The NBA is a rough league, and for the most part, once players hit their 30s things start to head downhill. Obviously, there are a few exceptions. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant have retained their killer effectiveness late into their careers. But even they have shown signs of decline over the past handful of seasons.
Of course, it’s not a revelation that as players get to the wrong side of 30, their skills start to diminish.
But in some cases, NBA players’ skills don’t erode slowly as they get older. And sometimes, the decline begins well before anyone expects. Players whose games survive on athleticism are particularly prone to a relatively early decline, while a devastating injury can knock years off of a player’s peak, too.
Nothing lasts forever, but sometimes, fate snatches away a few prime years from young players that otherwise would have enjoyed many more peak-level seasons. For these rare cases, their career years come and go prematurely, often in their early 20s. And while other players go on to deliver on the promise of their first few seasons with a normal career arc that takes them through their late 20s, these guys put up a few good—and in some cases, great—seasons before their skills disappear.
These guys will probably still go on to have long careers, but their best seasons are already behind them.
Here are five players under the age of 25 who are already past their prime.