There’s a certain contrast when it comes to how people view age in the NBA. Coaches and players like, trust in, and believe in experienced veterans, while fans like young players. Younger players represent upside and potential, the unknown, athleticism and possibility to fans. But to coaches and veterans, they represent mistakes, sloppiness, a lack of awareness and a lack of focus. Casual disarray. For coaches and veterans, players who know what they’re doing bring that savvy and knowledge, a sureness of where they’re going and what they’re doing. But to fans, they can be stagnation, and a slow drive towards basketball purgatory. So it’s all in how you look at it.
But the success of experienced teams is a legitimate thing. The 2007 Spurs, the 2008 Celtics, the 2009-2010 Lakers, the 2011 Mavericks, the 2012 Heat, all featured teams with older players who relied on that experience. They were proud of those identities. Young teams tend to be exposed in the playoffs, to the point where you’re not even sure why they lose to certain teams. They just do. It’s in small moments and little plays and poise, always poise. That’s what it seems like, at least.
The bloggers at Detroite Bad Boys did some work on age and experience and their last work of analysis was worth sharing:
Graph 3. Wins vs Age Matrix
What does this graph show? The horizontal line is set to 33, or .500 ball over 66 games. The vertical line is set to 27, the average age of an NBA roster.
Anything interesting? If you look to the right of the vertical line you see 11 dots representing 11 teams in the NBA with rosters above the average age. Of those 11 teams only 3 teams won 33 or fewer games last season. 8 of those 11 teams made the playoffs.
The three dots furthest to the right? Those are the Mavs (oldest), Lakers (2nd), and Celtics (3rd). The Mavs average age last season was 31.3 years old making them by far the oldest team in the NBA.
The analysis reveals that the correlation is very weak, but the evidence is there that experience does matter. It seems obvious but the discovery of supporting evidence in a modern or recent context isn’t really the point. It’s really the question that matters.
Is it really knowing where to play? Is it toughness? Is it a mental focus or resilience? Is it how they make their cuts or defend or their size? Is it the small victories at the edges, or some sort of big moment advantage with Paul Pierce hitting monster shots?
We don’t really know. You’ve probably got your own ideas on why, and so does everyone, but there’s no real evidence to the specific answer. It continues to be a mystery but a fact. And for those teams hoping to leap to the front with a younger roster, it doesn’t bode well.