The future has arrived for the NBA's young stars

Never before has an NBA postseason marked such a collective changing of the guard.

Sure, there have been spring runs that announced the arrival of a singular talent or a team of the future, but has a group of young stars around the league ever snatched the torch from their elders like this?

With the Lakers and Suns joining the Warriors on the sidelines, this marks the first time since 2005 that none of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Steph Curry will participate in the second round. It’s also just the second postseason in the last 15 years that won’t feature James or the Warriors in the conference finals.

With Kawhi Leonard once again in and out of the Clippers’ lineup, 34-year-old co-star Paul George appeared to age a decade during L.A.’s first-round series against Luka Doncic’s Mavericks.

In the East, Jimmy Butler – who had become almost inevitable this time of year – missed the entirety of the Heat’s five-game loss to Boston with a knee injury. Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brunson are squarely in their primes, but at 26 and 27, respectively, the Celtics and Knicks stars might as well be geriatrics.

At this point, 29-year-old Nikola Jokic and his defending champion Nuggets represent the old guard, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Thunder and Anthony Edwards’ Timberwolves posing the biggest threats to Denver’s Western crown. Doncic’s Mavs lurk close behind.

David Berding / Getty Images

Gilgeous-Alexander, 25, and Oklahoma City made quick work of the eighth-seeded Pelicans. The youngest 1-seed ever is now the youngest series winner.

At 22, Edwards has been the stabilizing force his veteran teammates needed, leading Minnesota to heights the franchise hasn’t reached in two decades. The brash and explosive star danced on the Suns’ grave during their first-round matchup, but his play has been much more than highlights and bluster. The progress Edwards has made as a playmaker, with the ability to process and dissect opposing defenses in real time, often requires years of experience and postseason failure to attain. The fact he’s acquired such knowledge so rapidly should terrify rivals.

As for Doncic, the 25-year-old should receive his fifth All-NBA first-team selection in the coming weeks, nudging him ahead of legends like Curry, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, David Robinson, Moses Malone, and John Havlicek (who all made it four times). It will also move Doncic into a tie with players including Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, and Jason Kidd, who accumulated their five first-team honors over lengthy Hall of Fame careers. Doncic will have matched them in six seasons.

Doncic and Edwards enter the second round of the playoffs with career postseason scoring averages that rank second and sixth all time.

In the shadow of these bigger stars (and tucked away on NBA TV), 21-year-old Paolo Banchero is averaging 25 points per game in his first taste of playoff action. Banchero’s efforts in a grinding series against the heavily favored Cavaliers have the Magic one win away from the franchise’s first series victory since 2010. In Friday’s Game 6 victory over Cleveland, Banchero, Franz Wagner, and Jalen Suggs became the third trio in history aged 22 or younger to each score 20 points in a playoff game.

Should Ja Morant lead a healthier Memphis squad back to the playoffs a year from now, the 24-year-old will find he’s somehow become the grizzled vet among the Association’s crop of young stars. And by then, Victor Wembanyama’s Spurs and the young Rockets could also be ready to join the postseason’s new all-ages party.

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

This youth movement can be as sobering as it is invigorating. When Durant doesn’t have the legs to keep up with Rudy Gobert on a “fast” break, or when Jamal Murray does his best LeBron impression by rolling his shoulders after posterizing King James himself, it’s as if Father Time is bashing us over the head.

Even while players like James and Durant continue to defy the laws of aging and sustain their astonishing production, these moments are a reminder that time comes for all of us, whizzing by like a traveling Gobert in transition.

What’s transpired this spring – with James, Durant, and Curry left to watch the remainder of the playoffs from their couches – feels like a rarity. It will soon be the norm. Welcome to the future.

Joseph Casciaro is theScore’s senior content producer.