Old man game is winning in the NBA

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In the NBA — like in society at large — we have this fascination with youth. Blake Griffin is a YouTube sensation. We all fall in love with the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder. Fans obsess over draft picks.

But what about the other end of the spectrum — who are the oldest teams in the NBA this season?

The Miami Heat top the list at an average age of 31.32 (all those older veteran minimum deals to put around their big three cause that). Followed by the Lakers (29.98), Mavericks (29.47), Nuggets (29.09), Celtics (28.69), Magic (28.44) and Spurs (28.42).

You know what else that is? A list of every NBA title contender. And Denver.

If you use a team’s “effective age” — weight age by playing time as they did at Hoopism — your oldest teams are Mavericks (31.75), Lakers (30.87), Celtics (30.48), Suns (30.27), Spurs (29.62) and Heat (29.55). Shows you that the Suns have some serious long-term issues, but doesn’t change much else. The best teams are still some of the oldest teams.

Coincidence?

No.

We get pumped about the athletes that can leap out of the building, but at the end of the playoffs, it’s often teams with old man game that are left standing. If you just asked what “old man game” is you’ve never played pickup against that 45-year-old guy who looks slow but always makes the right pass, seems to know where the ball is going to be and never misses the midrange shot. He’s the least athletic guy on the court, and his team keeps winning.

Not that (to use last year’s example) the Lakers and Celtics don’t have some quality athletes, but is Paul Pierce really a guy you just look and think he can create space and never misses a 17-foot fadeaway? Do you look at Pau Gasol standing there and think he’s one of the hardest bigs to defend the game? Yet those are the kind of guys — them and the Tim Duncans and Manu Ginobilis — that are left standing when all is said and done.

This is not something new. Kevin Pelton studied the numbers at Basketball Prospectus two years ago and found those older teams tend to be better at both ends of the floor (and he went back to 1980). That veteran savvy on the defensive end and knowing how to get the shots they want on offense tends to offset any loss of athleticism. Older teams tend to be more efficient teams. There is no perfect correlation (there never is in the real world) but the fact is older teams tend to win more and have for three decades.

This doesn’t mean you go out and drop a 40-year-old on the Cavs roster they start winning, but rather if you combine a handful of good veterans — sometimes as role players, sometimes as key cogs — the sum may be greater than the individual parts. Those older teams just know how to play the game at the NBA level.

I have one other theory as to why. The average NBA career is about four years (the number has decreased in recent years). If you have a veteran team — this season’s Spurs, Celtics and Lakers — you have a lot of players who have played well beyond that average. Why? Because they are better players. The reason a guy lasts 10 years in the NBA is because he can ball. Get enough of those guys together and, even though they’re older, they can win together.

The risk is always injuries — those older bodies breaking down. It’s happened to the Spurs and Celtics in recent years.

So far this season though those older teams are by-and-large staying healthy and as a result they make up the list of contenders (maybe Chicago skews the graph, but they have to prove they can hang in the playoffs still).

Those veteran teams have adjusted. Tim Duncan has taken a back seat to more Tony Parker and Ginobili being the hub of the San Antonio offense. Rajon Rondo sets the table for those older guys to do their thing in Boston. The veterans were willing to give up something to get what they really want — wins. And a shot at a ring.

So enjoy Griffin and Durant. Watch Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins start to figure it out in Sacramento. Love Derrick Rose.

But know, when you’re watching the NBA in June, it will be some old-man game.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.