In theory, basketball is a young man’s game, due to the demands on the athlete’s physical health. The sheer physicality of the action on the court would suggest that those with a literal and metaphorical spring in their step are best placed to cope with the sport’s unique demands. But the NBA playoffs continue to be a psychological challenge as much as a physical one, and the experience that those of an older generation can offer their teams is vital.
The so-called ‘king’ LeBron James, who has recently been given an opportunity to play more balls, was still hoping to lead the LA Lakers to glory in the NBA Championships this season at the age of 36. Former MVP Russell Westbrook (32) has been outstanding in Washington’s run to the postseason while Steph Curry had his Golden State Warriors made it to the playoffs. Surely this would have made him a more serious contender for the MVP award as he has been nominated at the tender dotage of 33.
That is, of course, before we consider one of the NBA’s most prolific pairings this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday have been in stunning form for the Milwaukee Bucks. So much so that the franchise has now been installed as the NBA Championship outright winner favorite with Betway at odds of +110 as of June 23rd.
Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, both MVP nominees, are now emerging as global stars at the age of 26 and 27, and so the present health of the NBA could not be any ruder. But what about the future? Happily, there are stacks of young stars already earning their spurs as the 2021 season reaches its business end.
Doncic Belies His Fledgling Years
At 22, most NBA contracted youngsters are learning their craft away from the spotlight of a worldwide audience, which certainly suits some athletes more than others. But Luca Doncic is something of an old hand at dealing with the media spotlight having made his senior pro debut at a young age. He was still a teenager when picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Draft.
The Slovenian has taken to life Stateside with some aplomb, and he has been integral to the Mavericks’ in their titanic playoff clash with the LA Clippers. At the time of writing, Doncic has notched 133 points in his side’s four bracket games – only Durant has served up more postseason points so far.
While Doncic’s playoff hopes hang by a knife-edge, spare a thought for Ja Morant, whose Memphis Grizzlies are 1-3 down to the Utah Jazz and seemingly likely to exit the postseason post-haste.
But that should not detract from a remarkable season for the 21-year-old, as Morant has thrived in the postseason too. His 124-point tally from four games is even more exceptional given that it has come in a losing team, and you can be sure that he will be hot property in the trade window during the off-season. Jayson Tatum (23) is another who may depart the playoffs at the earliest available opportunity, with the Boston Celtics struggling in their tie with Brooklyn.
One youngster we may be seeing a lot more of is Trae Young, with the Atlanta Hawks going well. The 22-year-old has been a revelation this term, and the Dallas Mavericks must be watching on with embarrassment as the player they traded away averages 27.5 points per game during the playoffs.
Of course, this rundown doesn’t even include the likes of Zion Williamson and LaMelo Ball, whose time will surely come to excel in these showpiece occasions further down the line.
Heard It On the LaVine
Back in the regular season, one of the most impressive performers by some margin was Zach LaVine.
It’s always more remarkable when a young ace performs so well in a mediocre team. LaVine’s 27.4 points per game average is the seventh-best record in the NBA and came despite his Chicago Bulls teammates once again failing to deliver.
The 26-year-old may be at the more senior end of the ‘young phenom’ category. But he’s arguably at his peak right now and with an expiring contract in 2022, the phone in the Bulls’ front office will be ringing off the hook during the trade window.
LaVine is leading a golden generation of young talents. While he may be heading for pastures new ahead of the 2022 campaign, one thing that is for sure is that he – and the other prospects in this article – are taking the NBA to exciting new heights.