Top 10 Single-Season Performances By NBA Players Under 21 Years Old
NBA's Top 10 Season Performances By Players Under 21
With Adam Silver taking over as commissioner of the NBA on Feb. 1, there have already been numerous major changes being discussed for the future of the league that will bring along supposed improvements to the league and the product that the league is putting on the floor.
Silver and the league have discussed expanding and improving the replay system for the league, ways to address tanking for position in the NBA Draft, and many other things over the past month. However, the topic that’s come up seemingly the most often has been Silver’s talks on changing the age-limit for the NBA Draft.
Silver has been open to the idea of eliminating the idea of one-and-done players going to the NBA, having discussed proposals for staying two or three years in college and so on. These discussions have even been backed by several high-profile basketball figures, the most recent being Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.
McHale’s belief is that players should have to stay in school for three years, have to be three years removed from high school, or have to be 21 years old before they can enter the league. McHale’s opinions on the matter come from an interesting place as a former player who stayed in college for four years while also being someone that has held front office and head coaching positions in the NBA. McHale has seen the league on both ends of the spectrum and has seen his fair share of young players enter the league.
The idea of raising the age-limit is predicated around the fact that it would allow players to mature physically and be better prepared for the demands of the NBA. Not only would this possibly set up guys for more individual success, but could potentially improve the quality of play throughout the league as a whole.
However, there have certainly been a number of players in the history of the league that have been drafted at a young age and have succeeded in the NBA early on or right away. Let’s take a look at the 10 best seasons put up by players under the age of 21.
10. Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers (2011-12)
As the number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Kyrie Irving came to the Cleveland Cavaliers and immediately showed why he was the top pick that year. In 59 games as a rookie, Irving put up 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 34.7 minutes per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 39.1 percent from three. Had he been able to avoid injury and play closer to 82 games, he’d probably be higher. However, what he did in three-fourths of a season was impressive enough for me.
9. Kevin Garnett – Minnesota Timberwolves (1996-97)
Kevin Garnett wasted little time showing that he deserved to be in the league right out of high school with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In his second season, the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA Draft put up 17 points, eight rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.1 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the floor. At just 20 years old, Garnett was already showing that he could score effectively and be a game-changer defensively. He only got better as he got into his prime, but he was a treat to watch even at a young age.
8. Chris Paul – New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (2005-06)
The fourth pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Chris Paul had a monster rookie season for the then New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. The point guard played in 78 games and posted 16.1 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals in 36 minutes per game on 43 percent shooting. It was clear from the get-go that Paul was going to be great and could one day be where he is now as the best pure point guard in the league.
7. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-04)
Fresh out of high school, LeBron James was immediately a star for the Cavs in the 2003-04 season, his rookie year. The “King” put up 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 39.5 minutes per game and 41.7 percent shooting. Considering what he’s capable of nowadays, that line might not be the most impressive. However, for a 19-year-old to go out and do what he did that season is nothing short of remarkable.
6. Dwight Howard – Orlando Magic (2005-06)
The public perception of Dwight Howard has changed, but in his second season with the Orlando Magic he was still the young, fun-loving kid that could dominate. The big man averaged 15.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in 36.8 minutes per game, hitting 53.1 percent of his shots. He hadn’t reached his peak yet, but Howard was still able to be a force for Orlando before he could legally drink.
5. Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-09)
We’ve known Kevin Durant was the next big thing in this league for a while now, but it was really his second season with the Oklahoma City Thunder that got the ball rolling. In that 2008-09 season, Durant put up 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, all while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 42.2 percent from three. He just joined the 50/40/90 club last season, but he was close to doing so at just 20 years old, as crazy as that may seem.
4. Adrian Dantley – Buffalo Braves (1976-77)
Adrian Dantley is a guy most people might overlook in this conversation, but the small forward’s season with the 1976-77 Buffalo Braves when he was just 20 years old was phenomenal. Dantley put up 20.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game in that season, all while hitting 52 percent of his shots and not having the three-point shot to his benefit. That’s pretty incredible for most players, much less a 20-year-old.
3. Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers (1979-80)
Magic Johnson’s rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers was a fitting start to the superstar’s career. In 77 games, Magic put up 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.4 steals in 36.3 minutes per game and while hitting 53 percent of his shots. Johnson came in and immediately showed he was ready to be a star and one of the faces of the NBA. That’s not common, but it’s something that a guy who was 20 years old was able to accomplish.
2. Shaquille O’Neal – Orlando Magic (1992-93)
Not many players have been as immediately physically dominant as Shaquille O’Neal was for the Magic in his rookie year. Shaq put up 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 3.5 blocks in 37.9 minutes per game while hitting 56.2 percent of his field goal attempts. Shaq came into the league and didn’t miss a beat in becoming an unstoppable force in this league and establishing his hold on the rest of the NBA.
1. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers (2004-05)
As good as LeBron was in his rookie year, his second season in Cleveland was utterly ridiculous. In 80 games, James averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.2 steals in 42.4 minutes per game. LeBron also shot 47.2 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from three that year. Even more impressive, he did so with little-to-no supporting cast in Cleveland worth mentioning outside of Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He was only 20 years old, but LeBron stated pretty clearly in his second season that this would one day be his league.