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LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan among top scorers by age

Considering James' elite scoring production at age 37, we examine the NBA's all-time highest scorers by age.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry have put up ageless scoring numbers.

Henry Aaron slugged 47 home runs in 1971, when he was 37 years old. It was the most the legendary Atlanta Braves star ever hit in a season, vaulting him into position to chase down Babe Ruth’s record of 714 in 1974.

In 2001, Randy (Big Unit) Johnson at age 37 struck out a career-high 372 batters, went 21-6 for the Arizona Diamondbacks and earned the fourth of his five Cy Young Awards.

When NFL quarterback Peyton Manning suited up for Denver as a 37-year-old in 2013, he put up the biggest numbers of his career: 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns.

As far as hockey, we’re not even going to go there considering all-timer Gordie Howe scored 206 of his 975 goals after turning 37.

Against that backdrop, maybe what LeBron James has done this season shouldn’t seem so astonishing. But within the confines of the NBA, where 37 can feel like dog years to many players, James’ 2021-22 individual season hasn’t just been remarkable. It’s been historical.

He wasn’t able to singlehandedly drag the Los Angeles Lakers into the postseason. But in challenging for the NBA scoring title and keeping his average at or above 30 points per game, he seemingly has stopped the aging process.

This isn’t exactly breaking news, either. once had an analytical piece headlined: “Is LeBron breaking the aging curve?” It was posted in December 2017.

Not only don’t players lead the league in scoring (or nearly so) at 37, they don’t get close to averaging 30. Karl Malone averaged 23.2 points at that age and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went for 22.0, and they were two of the most prolific graybeards in the game’s history.

As you can see on the list below, James playing at or near his current level should have a solid shot at the setting age 38 and age 39 marks held respectively by Abdul-Jabbar (23.4) and Malone (20.6). After that, the numbers drop off considerably. By which point his son Bronny James might be chasing the standards at the young end of this list.

Note: Because some players’ birthdays fall during the NBA season, we are going with the “age XX” year as determined by That site uses Jan. 31 as the cutoff date to classify a player’s age.

Here are the top scorers, by average, for every NBA age:

18: Kobe Bryant, 1996-97 — 7.6 ppg

Check out the top 10 plays from Kobe Bryant's rookie season.

Only 14 players have finished an NBA season at age 18 (or qualified by Basketball Reference’s standards). That was too young for LeBron James, for Dwight Howard, for Amar’e Stoudemire. Of the others who entered the league straight from high school, Tracy McGrady (7.0) got closest to Bryant’s average one year later. Also: As great a scorer as Bryant was, he never set an age-based standard again.

> NBA 75: Kobe Bryant

19: Zion Williamson, 2019-20 — 22.5 ppg

This one probably merits an asterisk, because the New Orleans strongman only played in 24 games his first season. If you’re looking for a more legitimate, i.e., complete season, that would go to Dallas’ Luka Doncic, snagging the “highest scoring average for a teenager” at 21.1 while playing 72 games in 2018-19. That edges out Carmelo Anthony’s 21.0 and LeBron’s 20.9, both in their 2003-04 rookie seasons.

20: Luka Doncic, 2019-20 — 28.8 ppg

Check out the best moments from Luka Doncic during the 2019-20 season.

Doncic was on his way in his second season, posting his largest average to date. That included 30.0 ppg in seven summer contests in the Orlando bubble in the virus lockdown season. James averaged 27.2 as a 20-year-old NBA sophomore.

21: LeBron James, 2005-06 — 31.4 ppg

James’ highest scoring average to date came in his age-21 season, when he finished third behind Bryant (35.4) and Allen Iverson (33.0). This was the only by-age slot for James until this season.

> NBA 75: LeBron James

22: Rick Barry, 1966-67 — 35.6 ppg

Given what Barry did at this young age, you automatically wonder what his encore for San Francisco was at age 23, right? Well, he didn’t play in 1967-68, having to sit out the season over contractual rights before jumping leagues and the Bay to join the Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association. He did average 34.0 points for the Oaks at 24.

> NBA 75: Rick Barry

23: Wilt Chamberlain, 1959-60 — 37.6 ppg

Wilton Norman Chamberlain enters the fray, after spotting these great scorers five years due to rules and traditions of his day. So he debuts with 37.6 in his rookie season – which would rank as the highest scoring average for any age except ages 24-27. Three of those four belong to Chamberlain anyway.

