The NBA, by all accounts, seems to be becoming younger each year. Of course, the league has done away with the prep to pro route of late 90’s and early 2000’s, but in its place has been the era of one and done from the college scene.
In 2015, there were eight teenagers selected after one year on campus, add in Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja and Emmanuel Mudiay and eleven of the first fourteen picks weren’t even of legal drinking age in the United States.
In 2014, seven freshmen were selected in the lottery, eight if you want to include Australia’s Dante Exum. When the 2015-16 season tips off on October 27th, there will be thirteen teenagers suiting up throughout the league and the Philadelphia 76’ers featuring a lineup with only one player over the age of 25.
While the league is, in fact, looking for leaders of their next generation, there are still a couple of old dogs left in the yard that can show the young pups a trick or two. Chances are, we will not see any of these guys surpass Nat Hickey (45), Kevin Willis (44) or Robert Parish (43). And yes, these players are in the twilight of their careers, with one playing longer than some of the newcomers have even been alive, but, for the most part, they are still producing and valuable to the league and their respective franchises.
Tim Duncan (39 years, entering 19th season) – The benefit of playing for Coach Pop is that he doesn’t really give a damn if a player misses a somewhat meaningless mid-season game if it means that the Spurs are healthy for their playoff run (hence DNP-CD OLD). Often known to sit his older players or send them home from a road trip early, Pop has been a big reason Duncan’s career has lasted as long and successfully as it has. Throughout his career, Duncan has started 1329 of 1331 games, only missed more than ten games a season five times and in his last two years at 38 and 39 years old, played in 151 of 162 games. Derek Rose only wishes his career could have played out the same.
Last season, Duncan finished the year playing the second most minutes for the Spurs, posting the most points and averaging the third-most with 13.9, the second lowest of his career. Add in the fact that the veteran forward was the only San Antonio Spur to make the All-Star team, and it shows that his peers, the Spurs staff, players and fans all feel that the future Hall of Famer still has something to offer. With the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to the front line, TD more than likely will not see as many minutes, but he has a great chance to end his career hanging a sixth banner.
Kevin Garnett (39 years, entering 21st season) – He has a well-documented prep-to-pro career, and as of last February, he came full circle, returning to the team that drafted him way back in 1995. Brought in to help mentor the new generation of Timberwolves, KG found action in only five games, but his presence on the bench and in the locker room hopefully brought a new aggressiveness. Flip Saunders stated that Garnett would be part of the starting lineup and on the floor for meaningful end of game minutes, but chances are the 39-year old will provide his best contributions on the practice court and in the locker room. There, he can show Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine the ins and outs of the NBA.
With a two-year contract in hand, it doesn’t look like Garnett will be around the Timberwolves long enough to see his mentoring pay off, at least regarding being an active roster member. Unlike Duncan, who still contributes meaningful stats for the Spurs on a nightly basis, it has been a couple of years since KG posted significant numbers (Celtics, 2012/13).
There is no arguing that Garnett will go down as one of the greatest power forwards of all time. Some may say top five and at the very least top ten, but his value to Minnesota this season, and next will not be found on any of the box scores, but rather in the character development of the young Wolves.
Manu Ginobili (38 years, entering 14th season) – Unlike others on this list, Manu has only made a pair of All-Star games. Only three times in his career has he started the majority of games he has suited up for, and other than the Sixth Man Award, has never been in the running for any other individual awards.
What the Spurs get with Manu though is the ultimate team player. While injuries and Coach Pop (the first being the foremost reason) strategy has led to Ginobili playing as many as 80 games only once in his career, Manu has been a huge reason the Spurs have found postseason success four times since the start of the millennium.
Whether he comes off the pine to replace Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard, Ginobili brings the Spurs a player who still can fill the stat sheet on both ends of the court. The chances are high that this will be Manu and Duncan’s last season, although, both have a player option for next season. No better way to go out than with one more ring and with the additions made in the offseason, odds are certainly in the Spurs favor.
Dirk Nowitzki (37 years, entering 18th season) – Imagine if Dirk was in Milwaukee? Originally drafted by the Bucks, but traded on draft day to the Mavs, the Diggler is the only one on this list who did not play for the team that drafted him.
He is in the last year of his contract with a player option for next year. It is hard to imagine a Dallas team without the seven-foot German and his off-one-foot, high-knee stepback. Missing the postseason only three times in his illustrious career, owner Mark Cuban tried his best to surround his franchise player with enough talent to make the most of what could be his final year or two.
Seeing the least amount of floor time since his rookie season, Dirk also posted his second-lowest scoring average of 17.3ppg. The offseason was a huge media blitz with the DeAndre Jordan fiasco, but the team still managed to fill gaps with the signing of Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, JaVale McGee and if Chandler Parsons can successfully return from knee surgery, the Mavs may find themselves in the mid-lower playoff seeding in the West.
Kobe Bryant (37 years, entering 20th season) – Of all the players on this list, Bryant is the most dangerous player to his team in multiple ways. If he is on the floor, he will doubtless take playing opportunities away from Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. If he is off the floor, Staples may have a large number of empty seats that need filling. Despite coming off multiple injuries in back to back seasons, Kobe will for all accounts still try to be Kobe. The problem is, for the Lakers to succeed this year, Kobe being Kobe may be more of a negative than a positive.
Playing only 41 games in his last two years, both being a frustrating time for himself and Lakers faithful, it is hard to imagine that Bryant will be content to take a back seat in what could be his final NBA season. Although, just because his contract expires this year, doesn’t mean that he might not find himself on another roster for 2016-17.
Some NBA followers will scoff at the idea that the Lakers could actually make the playoffs this season, but if and it is a BIG IF, the team gels and remains healthy, the last thing you want to do is bet against the Mamba. Sadly, though, at most that playoff seed would be the 7th or 8th, which is not good enough for the Lakers organization (they will lose their draft pick if it isn’t top three), the Lakers fans or Kobe Bryant. Oddly enough, the best way for the Lakers to be better in the future is for Bryant to step aside and let the young guys play.