When I started watching the NBA, some of my favorite players were stars such as Jamal Crawford, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. Now, they’re all among the league’s oldest players, if not out of the league entirely.
Today’s star players are almost all in their 20’s – Zion Williamson, one of the league’s up-and-coming players, just reached that milestone age less than a year ago.
Even Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s been dominating the league since 2013 and has already won multiple MVP awards, is a young 26 years of age.
Yet despite the abundance of youth in the league, there are outliers. Some of the best moments and players in basketball today are guys closer to their 50’s than to their college graduation.
Here are the top 5 players currently in the NBA that are 35 years or older – with their achievements from this age or later. (Note: Player’s age in parenthesis is as of February 1st, 2021)
1) LeBron James (Age: 36)
We all know LeBron as one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, but his accomplishments since reaching 35 years old are historical in their own right. In 2020, LeBron became the second oldest player in league history (35 years, 287 days) to win the Finals MVP award.
In a season that came with its own complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, James still started 67 regular season games, averaged 25.3 points and a league-leading 10.3 assists, and led his Lakers to their 17th world championship (tied for most all-time).
In 2020-21, James dealt with injuries throughout the season’s second half, yet still averaged at least 25.0 points per game for the 17th consecutive season- by far the most in NBA history.
Although the Lakers enter the playoffs as the Western Conference’s 7th seed, they still remain the favorites to win the West.
The best way to put James’ dominance in perspective? Without him, the Lakers would likely be an easy first round exit.
2) Chris Paul (Age: 35)
In his first season with the Phoenix Suns, CP3 has helped orchestrate one of the greatest turnarounds in league history. The Suns, who have been a laughingstock of the NBA for most of the last decade, had not even made the playoffs since 2010.
Enter Paul to the Grand Canyon State, and the Suns have skyrocketed to one of the league’s most feared teams. This season, in which Paul turned 36 in early May, the Suns posted the NBA’s second best record (51-21). The veteran point guard averaged his most assists (8.9) since the 2016-17 season, while leading the league in free throw percentage (.934).
Paul also started 70 games (missing only 2), quite a feat for a point guard with as much longevity as him- he just wrapped up his 16th seasons.
The Suns are looking to win their first championship in league history. Despite being one of only two teams this season to amass the 50-win mark, Phoenix has just the seventh-best odds to win the NBA Finals this summer.
3) Carmelo Anthony (Age: 36)
He may enter the Hall of Fame as a Nugget/Knick, but Melo has found the perfect home in Portland. Since joining the Trail Blazers last season, Anthony has made the most of his opportunity as a “role player”.
Playing alongside stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Anthony’s scoring has dipped compared to his career averages. In 127 games as a Blazer, he’s putting up 14.3 points per game. Yet this year, he also moved into 10th place on the all-time NBA scoring leaderboard, and recently amassed 27,000 points for his career.
In last year’s pandemic shortened season, Anthony started all 58 games that he played, but this year he’s become one of the league’s best 6th men. Coming off the bench in all but three games, Anthony is shooting over 40% from behind the arc for the first time in his career. He’s a main reason why Portland was the league’s fifth highest scoring offense (116.1 PPG) this season.
4) Marc Gasol (Age: 36)
The Spaniard’s scoring and numbers in most statistical categories have dropped to be at or near career lows since turning 35 years of age- but make no mistake about it, Gasol’s presence is still felt on the court.
Although he’s averaged a mere 6.2 PPG and 5.1 RPG over the past two seasons, Gasol remains an anchor on defense. Last season, he started 43 games for a Raptors team that led the league in scoring defense (106.1 points per game). This year, Gasol signed with the Lakers (the team he was initially drafted by in 2007), and his impact on the defense remained as strong as ever.
In 2021, the Lakers had the second-best scoring defense this season, allowing just 106.8 points per game. He’s also started 42 games (of 52 games played total), which has been much needed in the extended absences of the frontcourt duo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
Gasol’s veteran leadership has been a huge asset for a Lakers team that has battled injuries all season.
5) Andre Iguodala (Age: 37)
Another player whose numbers on the court do not tell the full story of his contribution to his team, Iguodala has been a part of two conference-winning teams since reaching the 35 year mark. As a member of the 2019 Warriors, Iggy started 15 games as Golden State advanced to the Finals for the fifth consecutive season.
His 30.0 minutes per game in that postseason were especially needed as stars Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant went down with injuries in the Finals. Last season, Iguodala played 21 games in both the regular season and postseason, providing veteran leadership for a Miami Heat team that made a surprise run to the Finals.
This season, Iguodala’s scoring dipped to a career-low 4.4 PPG, but he still managed to average a full three-pointer per game, his first time reaching that mark since the 2014-15 season. He played in most of the team’s games (63 of 72) and continues to remain a threat on both ends of the ball.
Iguodala’s ranks second among active players in career playoff games (166), trailing only LeBron James (210).
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