Charley Rosen of FOXSports.com:
“The accepted wisdom is that in the absence of any debilitating injuries, the peak of an NBA player’s career usually lasts only four years, between his 28th and his 32nd birthdays. That’s when his body is still sprightly and he’s presumably learned what the game is all about.”
NBA teams walk a fine line when it comes balancing youth and experience. There’s no substitute for experience and athleticism. But the only way to attain experience is to go through the battles and accumulate the mileage. And that wear and tear takes its toll, eventually leading to decreased quickness and leaping ability.
Perhaps no series personified the battle between youth and experience more than last year’s Western Conference Semifinal matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Hornets.
Manu Ginobili: 30 years, 34.9 minutes per game.
Tim Duncan: 32 years, 38.0 minutes per game.
Tony Parker: 25 years, 37.4 minutes per game.
Michael Finley: 34 years, 19.1 minutes per game.
Brent Barry: 36 years, 9.0 minutes per game.
Bruce Bowen: 36 years, 32.4 minutes per game.
Ime Udoka: 30 years, 16.4 minutes per game.
Fabricio Oberto: 32 years, 20.7 minutes per game.
Kurt Thomas: 35 years, 15.9 minutes per game.
Robert Horry: 37 years, 9.7 minutes per game.
Average age: 33
Chris Paul: 22 years, 40.6 minutes per game.
David West: 27 years, 40.3 minutes per game.
Peja Stojakovic: 30 years, 38.7 minutes per game.
Jannero Pargo: 28 years, 18.9 minutes per game.
Tyson Chandler: 25 years, 33.7 minutes per game.
Morris Peterson: 30 years, 26.0 minutes per game.
Julian Wright: 20 years, 12.3 minutes per game.
Bonzi Wells: 31 years, 12.4 minutes per game.
Average age: 27
The Hornets ran the Spurs ragged in their three victories against the defending NBA champions. New Orleans won Game’s 1, 2, and 5 by an average of twenty points. But when the chips were down, age trumped youth as the Spurs defeated the Hornets in Game’s 6 and 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
What was the difference in that series?
The Spurs had players that had been through the battles and delivered in pressure situations. San Antonio received next to nothing from their bench corps during their three losses, but Robert Horry, Ime Udoka, and Michael Finley came through in back-to-back elimination games.
New Orleans wasn’t as battle-tested. Hornets coach Byron Scott was forced to shorten his rotation to eight players in Game 7, two of those eight players (Bonzi Wells, Melvin Ely) played less than six minutes.
Youth can carry a team to the finish line, but experience is more often than not the difference between victory and defeat.
Will James Posey provide New Orleans with the basketball savvy they were missing against the Spurs?
Will Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom be better prepared to excel in pressure situations after coming up short in the NBA Finals?
Will Darius Miles, Tony Allen, and Leon Powe make up for the loss of veterans James Posey and P.J. Brown in Boston?
Will LeBron James’ youth, size, and versatility shore up Cleveland’s aging frontcourt?
Are Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell ready to step up to the plate for the Pistons?
Can former MVP’s Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal turn back the clock in Phoenix?
Has the championship window slammed shut on the aging Spurs?
There are a number of NBA teams with championship caliber experience. But few NBA teams possess the mix of youth and experience required to win a championship.