How Old Should Your Superstar Be to Win an NBA Title?

Michael Jordan didn't win his first title until he was 27. LeBron was the same age. Is there a prime superstar age?

I've said this many times in articles and will continue to say it: it's very hard to win an NBA championship.

Over the past 30 years, only eight different franchises (26%) have won a title - the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, and Rockets. That's it.

The obvious answer to why this is the case is because of superstars. If it is really this hard to win and only a handful of teams have done it, then it makes sense that would be correlated with the league's best players.

And how old should that player be? Is there a specific age range that you want your best player to be in order to maximize your championship odds? Interestingly enough, there seems to be specific, identifiable range. After all, even MJ and LeBron didn't get their first until they were 27.

The following table shows how old the best player was for each champion since 1985. To clarify, by best player I mean season-long best player. I measured this by which player had the most win shares over the regular season.

YearTeamBest Player, by WSSeason WSPlayer Age
2014SpursKawhi Leonard7.722
2013HeatLeBron James19.328
2012HeatLeBron James14.527
2011MavericksDirk Nowitzki11.132
2010LakersPau Gasol11.029
2009LakersPau Gasol13.928
2008CelticsKevin Garnett12.931
2007SpursTim Duncan13.030
2006HeatDwyane Wade14.424
2005SpursTim Duncan11.228
2004PistonsChauncey Billups11.327
2003SpursTim Duncan16.526
2002LakersShaquille O'Neal13.229
2001LakersShaquille O'Neal14.928
2000LakersShaquille O'Neal18.627
1999SpursTim Duncan8.722
1998BullsMichael Jordan15.834
1997BullsMichael Jordan18.333
1996BullsMichael Jordan20.432
1995RocketsHakeem Olajuwon10.732
1994RocketsHakeem Olajuwon14.331
1993BullsMichael Jordan17.229
1992BullsMichael Jordan17.728
1991BullsMichael Jordan20.327
1990PistonsBill Laimbeer10.132
1989PistonsBill Laimbeer9.031
1988LakersMagic Johnson10.928
1987LakersMagic Johnson15.927
1986CelticsLarry Bird15.829
1985LakersMagic Johnson12.725

The oldest player we have since 1985 to lead their team to a championship is 34 years old - Michael Jordan's last title. The youngest player by a couple years was Tim Duncan in 1999, who led the Spurs to the title at just 22 years old. Ironically, Duncan was the best player on all the Spurs title teams, except for this year, when another 22-year-old, Kawhi Leonard, took the torch from Duncan.

(An interesting aside: of the Lakers five most recent championships that had Kobe Bryant, how many of those teams did he lead in win shares? Zero.)

An aging curve for the NBA, developed like Bill James' baseball one, sets 27 as the prime age for basketball players. This fits with how old your star should be - a big portion of championships of the past 30 years were won by teams who had a superstar between 26 and 30.

Here are the ages plotted out, and it shows just how small that range has been historically.

So, just for fun, here is a list of the teams that have a player who will qualify for that range (will be between 26 and 30 this upcoming season and gathered at least 7.0 win shares last season). There are only 22 players total on only half of the league's teams.

Thunder - Durant (26)
Cavaliers - Love (26), James (30)
Warriors - Curry (26)
Clippers - Jordan (26), Paul (29)
Raptors - Lowry (28)
Bulls - Noah (29)
Knicks - Anthony (30)
Trail Blazers - Lopez (26), Batum (26), Matthews (28), Aldridge (29)
Suns - Dragic (28)
Grizzlies - Conley (27)
Rockets - Ariza (29), Howard (29)
Wizards - Gortat (30)
Heat - Bosh (30)
Pacers - Hill (28)
Hornets - Jefferson (30)
Mavericks - Parsons (26)

Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook will both be 26 this season and likely would've qualified if they had played a healthy season last year. Also of note, we have no Spurs. However, Pop is a genius and has shown he can make do with a young star like Kawhi.

The NBA is a star-driven league. Can any of these guys in their prime years lead their team to the title next year?