How Old Is Too Old in Today's NBA?

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How Old Is Too Old in Today's NBA?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Are teams like the Lakers, that bank on aging players, going to have enough in the tank to win in the playoffs?

As medical science advances and training methods evolve, we see more and more athletes compete at a high level for longer—and at a more advanced age—than was once possible.

This phenomenon also goes for the NBA.

In fact, a number of teams have banked on it and built rosters with aging players. But is there a point where even science and training can't overcome Father Time?

In order to find out, I studied the roster of every NBA championship team since the millennium. I looked at the top five contributors on each one (in terms of total minutes played during the postseason) to determine if there's a trend among the most successful squads and the age of their players.

Then, the data was organized into a table. Here's what I came up with:

Year-Team

Average Age of Top 5 Contributors (Minutes Played in Postseason)

2011-12, Miami Heat

29.2

2010-11, Dallas Mavericks

32.4

2009-10, Los Angeles Lakers

31.0

2008-09, Los Angeles Lakers

28.8

2007-08, Boston Celtics

27.4

2006-07, San Antonio Spurs

30.2

2005-06, Miami Heat

28.2

2004-05, San Antonio Spurs

28.8

2003-04, Detroit Pistons

26.6

2002-03, San Antonio Spurs

25.2

2001-02, Los Angeles Lakers

28.4

2000-01, Los Angeles Lakers

28.4

1999-00, Los Angeles Lakers

29.0

(Data was collected from Basketball-Reference.com)

Overall average: 28.7

As you can see, there are variances in the data. Some teams, like the 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs and the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, were able to win a championship with a roster comprised of relatively youthful pieces.

The 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, were able to accomplish that same feat with a roster largely made up of players past their physical primes.

Despite that, one trend that showed up repeatedly was that championship teams tended to be built around players in their 20s. In fact, of the 13 teams examined, only three had a mean of 30 or above, with the 2010-11 Mavericks having the highest at 32.4.

USA TODAY Sports
Dirk's Mavs team from 2010-11 is the oldest to win in recent memory.

Because of outliers like the Dallas Mavericks, 2009-10 Lakers and 2006-07 Spurs, we can't definitively conclude that teams relying on aging players won't win a championship. However, it's not likely.

For example, what's happened to those teams since? The Spurs have been an elite regular-season team for years, yet they've struggled to turn that into ultimate success in the postseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers, despite their talent, are struggling to just make the playoffs. Surely, a lack of chemistry is causing a lot of their issues. But those chemistry problems are related to this year's team, which doesn't explain their inability to win a championship in the two previous campaigns.

The Mavericks struggled to make the playoffs last season before exiting in the first round. They're unlikely to qualify this year. Granted, Dallas has had a lot of roster turnover since it won that title, but it's hard to ignore how far its regressed.

The same can be said for other aging teams. In fact, here's another table with four playoff contenders from this season that overly rely on veterans. Also included are the aforementioned Spurs and Lakers.

2012-13 Team

Average Age of Top 5 Contributors (Minutes Played in Regular Season So Far)

Los Angeles Lakers

32.8

New York Knicks

30.4

San Antonio Spurs

29.8

Boston Celtics

31.8

Of those four, only the Lakers have a roster comprised of older players than any other team on the previous table...the championship table. Yet recent history would indicate that none of them are likely to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy come June.

The Spurs may have the best chance, because they're actually the youngest of the four and have had the most success this season. But despite their youthful role players, they still rely on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to do most of the heavy lifting (when healthy).

The Knicks' average age is somewhat skewed by the presence of Jason Kidd. J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler aren't that old. Yet having a player with as many miles on his odometer as Kidd has may come back to haunt the team. Even if he keeps coming off the bench like he's been doing of late, he's still averaging 31.1 minutes in that role.

Boston, for its part, was unable to get past Miami last season. The Celtics are now a year older and they're without Rajon Rondo for the stretch run. It's hard to envision a scenario where an even older C's squad can top the team that knocked them out of last year's Eastern Conference Finals.

So it may be clever to adopt a nickname like "Vino," as Kobe Bryant has done, because he seemingly gets better with age. But relying on a team full of geriatric players is a dicey proposition.

You can have your cagey veterans and everything that comes with them. Because, as these teams will stubbornly discover this postseason, no amount of ice baths, dieting, stretching or revolutionary medical treatments can overcome Father Time.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @SimRisso

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