The NBA’s Top 10 Players Over 30 Years Old

I realize the inevitable: soon, more like very soon, the NBA will pass off to the next generation. These summer league games proved that. The Class of ’96 is on the way out. The teams of the 2000s are sliding off the edge (Spurs, Lakers). It won’t be long before Allen Iverson has some company in the permanent offseason. Ironically, it is these summer league games – runs that don’t even count and that rarely feature a player north of 30 – that have shown me that.

You can see the difference in who plays. While watching “The Big Payback” last night, I started wondering what these games would’ve been like back in the day with a prime VC, a prime T-Mac, a prime KG and a prime Kobe? Just as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shawn Kemp, Michael Jordan and the rest of the generation before them, that crew brought their own style. Like any other business, the NBA is a clique. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (who will actually be 30 years old in January) want to throw a game, who do they call? Kevin Durant, John Wall, Rudy Gay, etc. They might holler at Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash, but that’s out of respect more than anything else. They have their own generation. The new class of players is breaking the door down.

But that doesn’t mean the old heads still can’t dance. There are some old-timers still doing it (otherwise known as “winning titles”). Here’s my list of the 10 best NBA players who are at least 30 years old (stats courtesy of

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10. Joe Johnson30 YEARS OLD
Did he have a terrible year last year? Yes. Was he unbelievably inconsistent in the playoffs? Yes. Did he shoot less than 30 percent from deep? Yes. All true. Johnson isn’t quite the player he once was, but he’s still good enough to get you 20/5/4 routinely. He gets hate for a couple of reasons:
-He’s the perfect Robin masquerading as an alpha
-He could seemingly save all the animals in the world with one game check
-And he’s not really exciting, and plays for a team that’s the definition of “not quite good enough”

No one needs to cry for Johnson. But he’ll bounce back from last season.

9. Tim Duncan35 YEARS OLD
8. Kevin Garnett35 YEARS OLD
What made me take KG over Duncan? The Big Swimmer has the advantage in PER (21.97 to 20.72), in rebound rate (18.3 to 17.5) and as a passer (an assist rate of 18.92 to 16.76). But I can’t get that beatdown Z-Bo gave Duncan in the playoffs out of my head. Duncan used to be near impossible to score on in isolation settings in the post. Now, he’s not quite ordinary, but Garnett is undoubtedly better. Outside of Dwight Howard, can you name someone more menacing than KG in that situation? No name sticks out. Both players have similar roles as old sages, but Garnett’s defense gives him the slight edge.

7. Manu Ginobili34 YEARS OLD
I can’t be the only one who gets that feeling of “Oooh s—–” every time Manu gets his hands on the ball at the end of a game. Trust, I was rooting for Memphis in the first round last year. The Spurs were never particularly exciting to watch, and now that they’ve ascended to Godfather status, it’s even worse. Give us fresh blood. Yet the presence of Ginobili was like placing a knife against my throat. He’s straight Robert Horry status at this point, only if Horry was three times the player and wasn’t asleep for 40 minutes a game. Every fourth quarter shot I figured would drop. No matter how much Memphis went up by, I figured Manu would do something crazy. I was convinced he’d find a way to beat Memphis. And he almost did. Last season, his shooting numbers dropped even as his minutes increased. It’s obvious Pop is leaning on him more, and while you can’t expect Manu to be efficient, you can expect drama from one of the league’s best competitors.

[Related: The San Antonio Spurs – No Final Rodeo Just Yet]

6. Paul Pierce33 YEARS OLD
Maybe because Pierce has played like an old man for the past 10 years, he hasn’t slipped at all. He was overlooked as a younger player – how many of you didn’t put him in the same class as VC/T-Mac/Kobe when he obviously was? – and still is today. Outside of creating shots for others at a lower rate, the Truth is amazingly the same player that helped spearhead Boston’s 2008 championship. When I wrote a feature on Pierce for Dime #62, everyone I talked to reacted the same way to him. Dorell Wright laughed. Mickael Pietrus was silent. Boobie Gibson stumbled. Everyone knew what he did to be successful and yet no one could explain it. I wish it was as easy as not jumping on his right side step-back pump-fake. But if it was, I don’t think he’d still be averaging close to 20 a night.

5. Pau Gasol31 YEARS OLD
4. Zach Randolph30 YEARS OLD
Talk to Z-Bo and I’m sure he’ll tell you what he’s told me before: he’s been putting up numbers his whole career, and that he hasn’t changed at all. Perception becomes your reality. Fair enough. But something was definitely different with his game last year. He shot a higher percentage, crashed the offensive glass like a mad man and passed more often than he has in the last five years. Compare that to Gasol, who had a more impressive regular season (his true shooting percentage was 58.9 compared to Randolph’s 55.2, and his efficiency and assist rates were both nearly doubling Z-Bo’s), but completely fell off in the playoffs. Anytime Carl Landry is bullying you, there are issues. Some of that comes back to their roles: Randolph is the team’s leader and go-to player while Gasol is just the second in command (no wonder Z-Bo led in usage rate: 25.08 to 21.74). Now of course, Gasol will never do that as long as he wears the purple & gold (Kobe won’t let him). But that’s a story all to itself. The point is that in the playoffs, Randolph played like a lion and Gasol played like a swan. With two even players, that was my breaking point.

3. Steve Nash37 YEARS OLD
What changed for Nash last year? Not a whole lot. He didn’t shoot as well (under 50 percent for the first time since he came to Phoenix) – but that’s like complaining because an Andre 16 wasn’t life changing – and his teammates took a collective Vince Carter dive. But Nash was still kicking it. Rajon Rondo might never admit it, but Nash is still the best passer in the league and he’s still one of the most impactful offensive players (he’s also still awful on defense). Tell me this: out of all the players on this list, who is most likely to take a 25-win team and turn it into a 50-win one by himself? Nash may not win you a title, but he’ll get you in contention.

[Related: Steve Nash’s Boxing Workout]

2. Dirk Nowitzki33 YEARS OLD
Should he be No. 1? If you want happy endings. Could I be a prisoner of the moment and catapult him to the top of this list? I could, but it wouldn’t really make sense. He took over in the playoffs, the Luke Skywalker counteracting the “evil” in South Beach. But Dirk was always really good in the playoffs. He just never had anyone to back him. That, combined with a desperation you could actually see, brought Dirk’s overall presence to the next level. But his game didn’t really change. Eventually, you assumed he would figure it out. I’ll give you the overview of his year: he shot better. Everything else was worse. That championship convinced a lot of people that the German was getting better with age. Nowitzki didn’t prosper; He just survived. And that’s all winning a title is: survival.

1. Kobe Bryant33 YEARS OLD
Don’t believe the hype. The collective offseason campfire grows so long and cold with this lockout that people are rehashing the same storylines. By this point, we should be reading about Bryant coming back to training camp, steely-eyed and determined to put last season behind him. Instead, it’s the same story: he’s old…he fell off. Everyone believes it now. Being the best player in the league is one thing (he’s not), but being the best over 30 is another (he still is). This choice was difficult (in another world, I would’ve just said screw it and taken the easy road, putting Dirk & Kobe at 1A/1B). Am I being naïve? It’s possible. But I still believe in the Bionic Man. By the time Bryant is finished, he’ll probably have 10 all-time records, countless individual awards, metal knees and prosthetic arms. I’m not going to let a tiny sample size in the playoffs convince me Dirk is now better when Kobe was better throughout the whole season (although I did do that w/ Gasol & Z-Bo), and had Dirk playing catch up for over a decade. I guess we will find out soon.

What do you think? What would your list be?

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