The NBA's 5 Youngest and Oldest Teams

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIJanuary 26, 2013

The NBA's 5 Youngest and Oldest Teams

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    To many people, there are two ways to win in the modern NBA. Either a team can exploit their youth and try to wear down an opponent by speeding up the game, or they can rely on savvy, veteran talent that might not make jaw-dropping plays but knows what to do when a game is on the line.

    Beyond just their style of basketball, the collective age of a team has an impact on how they carry themselves, their cohesiveness and how much upside they have going forward.

    These two styles of play have been evident in the 2012-13 season.

    Young squads like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder love to force the issue and get opponents backpedaling to make them pay in the open court, while clubs like the New York Knicks are more about working the ball in the half court and playing a grind-it-out style of basketball.

    Now, let us take a look at the five youngest and oldest teams in the NBA and see how they have been performing thus far.

    Statistics accurate as of Jan. 24, 2013. Ages courtesy of HispanosNBA.com.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Average Age: 24.8

    Now this one is scary. The Oklahoma City Thunder have raced out to the NBA's best record at 34-10 and are using their fast-paced offense to rip through opposing defenses. They also boast two of the league's top players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    They are also one of the youngest teams in the league and will be hanging around the top of their conference for years to come.

    The Thunder have not missed a beat since they dealt James Harden; their offense ranks first in the league, averaging 105.9 points per game.

    Oklahoma City allows a good amount of points because of the pace it plays at, but it still manages to hold opponents to 43 percent shooting from the floor. The Thunder play strong team defense and have a dynamic shot-blocker in Serge Ibaka who can intimidate opposing guards and keep them from driving to the hoop.

    What has this team humming along, though, is the brilliant play of Durant, who has gone from being an elite scorer to a LeBron James-style all-around threat. His individual defense has improved, he has spent more time in the point-forward role and continues to light up defenses with his well-rounded offensive game.

    With Westbrook thriving as an athletic, attacking guard, and Kevin Martin fitting seamlessly in as the squad's sixth man, this Thunder team should be considered the favorites to win the Western Conference and play once more for the franchise's first championship.

4. Denver Nuggets

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    Average Age: 24.7

    The Denver Nuggets survived a brutal early-season schedule and are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. The team boasts as much young talent as any club in the league and plays a brand of up-tempo transition basketball that perfectly suits their roster. 

    The team ranks fourth in the league in points per game at 103.2 and has moved the ball beautifully, posting 23.5 assists per game, good for third in the league. They have a number of players who can handle the ball, and their offense relies on movement and running the floor to create open looks at the rim.

    Point guard Ty Lawson shook off a slow start to his year and has looked every bit the franchise point guard Denver needs. Lawson has blazing speed and can penetrate the lane as well as any one in the NBA.

    Andre Iguodala has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Nuggets, locking down on defense, attacking the rack and acting as a second ball-handler in crunch time to boot.

    JaVale McGee has been predictably inconsistent (thanks to his playing time), and Danilo Gallinari's shot has come and gone, but this a very deep, dangerous squad that has the talent to beat any team on any given night.

    They may not rise higher than a fifth or sixth seed, but they are the kind of team no one wants to play in the postseason. If a few of Denver's role players can string together a strong stretch of games, the Nuggets could easily upset any team in the conference.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Average Age: 24.5

    Guided by the steady, veteran hand of Luke Walton, the Cleveland Cavaliers appear poised for a run to the NBA Finals. Just kidding.

    Injuries derailed what could have been a promising Cavaliers season, as Kyrie Irving missed time, and Anderson Varejao is now ruled out for the remainder of the campaign. 

    At 13-32, the team has not exactly been winning, but Irving has looked brilliant in his second year running the point for the Cavs. Rookie Dion Waiters has surprised many with his ability to create offense for others, although he has been far from efficient from the floor.

    What has hurt Cleveland has been its defense, which ranks 24th in the league in points allowed per game at 100.4. The team is also allowing teams to shoot a blistering 47.1 percent from the floor and have great difficulty putting any pressure on opponents, both on the perimeter and in the paint.

    This Cavaliers team is still a few pieces away from being a playoff contender, but they have some players on the roster that should be mainstays for the future.

