Predicting When Every NBA Star's Prime Will End

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2013

Predicting When Every NBA Star's Prime Will End

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    The NBA is a league driven by stars, but each major player has a prime that will someday come to an end. No player lasts forever, no matter how dominant he is during his most crucial seasons.

    There's no true definition of what constitutes a star, and there's no one way to determine a player's best years. That being said, the eye test is as good as any, as it's the fans who know what they look for in their favorite players.

    It goes without saying that some players are closer than others to reaching the end of their prime, but with every star that fades into the distance, a new one emerges as the future of the NBA.

Kobe Bryant

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    Age: 34

    Prime Remaining: 1 year

    Some might argue that Kobe Bryant is already past his prime, but you have to understand that there’s no one criterion that defines the subjective term.

    The 34-year-old has done wonders when it comes to proving age is just a number. He’s averaging 27.1 points per game, he’s shown he can facilitate and he’s every bit as driven as he’s ever been.

    Bryant has made us believe that he’s simply not going to slow down, but as we’ve learned throughout the years, all good things must come to an end.

    In his 17th season, you have to believe that Bryant’s time is at least beginning to wind down. If the legendary 2-guard is smart, he’ll retire before he truly hits a wall; but that’s not always the case with the league’s most prominent figures.

    Assuming Bryant stays healthy, he’ll have another year of being one of the top stars in the Association. Beyond that, though, expect to see a bigger gap between him and the game’s best players.

Chris Paul

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    Age: 27

    Prime Remaining: 5-7 years (If Healthy)

    When it comes to Chris Paul, health is going to play a big part of his longevity as a superstar.

    At 27 years old, Paul has convinced most that he is one of the best point guards in the NBA, if not the best. His game is as well-rounded as it comes, but his knees have been a concern since before the days of Lob City.

    What makes Paul great is more than his skills. His basketball IQ is as high as it gets, and his creativity on the floor creates plays where others might make mistakes.

    Even if he loses a step sooner rather than later, he'll have the craftiness to remains dangerous well into his 30s. However, a progression of injuries over the next few seasons would persuade fans that we have more to worry about when it comes to his health.

    Paul hasn't shown any indication as of late that his knees are going to be a problem. So as long as that remains the case, we won't have to worry about pesky injuries shortening his career.

Derrick Rose

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    Age: 24 

    Prime Remaining: 7-8 years (If Healthy/Adds a Jumper)

    It didn't take long for Derrick Rose to become an NBA superstar, which is what makes his torn ACL that much tougher for fans to swallow.

    We knew before Rose's injury that he needed to improve his jumper. He's shot just 31 percent from long distance on his career, but with his health now in question, it' imperative that he makes that area of his game a priority.

    When it comes to Rose, we all hope he can come back and show his superhuman side once again. Time will tell if this is the case, and the development of his game will play a big role in his success.

    If Rose comes back and has trouble getting to the rim, that's going to spell trouble for his style of play. A jumper is the one thing he needs to develop, and it's the one thing that should allow him to thrive regardless of speed and agility.

Dwight Howard

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    Age: 27

    Prime Remaining: 7-8 years (If Healthy)

    In a day and age where point guards rule the NBA, Dwight Howard is going to be in his prime for as long as his body allows.

    Coming off of back surgery, it's been questioned just how good Howard can be moving forward. His health has been discussed ad nauseum, but it's a valid concern for those who are willing to pay him a max contract in 2013.

    Athletically, Howard has had trouble keeping up in the year following his surgery. This is an area where he once surpassed everyone at the center position, and without it, he's been taken advantage of down low on more than one occasion.

    But with the concerns should also come hope, as we've seen him step up and show that he's en route to becoming his old self. A 39-point, 16-rebound performance against the Orlando Magic showed that he is still the game's best center.

    As he regains his health, he'll once again become the player in his prime. There's not another center in the game like him, which means he could very well own the position for the better part of the next decade.

