The oldest player to ever play in the NBA was Kevin Willis at an astonishing age of 44 years. The youngest player ever was Andrew Bynum who played his first game at only 18 years and 6 days old.
These are the extremes, but how old is the average NBA player? Let's find out!
How Old is the Average NBA Player?
How was this data collected:
- Data was collected from basketball-reference.com
- Age was calculated using the 1st January for each season (e.g 1st January 2022 for 2021/22 season)
- Exact age is used for the statistics (26.5 years instead of 26 for example)
Graph 1: Average Age of NBA Players by Year:
|Year||Average Age||Weighted Age||Median Age|
In the 2021/22 season the average NBA player was 26.1 years old.
This number includes all players that played at least one game during the season, therefore including a lot of young prospects that only played very few minutes.
The average age weighted by minutes played is a little higher at 26.5 years, showing that older and more experienced players are usually taking up more minutes than rookies and other prospects.
The median age at 25.1 is also a lot younger than the average age. Which shows that there are a few outlier older players that account for a lot of minutes (think Lebron James) compared to a lot of younger players who play far less.
Evolution of Average Age in the NBA
As we can see in graph 1 the average age during the history of the NBA is relatively stable. Weighted by minutes, the average age was hovering around 27 years from 1952 until 1990.
From 1990 to 2000 the average age rose steadily and peaked at 28.3 years during the 98/99 season. The reason for this was a lot of experienced veterans playing heavy minutes as well as NBA teams drafting more experienced players and young players not receiving much playing time.
Lately, there is a big youth movement again in the NBA with average age dipping to an all-time low of 26.5 years. Young players around between 20 and 22 years receive more playing time than ever on rebuilding teams like OKC or Houston.
Average Age by Position
Gathering the data, I was curious if the average age of players is different depending on the position. Here's what I found:
Graph 2: Average Age of NBA Players by Position:
We can see that for most of the history of the NBA there are no big differences between positions.
The one thing that clearly stands out, is the average age of centers from 1980-1992 which clearly exceeds all other positions during this time. If we take a closer look at this period we see some legendary centers like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Robert Parish and Moses Malone logging heavy minutes at the end of their very long careers.
Age Distribution Among NBA Players
To get a better idea of age among NBA player it makes sense to take a look at the actual age distribution.
Graph 3: Age Distribution of NBA Players by Year:
We can see that during the history of the NBA, the most common age among players is 23. The age responsible for most minutes played is a little older at 24.
In general, older players play more minutes than their younger counterparts. Which makes sense since only the best players still play in the NBA at more advanced age.
Average Age of Retirement in the NBA
Finding out the average retirement age of NBA players turned out to be more complicated than I expected. I don't have a dataset of official retirements of NBA players (I don't think a complete dataset like this exists).
Because of this, I filtered the dataset of all seasons ever played in the NBA to only include the last season by each player and calculated the average age during this season.
Graph 4: Average Age During Last Season of NBA Players:
|Years||All Players||At least 5 seasons||At least one season with >10PPG||At least one season with >15PPG||At least one season with >20PPG|
The average age of NBA players retiring from 2010-20 was 27.8 years. At first, this number was surprisingly low to me. In fact, it's only around one year older than the average age of NBA players during the same time frame.
Digging a little further, this makes a lot of sense because the data includes a lot of young players who couldn't make it in the NBA and either ended their careers early or left the NBA to play in Europe, China or elsewhere.
To get a better idea when NBA players that "made it" retired, I filtered the dataset to only include players that lasted at least for 5 seasons, or averaged 10 (15, 20) points at least once during their career.
We can see that the better the player, the longer their careers last. While the average player during 2010-2020 "retired" at 28, hall of famers retired at 38!
You can clearly see that the NBA is a young man's game! While there are some players who still perform at all star levels at 36 (Lebron James!), the most common age during the 21/22 season was 24.
If you are interested in any other specific statistics surrounding the age of NBA players let me know. I have all the data, I might be able to add it to the post!