It’s not 2008 anymore

This post uses the Wins Produced metric. For longtime fans we’ve made a few changes in the offseason, you can read up on them in the walkthrough. For all fans you can find up to date numbers at the NBA Geek.

I listened to a very enjoyable video cast over at Truehoop yesterday with Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) and he had a great line that I can’t agree with more:

You shouldn’t call a player that’s not currently playing at an All-Star level an All-Star regardless of what he did in the past

It is common to consider a player’s legacy when discussing their skill. This season Kobe has not been playing well. However, I have consistently ended up in twitter fights where Kobe’s legacy is included to justify his current performance. The idea that experience helps a player is a bit off.

In Stumbling on Wins Berri and Schmidt showed that players do not age like wine, they age like milk. This especially matters to Kobe, who is 33 this season. Of the 405 players that have suited up this season only 41 of them are 33 or older. In that group of veterans there are some players with some great legacies. In fact if we jump back to Kobe’s MVP season we can see how close these players are to greatness.

Greats over 33 years of age in 2012 back in 2008
Player Age MPG WP48 WP League Rank
 Chauncey Billups  31 32.3 0.287 15.1 4
 Marcus Camby  33 34.9 0.257 14.8 6
 Steve Nash  33 34.3 0.253 14.6 7
 Kevin Garnett  31 32.8 0.298 14.4 8
 Jason Kidd  34 36.3 0.236 14.3 9
 Kobe Bryant  29 38.9 0.194 12.9 14
 Tim Duncan  31 34.0 0.233 12.9 15
 Shawn Marion  29 36.7 0.253 12.2 18
 Paul Pierce  30 35.9 0.195 12.7 22
 Ray Allen  32 35.9 0.181 9.9 30
 Dirk Nowitzki  29 36.0 0.162 9.4 34
 Vince Carter  31 36.8 0.151 9.3 35
 Ben Wallace  33 32.5 0.174 8.0 49

Using the WP48 metric a player is generally considered a star if they have a WP48 above 0.200 (twice as good as an average player). They are considered a good player if they have a WP48 above 0.150 (50% better than an average player). In 2008 seven of our thirteen greats were playing at star level. All of them were playing much better than average and all ranked in the top 50 in the league for production. How big of a difference does four years make?

Greats over 33 years of age in 2012 (through January 10th 2012) via the NBA Geek
Player Age MPG WP48 WP
Ray Allen  36 34.9 0.334 1.7
Marcus Camby  37 25.2 0.264 1.3
Steve Nash  37 29.3 0.222 1.2
Ben Wallace  37 12.9 0.178 0.5
Jason Kidd  38 28.1 0.168 0.8
Shawn Marion  33 27.1 0.153 0.9
Kevin Garnett  35 30.4 0.126 0.6
Kobe Bryant  33 36.4 0.115 1.0
Paul Pierce  34 30.4 0.099 0.3
Chauncey Billups  35 30.6 0.089 0.3
Vince Carter  35 20.8 0.066 0.3
Dirk Nowitzki  33 31.0 0.059 0.4
Tim Duncan  35 25.2 =0.002 0.0

Excluding Ray Allen, Marcus Camby and Ben Wallace all of our former greats have degraded since their old days. Even Camby and Wallace are hard to give much credit to as their production is around the same on far fewer minutes. All of our players have decreased their playing time (I have no doubt the insane lockout induced schedule has contributed to that). In 2008 over half of our players were stars. Four years later less than half of them are much better than average. In fact, a few have fallen off a cliff.

Here’s a reminder from Stumbling on Wins how we expect players to change year to year as they age.

Player performance with age.
Age change Expected performance change from previous season
23 to 24 +2%
24 to 25 no change
25 to 26 -2%
26 to 27 -4%
27 to 28 -6%
28 to 29 -9%
29 to 30 -11%
30 to 31 -17%
31 to 32 -22%
32 to 33 -35%
33 to 34 -57%
34 to 35 -146%

Players peak around 25. Up until they’re around thirty their decline is slow. Once they hit thirty-two though their degradation is very swift. All of our greats are now in that range and some of them were already there four years ago.

When players age in sports it’s not a question of if they’ll stop being great it’s a matter of when. Sure some players can defy expectations. However, when we look at our current crop of older players with good resumes in the NBA it doesn’t look good to think that as a group they’ll even stay a shadow of their glory days. People can quote player awards, that they’re clutch (even if they’re not), or that they have experience. If they’re in their thirties though they’re a ticking time bomb waiting to fall apart and that even includes great players. So when someone reminds you that Kobe or Dirk was an MVP just a few seasons ago, it’s not out of line to ask what they’ve done for you lately.


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