LeBron James

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    Age: 28

    Prime Remaining: 6-7 years

    Throughout the years, we’ve seen plenty of players fade into the distance when they lose their athleticism. They don’t have the skills to play when it’s gone, and they don’t have the smarts to change their game as they continue to age.

    LeBron James is a rare breed of athlete, and he should prove that he’s not one of those players.

    Questioning James’ skill set would be ridiculous at this point in his career. He scores with the best, makes his teammates better and fills a stat sheet like nobody else in the NBA. He’s not going to lose those any time soon, and he’s already made a shift to the block that will help him as his career progresses.

    So the question becomes, how many more years of elite play does James have left?

    Don’t expect him to disappear any time soon. At 28 years old, he has until his mid 30s before he has to worry about his athleticism. His mid-range game isn’t as strong as some, but it’s good enough that he’ll still score when he’s not as quick and not as strong.

    If James can continue improving his mid-range game—and his game in the post—he’ll follow the same path as Kobe Bryant. James will always be a big name, but he has the potential to be a big-time player beyond the age that most put their best years behind them.

Blake Griffin

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    Age: 24

    Prime Remaining: 5-6 years 

    Is Blake Griffin really a superstar? That's for each individual to decide on his or her own.

    But with his improving offensive game, it's not difficult to place him in the top-tier of NBA players.

    At this point in his career, you can't consider Griffin to be in his prime. He's becoming a better jump shooter and has developed a small set of go-to moves, but he's still working toward improving those aspects of his game.

    Once Griffin establishes himself as a threat under the rim—not just above—he'll be at the top of his game. How good he gets will determine how long he remains dominant, as he's not going to put people on posters at the end of his playing days.

    If dunking remains his No. 1 option, he could find himself becoming less relevant as his athleticism deteriorates. However, if he masters the mid-range game, his mid-30s will be easier to accept with a more diverse game to fall back on.

Kyrie Irving

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    Age: 20

    Prime Remaining: 10-12 years

    Can an NBA player really be a superstar at 20 years old? In the case of Kyrie Irving, the answer is a resounding yes.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers desperately needed a superstar after losing LeBron James to the Miami Heat, and while Irving hasn't turned the team around on his own, he's single-handedly made them a team worth watching.

    Irving's prime is tough to judge, seeing how he's less than two years into his playing days. What we can tell, though, is that he's going to have a long, prosperous career if his first two seasons are any indication.

    Irving has the skill set to manipulate almost any defense. He can shoot better than most of today's score-first point guards, and he's shown that he is a great facilitator despite a lack in talent surrounding him.

    Based on age alone, we can assume that Irving will be one of the last men standing among today's superstars. He has another decade ahead of him before you have to be concerned, and it's going to be fun to watch him play once he's actually entered his prime.

Russell Westbrook

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    Age: 24

    Prime Remaining: 8-9 years

    Russell Westbrook might be the most athletic point guard to ever play in the Association. His style of play is fearless, and while he puts his body on the line every night, he's never missed a game in his NBA career.

    If Westbrook stays as healthy as he's been thus far, there's no telling how long he'll be able to play at an extremely high level.

    Like most the players on this list, Westbrook is still young. His prime is still ahead of him, which means we've yet to watch him mature at this point in his career.

    Shot selection has always been a problem of his, but his physical tools are unmatched at his position, and they will be as long as he avoids injury.

    The day that he loses his athleticism is going to be a sad day, but don't expect that to be as soon as others. He's a step ahead of most when it comes to elevation and acceleration, and we could see those things stick around for the next nine or 10 years.

Dwyane Wade

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    Age: 31

    Prime Remaining: 1 year

    To those who think Dwyane Wade is past his prime, you've been reading too many headlines and not watching enough basketball.

    Then again, to those who believe he has years of dominant performances left in him, you're ignoring the reality that he is at the end of his superstardom.

    The 2012-13 season has been another solid showing for Wade, but he's averaging his lowest points-per-game average since his rookie campaign. Scoring 21.8 points per contest is beyond respectable—especially considering his 52.3-percent shooting, five rebounds and 4.9 assists—but it's a sign that he's not going to be the second coming of Kobe Bryant at 34 years old.

