The rumors of Kevin Garnett's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
At age 36 and playing the fewest minutes since his rookie season, it's easy to look at Garnett's per-game averages of 14.7 points, seven rebounds and 2.3 assists and assume that he's slipping. To be fair, those numbers are underwhelming at face value.
But is it really that simple? And if KG is on the decline, has he fallen off enough for it to really matter?
A deeper look at the numbers reveals that Garnett might not be slipping at all.
If we adjust for slightly reduced playing time (he's logging about two fewer minutes per game than he did last year), it turns out that Garnett's scoring average has actually dipped.
By one-tenth of a point.
That's right, KG's per-40-minute scoring average has fallen from 20.2 to 20.1 since last year. What a disaster!
From an efficiency standpoint, Garnett has actually improved in a number of areas. According to Hoopdata.com, KG is knocking down shots from 10-15 feet at a 49 percent clip. He made just 40 percent last year. The story is the same from 3-9 feet, where his percentage has gone from 46.8 percent to 54.8 percent since last season. At the rim, he's up more than 11 percent.
You get the idea; Garnett is shooting slightly less often this season, but he's doing it more accurately than ever. So if you're looking for signs of decline, please search elsewhere.
Since joining the Boston Celtics in the 2007-08 season, Garnett has been almost single-handedly responsible for forging the team's identity as a gritty, disciplined defensive club. So any evidence of a decline on D would be bad news for Boston on two fronts.
First, it would have the biggest negative effect on the team as a whole. Garnett is Boston's defensive anchor, and GM Danny Ainge hasn't exactly surrounded him with a cadre of defensive stalwarts. If KG's defense were in decline, the Celtics would be in trouble.
Secondly, defensive slippage would be the clearest indicator that Garnett was on the downswing, because it's the area of the game that Garnett cares most about. If he couldn't find a way to defend, especially since his main focus is stopping the other team, it would signal that he really is starting to slip.
Fortunately for the Celtics and KG, his defense is still phenomenal.
According to 82games.com, Boston is more than 12 points per 100 possessions better on D when Garnett is on the floor.
A critical viewer of that stat could argue that it's inflated because the Celtics' backup bigs are so defensively inept that Garnett can't help but make the C's a little better when he's out there on defense. But if you take into account that Boston's defensive rating of 100.1 with KG on the floor would be good enough to rank seventh in the NBA, the argument that the figure is just a relative measurement falls apart.
And for what it's worth, Garnett only improved the Celtics defense by about two points per 100 possessions last year. If anything, he's getting better on D.
Intensity, Nastiness and Quotability
Numbers aside, Garnett is certainly in prime form when it comes to his intangibles. The guy still barrels into the stands with reckless abandon.
And he's still not afraid to lower the boom on unfortunate souls like the Indiana Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough when he feels he needs to send a message to teammates and opponents, alike.
Best of all, Garnett is still chock-full of terrific—if slightly creepy—sound bites like the one he offered up after his flagrant foul on Jan. 4:
Actual Kevin Garnett quote: "This game was not some type of foreplay."— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) January 5, 2013
Even though KG's per-game stats are down, he's still immensely popular among fans.
Only close race in East: Bosh (362,973) at fourth, behind Garnett (390,751) for final frontcourt slot.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeckNYT) January 3, 2013
That's got to count for something, right?
The Final Analysis
In the end, the best evidence of Kevin Garnett's decline might be the limited minutes he's playing this year. There's definitely something to be said for players who can be productive over larger samples of time on the court.
But reduced minutes and advanced age go hand in hand. Just ask Tim Duncan.
If we just look at what Garnett does when he's on the court, there's a very persuasive argument that he's at least as good as he's been over the last five or six years. The MVP from the Minnesota Timberwolves is long gone, but the ultra intense defensive stopper that joined the Celtics a few years ago is playing as well as ever.
*All stats accurate through games played Jan. 6, 2013.