenix with the Suns and their training staff.
Since arriving in the Valley of the Sun in 2007, Hill has played in 72 games, 82 games, 81 games, 80 games and, most recently, 49 games during the lockout-shortened year.
Perhaps nobody in the NBA has had a more interesting career arc than Hill: first his days of dominance in Detroit with the Pistons, falling into obscurity because of injuries with the Orlando Magic and culminating in his resurgence with the Suns.
Although Hill has had some respectable stats in Phoenix, they don’t tell the full story. Hill’s tenacious defense and willingness to match up against the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and others make him a huge asset to the team.
According to Rotoworld, Hill has no plans to retire from the NBA just yet. It will be interesting to see how much he has left in the tank, considering he'll turn 40 years old before next season.
Hill is one of the NBA's true class acts and a great player to boot. He's the greatest 39-year-old in the NBA right now.
Honorable Mention: Jason Kidd
38-Year-Old: Steve Nash
Not only is Steve Nash the best 38-year-old in the NBA right now by a wide margin, he’s still one of the best point guards in the NBA despite his age.
The former two-time NBA MVP averaged 12.5 points, 10.7 assists and three rebounds per game last season for the Suns, nearly leading an admittedly mediocre Phoenix team to the playoffs.
Nash has shown that he has the ability to play at a high level regardless of his age. He'll be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Camby
37-Year-Old: Derek Fisher
In what is easily the weakest age group on this list, Derek Fisher takes over the spot for best 37-year-old in the NBA.
When you take into consideration that Fisher is still a prominent role player on a championship-contending Oklahoma City Thunder team, I guess it’s not too embarrassing that he's leading the way here.
Nevertheless, Fisher is not the player he once was, which is ironic considering he never was great in the first place.
He's much better at giving referees the scrunch-face routine anytime he's called for a foul. If you ask Fisher, I bet he'd say he's never committed a foul in his life.
With that said, Fisher has hit some gigantic, clutch shots in his career and has five championship rings to show for that.
Will he get his sixth this year? We'll have to wait and see.
Honorable Mention: Ben Wallace
36-Year-Old: Tim Duncan
In my opinion, Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward to ever play the game of basketball, so closing out the top spot of "best 36-year-old in the NBA right now" falls pretty low on his list of accomplishments.
Duncan won Rookie of the Year in 1998, has made the NBA All-Defensive first team eight times, is a 13-time All-Star, two-time MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP and four-time NBA champion.
Forget best 36-year-old—Duncan is one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Andre Miller
35-Year-Old: Chauncey Billups
As what happened with the 37-year-old category, the NBAers at age 35 don't exactly leap out at you.
However, "Mr. Big Shot" Chauncey Billups is no slouch.
During his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Billups averaged 15 points and four assists per game. He did, however, shoot an ugly 36.4 percent from the field in 20 games before an Achilles tendon tear ended his season.
Often times on offense, Chris Paul (the best point guard in the NBA), would defer to Billups for the ball-handling duties like a younger sibling trying to appease his older brother. You know that you're a respected NBA athlete when Paul is willing to play off the ball for you.
Honorable Mention: Vince Carter
34-Year-Old: Paul Pierce
Despite being the same age as his jersey number, Paul Pierce has continued to put up big numbers as the leader of the Boston Celtics. Last season, he averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Pierce is a player who does a little bit of everything out on the court—he scores, he rebounds, plays good defense, hustles and hits clutch shots. There's not much more you can ask from an NBA player.
Pierce is a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Celtics ever, which is saying a lot given their storied history.
Honorable Mention: Manu Ginobili
33-Year-Old: Kobe Bryant
Much like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant is a living legend.
Although the comparisons to Michael Jordan are ridiculous (in my opinion), Bryant is unquestionably one of the best players in the NBA today.
He's made the NBA All-Defensive first team nine times, is a 14-time NBA All-Star, won the 2008 NBA MVP and has five championship rings to his name.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers would probably be better off if Bryant made more of an effort to involve his teammates instead of shooting 43 percent from the field while hoisting up 23 shots per game like he did this past season, he's a proven winner and the best 33-year-old in the NBA right now.
Honorable Mention: Dirk Nowitzki
32-Year-Old: Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom is coming off his worst season in the NBA by far.
With a move from Los Angeles to Dallas after he asked to be traded following the failed Chris Paul deal, Odom never appeared to have his head on straight and was eventually released by the Mavericks. He averaged a measly 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds this past season.
