WHAT MAKES THE GREATEST PLAYERS IN NBA HISTORY?
As we quickly approach the 2022 NBA Finals, the 75th year of the biggest basketball league in the world has been one of the best yet. With Lebron James breaking records left, right and center, an emergence of new young players dominating the league, and the brand new 75th Anniversary Team being created, it’s been one of the most exciting years yet — and we’ve loved watching every second of it.
Formed in New York on June 6th, 1946, the league has been bringing us the biggest names in basketball since its inception — and it’s not stopping any time soon.
We’ve decided to identify the best of the best, the true MVPs, the players that go down in history — and the factors that may have helped project them to ‘legend’ status. To find this out, we’ve looked at the age players peak in their careers, whether the order of draft pick has any say in a player’s success, the best players statistically from the last 75 years, and the sneakers worn by MVPs over the years.
Are they more likely to succeed if picked first in the draft? If they only wear Adidas sneakers? If they are below 30 years old? Let’s find out.
WHAT AGE DO PLAYERS PEAK?
Age can be a huge factor to when players are most successful. Too young, and they may not have enough experience to reach their full potential. Too old, and they may no longer have the physical ability to act on the experience they have. But at what age do most players reach their peak?
According to our data, the age that sees the most players play in the NBA is 23. From Luka Dončić, Deandre Ayton, and Trae Young, some incredible players are making their mark on the league at this age as we speak. Since 1946, a total of 2,658 players have been 23 when the league took place, so this is clearly a great age for athletes to be.
However, this isn’t the age at which most players peak. Our data found that players perform their best at age 28. This age scored a total of 79.49/100 in our index, taking into account average games played per season, number of wins, average points, and average minutes played per season.
This year, there are some incredible 28-year-old players. Joel Embiid, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, is 28 this year. In the 2021-22 season, he led the NBA in scoring as a center for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal did so in 2000.
Bradley Beal, also 28 in the current season, is among the best scorers in the league. From 2019 to 2021, he averaged 30.9 points per game and had 18 games with at least 40 points.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the Greek Freak, is turning 28 next year. By 27, the two-time MVP has already earned an incredible reputation as a player, so it’s easy to believe that he’s going into his peak as he turns 28.
Age isn’t everything, though. Some incredible players make their debut at very young ages. Kobe Bryant, NBA royalty, made his debut for the Lakers at only 18 years and 72 days. In 2005, Andrew Bynum made history for making his NBA debut six days after his 18th birthday.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some NBA players who just keep getting better with age. LeBron James is now 37 years old, and he continues to dominate every game he plays in. While 28 may be the age the most players have peaked, this certainly doesn’t write them off if they’re younger or older than this.
THE MOST SUCCESSFUL DRAFT PICK
The NBA Draft has been happening every year since 1947, allowing teams to draft eligible players straight out of college or internationally. Included in the lottery, which started in 1985, are the 14 teams that did not make the previous year’s playoffs, making the process as fair as possible.
As a result, you’d assume that the first pick would be a player bound to reach MVP status. But this isn’t always the case…
Our data has shown that the first pick in the first round isn’t always the draft’s most successful player. Instead, the third overall pick tends to do the best, based on the number of points, minutes played, and championship games played and won per season.
Need more proof? Some of the notable players who have been picked at this stage of the draft include Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, and Luka Dončić. Combined, these players have seen a huge amount of success in their careers so far – proving that the first choice isn’t always the best.
THE BEST PLAYERS OF THE LAST 75 YEARS
The last 75 years of NBA greatness have produced some incredible athletes, leading the way for careers that span decades and reputations that will last forever. But who is the most statistically successful player ever?
Our study looked into a range of metrics, from the total number of rebounds and assists to turnovers and personal fouls, and averaged out the result of each player’s stats over the number of years they’ve played in the league. What’s left is a list of the best NBA players in history — proven by data.
The top three players of all time, according to these findings, are Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokić and Larry Bird — in that order. All three have hundreds of rebounds and assists under their belts, and have brought their teams to victory plenty of times, giving them an incredible legacy.
Two of the players, Durant and Jokić, are still playing in the league, leaving room for even more impressive and exciting feats in the future. Larry Bird may no longer be playing, but he is still considered one of the greatest players of all time — and our study shows exactly why, hitting nearly 90% from the free throw line and nearly 50% of field goals throughout his career.
Also in the top ten are Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James and Jayson Tatum. Towns and Tatum are still only at the beginning of their NBA careers, aged 26 and 24. Their achievements already mark the start of something incredible — leaving plenty of room for them to become the All-Stars or Hall of Famers of the future. Watch this space.
LeBron James’ career is nearing its end, much later than anyone expected when he started. Debuting in 2003, James has played in 19 seasons so far, ten of which his team made it to the NBA Finals. Making his mark for the Cavaliers, the Heat and, more recently, the Lakers, ‘King James’ has already gone down in history as one of the best NBA players of all time — but according to our data, statistically, he falls into 6th place.
MVP’S FAVORITE SNEAKER BRANDS
A world-dominating athlete needs the gear to go with their game, and sneakers have become a huge part of any NBA players’ closet. Certain brands have become a favorite among the top players, so we’ve looked into the shoes worn by each year’s MVP since 1987 to find out which is the most popular — and whether there’s any correlation between sneakers and success.
The most worn sneaker brand by far is Nike, with 60% of MVPs from the last 35 years relying on these shoes in their games. The brand owns Air Jordan, a style created specifically for Michael Jordan in the 80s for his time with the Chicago Bulls, so basketball is in the brand’s blood at this point. Their close relationship with the sport makes it no surprise that the MVPs of the last four years all chose Nike as their sneaker of choice.
Serbian player Nikola Jokić has a deal with the brand, putting the shoe front and center in all his games with the Denver Nuggets, and Greek player Giannis Antetokounmpo, named the MVP for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, also sports Nike in his games.
One thing that Harden, Curry, Durant and James have in common (apart from being incredible basketball players) is that they all have a signature shoe. Almost the majority of MVP sneaker brands are named after the MVP. The Harden Vol. 2, UA Curry 2, Nike Zoom KD VI and LeBron X have all been worn by their respective MVPs. In fact, over 46% of all MVPs wore shoes named after themselves.
Nike has dominated the footwear choices of MVPs for years, but Adidas has also been a popular choice. Since 1987, 11% of MVPs have worn Adidas shoes, including James Harden in 2018, Derrick Rose in 2011 and Tim Duncan in 2003. The Adidas Superstar was first released for basketball players in 1969, and quickly became a firm favorite for athletes — and this is clear from the number of MVPs who have opted for this brand as their sneaker of choice.
Less common footwear choices among MVPs are Reebok, Dunkman and L.A. Gear, each worn by only one MVP in the last 35 years — and all a while ago, being worn in 2001, 2000 and 1994 respectively. While these brands could make a court come back soon, it’s clear that the league is now dominated by the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.
WHO COULD BE THE NEXT BIG PLAYER?
Have an idea of who the next basketball star will be? See huge potential in a certain team in the 2022 Finals? We have all the latest NBA odds on The Game Day, to help you place only the best basketball bets.