    At 31, Wade will finish the year strong and have another good campaign ahead of him. But once the 2014-15 season arrives, don't be surprised if Wade loses the superstar status he's had since the early days of his outstanding career.

Tony Parker

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    Age: 30

    Prime Remaining: 2-3 years

    It's possible that Tony Parker might be one of the most underrated players in the entire NBA.

    During the 2012-13 season, Parker has established himself as arguably the second-best point guard in the game behind Chris Paul. His jump shot is actually improving in his 12th NBA season, and finding a weakness in his game is becoming harder and harder.

    The thing that he has going for him is that he's never thrived off of athleticism. At 30 years old, he's playing the best basketball of his career, and there's no reason to believe he's having a fluke of a season.

    You can look at the numbers all you want and see a superstar, but statistics aside, Parker is one of the craftiest guards in the league. Despite having an under-the-rim style, he is consistently one of the best at scoring in the paint.

    Every player has a ceiling, and it's safe to assume Parker has finally hit his, as he's having his best season to date. But if he can maintain the things he's added and continue playing his brand of basketball, there's no reason to believe he'll fade away before 2015.

James Harden

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    Age: 23

    Prime Remaining: 10-11 years

    Is James Harden a superstar in today's NBA?

    If he's not, he's about to be.

    Harden has officially hit the scene, and it's time to start thinking about just how good he's going to get. He played behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for so many years that it was tough to gauge his ceiling, but as the No. 1 option for the rebuilding Houston Rockets, there's no question that he's one of the best 2-guards in the game.

    Harden's style of play is dynamic, which is going to help him extend his playing days. He's as good as it gets at getting to the rim, yet he has a dangerous jumper to keep defenses honest.

    Players who attack the rim but can't shoot have earlier expiration dates, but Harden's diverse approach will allow him to play anywhere in the half court.

    If Harden keeps his body in shape and stays motivated, he could convert his athleticism into a killer mid-range game that will last him another 10 years.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Age: 28

    Prime Remaining: 3-4 years

    Carmelo Anthony may be one of the easiest players to critique in the NBA, but he's also one of the players who helps boost a star-driven league.

    With Anthony's transition to the low block, he's adding efficiency to his once sporadic game. He's attempting nearly three more shots per game than in 2011-12, but his shooting percentage has been higher, which is a pleasant surprise for fans in New York.

    As much as Anthony has done to improve his game, he hasn't done enough to convince the world that he's a changed man, and that will determine how long he can dominate the NBA game.

    If Anthony understands the value of bullying smaller bodies down low, it will do wonders for him at the end of his prime. He'll be able to extend his stardom beyond his early 30s, and he'll be one of the rare players who adjusts his game and keeps it that way. 

    The problem is, he's already lost some of the efficiency that he had to begin the year, and it's easy to picture him falling into old habits.

    Anthony will turn 30 during the 2013-14 season, and if he tries to play the point-forward role that he's leaned toward for nearly 10 years, he might be looking at the beginning of the end as a great NBA player.

Kevin Durant

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    Age: 24

    Prime Remaining: 10-11 years

    Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat.

    Kevin Durant is going to be a superstar for a very long time.

    The small forward is playing the best basketball of his career, and it can be argued that he hasn’t even entered his prime. At 24 years old, Durant is constantly improving, and it’s scary to think how good he’s going to be just a few years down the road.

    Every player maxes out at some point, and Durant isn’t even close. His defense is getting better, he’s become an improved facilitator and he’s on the heels of joining the 54-40-90 club.

    He’s even showing more emotion on the floor, which has boosted his image as a leader and a competitor.

    Durant’s style of play allows him to score at the rim, but where he exceeds is in the mid range. He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to score between the foul line and the three-point line, and that game is going to be around until the day he retires.

    Give Durant another 10 years of doing what he’s doing, then we’ll talk about when we can expect him to come back down to earth.