    If the team can add a third scoring option to complement Irving and Waiters and a big man that can crash the glass and protect the paint (particularly if the Cavs deal Varejao), they could be back in the postseason conversation for the first time since the LeBron James era in 2013-14.

2. New Orleans Hornets

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    Average Age: 24

    The New Orleans Hornets were viewed by some as a dark-horse playoff contender heading into the 2012-13 campaign, but the extended absences of Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis due to health issues derailed that early on. 

    Now, with Gordon back, the team is actually playing some very solid basketball and looks like a team to watch going forward.

    In 2011-12, New Orleans' front office made a conscious decision to turn the keys of the franchise over to its young players, trading Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack while giving huge roles to Greivis Vasquez, Austin Rivers and Al-Farouq Aminu.

    The team has had some difficulty scoring the ball, ranking 26th in the NBA with 93.5 points per game. The Hornets rely a bit too much on half-court sets; considering their youth, they should be getting more easy transition baskets when they are available. 

    Despite their underwhelming 2012-13 season, New Orleans has some solid young pieces in place. Gordon, when healthy, is an All-Star-caliber shooting guard, while Vasquez has proven to be a gifted facilitator and a capable scorer.

    Davis and Ryan Anderson could be the team's frontcourt of the future if Davis bulks up and proves capable of guarding the league's more physical centers.

1. Houston Rockets

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    Average Age: 23.7

    The Houston Rockets have been slumping recently, but the 22-22 team has plenty of talent and a bright future. With talented youngsters James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the wings, the team can score as well as anyone in the NBA.

    The team is second in the league, putting up 104.2 points per game. While they struggle at times to stop opponents, their high-octane offense means they are never out of a game. 

    Unfortunately, there is not much experience on the roster, and that can lead to careless play. Houston is first in the NBA with 16.7 turnovers per game, and for as brilliant as Harden has been, he and Jeremy Lin turn it over at a very high clip.

    There is no reason why the Rockets shouldn't be a playoff team in this tough Western Conference. However, the team has very little postseason experience, and that will hurt them down the stretch.

    They may not have much success in 2012-13, but the Houston Rockets are poised for a great run in the future.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    Average Age: 28.5

    After striking out in the Deron Williams and Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Dallas Mavericks were forced to retool on the fly in the offseason to keep their team afloat. Though they started the 2012-13 campaign strong, the team has steadily fallen out of the playoff picture as their mismatched roster fails to jell. 

    Dirk Nowitzki missed time rehabbing from knee surgery, and though newcomer O.J. Mayo thrived without him, the two have not coexisted as well as Rick Carlisle and the Dallas front office envisioned. Nowitzki remains a gifted scorer, but he is averaging just 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds, extremely underwhelming numbers by his standards. 

    Vince Carter has actually played better than expected for the Mavs, but free-agent signees Chris Kaman and Elton Brand have not lived up to expectations. Neither has been the dominant back-to-the-basket scorer the Mavericks need to complement Nowitzki. 

    The team has had some serious issues at the point guard position, where Darren Collison has played the brunt of the available minutes but has been shaky doing so. Their inexperience in the backcourt has led to the team dropping a number of close games despite their veteran frontcourt.

    Unfortunately, this team, which used to be among the league's best defensive units, has been quite disappointing on the less-glamorous end of the floor. Their rotations are lazy, and they struggle to apply any kind of pressure to opposing offenses.

    At 18-25 and with an offense capable of producing points (they rank 10th in the NBA with 100.2 points per game), this team can still turn their year around, but change must come soon.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Average Age: 28.9

    Based on their roster, general defensive struggles and the fact that they keep getting hammered by younger, more athletic teams, the Los Angeles Lakers may actually seem even older than they are.

    In the 2012 offseason, the Lakers jumped at the chance to trade for Dwight Howard while signing Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison in free agency. These moves certainly worked on paper, but they aged up the team dramatically and made them a far weaker defensive unit.

    Because they cannot guard the fast break at all, opponents have absolutely run the Lakers defense ragged. They have given up 101.5 points per game, good for 26th in the league, and at times simply look uninterested in playing the kind of physical defense that is necessary for winning important games.

