Most professional sports are considered a young man’s (or woman’s) game. Considering the physical demands on the body, the older athletes get, the more diminished the returns. But in the case of the NBA, some of the best players in the league are defying “Father Time”and the typical perception of what a player is supposed to look like in their 30s.
As this postseason has shown, some of the NBA’s stars of the previous generations are not yet ready to relinquish their spots atop the NBA’s hierarchy of best players, with a few still in the mix for the title of the best player in the world. A year after winning the NBA Finals and capturing his first Finals MVP award, Steph Curry finds himself amongst the best of the best still even though he is 35 years old. The same goes for LeBron James, who in his 20th season still leading his team on deep playoff runs while claiming the title as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
From Damian Lillard to Jimmy Butler, this is a list dedicated to acknowledging that some things truly do get better with time. These are the best NBA players in the NBA over the age of 30-years-old. The list will not include players like Anthony Davis who are currently 30 years old.
Honorable Mention: Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Brook Lopez, Al Horford
10. Jrue Holiday
Age: 32 years old
Despite a disappointing playoff performance, Jrue Holiday put together a solid season. Without Khris Middleton for much of the season, Holiday had to take on a bit more responsibility to help the Bucks retain their dominance in the East during the regular season. He did just that, tallying the second highest scoring average of his career (19.3) and upping his assist mark to 7.4. While his offensive play was stellar, Jrue’s impact defensively was elite as he notched first team All-Defensive honors for the third time in his career. He was an All-Star for the first time since 2013, when he was a Philadelphia Sixer.
9. Kyrie Irving
Age: 31 years old
When you remove the drama and off-the-court noise from the conversation, you have to realize there aren’t many people who can put on a show like Kyrie Irving can. A player that can dominate you on all three levels and virtually make any shot from any spot on the court regardless of who’s guarding him, Kyrie is one the most skilled players the game has ever. Despite his situation in Brooklyn turning sour and the Mavericks still missing the playoffs after the big acquisition, Kyrie still had a great season individually. He averaged 27.0 points per game on efficient shooting to go along with 5.5 assists per game and 5.1 rebounds per game. All eyes will be on Kyrie this summer to see where his next destination might be if he chooses to leave Dallas.
8. Paul George
Age: 33 years old
Paul George is one of the top wings in a league that is dominated by wings, so his spot on the list should come as no surprise. Despite a knee sprain that kept him out of the postseason, George was once again named an All-Star this past season while averaging 24.7 points per game for the Clippers. A clear-cut Hall of Famer, he can score from anywhere on the floor and is still a menace defensively when engaged and locked in.
Health is the biggest knock against George at this point, but the talent and ability are still as sharp as ever.
7. James Harden
Age: 33 years old
The end to Harden’s season, and possibly tenure, with the Philadelphia 76ers was an ugly one. He scored just 22 combined points over the last two games of their series loss to the Boston Celtics, and is believed to have played a key role in the firing of head coach Doc rivers. But in between those two stinkers, he did deliver two 40-point explosions against the Celtics, one of which was a Game 1 road win without Joel Embiid. After leading the NBA in assists for the season, Harden remains one of the premier point guards in the NBA. But he is clearly past his prime, and relying on him in tight spots still proves to be a risky proposition.
6. Damian Lillard
Age: 32 years old
Damian Lillard quietly had one of the best seasons of his career if not the best. His performance this season may not get the respect it deserves because the Trail Blazers were awful and ended the No. 3 pick but it wasn’t a result of Dame’s play. He averaged a career-high 32.2 points per game to go along with his 7.3 assists per game. In addition to that, this was his most efficient season of his 10-year career. Of course, no one can forget when Dame went off for 71 points against the Houston Rockets for one of the greatest scoring performances in the history of the game.
5. Kawhi Leonard
Age: 31 years old
Saying Kawhi Leonard is one of the biggest “what if’s” in NBA history might sound outrageous considering he is a two-time champion and Finals MVP along with being on the NBA’s 75 year anniversary team. But with all that he has accomplished, there is an argument to be made that he has left even more on the table due to injuries. Leonard looked the part of the best player in the world through two games against the Suns in the first round of the playoffs before another knee injury derailed another promising postseason from him. He is undeniably one of the best players in the league, but his lack of consistent availability in key moments is what hurts him compared to his counterparts ahead of him on this list.
4. Jimmy Butler
Age: 33 years old
Playoff Jimmy Butler is no longer a myth. It’s real. When the postseason comes along, Jimmy Butler turns into a top 5 player in the association. We’ve seen him will the Miami Heat to deep playoff runs on different occasions but this year, he’s taken it to another level. With a depleted team due to injuries and some inexperienced rotation players, Jimmy has carried to the Eastern Conference Finals and stole game 1 from Boston. He dropped 56 points and 42 points in consecutive games to eliminate the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. He’s having one of the greatest individual playoff runs we’ve ever seen. Every weakness you thought he had disappears in the postseason. His regular season wasn’t too shabby either, garnering All-NBA second team honors.
3. Kevin Durant
Age: 34 years old
When Kevin Durant was on the floor this season, he was absolutely special. Whether it was his final days in Brooklyn or his start with the Phoenix Suns, Durant at times still had a legit argument to hold the crown as the best player in the world. In the 48 games he played in the regular season between the Nets and Suns, he put together a 50-40-90 season. Not to mention the defensive impact he had in Brooklyn. Granted it was a smaller sample size but we all know who he is. KD’s last two playoffs runs have unfortunately have included embarrassing exits but he still put up 29-9-6 in 11 games with the Suns.
2. LeBron James
Age: 38 years old
If this list was made in February, it would have been hard to argue against the King for the top spot. He averaged 33.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.2 assists while breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record and keeping the Lakers afloat for the month. A foot injury has zapped some of the explosiveness that had James still amongst the NBA’s elite, but make no mistake, he is still one of the best players on the planet. He’s been a consistent 24 PPG and 10 RPG for the Lakers on their improbable run to the Western Conference Finals, while playing high-level defense. If he can reach another gear over the remainder of this playoff run, and somehow secure a fifth title, it will be hard to argue anybody on this list over James.
1. Steph Curry
All 50 points from Steph's Game 7 masterclass 🔥— NBA (@NBA) May 1, 2023
GSW win to advance… they'll face LAL in Round 2.
📺 Game 1: 10pm/et Tuesday on TNT
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Age: 35 years old
The Golden State Warriors bid to repeat as champions fell short in a second round defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, but Curry once again had a phenomenal season while wowing in the playoffs. His 50-point explosion in Game 7 against the Sacramento Kings is one of the all-time great playoff performances in NBA history, and a 29.4 points per game campaign shows he still has plenty of gas left in the tank at the end of his age 35 season. Whether the Warriors can win another championship remains to be seen moving forward, but there is no denying Curry can still be the top option on a contender.