> NBA 75: Wilt Chamberlain

24: Wilt Chamberlain, 1960-61 — 38.4 ppg

If you’re looking for legends, this is a tier that has them. Second to the Dipper’s bar-setter, Michael Jordan averaged 35.0 points in 1987-88. Then there’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 34.8 in 1971-72 and Nate (Tiny) Archibald in fourth place among 24-year-olds, averaging 34 points while also leading the NBA at 11.4 assists per game in 1972-73.

25: Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62 — 50.4 ppg

Look back at Wilt Chamberlain's legendary NBA career.

This is the big one regardless of age, the season after which – if Chamberlain had been hitting free agency – the Philadelphia Warriors owner would have skipped contract formalities and simply called him “partner.” How would you pay someone today who averaged 50 points, almost 26 rebounds and 48.5 minutes? Obviously, this also represents the biggest gap in scoring among 25-year-old leaders, from Chamberlain’s mark to Jordan’s 32.5 in 1988-89.

26: Wilt Chamberlain, 1962-63 — 44.8 ppg

Bill Russell’s nemesis in their famous rivalry dropped off by nearly six points per game from the season before – and still posted the second-highest scoring average in NBA history.

27: Elgin Baylor, 1961-62 — 38.3 ppg

Look back at Elgin Baylor's legendary NBA career.

The largely forgotten Baylor, who set new standards for athletic moves and above-the-rim play in his time, had a special challenge in 1961-62. He had been called to active duty in the U.S. Army Reserves and was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. So he only could play for the Lakers on weekend passes, traveling to L.A. or wherever else they happened to be scheduled. He played only 48 games while adding 18.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. In the playoffs, he set the still-standing Finals record of 61 points in Game 5 against Boston. Among 27-year-olds, Chamberlain (36.9 in 1963-64) and Bryant (35.4 in 2005-06) were too far behind Baylor’s pace.

> NBA 75: Elgin Baylor

28: Wilt Chamberlain, 1964-65 — 34.7

This season marked the sixth of Chamberlain’s seven straight scoring titles. It also gave him the bragging rights of five firsts and two seconds on this scoring-by-age chart. Baylor scored 34.0 at 28 in 1962-63 and Bernard King put up 32.9 per game for the Knicks in 1984-85.

29: James Harden, 2018-19 — 36.1 ppg

It’s amazing to realize that The Beard averaged more points at 29 than Wilt, Jordan or anybody else in NBA history. This was the season after he won his MVP. The gap between him and the No. 2 scorer (Paul George, 28.0) was greater than from George to No. 32. At this tier, Chamberlain averaged 33.5 in 1965-66 and Jordan 32.6 in 1992-93.

> NBA 75: James Harden

30: James Harden, 2019-20 — 34.3 ppg

Nearly a third of Harden’s points this season (10.2) came from the foul line, his career-high on freebies. At 30, Iverson averaged a career-best 33.0 in 2005-06 but finished behind Kobe Bryant that season. Barry averaged 30.6 in 1974-75 and led an ensemble Golden State team to the NBA championship, but finished a dubious fourth in MVP voting behind Bob McAdoo, Dave Cowens and Elvin Hayes back when players voted for the award.

31: Jerry West, 1969-70 — 31.2 ppg

Look back at Jerry West's legendary NBA career.

Stymied in his quest for an NBA title, West in his 10th season wasn’t about to go gentle into that good night. He averaged 31.2 points in a career-high 42 minutes nightly. He and the Lakers lost in the Finals to New York, but West did win his only scoring title, with 35 games of 30 points or more and 13 more of at least 40.

> NBA 75: Jerry West

32: Steph Curry, 2020-21 — 32.0 ppg

Curry posted the highest scoring season of his career the year after his hand injury limited him to five appearances in 2019-20. He averaged a career-best 5.3 3-point baskets while hoisting a career-high 12.7 attempts.

> NBA 75: Stephen Curry

33: Kevin Durant, 2021-22 — 30.1 ppg

The first time Durant averaged 30 points or more in a season was in 2009-10 in his age-21 season. Here we are 12 years later, after his Achilles tear, and he’s scoring at the same clip, only missing a few too many appearances to qualify among the official league leaguers.

> NBA 75: Kevin Durant

34: Michael Jordan, 1997-98 — 28.7 ppg

Look back at Michael Jordan's legendary NBA career.

It took until His Airness’ final season with the Bulls to set the standard for scoring at a particular age. Curiously, his 10th scoring crown came with his lowest average of the bunch, but it was enough to edge Shaquille O’Neal’s 28.3 that season.

> NBA 75: Michael Jordan

35: Alex English, 1988-89 — 26.5 ppg

English, a second-round pick in 1976, had averaged 22.3 points across his first 14 seasons. But what he did in his 15th set the standard for 35-year-olds. And he was 2-of-8 on 3-pointers for the season. The underappreciated forward ranks 23rd in career points, ahead of West, Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Larry Bird and, well, all but 22 guys.

