15 NBA Players Who Started Late
Many NBA players have played basketball since they were very young. However, some of them started playing the sport only when they were teenagers, while some were drafted into the league when they were 21 or older.
Despite this, many talented players have managed to become stars in the league. Some of them started playing basketball late, while some of them were late bloomers. However, they've all found success at some point.
#1 - Pascal Siakam
In his first two seasons in the league, Pascal Siakam averaged only 6.0 points per game. He took a giant leap in the third year, improving his average to 16.9 points and winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award.
You may be interested in reading: 20 Most Overpaid NBA Players: Which Ballers Are Earning Way Too Much?
Siakam was 22 during his first season in the league, but he's managed to establish himself as one of the best forwards. He won a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and has been named an All-Star twice.
#2 - Goran Dragic
Like Siakam, Goran Dragic was 22 in his first NBA season. The point guard was used mostly off the bench in his first five seasons in the league, but he then turned into a star.
Dragic averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game for the Phoenix Suns at the age of 27, winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award.
#3 - Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry's NBA career got off to a slow start. He's always been a decent scorer and a playmaker, but he became a true star and a starter once he joined the Toronto Raptors.
Lowry eventually led the Raptors to their first-ever championship in 2019 and has also played a big role in the Miami Heat's deep playoff run in 2023.
#4 - Seth Curry
While Steph Curry is much more popular, his brother Seth is also amazing. Seth's career started at the age of 23, but he appeared in only four games in the first two seasons in the NBA.
However, the sharpshooter has established himself as one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the league. He's among the NBA players who can catch fire from beyond the arc and torch the opposing teams.
#5 - Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler has always been a hard worker. He was the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but he's drastically improved, becoming one of the best players in the NBA.
Butler has become a leader of the Miami Heat and a fantastic playoff performer. He plays with a lot of heart and is incredible on both ends of the floor. Butler was named the league's Most Improved Player of the Year in 2015.
#6 - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo started playing organized basketball in 2008, just five years before he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. His first few years in the league were decent, but he's now among the best NBA players of all time.
The forward led the Bucks to a championship in 2021 and has established himself as one of the best two-way players in the league. He won the Most Improved Player of the Year award in 2017, after averaging more than 20 points per game for the first time.
#7 - Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas was the very last pick of the 2011 NBA draft. He was selected by the Sacramento Kings, where he spent three seasons of his professional basketball career.
Despite standing at 5-foot-9 and 23 during his rookie season, Thomas showed that even short players can dominate the league. In the 2016-17 season, the point guard was one of the best scorers in the league with 28.9 points per game.
#8 - J.J. Redick
When it comes to the NBA players who had their best seasons after turning 30, it's impossible not to mention J.J. Redick. The 6-3 guard was 22 in his rookie season, and his role in the first few years was relatively small.
However, Redick eventually became a starter and had the best season of his career at the age of 34. The guard averaged 15.6 points after turning 30, as opposed to only 9.9 points in his first eight seasons.
#9 - Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal was drafted into the NBA as a teenager, but was nearly unplayable in the first four years of his career. The 6-11 big man averaged only 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game with the Portland Trail Blazers.
However, since O'Neal joined the Indiana Pacers, he became a star. Eventually, he started averaging a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double and was named the most improved player in 2002.
#10 - DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan was among the most entertaining NBA players during his time with the LA Clippers. He was an efficient inside scorer who loved finishing lobs from Chris Paul. The big man was also a great rebounder and defender.
However, Jordan's career got off to a slow start. He wasn't developed enough, which is why he came off the bench in his first two seasons, averaging only 4.6 points per game.
#11 - John Stockton
John Stockton was 22 during his rookie season. His minutes and role with the Utah Jazz were relatively small in his first three years in the league, but he turned into a star in the fourth year.
The Jazz legend led the league in assists and steals multiple times. In fact, he was the league's leading playmaker for nine straight seasons. Stockton holds several all-time records and is a Hall of Famer.
#12 - Steve Nash
During his prime, Steve Nash was among the best NBA players. His playmaking skills were unmatched and he helped turn the Phoenix Suns into one of the best offensive teams in the league.
Nash's career got off to a slow start, however. He turned 23 during his rookie year and averaged only 7.2 points and 3.8 assists per game in the first four seasons.
#13 - Hassan Whiteside
If it wasn't for the lack of maturity, Hassan Whiteside could have been one of the best NBA players of all time. However, this is the reason why he got his first real opportunity in the NBA at the age of 25, and why he left the league when he was 32.
The Miami Heat signed the big man to a contract when he was 25, and he shortly became a dominant force. Whiteside led the league in both rebounding and blocking and was a great inside scorer.
#14 - John Starks
John Starks went undrafted in the 1988 NBA draft, but was signed by the Golden State Warriors. However, he didn't get a significant role on the team, which is why he left the NBA and joined the Continental Basketball Association in his second year.
At the age of 25, the 6-5 guard was signed by the New York Knicks. He shortly turned into one of the best players on the team, averaging 17.5 points and 5.1 assists per game in his third year in the Big Apple.
#15 - Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace was another 22-year-old rookie who didn't get a lot of chances during his first season in the league. He averaged only 1.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, but it didn't take him long to become an impactful player.
You may be interested in reading: Most Corrupt NBA Referees: The Top 10 Officiating Scandals in League History
The 6-9 big man became a fantastic defender in his fifth year in the league. Despite being undersized, Wallace was a tenacious rebounder who eventually helped the Detroit Pistons win a championship in 2004.