Tim Duncan and the NBA's Top 10 Players over 35

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IJuly 11, 2012

Tim Duncan and the NBA's Top 10 Players over 35

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    The average lifespan of an NBA career is 4.8 years, a fascinating statistic when you consider the growing number of quality role players, starters and superstars who are playing well past the age of 35, and in some cases, knocking on the door of 40.

    There's no question that the NBA has evolved into a young man's game, built around speed, athleticism and an ability to play multiple positions. And yet there still is a place for the veteran who brings leadership, poise and developed skills—something you can't always count on from younger players with raw talent.

    Just look at the four teams that made it to the NBA semifinals this year: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami and Boston. Three of the four had 35-something players on their roster with the exception of Miami, who had five over 30 including two of their key perimeter shooters (Shane Battier, 33, and Mike Miller, 32).

    Soon after winning their second world championship, Miami joined the over-35 club when they signed former Celtic Ray Allen to a three-year contract this month. They are counting on the league's all-time leading three-point scorer to be their main long-distance threat this fall.

    More and more teams are acquiring players 35 and older because they're still relevant and often will sign for less money in order to compete for a title.

    Let's look at 10 from the "over-the-hill gang" who are and will be valuable components for their respective teams this coming season. 

    Meet the top 10 "35-and-over club."

    Note: This ranking judges players' entire careers.

10. Raja Bell: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Raja Bell, 35, had a difficult season with the Utah Jazz, seeing his minutes shrink to 23 and his scoring average to just 6.4.

    But, now as a free agent, Bell is determined to finish his career on a high note as he seeks a championship and may sign with either the Lakers or the Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. He resides in Miami and also has a good relationship with former Suns teammate Steve Nash, now a member of the Lakers.

    What either team could expect if Bell signs with them is immediate help off the bench in the form of excellent outside shooting and tenacious, in-your-face defense. Just ask Kobe Bryant about the latter. The two of them have traded glares and words over the years during their on-the-court skirmishes between the Lakers and Suns.

    Raja Bell came into the league in 2000 with Philadelphia, but it wasn't until 2003 with Utah that his game started to blossom. He's always been a great outside shooter. Bell has a career mark of 41 percent from beyond the three-point line.

    With Phoenix from 2005-09, Bell saw his playing time increase as a starting shooting guard opposite Steve Nash. He averaged 14.7 points in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, as the Suns became one of the league's elite playoff teams.

9. Marcus Camby: New York Knicks

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    Now 38, the 6'11" Camby has been a mainstay and defensive specialist in the NBA since being drafted second overall by Toronto back in 1996.

    Camby was traded this week from Houston back to the New York Knicks, with whom he played from 1998-2002 and was a fan favorite. He becomes the backup center to Tyson Chandler and will see 15-20 minutes of action per game.

    Still very active, Camby makes the most of his minutes on the floor. Over the course of his 16-year career, Camby averages 10 rebounds per 30 minutes on the court and 2.4 blocks. 

    Camby will add a spark off the bench and be a nice complement to Chandler, who won the league's defensive player of the year award last season.

    Marcus Camby is still valuable enough for the Knicks to give up three players and two second-round draft picks in order to get him.

8. Antawn Jamison: Unrestricted Free Agent

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    Antawn Jamison is thinking about where he wants to finish his career and is in the nice position, at age 36, of being able to pick from among a handful of suitors.

    Drafted fourth overall in 1998 by Toronto (and traded to Golden State), the 6'9" power forward has been a reliable scorer since coming into the league from the University of North Carolina.

    Over 14 years and with four different teams (Golden State, Dallas, Washington, Cleveland) Jamison has averaged 19.5 points on 45 percent shooting (35 percent from three-point range) and pulled down eight rebounds in 36 minutes.

    Jamison was quite productive this past season with Cleveland, averaging 17 points in 33 minutes for the Cavs, though his shooting percentage dipped to 40 percent.

    Jamison is thought to be leaning toward signing with his hometown Charlotte Bobcats or possibly the Warriors where he first played and is good friends with the team's general manager and his former agent, Bob Myers.

