The NBA's talent pool is constantly replacing itself with better players. It's a process that will continue until the league itself ceases to exist.
As young players work to better themselves and their skill sets, the older generation of talent tends to fall victim to age and declining athleticism.
Here are five aging players who still have plenty of production left in the tank but could see their spot on top ending soon.
Watching Tony Parker play basketball, the first thing that makes your eyes widen and your jaw drop is his ability to get to the rim and score no matter what the defense throws in his way.
It’s a remarkable skill that anyone who’s ever played basketball can appreciate. While his body is traveling at full speed, Parker is always somehow able to slow the ball’s velocity down and gently kiss it off the glass, or arch it at the most perfect angle then watch it fall straight through the hoop.
Unfortunately, Parker is already 31 years old, and the quickness he uses to blow past defenders and into the paint is fading by the day. Insert Kyrie Irving, a truly magical point guard who’s already shown an ability to finish at the rim that rivals Parker’s best.
Already the better shooter, Irving’s whirling dervish moves in the paint should only get better this season, which is good news for everyone watching.
However, Wade had the higher PER (24.0 to Harden’s 23.0) and was a key contributor on the better team (by far). More important than both those points, Wade has the ability to impact games on the defensive end, where Harden is arguably one of the least attentive defensive players at his position in the league.
This season, with Dwight Howard behind him, supporting his play on both ends and making life easier/less stressful, Harden’s work on defense should improve dramatically. Those who argued Harden as already being better than Wade are probably correct regarding the offensive end. This season he’ll be comparable on the other side too.
Chris Paul will still be the first- or second-best point guard in basketball next season, but at 28 years old, facing a possible ongoing knee issue, he’s no longer the score-at-will force he once was.
Stephen Curry is that player right now, a deadly three-point sniper who doesn’t stretch defenses so much as rip them to shreds. He also possesses incredible vision, knows how to make teammates better by feeding them in advantageous places on the court and exists as perhaps the league’s biggest riddle for defenses heading into 2014.
Paul’s a pretty complex riddle himself, but one who’s struggled to elude opponents once spring rolls around. Coming off his brilliant stint against the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, Curry might be the league’s most dangerous offensive point guard sooner than later.
When you think about it, Anthony Davis is basically a more dexterous version of Tyson Chandler. Both are incredibly long, able to use their gangly arms to protect the rim and alter shots in the paint.
Both are also thin and quick but strong, able to set screens then flash into the paint for a quick lob and high-percentage shot. Davis has never been compared to Chandler because he offers so much more on the offensive end.
He can shoot jumpers, put the defense in an uncomfortable position by popping after the pick and (this might seem silly) dribble the ball. Where Chandler needs a point guard to throw the ball into space where only he can go get it, Davis can attack from almost anywhere on the court by himself.
This is why he’s not projected to be the defensive anchor Chandler is, even though he’ll probably get there someday. That someday might be as early as this season, even if it’s overshadowed by Davis’ constantly developing offensive repertoire.
Paul Pierce was, and will always be, a scorer. But over the past few years a reputation as an above-average defender and someone capable of facilitating offense began to form, too.
Now that Pierce is on the Brooklyn Nets, playing on a team where he won’t be asked to make important decisions with the ball, he’ll spot up from behind the three-point line, be a smart team-defender, rebound and fill in all the leadership-related craters that covered the Nets roster last year.
This isn’t a comparison of Kawhi Leonard’s game to Pierce’s at all, more so an acknowledgment that the San Antonio Spurs' third-year player is entering the phase of his career where facilitating offense from the wing could be more frequent. Leonard already rebounds, shoots and defends with the best at his position, and as Pierce’s responsibilities elsewhere go down, Leonard’s are sure to go up.