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NBA Daily: Elder Statesmen are Ruling the Playoffs

Most NBA players enjoy their prime years between the ages of 26-29. But in the 2017-18 Playoffs, the conference finalists can tout their exception to that trend.



The next generation of NBA stars is upon us. Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell have sparked not only a rookie of the year debate, but speculation regarding how impactful their class of first-year players has been from a historical perspective. While their coming-out parties have been exciting to watch, the thirty-something crowd has made a case that they’re not over the hill just yet.

In general, NBA players have produced their peak seasons between 26 and 29 years of age. Indeed, the “career” years at 30 from hall-of-famers Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon are considered outliers. But the recent efforts of today’s cagey veterans might’ve recalibrated that standard.

Here’s a look at the so-called “past their prime” players who have impacted the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs:

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Previously I touted the Celts’ young trio for their ability to step up in the absence of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. While their contributions have proven integral to the team’s unexpected playoff run, it’s been Horford who has provided the stabilizing presence while his teammates have come of age.

Horford signed with Boston after spending his entire NBA career in Atlanta. His scoring average was already on the decline after reaching its apex in 2013-14 (18.6 PPG), and his only double-digit rebounding season had taken place the prior year. True to NBA form, Horford’s scoring average continued to wane after donning a Celtics jersey. At 31 (he will turn 32 in June), the pundits must have wondered how much the former Gator had left in the tank.

This post-season, Horford’s downward trend has been reversed, as his 17.0 PPG average is the highest of his career. His scoring has been timely as well, as he converted game-sealing buckets in Game 2 and Game 3 of the second round. His positive 5.0 net rating for the playoffs trails only Jayson Tatum (6.2) among Celtics, which is no small feat considering how potent the 76ers’ frontcourt has been.

While Boston’s young core could ensure annual championship runs for the foreseeable future, Horford has become rejuvenated in the present, and his upswing has translated into playoff success.

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

When Chris Paul joined MVP candidate James Harden in Clutch City, it looked like the makings of a super-team built to challenge the Golden State Warriors’ Western Conference dominance. But at 32 years old (Paul turned 33 this month), it was debatable whether he could consistently be an elite difference maker.

Unlike Horford, Paul continued to excel at a high level during the regular season too; his 18.6 PPG was nearly identical to his 18.7 PPG for his career. In fact, Paul was able to equal his overall numbers in 3.5 fewer minutes per game (31.8) than he has typically averaged.

The post-season has been kind to Paul as well; his 21.8 PPG is ahead of his career pace (21.2 overall), despite being the secondary scorer amidst several lopsided victories. CP3 turned back the clock in the elimination game against Utah, with a 41-10-7 eruption that sent the Jazz home for good.

Time will tell if the alliance between Paul and Harden will be potent enough to overthrow the defending champs in the conference finals, but for now he’s been celebrating his recent birthday in style — without signs of slowing down.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

Iguodala would probably come fifth in the pecking order when ranking the Warriors’ talent-laden roster. At 34 years of age, his 6.0 PPG and 0.8 SPG were both career lows. His 2015 NBA finals MVP award feels like a distant memory.

But Iguodala has rounded into post-season form yet again, as evidenced by his 7.7 PPG and 1.3 SPG averages. Following the Game 3 loss to New Orleans, he joined the starters in the reunited “death” lineup, and the end result was a two-game sweep that finished off the Pelicans.

Iggy doesn’t stuff the stat sheet like he used to, but he can still do enough of everything to optimize Golden State’s potential when he joins their top-four players on the court. To that effect, his defensive rating of 95.4 is fourth overall in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs, and his net rating of 18.0 over that same period is ranked second. The Rockets will have their hands full in the next round.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

While the accomplishments of the aforementioned players have been impressive in their own rights, no one has staved off father time like King James. Last week I cited his career year in assists, but (of course) that doesn’t tell the entire story. His 34.3 PPG during the Cavs’ playoff run is well above his 28.7 career average, and for good measure he’s added a couple of triple-double performances to his playoff resume.

While his supporting cast hasn’t been the greatest, James’ assist totals wouldn’t be buoyed without the three-point shooting of 37 year-old Kyle Korver (46 percent) and 32 year-old J.R. Smith (41 percent) this post-season. Unlike the other remaining playoff teams, the Cavaliers’ window of opportunity appears to be closing; the team’s four-game sweep of the top-seeded Toronto Raptors served notice that they’d like to cash in one last time.

The League relies on a constant influx of young talent to drive its marketability and to address its inevitable attrition problem. But what makes this post-season special is that each of the conference finalists has received invaluable contributions from a player that has surpassed the 29-year threshold. When it comes to the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs, maybe age is just a number.

Mike Yaffe is a staff writer for Although his jumper is flat, he makes up for it with moxie in the paint.

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