By my count, there have been nine NBA players who have made an All-NBA roster in their age-35 season or older, almost all of whom are centers. A healthy LeBron James will likely join that list this season, and he has a real chance to join Tim Duncan as the only among them to capture First Team All-NBA honors.
More importantly, LeBron is in the midst of the greatest age-35 or older campaign ever, and it is not close.
He is averaging 25.9 points (57.5 true shooting percentage), a league-high 10.6 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 combined blocks and steals in 34.7 minutes per game for the first-place Los Angeles Lakers (24-4). He is among the top five MVP candidates, has not missed a game, and ranks sixth in player efficiency (26.8) behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The other All-NBA geezers: Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. You will notice Nash as the lone point guard of the bunch. Nash twice led the NBA in assists per game after turning 35, as LeBron is doing now — but James has greater responsibility in every aspect of the game. The others, save for maybe Hondo, could all survive around the rim or as pick-and-pop options with little use for defending the perimeter.
Here are the best statistical seasons those other nine guys submitted at 35 or older, compared to Lebron:
• LeBron (age 35, 2019-20): 25.9 points (57.5 true shooting percentage), 10.6 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 combined blocks and steals in 34.7 minutes a night over the first 28 games (26.8 player efficiency rating).
• Wilt (age 35, 1971-72): 14.8 points (61.0 true shooting percentage), 19.2 rebounds and four assists in 42.3 minutes a night over 82 games (18.5 player efficiency rating).
• Hondo (age 35, 1975-76): 17 points (50.8 true shooting percentage), 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 combined blocks and steals in 34.2 minutes a night over 76 games (15.5 player efficiency rating).
• Kareem (age 37, 1984-85): 22 points (62.8 true shooting percentage), 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.9 combined blocks and steals in 33.3 minutes a night over 79 games (22.9 player efficiency rating).
• Hakeem (age 36, 1999): 18.9 points (55.9 true shooting percentage), 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 4.1 blocks and steals in 35.7 minutes a night over all 50 games in a lockout year (23.1 player efficiency rating).
• Malone (age 36, 1999-2000): 25.5 points (58.2 true shooting percentage), 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 combined blocks and steals in 35.9 minutes a night over 82 games (27.1 player efficiency rating).
• Robinson (age 35, 2000-01): 14.4 points (55.9 true shooting percentage), 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 3.5 combined blocks and steals in 29.6 minutes a night over 80 games (23.7 player efficiency rating).
• Shaq (age 36, 2008-09): 17.8 points (62.3 true shooting percentage), 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.1 combined blocks and steals in 30.0 minutes a night over 75 games (22.3 player efficiency rating).
• Duncan (age 36, 2012-13): 17.8 points (55.4 true shooting percentage), 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 3.4 combined blocks and steals in 30.1 minutes a night over 69 games (24.4 player efficiency rating).
• Nash (age 35, 2009-10): 16.5 points (61.5 true shooting percentage), 11 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 0.6 combined blocks and steals in 32.8 minutes a night over 81 games (21.6 player efficiency rating).
Duncan is the only one to make First Team All-NBA, doing so in a down year for centers (Marc Gasol made the Second Team, and the first iteration of Lakers Dwight Howard was a default option on the Third Team). That said, Duncan also captured Second Team All-Defense honors, anchoring a team that won 58 games and would have won the title, if not for Ray Allen, but he was being load managed before we had a term for it. Duncan hardly carried the burden for that well-balanced Spurs team that LeBron does for these Lakers.
Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Havlicek, Malone and Nash were Second Team All-NBA selections. The first three all also made First Team All-Defense and were the second-best players on championship teams. Wilt and Kareem even won Finals MVPs for Lakers teams respectively led by Jerry West and Magic Johnson.
The defense helps their argument. While LeBron may not make an All-Defensive roster this season, his defensive responsibility as a point forward is far greater than that of a stay-at-home rim protector. Still, Wilt, Kareem and Hondo can all lord their old-age rings over LeBron — for now. Should the Lakers win the title this season, James will also either be the best or second-best player on the roster, behind Anthony Davis.
As far as regular seasons go, though, there is no comparison to what LeBron is doing. He leads the league in assists, sits in ninth place for scoring and ranks among the top 10 in almost every advanced statistical category. Havlicek and Chamberlain were not even top-three offensive options for their teams at this age, and Abdul-Jabbar was the benefactor of Magic Johnson’s table-setting. Meanwhile, LeBron is Magic. Quite simply, nobody has been asked to play a role so significant at age 35, let alone do it at an MVP level.
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