NBA Players that Peaked Late

There are two general truths about NBA players:

  • they hit their peak around age 25 (it’s increased to 26 thanks in part to better training and medical treatments)
  • and after age 30 their production tends to decline.

There is a special breed of player though that waits until after their 30th birthday to finally hit their peak. Given the fact that many 30 year old players get very good contracts, we might expect this number to be high. The truth, though, is that this type of player is very rare.

I looked for players that put up a peak season that was also what I call a “stat season” (WP > 10.0) in their thirties, and could only come up with twelve names.

Table 1: Players with a peak (Adjusted Production > 5.0) after age 30 ordered alphabetically
Player Peak Age Peak WP Peak WP48 Pre-30 Peak Age Pre-30 Peak WP Pre-30 Peak WP48
Brent Barry 30 19.9 0.314 28 11.5 0.203
Darrell Armstrong 30 14.3* 0.279 29 4.2 0.162
Dennis Rodman 30 33.1 0.481 29 19.4 0.392
Dominique Wilkins 31 17.0 0.265 26 11.2 0.176
Donyell Marshall 30 15.7 0.252 29 9.9 0.2
Gary Payton 31 20.4 0.287 29 16.9 0.258
Jon Barry 32 10.8 0.261 29 6.9* 0.277
Kurt Rambis 31 12.2 0.262 25 7.6 0.202
Marcus Camby 34 19.0 0.332 27 16.4 0.37
P.J. Brown 33 14.1 0.26 27 8.1 0.15
Robert Parish 35 21.3 0.36 29 15.9 0.311
Steve Nash 33 19.0 0.34 28 10.8 0.183

Here’s a brief rundown of each player. I’ve ordered them by biggest jump to smallest jump.

Dennis Rodman

Detroit Greats.

The Worm was a great player that wasn’t really given many minutes in his youth. Once he started getting minutes, he produced wins in large quantities. His 1992 season saw a perfect storm, as he produced his best per-minute numbers, while also hitting 3,000 minutes for the first and only time in his career.

Darrell Armstrong

Magical!

In Darrell’s case, his peak season had more to do with opportunity. It wasn’t until 1999 when he was given real “starters” minutes (despite starting only 15 games). He played well for a few more seasons before falling off at age 36.

Brent Barry

Dunk First, be productive later.

Brent Barry was an average to good player that was given limited minutes in Los Angeles (despite being an awesome dunker). When he reached Seattle he was given minutes and played like a star. in 2002 he had a monster year and saw a rare spike right at age 30. Maybe there’s something in the water in Seattle.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash defied expectations by becoming a star player in spite of a rocky start. He defied expectations yet again by peaking well after age 30. It’s hard not to be impressed with our Canadian star, who seems to exist to make ultra-rare lists.

P.J. Brown

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P.J never once hit 10 wins before his 30th birthday. He then somehow managed to improve every year until his 33rd birthday. Unfortunately he just missed out on Chris Paul‘s peak and a chance at being part of a great team.

Dominique Wilkins

The Human Highlight Reel was never that great of a player (at least, his production never matched his reputation). He managed to hit one year, though, where he played at a star level in his early 30s. That seemed to be enough, as he ended up in the Hall of Fame in 06.

Donyell Marshall

Donyell Marshall had been a good player most of his career. His raw productivity saw a massive jump when he played up north briefly. He didn’t stick around, which turned out to be a good thing for Toronto as his productivity fell shortly thereafter.

Robert Parish

By the time 1989 rolled around Robert Parish had nothing left to prove. He’d already been an MVP candidate playing next to Bird (at least, MVP in a Wins Produced sense). Somehow the Chief found a way to take it to the next level and add to an already great legacy.

Kurt Rambis

Rambis was an underrated player for much of his career. Despite being very productive on the Lakers he didn’t see much playing time. He signed as a free agent with Charlotte just in time to get the minutes to have a career season. After that he succumbed to the post-30 decline.

Jon Barry

Despite being a very productive player most of his career, the other Barry brother never saw much playing time. In the only season he came close to sniffing 2,000 minutes he put up a star season. He played productively for a few more seasons but never saw the minutes for it to really matter.

Gary Payton

Like Steve Nash the Glove was not very productive early in his career. He still managed to string together ten consecutive star seasons, which had a monster year of 2000 in the middle. Payton was definitely a patient player in accomplishments, including his title with Miami.

Marcus Camby

Last but not least on our list is the greatest Nugget of all time himself: Marcus Camby. Camby had in fact been a great player before 2008, but had never played the minutes. This was in part due to injury (and in part due to playing behind Patrick Ewing). When Camby managed to stay healthy he was rewarded with a killer season, defensive player of the year honors, and then was traded for nothing immediately afterwards.

Summing Up

Most of these players are surprising in that they saw a massive increase in their per minute production. Only Camby and Barry, who both got low minutes for various reasons buck this trend. The tendency for a player that hits 30 is to slowly diminish in quality. All of these players broke that mold. The takeaway is of course that there’s hope for any player after 30.  But given the short list above, not much hope.

-Dre

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