November 17, 2018

The 25 oldest NBA players with the highest scoring averages (>20 ppg)

2018/05/08 9:22 am 9:22 am9:22 am0 0 comments

With our recent post about LeBron James‘ amazing season at the age of 33 and watching a 40-year old Vince Carter still dunking, we were curious as to whom were oldest players that had the highest scoring average in NBA history.

The problem was determining what was considered “old”. Yes, 40 is old for any professional athlete but where was the cutoff? If an NBA player’s prime is considered to be in their late 20s, what is then considered over-the-hill (33+) in the NBA would have yielded a list of players in the several dozens. And that’s not a fun list.

We decided to whittle down the list to something digestible. We were able to sort and manipulate the almighty basketball data site basketball-reference.com using age and ppg, and found that when a player hits 35 years old is where their scoring begins to decline (relatively). With age set at >35 and scoring average at >20ppg, here’s a list of the 20 NBA players that averaged more than 20 points per game when they were 35 years of age or older.

Oldest NBA players with Highest Scoring Averages
# Player Age PPG Team Season Games FG%
1 Karl Malone 39 20.6 UTA 2002-03 81 46.2%
2  Michael Jordan 39 20.0 WAS 2002-03 82 44.5%
3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38 23.4 LAL 1985-86 79 56.4%
4 Michael Jordan 38 22.9 WAS 2001-02 60 41.6%
5 Karl Malone 38 22.4 UTA 2001-02 80 45.4%
6 Karl Malone 37 23.2 UTA 2000-01 81 49.8%
7  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 37 22.0 LAL 1984-85 79 59.9%
8 Karl Malone 36 25.5 UTA 1999-00 82 50.9%
9  Kobe Bryant 36 22.3 LAL 2014-15 35 37.3%
10  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 36 21.5 LAL 1983-84 80 57.8%
11 Alex English 35 26.5 DEN 1988-89 82 49.1%
12 Elgin Baylor 35 24.0 LAL 1969-70 54 48.6%
13 Karl Malone 35 23.8 UTA 1998-99 49 49.3%
14 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 35 21.8 LAL 1982-83 79 58.8%
15 Dirk Nowitzki 35 21.7 DAL 2013-14 80 49.7%
16 Patrick Ewing 35 20.8 NYK 1997-98 26 50.4%
17 Lenny Wilkens 35 20.5 CLE 1972-73 75 44.9%
18 Jerry West 35 20.3 LAL 1973-74 31 44.7%
19 Larry Bird 35 20.2 BOS 1991-92 45 46.6%

What’s More Impressive: Age or Scoring?

With these restraints, the oldest NBA players ever to average 20 points or higher were Michael Jordan and Karl Malone at 39 years old. So the question now, who deserves the crown?  While Jordan (born February 17, 1963) was five months older than the Mailman (born July 24, 1963), Malone averaged 0.6 more points per game (20 vs. 20.6) the year before hitting the big 4-0. That’s not an insignificant difference — that’s 48 more points over the course of the season. Also taking into consideration that Jordan had the “benefit” of two retirements to rest his body, we give the oldest/highest crown to Malone for averaging more points and his consistency.

What’s probably the impressive line in this list is Malone’s 25.5 points he averaged as a 36 year old, all the while shooting over 50% and playing all 82 games. No matter what you think of Malone, that’s a marvel to behold. In contrast, the least impressive stat line is Kobe Bryant‘s one season that makes this list — at the age of 36 when he averaged 22.3 points and playing just 35 games as his body broke down. Not only that, he was the only player on this list with a sub-40% field goal percentage, and it wasn’t like Kobe was at 38.9%, he was jacking shots up at a 37.3% clip.  The next closest player was a 38-year old Jordan at 41.6% and from there, the difference in FG% becomes even more wide.

When it comes down to it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Malone owned this list when it came down to longevity and performance.

Parish and Kareem would battle into their forties

Forty and Fit

It’s no secret that when an NBA superstar gets old that they’re no longer the focus of the team’s offense. The fact that they’re still on the team is usually more honorary or leadership than based on production. That said, there was only a handful of times when a player hit forty years of age and still averaged more than 10 points. The following five players shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

40 Year Old NBA Players with Highest Scoring Averages
# Player Age PPG Team Season Games FG%
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 41 10.1 LAL 1988-89 74 47.5%
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 40 14.6 LAL 1987-88 80 53.2%
3 Karl Malone 40 13.2 LAL 2003-04 42 48.3%
4 Robert Parish 40 11.7 BOS 1993-94 74 49.1%
5 John Stockton 40 10.8 UTA 2002-03 82 48.3%

Outside of Kareem, who was able to average 14.6 points at age 41. Even the most amazing athletes and superhuman stars are long gone by the age of 40. For the best athletes that manage to play until their late 30s, every year after 33 their health becomes more of a crapshoot.

After averaging 20.6 points and playing 81 games the previous season when he was 39 years old, Malone started to break down the following season with the Los Angeles Lakers. His average would drop significantly teamed alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant, and he would be hampered by a knee injury 25 games in. That infamous Lakers team would lose to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Malone would retire after that season.

 

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