NBA PM: Short Season Favors Young Teams
What do the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers have in common, aside from playing very well in the first month of the NBA season? These are several of the youngest teams in the league, all of which have an average age below 27 years old.
Once the NBA announced that there would be a 66-game season, many fans, journalists and players wondered who the condensed schedule would favor. Would veteran teams have an edge because there are fewer games and they could get by with less practice time? Would young teams thrive because it’s easier for them to play the packed, five-games-in-six-nights schedule?
At the quarter mark of the season, it seems we have an answer: The 66-game schedule has favored younger teams and one look at the standings proves that.
Looking at a team’s average age is helpful, but a more accurate representation is a team’s average age weighted for minutes played. This statistic, compiled by The Hoop Doctors, shows which teams rely most on their older players.
Philadelphia, for example, has a rotation almost entirely made up of young players. Tony Battie, at age 35, is a big reason that the 76ers’ have an average age of 26.34. However, when weighted for minutes played, Battie’s lack of minutes isn’t factored, which drops Philadelphia’s average to 25.14, making them the third-youngest team in the league after the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Our team’s youth is a big part of our success,” Jodie Meeks told HOOPSWORLD. “Being a young team, we can get in the open court and score in transition. We wear teams out. We all get out in transition and we have strength in numbers.”
The Thunder, Jazz and Pacers are relying more on their younger players as well. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who currently hold the seventh seed in the East, are another example of a young team that has exceeded expectations and experienced early success.
Even a team like the Chicago Bulls, which has a solid mix of young players and veteran contributors, has an average age of 27.47 when weighted for minutes.
“It’s our youth and depth that allows us, night in and night out, to compete at a high level on both ends of the court,” Ronnie Brewer told HOOPSWORLD.
Young teams have always been better at playing back-to-backs. Now, the condensed schedule is forcing teams to play back-to-back-to-backs as well as five games in six nights, on some occasions. These are the same young players who were playing every day during the lockout and feel fine when they get out of bed every morning. As Meeks said, young squads are able to “wear teams out,” especially if they’re playing against a veteran-laden team.
While this has already started to affect the standings, imagine how the playoff picture will look several months from now. The young teams will be on the same page and more confident than ever, while the older teams are playing catch up and feeling even worse, physically and mentally. Look no further than Boston, where the team’s struggles have already prompted trade rumors.
Veteran teams, especially ones that rely heavily on their older players, are already struggling. The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics are the oldest teams in the league, and they were both out of the playoff picture as of Thursday.
Dallas has an average age of 32.31 when weighted for minutes and Boston sits at 30.66. Earlier this season, Dirk Nowitzki said that the Mavericks looked “old and slow and out of shape,” which seems pretty accurate given how much they rely on their veteran pieces.
Other examples include the Phoenix Suns, who are 5-9 and have the fourth-worst record in the West, despite having a roster loaded with veterans. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule such as the Washington Wizards. While they’re the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have many other issues, starting with their chemistry.
The 66-game schedule has already favored young teams and we’re only 26 days into the season.
Magic Can Call Dwight Howard’s Bluff: What’s the best way for the Orlando Magic to handle the ongoing drama surrounding Dwight Howard? Should they trade him now and start the rebuilding process or should they keep him for the duration of the season and trade him in July if he hasn’t changed his mind?
While those two scenarios have been discussed in-depth in recent months, the Magic also have the option to call Howard’s bluff and refuse to trade him. Magic general manager Otis Smith alluded to this possibility in an interview with OrlandoMagic.com’s John Denton.
Smith told Denton that he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Howard is still with the Magic in July. He added that if Howard wants to leave as a free agent, he’ll have to “take a $30 million haircut.”
That’s a considerable amount of money to leave on the table, arguably more money than Howard could make if he were to bolt and sign in a larger market. It’s generally assumed that players make more endorsement money in a big market, but Howard already has a huge shoe deal with adidas and lucrative deals with McDonald’s, Gatorade and T-Mobile among others.
Moving from a small market to a large market can yield more endorsement money, but Howard already has all of the jewels the sports world can offer. He could see a nominal increase from those brands, but he’s already one of the top earners for those companies and it’d be difficult for him to make up the $30 million he’s leaving on the table. The Magic clearly understand this.
“I’m not making a deal for the sake of making a deal,” Smith said. “I’m not doing a bad deal.”
Howard may not be completely happy in Orlando, but would he give up $30 million to leave? That may be the big question as this drama continues to play out.
Deron Williams Weighing Options: If Deron Williams doesn’t re-sign with the New Jersey Nets, his list of preferred destinations includes the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard. Williams can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Williams’ future in New Jersey largely depends on whether or not he’ll be able to recruit a second star, such as Dwight Howard, to the Nets. It’s unlikely that Williams would re-sign with the Nets without additional help, especially since the team has struggled this season and currently has a 4-11 record.
Nets general manager Billy King listens to Williams and gives him input into the team’s moves. That’s one reason that the point guard is enjoying his time in New Jersey, and the deep-pocketed Mikhail Prokhorov certainly makes the situation more attractive as well.
Williams would love to bring a second star to the Nets. If he’s not able to do that, he may be taking his talents to the Mavericks, Knicks or Lakers.