To compete at the highest level, basketball players must do well in terms of strength, speed, and conditioning. As time passes, though, even the best players’ abilities wane. Nonetheless, certain NBA players have the kind of physical gifts that make them excel past their prime, even earning the MVP award at an “advanced” age (by NBA standards).
Let’s investigate when the average basketball player peaks and look at the oldest NBA players who won the MVP award.
The peak age of NBA players
Obviously, there’s no hard and fast rule about when a basketball player peaks. A bevy of factors impact performance, including genetics, diet, and injury history. Yet when you look at the NBA as a whole, certain patterns do emerge about a players’ peak age.
One metric devised by Hoopshype looks at peak age through the lens of All-NBA selections. Specifically, the study looked at how old players who received All-NBA selections were at the time, using data dating back to the 1946-47 season. Since then, the average All-NBA player was 27.7 years old.
With a few notable exceptions — both tied to Michael Jordan — the data was remarkably consistent. Within the last 20 years, the average age of an All-NBA selection has not varied by more than one year from the 27.7 mean. This suggests the metric accurately reflects the prime age of NBA players.
The four oldest MVP players
While the average peak age of 27.7 is a good benchmark for evaluating talent, it doesn’t apply to all of them. Some of the best have even earned MVP awards well past their prime. The fourth oldest to do so was point guard Steve Nash, who won back-to-back MVP awards at 31 and 32 years old.
Next on the list at No. 3 is longtime Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He won his sixth and final MVP in 1980 at the tender young age of 33. That season, Abdul-Jabbar scored 24.8 points per game, while shooting over 60% from the floor. He also grabbed 10.8 rebounds and blocked 3.4 shots per game.
The second-oldest player to ever win MVP was Karl Malone, who accomplished the feat in 1999 at the age of 35. Though his career was overshadowed by his failure to win a title, Malone put up 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game in his second and final MVP season.
Finally, the oldest player to win MVP was Jordan, the GOAT himself. He won his fifth and final MVP award in his last season with the Bulls in 1998. Jordan was 35 at the time, but this didn’t stop him from scoring 28.7 points per game along with 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 steals.
A chance to set a new record
As long as we’re discussing players who outperform their age, the current greatest player in the world, LeBron James, deserves a mention. Currently 35 years old, King James is having one of his most successful seasons in years. Through 59 games this season, he’s scored 25.7 points per game, while dishing out a career-high 10.6 assists.
If the Lakers continue surging, James has a real shot to work his way into this year’s MVP discussion. From what we’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to think he won’t be right back in the mix again next year.
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