“…And he’s only 32 years old!”

We hear that all the time about NBA veterans. We think guys are old because they’ve been around the league for a long time. Sport changes our concept of age. I said that same line in my article about the most underrated players in the league last off-season when talking about DeMar DeRozan, my number one most underrated at that time.

But you know what nobody is talking about, writing about, or podcasting about? The oldest-seeming young guys in the NBA. So, naturally, I made a list.

Here’s what can qualify a player to be an Old Young Guy.

  1. They have an old-man game. This may or may not be a positive.
  2. Be it injuries or some other factor, their NBA Career will be over soon, despite their age.
  3. They’re a star, or potential star, who plays way beyond their years.

Now the list:

The Up and Under Guys
These young players clearly learned from watching old men at the park. 

Isaiah Stewart – Detroit Pistons
Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn would be proud of this one. The fact that there’s still a place in the league for an enforcer like Stewart with the way the center position has changed is a miracle. At just 20 years old, this throwback draft pick two years ago was a surprise but has proven to help change the culture in Detroit with his attitude and effort. He is not an above-the-rim player and yet 78% of his shots come within five feet of the basket. 

Alperen Sungun – Houston Rockets
Alperen has an effective low post old-man game, is such a great passer, and has the IQ of a 19 year NBA vet instead of a 19-year-old. This dichotomy makes him one of the more fun rookies to watch in the NBA. As a connector, his passing and IQ–and future development as a shooter—will make him valuable to any team because the way passing becomes contagious when you have guys like this on your team.

But his ability to move his feet laterally defensively is close to bottom-tier in the NBA. If you’re not afraid of scary things, just imagine how slow he’ll be when he’s actually an older player! Sometimes I wonder if he’ll ever be able to effectively defend in meaningful playoff situations, which is just such a bummer. Is he fools gold, or am I just a fool? In these situations, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors
Always wincing, often limping, and perpetually injured, it’s hard to believe Looney’s only 25 years old. Looney’s game progressed admirably after his rookie season, but it has regressed pretty significantly in the last two years. He’s still solid and provides needed depth as Draymond ages, but if I were a Warriors fan I’d be worried about his durability and efficacy in the playoffs.

Kuminga can’t develop fast enough as I wouldn’t be surprised if management is hoping he can overtake Looney in the lineup as soon as next year. If it weren’t for his championship experience and trust with the coaching staff, he may not be a starting center in the NBA.

The Dog Years Guys
These guys seem to have aged at an exponential rate. 

Justise Winslow – Portland Trailblazers
Justise leads the list of “guys who are washed up but shouldn’t be based on their age.” It’s amazing that until a few days ago he was still just 25 years old. On his third team this year, he’s finally back to averaging 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in 26 minutes per game since being traded to Portland. It’s nice to see him having a slight resurgence of health and success as he enters what would traditionally be seen as the prime of his career based on his age.

Coby White – Chicago Bulls
When he was at North Carolina, he was a blur, reminding me of former Tar Heel Ty Lawson because of his combination of speed and scoring ability. Back injuries have limited his on-court time, but now that he’s back playing, the once-potential NBA starter has turned into an off-the-bench role player.

He could always score, but his burst is almost completely gone, so he has to rely on savvy. And while he’s never been a big fan of playing defense, now he really needs to put forth a lot of effort to add value unless he’s on a hot streak and it’s obvious. Oh, and he’s only 22. 

Kris Dunn – Portland Trailblazers
He’s done, and he has been for years. So how is he still getting NBA contracts? Maybe it’s because GMs looked at him at the trade deadline and said, “he’s only 27!” Sorry, but with two top-10 oldest young guys, Portland appears to be collecting them? Better days are coming for the Blazers, but probably not for Kris Dunn.

Lance Stephenson – Indiana Pacers
Yup, you guessed it. “Born Ready” is only 31 years old. And you know what? After being out of the league since he was 28, he deserves to be celebrated by someone for being one of the few 10-day reclamation projects to earn a guaranteed contract for the rest of this season. When I look at the Indiana Pacers bench and see his familiar face, I think back fondly to the two other times he’s been on and off this franchise since 2010. Lance has to be considered one of the oldest young guys in the game.

The “They have all the tricks” Guys
They know how to use every tool in the toolbox despite being relatively new to the league. 

Luka Dončić – Dallas Mavericks
Luka was considered one of the future faces of the league three years ago. Now, at just 22 years old he’s expected by the Mavs fanbase to put the team on his back and carry them deep into the playoffs. The thing is, he’s talented enough to actually do it.

While Luka looks old on the court due to his pudgy physique and ability to get anywhere he wants on the court even though he moves in slow-motion – he has the scoring prowess, veteran IQ, and ability to make others better that is far beyond his years. Furthermore, in a wide-open Western Conference, I don’t expect any team besides Phoenix to actually show up ready. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavs made it to the Western Conference Finals. 

Scottie Barnes – Toronto Raptors
The number of players under 21 years old who have earned enough trust and development from their coaches and GMs to warrant 30 minutes per game for a playoff team is a short list: Evan Mobley, Anthony Edwards, Scottie Barnes, and that’s it.

As the playoffs approach, let’s see how these players do as potential future leaders expected to carry heavy loads for their teams. Of those three, I’m most intrigued by Barnes due to the combination of his selflessness, effort, intensity, and attention to fundamentals. At just 20 years old, this future star has shown an IQ and physicality beyond his years, but even more importantly, it’s just rare to find a guy who is so fundamentally sound while having the athleticism to not need to be that way. 

Honorable Mentions

  1. Josh Giddey, 19
  2. Naz Reid,  22
  3. Otto Porter Jr., 28
  4. Victor Oladipo, 29
  5. Bismack Biyombo, 29
  6. Ivica Zubac, 25
  7. Avery Bradley, 31
  8. DeMarcus Cousins, 31
  9. Serge Ibaka, 32
  10. Kemba Walker, 31
  11. Gordon Hayward, 32
  12. Tristan Thompson, 30
  13. Enes Freedom, 29
  14. Cody Zeller, 29
  15. Tyler Johnson, 29
  16. Montrezl Harrell, 28
  17. Mo Bamba, 23
  18. PJ Washington, 23

Who would you put on your list?