The league is stacked with talent from top to bottom, from still-elite veterans to an epic rookie class. Here are the best NBA players of ever age.
The selections of Sabrina Ionescu and Joe Burrow atop the WNBA and NFL drafts have been two of the too few old-world sports moments we’ve had to celebrate for a month. Usually this time of year there’s also the NBA and NHL playoffs and the return of baseball. Let your mind drift back to that old world. Six months ago. People asked if LeBron James could still be as good as ever, and he answered. They asked if Zion Williamson could be as good as any teenager, ever, and he answered. Starting with the rook and ending with the King, here are the best players of every age, from 19-34. The level of excellence across these pairings shows age is only a number. Greatness is greatness.
The best 19-year-old: Zion Williamson
Not only did Zion Williamson have the best (injury-shortened) season of any 19-year-old, his was one of the best debuts ever. Period. The only other player to break in as young and average at least 20 points and six rebounds while shooting 50 percent or better and playing 29+ minutes? Dwight Howard. No rookie teen — not even LeBron James — ever came close to Zion’s 24 points per game on 59 percent shooting. And to think his next game will be just the 20th of his career.
The best 20-year-old: Luka Dončić
After a fairly astonishing rookie campaign of his own, Luka Dončić had one of the great sophomore years in league history. The only other player to average at least 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in their second season? Oscar Robertson. Dončić spearheaded a Dallas offense that finished top-five in total points, 3-pointers made and attempted, two-point percentage and fewest turnovers. Dončić led the way, finishing with a true shooting percentage of 58 while assisting on 45 percent of his teammates’ baskets (only about 18 percent of his own buckets were assisted) and posting a usage rate of 37 percent. That’s Russell-Westbrook-post-KD-in-OKC volume with Chris Paul efficiency.
When has the NBA ever had two players so good and so young break into the league so closely together? Larry Bird was 23 when he and Magic Johnson debuted. LeBron at 19 was unimaginable, but who do you pair with him? Rookie Dwyane Wade was 22. Year one Carmelo Anthony didn’t impact the game in nearly as many areas. Hopefully, Zion and Luka are only just beginning a generational game of can-you-top-this?