36: Karl Malone, 1999-2000 — 25.5 ppg

Look back at Karl Malone's legendary NBA career.

Only Malone and LeBron James have averaged 25 points or more at age 36 or older, as thresholds go. James did it last season and again this season. Malone had 43 double-doubles while leading Utah to 55 victories, with no one else on the roster averaging more than 14.1 points.

> NBA 75: Karl Malone

37: LeBron James, 2021-22 — 30.3 ppg

Ageless? Pretty much. Over James’ first five seasons in the league, he averaged 27.3 points on 46.7% shooting (32.4% on threes) while putting up 21.1 shots nightly. Over his past five seasons, those numbers are 27.1, 51.8% (35.6%) and 19.7 FGA.

38: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1985-86 — 23.4 ppg

Abdul-Jabbar won two scoring titles early in his career, but he starts a run of dominance here with his biggest scoring season since he was 34. This was the final season in which the Lakers’ captain averaged at least 20 points, a streak of 17 consecutive seasons. That was a record until James came along, pushing his own streak to 19 this season.

> NBA 75: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

39: Karl Malone, 2002-03 — 20.6 ppg

There was a battle of old warriors going on 20-plus spots down the scoring leaderboard, with Malone edging out Jordan (20.0) for the 39-year-old crown. By the way, Malone played 81 games and Jordan, in his final season, played 82. For comparison’s sake, James has played 81 or more just once in his past 13 seasons (2017-18). Malone at 39 averaged 36.2 minutes, scored 20 or more 48 times and had 21 double-doubles and one triple-double.

40: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1987-88 — 14.6 ppg

Look back at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's legendary NBA career.

This is where the scoring numbers start to drop off, for two simple reasons: Not a lot of NBA players stick around this long and skills invariably diminish with age. Father Time starts winking at the best of them. Abdul-Jabbar had averaged 17.5 points at age 39 but that still was a 20-point rate pro-rated to 36 minutes. At 40, his playing time was below 30 minutes nightly and he was getting up only 11.3 shots, about half what he averaged in his 20s. Didn’t matter much, though, given the Lakers’ other weapons – he got his sixth championship and L.A. earned its fifth of the decade.

41: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1988-89 — 10.1 ppg

Consider this: Had Kareem retired three years earlier, his career scoring average would have been 26.4, good for 8th all-time on the current list. His final seasons thinned that to 24.6, dropping him to 17th. Of course, losing those seasons would have cost him 3,279 points off his total of 38,387. So Karl Malone would have caught and passed him in 2003 – before LeBron – and reigned as the NBA’s all-time points leader for 19 years … until March 19 in Washington, when James would have taken over by reaching 36,929.

42: Vince Carter, 2018-19 — 7.4 ppg

No other non-center ever stonewalled the aging process like Carter. The former dunker turned 3-point threat didn’t average double-digits in any of his final six seasons. But he did average 6.5 points in 18.1 minutes in that span of 393 games. Per 36 minutes this season, his 15.2 scoring wasn’t much off his 19.4 pro-rated rate nine years earlier. And he shot better now from distance (38.9% vs. 36.7%).

43: Vince Carter, 2019-20 — 5.0 ppg

Carter’s improbably long career faded not into the sunset but into the COVID-19 shutdown. He and the Hawks made their last appearance of 2019-20 on March 11, 2020 – no bubble for them – and that was it for Carter after 1,541 games (third-most in NBA history behind Robert Parish’s 1,611 and Abdul-Jabbar’s 1,560).

44: Kevin Willis, 2006-07 — 2.4 ppg

OK, so Willis appeared in five games for Dallas after a full season away from the NBA. As always, he was a physical specimen, but he was a far cry from his prime when he averaged 18.2 points and 12.9 rebounds from 1992 through 1995 for Atlanta and Miami. This farewell cameo lasted a total of 43 minutes in April, during which the 7-footer made 5 of his 13 shots with 8 rebounds and 11 fouls.

For the record, we’re clipping off this list here. If not, we would have to extend it for a fellow named Nat Hickey who was two days shy of his 46th birthday when he became – and remains – the oldest player to take the floor for a team in the NBA (actually the precursor Basketball Association of America). Hickey was coaching the Providence Steamrollers in 1947-48 when he got desperate for a spark – so he activated himself.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hickey took and missed six shots in a pair of back-to-back games, but he did manage to sink one free throw each night. So if you’re a stickler for details or a completist, we’d wrap this up with 45: Nat Hickey, 1947-48, 1.0 ppg.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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