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Average NBA Career Length for Players – Details

22 Nov

Thanks to the lockout you’ve probably read or heard how long average career of NBA player really is, and you can easily google it but… it’s not up-to-date information and there are very few details about it…

For example, how average NBA career length has changed through league’s history?
Is it so much longer now than it used to be? How exactly is it calculated?
How does this average career span differs for NBA starters and deep reserves?

I’ll answer those and many more questions in this post… but let’s start with the description. I collected data from basketball-reference.com for every season from 1946-47 to 2010-11, then I removed multiple occurrences in one season [usually due to trades] and finally counted how many times player appeared on the list.
Simple, right? Such sequence gave me an average NBA career length of 4.869 seasons for 3668 players.

But you’ve already knew that so let’s begin the fun part…

Here’s an average for all players who finished their career in any given year.

Season Ended
In
Average Career Length For So Many Players The Only Year Number of Teams Season Ended
In
Average Career Length For So Many Players The Only Year Number of Teams
1947 1.000 87 87 11 1979 4.553 47 10 22
1948 1.548 31 14 8 1980 4.323 62 18 22
1949 1.653 72 41 12 1981 3.855 55 26 23
1950 1.657 102 62 17 1982 4.525 59 13 23
1951 2.558 52 10 11 1983 5.000 59 15 23
1952 2.412 34 12 10 1984 5.041 49 11 23
1953 2.580 50 21 10 1985 4.978 45 11 23
1954 2.553 38 19 9 1986 5.203 59 15 23
1955 2.905 42 19 8 1987 4.691 55 16 23
1956 3.706 17 8 8 1988 4.679 56 17 23
1957 3.375 24 7 8 1989 4.315 54 21 25
1958 3.917 36 12 8 1990 4.783 60 20 27
1959 3.786 14 5 8 1991 6.241 54 9 27
1960 5.136 22 4 8 1992 5.636 55 12 27
1961 4.167 12 2 8 1993 5.328 61 12 27
1962 3.324 37 20 9 1994 4.852 61 17 27
1963 2.724 29 13 9 1995 6.051 59 12 27
1964 5.227 22 7 9 1996 4.649 57 19 29
1965 3.682 22 6 9 1997 5.658 73 15 29
1966 5.130 23 6 9 1998 5.790 62 12 29
1967 3.462 13 4 10 1999 5.887 71 16 29
1968 2.261 23 14 12 2000 6.696 69 12 29
1969 3.833 30 12 14 2001 7.75 72 13 29
1970 4.864 22 6 14 2002 7.900 60 8 29
1971 3.511 47 23 17 2003 6.403 67 14 29
1972 3.457 46 15 17 2004 7.474 57 8 29
1973 5.029 34 11 17 2005 6.629 89 14 30
1974 4.553 38 13 17 2006 5.500 72 20 30
1975 4.913 46 13 18 2007 5.197 71 20 30
1976 5.732 56 12 18 2008 6.985 67 12 30
1977 4.419 62 23 22 2009 6.057 70 9 30
1978 4.055 55 13 22 2010 6.070 71 10 30

… and as a graph…

So it is longer than it used to be… but the biggest rises occurred around the time when expansions happened so that’s probably just an effect of creating more jobs in the NBA.

Now that we have such basic information covered let’s dig in a bit deeper…

Here’s a historical distribution of career lengths [for those which ended before last season]…

Career Length
in Seasons
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Number of
such Careers
991 501 299 217 152 127 124 113 113 135 115
Career Length
in Seasons
12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22+
Number of
such Careers
92 87 56 40 20 15 9 5 1 2 0

Outliers are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis ;-)

Here’s a similar breakdown for those who played last season [obviously most of them can become longer]…

Career Length
in Seasons
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Number of
such Careers
67 49 50 38 32 37 34 38 20 21 17
Career Length
in Seasons
12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22+
Number of
such Careers
14 14 3 9 6 2 0 1 0 0 0

Outliers are Kidd, Juwan Howard and Shaq ;-)

Speaking of old players… here’s an average age of players who have just finished their careers in the NBA…

… and average age of those players who have just started…

Keep in mind that before 1976-77 season NBA added 4 new teams to the league and there were some 30 years old rookies… Also we can easily see the effect of recent draft age limit.

That was fun… but all above graphs and calculations counted every player equally…
even if he only got a try-out at the end of season and failed. Shouldn’t he be happy that he got a chance?
Should we even count that as a “career” or was it more a chance at one?

Well, let’s tweak the question a little bit…

What’s the average career length for NBA Players in various rotation roles?

Minimum of 41 games played in a career = 6.18 seasons.

Less than 12 minutes per game for a career = 2.01 seasons.
More than 12 minutes per game for a career but less than 20 = 5.01 seasons.
More than 20 minutes per game for a career but less than 25 = 7.59 seasons.
More than 25 minutes per game for a career but less than 30 = 9.21 seasons.
More than 30 minutes per game for a career = 10.88 seasons.
NBA All-Star at least once = 11.36 seasons.

So yeah, it’s not an one-dimensional question and it really depends on how good a player is perceived to be ;-)

BTW, dimension also matters… average careers for players with…
Height of 7 feet or more = 5.78 seasons.
Height from 6-7 to 6-11 = 5.43 seasons.
Height from 6-3 to 6-6 = 4.51 seasons.
Height 6-2 or below = 4.12 seasons.

P.S. If you are interested in an average career length for NBA Coaches and GMs click on the link ;-)

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49 Comments

Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Scrutiny

 

Tags: , , , ,

49 responses to “Average NBA Career Length for Players – Details

  1. Anonymous

    January 11, 2013 at 15:38

    BUTT FAce

     
  2. Anonymous

    April 26, 2013 at 20:34

    lies all lies

     
  3. the simpsons tapped out donuts hack

    November 27, 2013 at 22:37

    Wow, this post is nice, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things,
    therefore I am going to let know her.

     
  4. Rich

    January 15, 2014 at 13:11

    With all that said. What is the average NBA career for players (by class) who leave college early?

     
    • wiLQ

      January 15, 2014 at 20:27

      Interesting question but I don’t have this information available for all the players in NBA history. If you know where can I find it on one page let me know.

       
  5. Frank

    March 5, 2014 at 09:21

    Interesting stats, thanks for that :)

     
  6. Al Lopes

    July 21, 2014 at 18:41

    Very interesting data and, thanks. Is the data of recent vintage, such as, 2013? Can I correcting assume the average length of service time combining all players is 4.869 years? Finally, what interpretation should I give to the meaning of “Outliers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Kevin Willis” and “Outliers are Kidd, Juwan Howard and Shaq?” Again, thanks for all the work you put into this subject.

     
    • wiLQ

      July 22, 2014 at 18:29

      1) I won’t update this post for at least few more years because I don’t think much has changed since then.
      2) Yes, average is for all the players,
      3) I used term “outliers” to mention those players whose career lasted the longest so you’ll know those “1″ or “2″ cases at the end of table for “20″ and “21″ seasons played.

       

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