7. Chauncey Billups: Los Angeles Clippers

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    Chauncey Billups knows about winning and is still considered one of the game's best pressure players.

    Now 35 (he turns 36 in September), Billups was paired alongside Chris Paul with the Clippers this past season and well on his way to helping the team advance deep into the playoffs before an injury took him out for the season after just 20 games.

    Billups is healthy and has re-signed with Los Angeles. He will team with Paul and Blake Griffin, who also re-signed for about $95 million over five years.

    The 6'3" Billups is a career 38 percent shooter from three-point range, and that's where he's most effective. He can play point and shooting guard and sports a 5.5 assists per game average for his 15 years in the league. 

    Billups is durable, averaging 30 minutes per game.

    A former No. 1 pick of the Boston Celtics (they gave up on him after just one season), Billups is a legitimate leader and champion, having led the Detroit Pistons to two NBA Finals, including a world title in 2004. 

    He was the Finals MVP that year and earned the nickname "Mr. Big Shot" for his pressure-cooker outside shooting.

6. Jason Kidd: New York Knicks

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    None other than world champion LeBron James may have said it best when asked about Jason Kidd, 39, going to the New York Knicks this week as their backup point guard.

    Talking with New York Post writer Mark Berman, James said:

    It can’t hurt them. J-Kidd is a champion. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer when he decides to hang it up. He’s going to help them a lot. His mind, the reason he’s been able to play so long is because he can think the game better than a lot of guys who are faster than him and have more athleticism.  He’s great for the game. I love him. I always looked up to him. He’s going to be really good for that team.

    Jason Kidd has been an NBA elite point guard since 1994 when the Dallas Mavericks drafted him second overall. He had two stints with Dallas and also has seen action with Phoenix and New Jersey over a storied career.

    Kidd is second all time in assists with 11,842, trailing only the great John Stockton. After averaging eight assists in 33 minutes to help lead Dallas to its first world title in 2011, Kidd's numbers dropped last season to 5.5 assists, 6.2 points and 28.7 minutes.

    If the Knicks match the offer sheet point guard Jeremy Lin just received from Houston—and there is no reason to think they won't—Kidd will be a tremendous mentor.

5. Andre Miller: Denver Nuggets

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    Known for his sharp passing skills and ability to attack the basket, Andre Miller is still playing a pivotal role at age 36 for the Denver Nuggets.

    Miller is a 14-point, seven-assist, 34-minutes-per-game workhorse of a point guard who can post up and get around players standing much taller than his 6'2" frame.

    Last year, Miller averaged 6.7 assists for the Nuggets who took the Lakers to seven games in their first-round postseason matchup and were that close to knocking L.A. out of the playoffs.  Miller re-signed with Denver on Wednesday for three more years.

    In an article by Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post outlining the details of the Miller deal, here's insight from inside the Nuggets' camp:

    "Andre was great for our team and our young guys last season," Nuggets executive Masai Ujiri said in a statement. "Our players and coaches were excited when they heard he was coming back. He provides leadership and consistency and he really fits perfectly in our system. We're very happy to keep him in Denver."

    Miller came into the league in 1999 with Cleveland as a first-round pick from Utah. He went on to play with the Cavs, Clippers, Sixers, Trail Blazers and Denver twice. 

    He could easily play till 40 if he stays healthy.

4. Kevin Garnett: Boston Celtics

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    A 1995 first-round pick out of high school by Minnesota, the 36-year-old Kevin Garnett remains one of the league's fiercest competitors. He recently re-signed for another three years with the Celtics after initially considering retirement.

    Garnett's new deal is for a reported $34 million over three years.

    Everyone's skills diminish to a degree over time, and Garnett has logged a lot of minutes. But, he can still shoot from the wing and pass with the best of the big men. 

    Garnett may have lost teammate Ray Allen to Miami, but he still has Paul Pierce and point guard Rajon Rondo plus a strong nucleus of younger talent that could propel Boston back into the playoff picture again after just falling short against the Heat this spring.