He makes a strong case not to be the best of his age group, but there honestly isn't much competition, so Odom gets the nod for his pedigree.
Other 32-year-olds in the NBA include Corey Maggette (who's overshadowed by playing on the worst NBA team ever), Michael Redd (who hasn't been the same after multiple knee injuries) and Rashard Lewis (who's cashing fat checks while shooting 23.9 percent from beyond the three-point arc).
You could make a case for Maggette, but Odom brings more to the table as a rebounder and passer when he’s right.
Honorable Mention: Corey Maggette
31-Year-Old: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol has the unfortunate job of being the scapegoat in Los Angeles for most of the Lakers' shortcomings.
Despite being blamed by teammates and fans for the Lakers' inability to get back the finals, when they did get there in 2009 and 2010, Gasol had fantastic performances:
2009 NBA Finals Stats: 18.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game
2010 NBA Finals Stats: 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 blocks per game
His recent inconsistency in the postseason may lead to an offseason trade, but if the Lakers do decide to trade Gasol, the team that acquires him will certainly be happy to have him on board.
30-Year-Old: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade was drafted fifth overall in 2003 to the Miami Heat among one of the best draft classes the league has ever seen (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh were also drafted that year).
Wade came into the league and instantly made an impact, scoring 16.2 points per game as a rookie. Since his rookie year, he has never recorded fewer than 22 points per game during a season in his career.
Wade's career averages of 25.2 points, 6.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game are all stellar. He has a championship ring from the days when Shaquille O'Neal was his teammate in Miami, and he could soon get a second ring if the Miami Heat can dispose of the Oklahoma City Thunder in this year’s finals matchup.
Honorable Mention: Tony Parker
29-Year-Old: Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler has some stiff competition in the 29-year-old demographic because of Danny Granger and, his New York Knicks teammate, Amar'e Stoudemire.
My brother vehemently disagrees and says that Stoudemire is the better player, but I gravitate toward defense, and fewer players are better on D than this season's Defensive Player of the Year.
It can be argued that Stoudemire isn't the same elite-level player he was when he had Steve Nash for a teammate in Phoenix. He also doesn't have the work ethic nor the defensive awareness of Chandler by a long shot.
By contrast, Chandler's defensive post presence helped lead the Dallas Mavericks to a championship trophy a season ago. When they let him leave via free agency, the Mavs failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. He meant a great deal to that team, bringing defense and intangibles.
If you had to start a team with either Chandler or Stoudemire, the majority would probably go with STAT. Nevertheless, I believe that Chandler is a better all-around player than Stoudemire, so he gets the nod in my book.
Honorable Mentions: Amar'e Stoudemire, Danny Granger
28-Year-Old: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony is the definition of a scoring machine. Since he entered the league in 2003 with the Denver Nuggets, Anthony has never failed to score fewer than 21 points per game in any season.
He's one of the purest jump shooters in the league, and although he isn't what the NBA community would call "loyal," that doesn't work against him in terms of being a great player.
Not only has Anthony proven to be one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA but he's also been one of the most reliable players for the U.S. Olympic teams.
He'd benefit from avoiding his tendencies to become a ball-stopper on offense, but Anthony is still great despite his negatives.
Honorable Mention: Chris Bosh
27-Year-Old: LeBron James
No disrespect to Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Marc Gasol, but LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet right now.
If James were a year older or a year younger, this age group would admittedly have a lot more competition. However, it's a no-brainer that the league's three-time Most Valuable Player is the best 27-year-old in the game today.
Although he doesn't yet have a championship trophy to his name, James is still the most talented regular-season player, and he's knocking on the door of his first championship.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Paul, Deron Williams
26-Year-Old: Dwight Howard
If you can put aside all of the baggage that accompanies Dwight Howard, who ostracized his coach, requested to be traded and even threw certain teammates under the bus, Superman (although, for the record, Shaq still gets the nickname in my book) is the best center in the NBA.
Howard is a force on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor because of sheer size and athleticism. He put up gaudy stats again this season, averaging 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
As long as you have a healthy Howard on your team, you're a threat to win a championship.
Honorable Mentions: Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge
25-Year-Old: Rudy Gay
As was the case with the 29-year-olds, this age was a tough one to narrow down as well.
For me, the top two candidates for this spot are Rudy Gay and Roy Hibbert.
Gay gets the nod over Hibbert because he became a great player in his second NBA season, while Hibbert hasn’t really peaked until his fourth year in the NBA (and even now his best performance was one game against the Miami Heat in the playoffs, so he still needs to prove his consistency).