    Their collective age has shown as various players have gone down with injuries. Steve Nash's leg injury cost him the early chunk of the 2012-13 campaign and sent Los Angeles scrambling to find a suitable option at the point. Pau Gasol missed time with tendonitis in his knees and has not looked like his usual versatile self while out on the court.

    Even Dwight Howard has been a bit more labored than usual, showing the effects of offseason back surgery and a nagging shoulder problem that has forced him to miss his share of time. Howard is still a dominant big man, but he no longer looks like the MVP-level center he was during his tenure with the Orlando Magic.

    Young forward Earl Clark has come on strong playing in Gasol's stead, but if this team wants to make the postseason, it is imperative that they find some way to inject some youth into their club.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Average Age: 29.4

    The Los Angeles Clippers may be known for their high-flying, transition antics, but this is a veteran-laden team. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin may be the ones making the headlines, but the rest of the roster is a bit long in the tooth by comparison.

    Caron Butler, the team's starting small forward, is 32 years old and has seen his play drop off somewhat due to reduced minutes and shots. Lamar Odom has finally begun to round himself into shape, and Grant Hill is slowly finding his footing, but it is clear that both of these players' best days are far behind them.

    In the backcourt, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green provide floor spacing for Paul. They thrive off of the open looks opponents will give them when throwing double-teams at Paul and Griffin. Both struggle at times with their efficiency, and they are two of the streakiest shooters in the game.

    Once Chauncey Billups returns from being sidelined with foot tendinitis, he will add even more veteran savvy and big-game chops to this already-stacked Los Angeles lineup.

    Thanks to their tremendous veteran presence, the Clippers have become one of the most tight-knit teams in the NBA. Their knack for sharing the ball has led them to shoot 47.2 percent from the field overall and rack up 23.4 assists per contest, both good for fourth in the league.

    Behind a stingy defense, the presence of CP3 and a stable of talented veterans, this is a very dangerous team.

2. Miami Heat

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    Average Age: 29.9

    LeBron James and Chris Bosh may be in the midst of their respective primes, but this Miami Heat team is quite a bit older than most people realize. Dwyane Wade is 31 years old, and the team has a number of role players with plenty of NBA mileage on their legs.

    The team runs a high-octane offense where they try to create points off of turnovers and use their natural athleticism to overwhelm opponents. They rank fifth in the league at 102.6 points per game, and because of their ability to create good shots, they are among the most efficient clubs in the game today.

    The team thrives, in part, because their veteran players know their roles. Ray Allen, an offseason signee, has emerged as the team's sixth man and one of their go-to crunch-time options. Shane Battier is asked to play tight perimeter defense and help space the floor with his shooting ability. 

    On the front line, Udonis Haslem provides the team with some interior muscle and grit, while Rashard Lewis offers perimeter shooting from the power forward spot. However, their tendency to play small has made them one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.

    This Heat team has the talent and experience to repeat as NBA champions so long as their veterans manage to stay healthy through the season's most grueling stretch.

    The team is built to maximize the talents of LeBron James and have done so quite well in 2012-13.

1. New York Knicks

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    Average Age: 31.3

    The New York Knicks are not just an old team: They are the oldest team in league history. In the 2012 offseason, the team lost a number of their younger athletes and opted to bring in a core of veteran players to surround Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. 

    Jason Kidd has been a rock for New York due to his ability to play both guard positions, hit threes and play tough perimeter defense even though he is 39 years old. He may not have much explosiveness anymore, but Kidd plays the kind of savvy basketball that allows him to continue being extremely effective.

    Unfortunately, injuries have had a significant impact upon this veteran team. Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby both have missed chunks of the season with foot injuries, Amar'e Stoudemire is still finding his place following offseason knee surgery and Raymond Felton sat out several weeks with a fractured right pinkie.

    The Knicks have succeeded thanks to their strong team defense and ability to control the pace of the game. When they need to, they can be incredibly difficult to score on, and the team packs enough offensive punch with Anthony and J.R. Smith to make opposing defenses pay for mistakes and late rotations.

    This team has proven winners in Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd, and that will come in handy in April and May. Still, there is legitimate worry that the team's rotation players will begin to break down and show the effect of a grueling 2012-13 campaign.