To round out the season, the Lakers have just signed 32-year old rookie Andre Ingram. Ingram hardly fits the profile of a future NBA player. He has played in the NBDL/D-League/G-League since 2007-08 and never scored more than 13.0 ppg in that role. He is a great shooter (.464% from three in his G-League career and .475% this year). It would be nice if Ingram could parlay this cameo into an actual NBA gig next year but it doesn’t seem likely. What interested me more, though, was where Ingram fit in the history of older NBA rookies.
Thanks to Basketball-Reference.com, we did a search of all rookies who were over 30 at the time that their rookie seasons began. There have been 16 such players so far and, of the group, they mostly are foreign players who took a shot at the NBA late in their careers. In fact, all of the oldest rookies (age 31 or older at the start of the season they debuted) so far, are recent foreign pros who excelled in Europe. Here are the rookies who were over the age 31 at the start of their rookie seasons:
–Pablo Prigioni, age 35, 2012-13: Sort of a historic outlier as, by far, the older NBA rookie ever. He was able to squeeze out a fairly solid four-year career in the NBA despite his age. It seemed silly that a team would try to fill backup point with such a low ceiling player but he was decent (and he made $5.8 million in the process).
-Marcelo Huertas, age 32, 2015-16: The Lakers tried a similar strategy with Huertas but he yielded much weaker results at point guard than Pablo.
-Arvydas Sabonis, age 31, 1995-96: The gold standard of Euros coming to America late and still having a great career as high efficiency center. We all are left to wonder what he would’ve done for Portland if he came over when Clyde Drexler was at his peak.
-Pero Antic, age 31, 2013-14: The big man looked really tough and could bang a little but was very limited offensively. His most memorable moment was getting beat up by NYPD with Thabo Sefolosha.
-Antoine Rigaudeau, age 31, 2002-03: The Mavs took a flier on Rigaudeau (a French pro) and gave him a three-year deal. An interesting idea but he played terribly, putting up an astounding -2.4 PER before he was traded and cut shortly thereafter. According to the Dallas Observer in 2003, “[Rigaudeau] reminded us a lot of the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, only with a lot less talent. Rigaudeau appeared in 11 games and averaged 1.5 points. Better yet, in one game, he drove the baseline only to air-ball a layup, prompting color commentator Bob Ortegel to quip: ‘That’s the best play he’s made as a Maverick.’”
So, Ingram will easily be the oldest American rookie in the NBA. Before Ingram, there were seven rookies who debuted at age-30. Here they are:
–Dean Garrett, 1996-97: The only American rookie who had a significant career in the NBA. Garrett had played on the famous 1986-87 Indiana NCAA title team. The Suns drafted him in the second round in 1988 but, as an undersized center, he didn’t make the team. After spending nearly a decade in Europe, the Timberwolves signed him for the 1996-97 season and he had a very nice season (8.0 ppg, .574 FG%, 7.3 rpg in 24.5 MPG, 17.7 PER). Garrett was able to use that nice season to get a four-year, $12 million deal in free agency from Denver. Garrett’s defense was still strong but 1996-97 proved to be an offensive outlier. He shot a putrid .428% in 1997-98 and Denver dealt him back to Minnesota, where he played a few more years as a defensive specialist.
-Ben Handlogten, 2003-04: A regular in Europe who impressed Jerry Sloan enough to make the opening day roster. He was playing fairly well but blew out his ACL in December 2003. Utah brought him back for 2004-05 but he was markedly less effective and his NBA career ended.
-Jim Grandholm, 1990-91: Spent his one NBA season as a seven-footer on a terrible Mavs team and his rate stats were actually adequate. Grandholm went back to Europe after the season.
-Barry Stevens, 1992-93: Played with Jeff Hornacek in the backcourt at Iowa State. He played six minutes and two games at guard for the Warriors before returning to the minors.
-Horace Jenkins, 2004-05: Played 104 minutes for Detroit at backup point out of small William Paterson University.
-Darryl Johnson, 1995-96: Another small point guard. He had played at Michigan State and the Cavs signed him when they were hit with injuries. He played only 28 minutes in 11 games. As of 2011, he was working in the funeral business.
-Tom Scheffler, 1984-85: Scheffler was a big banger who played at Purdue. Portland signed him after Scheffler made a name in Europe. Scheffler played 39 games and 268 minutes and really struggled scoring (7 points per 36 minutes, .412 FG%, 6.9 PER). His much younger brother Steve also played at Purdue and had an NBA career from 1990 to 1997 as a limited banger (he was a George Karl favorite).