5 of the NBA's Most Valuable Veterans
In the NBA, teams often emphasizing adding youthful talent to keep their roster energetic throughout the long 82-game season.
However, no matter how young and talented a team is, they are usually incapable of reaching the upper echelon of the league without significant contributions from some veteran players.
Veterans use their experience in the league to take younger players under their wing and also to help solidify the unity of the team, something that is necessary to the higher levels of success in the NBA.
Depending on how you classify it, NBA veterans could have varying levels of experience, but for the sake of this list, I will only rank players who have notched at least 10 full seasons.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the top five veterans currently playing in the NBA.
5. Zach Randolph: PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies
This list starts with a bit of a sleeper pick in Zach Randolph, who has quietly been one of the driving forces behind the hot start to the season for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Z-Bo, as he is affectionately known, went from his troublesome, bad-boy image as a Portland Trail Blazer and transitioned into a more lovable, hardworking, blue-collar type of big man that hits the glass hard and has a nice shooting touch to add to the offense.
Randolph missed a good portion of last season (playing just 28 of the 66 games), but has showed that he is still capable of posting around his usual double-double averages in points and rebounds. So in his 11th season, he is averaging 16.7 points and 13.8 rebounds per contest to go with a nice 18.97 PER.
Outside of just the numbers, Randolph has helped the fairly young Grizzlies team grow over the past few seasons and mature into what looks to be a serious threat in the Western Conference. His toughness and contagious passion has really given his team life and could propel them further than anyone expected them to go this season.
4. Kevin Garnett: PF/C, Boston Celtics
Even before he was an NBA champion as a member of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett was tearing up the league with the Minnesota Timberwolves and had big numbers to back up his intimidating style of play.
Garnett, in his tenure with Minnesota, was a double-double machine who racked up an impressive enough season in 2004 to take home his first and only MVP award. In addition to his offensive accomplishments, Garnett is equally, if not more, known for his defensive contributions and was recognized as the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Presently, Garnett is currently in his sixth season with the Celtics and in his 18th season in the NBA. Though his numbers aren't quite as astounding as they were during his time in Minnesota, Garnett is still considered to be one of the best on-court and off-court leaders in the league. His aggressive, but not out-of-control play style mirrors his overall attitude and has consistently kept the Celtics among the top teams in the East during his time in Boston.
Garnett is a very vocal player who isn't afraid to talk some trash on the court, as well as get on his teammates' cases when he feels it is necessary. This has made the Celtics a tougher team and has helped with the development for Boston's younger players, with the most notable case being point guard, Rajon Rondo who has become one of the best players at his position.
Though he gets under the skin of a lot of guys in the league, the respect for Garnett remains, as he is revered as one of the best big men of this generation. If he can continue to add to his legacy with more accolades and possibly another championship, Garnett could solidify his Hall of Fame credibility whenever he decides to call it quits.
3. Jason Kidd: PG, New York Knicks
Coming to play in the spotlight for a big-market team like the New York Knicks can make some players a nervous wreck, but not Jason Kidd.
That's the kind of peace a player feels when he has earned the respect of the league with his 10 All-Star appearances, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA championship ring, and being the all-time assists leader among active players.
It's not all about the numbers and accolades for Kidd, who is now currently in his 19th NBA season. He is also a floor general on the court, who uses his leadership to take his teams to new heights. Kidd's savvy play as a point guard and great passing ability make him a valuable player and, more importantly, make the players around him better.
For the Knicks this season, they have benefited from his veteran presence, especially in the absence of their superstar forward, Amar'e Stoudemire. Though New York has been using Kidd as a shooting guard this year as opposed to his true point guard position, he has still been able to pitch in with 7.9 points, a 20.70 PER and a league-leading 4.8 assist/turnover ratio.
New York has gotten off to a great start in their 2012-2013 campaign, and have emerged as one of the biggest threats to dethrone the reigning NBA and Eastern Conference Champion, Miami Heat. If Kidd and his other veteran teammates can keep up this level of play, there's reason to believe it could be a special season for the Knicks.
2. Tim Duncan: PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
He may not be the most exciting or intriguing player to watch on the court, but there's no doubt that Tim Duncan will go down as one of the best players of his generation.
There haven't been a lot of power forwards whose careers can match up to or exceed Duncan's, but he has remained a quiet superstar, piling up championships (4) and MVP awards (3).
While there are guys like Kevin Garnett, who are much more aggressive in their leadership ways, Duncan has been a leader in his own right by putting his head down and playing hard, not getting too caught up in his emotions on the court.
His recent numbers aren't the standard 20 points and 10+ rebounds that he's been known to post, but he remains the most respected player in the San Antonio Spurs locker room. Even with David Robinson, one of the best centers of all time, as his teammate, Duncan managed to emerge as the Spurs best player and won two of his three NBA Finals MVP awards with Robinson still on the roster in 1999 and 2003.
In the past few seasons, there was repeated speculation about Duncan and the Spurs breaking down from old age and finally slipping to the middle or lower part of the standings. This has not proved to be the case, however, and the Spurs remain a contending threat in the Western Conference, even with a 36-year-old Tim Duncan leading the way.
1. Kobe Bryant: SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect what Kobe Bryant has done in his NBA career and what he continues to do even as time begins to catch up with him.
Though Bryant is just 34 years old, he is already in his 17th NBA season, all of which he has played for the Los Angeles Lakers. In his career, he has risen out of the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal to emerge as the Lakers' franchise centerpiece and has made his name as one of the best basketball players in the world.
Kobe's numerous accolades speak for themselves: five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, two Olympic gold medals, one MVP award in 2008, and three-time All-Star Game MVPs to go with his 14 All-Star selections. He also boasts career averages of 25.4 points, 4.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and two scoring titles under his belt. Speaking of scoring, Bryant also has the record of second-most points scored in a game when he dropped an astonishing 81 points on the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
Even outside of his stats and trophies, Kobe remains one of the most feared and respected players to step on the hardwood. Not since the days of a certain number 23 have we seen a player with this much competitive fire and drive to be the very best in the league. I'm not trying to start a Jordan vs. Kobe argument here, but the two do bear many similar qualities that have made them some of the best players to ever pick up a basketball.
The years may be numbered for Kobe, but he continues to battle against the wear and tear, constantly playing through numerous injuries. His leadership is also unquestioned, even on a Lakers team filled with other superstars like Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Kobe was quoted earlier this year, basically stating that he remained the alpha dog for the Lakers, showing that he was not intimidated by all the star power his team had acquired.
No real time frame has been set for Bryant in terms of calling it quits, but there's a part of me that believes he'll be playing basketball until he is physically incapacitated. Until then, he will continue to build his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of our time and possibly all time.