Gay has been a consistent 19-points-per-game scorer, while Hibbert has never managed to average nine rebounds per game in a season through four years, which is disappointing given his 7’2” frame.
For now, Gay gets the nod, but perhaps two or three years down the road Hibbert can overtake him by playing more consistently and putting up bigger numbers.
Honorable Mentions: Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, Wesley Matthews
24-Year-Old: Andrew Bynum
At 24 years old, Andrew Bynum finally seemed to corral his massive potential by putting together a fantastic year. He averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in 35.2 minutes per game (all career-highs).
For the first time since his sophomore season in the NBA, Bynum was able to stay healthy throughout the year and put up big numbers as a result.
Many (myself included) believe Bynum to be the second-best center in the NBA behind Dwight Howard. He still has some maturity issues, and there's no way to know if he can continue playing at this high of a level while staying on the court (he's had issues with foul trouble in the past), but he's certainly an extremely talented player who has a lot of room to grow.
Honorable Mention: JaVale McGee
23-Year-Old: Kevin Durant
What can't you say about Kevin Durant?
He's a three-time NBA scoring champion (a nearly automatic scorer who buries clutch shots), a good rebounder and a fantastic team-first player who deflects praise to his teammates.
This season, Durant averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Those numbers have remained just about the same during the postseason.
It's a testament to Durant's skills that he's the best 23-year-old in the NBA today because it's probably the most competitive age group. Other notable 23-year-olds include former MVP Derrick Rose, rebounding machine Kevin Love, highlight reel Blake Griffin and Durant's OKC teammate, Russell Westbrook.
The NBA may have the highest concentration of young talent in sports.
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon
22-Year-Old: James Harden
It becomes pretty obvious that the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the finals when you consider they have two of the best 23-year-olds in basketball as well as two of the best 22-year-olds.
James Harden's OKC teammate, Serge Ibaka, is in the running here, but the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year takes the spot.
Harden is a fearless competitor who can score in a ridiculous variety of ways, which is a testament to his work ethic considering he's still just 22 years old.
Known for his Mohawk/beard combination and three-finger celebration after he knocks down shots from behind the arc, Harden is a fan favorite in Oklahoma City and around the league.
Harden joins a pretty short list of prominent NBA players who went to college at Arizona State University: Fat Lever, Byron Scott and Eddie House.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Jennings, Serge Ibaka, Jrue Holiday
21-Year-Old: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins is very similar to Andrew Bynum. He's an athletic big man with a huge amount of potential, but he has yet to realize all of it due to a bunch of silly factors.
First was his public feud with head coach Paul Westphal, which led to Westphal's firing from the Sacramento Kings, but not before Cousins made demands to be traded.
Secondly, he doesn't always seem to be motivated out on the court considering he has the talent to dominate every night if he chose to do so.
He also has issues with foul trouble (four fouls per game in 30.5 minutes per game last season).
Despite this, though, Cousins is one of the most talented youngsters in the NBA at the moment. His 18.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game last season are great, and those numbers will likely only get better as he polishes his game.
Honorable Mentions: Ricky Rubio, Greg Monroe
20-Year-Old: Kyrie Irving
Now we get to the best player in the NBA who can't legally drink alcohol, Kyrie Irving.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' first overall pick from a year ago took the league by storm, averaging 18.5 points, 5.4 assists per game and 3.7 rebounds per game, waltzing to the NBA's Rookie of the Year award in the process.
Perhaps more impressive for a rookie, Irving shot 46.9 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from three-point range and 87.2 percent from the free-throw line. Usually rookies are not that efficient shooting the ball at the highest level of competition, especially those who are just 20 years old.
In my opinion, Irving is already one of the top-10 point guards in the NBA. It's hard to imagine Irving improving on what was already a great season, but if anyone can do so, it's Irving.
He's going to be a special player for a long, long time.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Knight
19-Year-Old: Bismack Biyombo
Bismack Biyombo is a defensive specialist center who has a lot of time to develop a consistent game on the offensive end of the court.
At just 19 years old, he recorded five or more blocks in a game five times over the course of his rookie season.
Perhaps his greatest achievement as a rookie was holding the NBA's best center, Dwight Howard, to just 15 points when the Charlotte Bobcats upset the Orlando Magic earlier this season.
Biyombo has shown he's not afraid to go up against the most talented players in the league, which is impressive given the fact that he's just a kid at age 19.
A 6'9", 245-pound kid, to be precise.