    "The Big Ticket" averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in 2011-12, numbers not that far off his 17-year average of 19 and 50 percent.

    After spending the first 12 years of his illustrious career with Minnesota, Garnett was traded in 2007 to the Celtics for seven players, cash and draft picks. The 7-for-1 deal is the single largest number of players traded for one player in league history.

3. Ray Allen: Miami Heat

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    Ray Allen combines grace, shooting ability and an uncanny knack for finding an open spot on the floor to make him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in league history.

    And he's not done yet.

    According to ESPN, Allen has signed a new three-year contract with the world champion Miami Heat, taking his tremendous talents to South Beach, and in the process, taking the collective air out of Celtic fans everywhere. 

    It was a blow to the stomach they will not soon forget as Allen took less money to go play for the "enemy" over staying with Boston which offered more.

    Speaking with Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald this week, Allen expressed sadness over leaving the Celtics but felt it was the right decision. At age 37 (on July 20), Allen moves from a former champion to the reigning kings of the court in Miami who will utilize his offensive skills most likely as a small forward playing alongside LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

    A career 40 percent shooter from three-point range who averaged 45 and 44 percent respectively in 2011 and 2010, Allen is in tremendous shape and able to go 34-35 minutes a night as he did this past season.

    Ray Allen signing with Miami is a major coup for Pat Riley and company. He has already proven he can be the second or third option in an offense; his goal is to win championships, not scoring titles. And yet, he'll probably average 14-16 points a game with the Heat, and that alone should worry the rest of the league.

2. Steve Nash: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Veteran point guard Steve Nash is like the Energizer Bunny—he just keeps on ticking. And starting this fall, he'll be ticking and shooting and passing for his new team—the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    Despite a chronic back condition called spondylolisthesis that forces Nash to lay on his back when not in the game to keep his muscles from tightening, he remains one of the NBA's elite point guards at age 38.

    Nash and Kobe Bryant entered the NBA the same year (1996) and have been battling each other for 16 years.

    Now, the two are teammates in what many pundits see as this year's odd couple in the NBA. Yet, the two legendary guards have something in common—they both are fierce competitors who, at this stage, only care about winning championships.  For Kobe, it's No. 6 he's after; for Nash, the next one will be his first.

    Nash may not be as fast and strong as the younger Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but he certainly deserves to still be in the conversation. This is a guy who has led the NBA in total assists seven of the last eight years and has a lifetime mark (8.6 per game) that's more than any player on the Lakers has had since Bryant has been in the league.

    Steve Nash will give the Lakers 30 minutes of floor leadership they haven't seen in a long time, probably since Magic Johnson roamed the hardwood over 20 years ago. He may also be the catalyst that gets L.A. back to the NBA Finals.

1. Tim Duncan: San Antonio Spurs

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    Tim Duncan has played for the same team since coming out of college in 1997 as the No. 1 overall pick of the San Antonio Spurs. He's perhaps the greatest power forward to have ever played the game, and at age 36, just signed another three-year contract, according to ESPN.

    Duncan is Mr. Reliable—nothing fancy about him, only that he can score, rebound, run the floor, play defense, and most of all, help you win championships.

    The Spurs built a dynasty around Duncan and have won four titles in his 15 years with the team. He was voted MVP in each of his first three trips to the finals, joining Michael Jordan as the only two players in history to achieve that feat.

    Though his minutes decreased last season to 28.2 per game, Duncan still averaged 15.4 points on 49 percent shooting plus nine rebounds per contest. The Spurs had the best record in the NBA last year and made it all the way to the Western Conference finals where they led Oklahoma City 2-0 before losing four straight and getting knocked from the playoffs.

    With Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all back next season, the Spurs will contend again. Gregg Popovich is the smartest coach in the NBA and knows how and when to rest his veterans—that bodes well for Duncan over the next couple of seasons.

    Tim Duncan is a "Spur for Life."  And still one of the top power forwards in the game. That goes without saying.