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2013 All-NBA Mailbag Part 2

Posted on April 13, 2013 at 1:35 PM

I notice that age is increasingly mentioned in relation to the accomplishments and expectations about various athletes. Which is the youngest and which is the oldest team? What would you predict about each?
- Shelly A.

The eleven teams whose average age is over 27 are (from oldest to youngest) the NY Knicks, Miami Heat, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Atlanta Hawks (10/11 are playoff teams). The nine teams whose average age is below 26 are (from youngest to oldest) the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavs, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings (3/9 are playoff teams).

It's evident that the vast majority of the league’s top teams are among the league’s oldest. But even historically, there is, statistically speaking, a moderately strong correlation between age and winning percentage, as seen in this graph below, which plotting points for all NBA teams since 1980 (when taking the average age, effective age disregards the ages of players who rarely see the floor):


Of the 18 oldest rosters since 1980, none finished below .500, and of the 41 youngest rosters, only one finished above .500. According the trend line (calculated by, an average team’s record improves by four wins for every year of average age. This is partially because younger teams are usually in the rebuilding stage and have recently drafted a lot of college players, but also because more experienced players play smarter.

For example, the Knicks, the NBA’s oldest team, turn the ball over 0.9 times fewer per game than any other team, while the Rockets, the NBA’s youngest team, turn the ball over 0.9 times more per game than any other team. That’s no coincidence. The difference between New York’s crafty, veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who commits one turnover every 27 minutes, and Houston’s young Jeremy Lin, who commits one turnover every 11 minutes, is enormous. However, despite the Rockets’ league leading 15.8 turnovers per game, their up-tempo style could definitely give a team like the Spurs trouble in the playoffs, but would probably not be successful against the Thunder, which is basically a rich man’s Rockets. As for the Knicks, when they play smart and move the ball for threes, they can beat anyone in the league. They are much less successful, however, when JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony do a dueling banjos performance on offense while sharpshooters Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, and Kidd stand around and watch them.

News that Phil Jackson has joined Twitter (@PhilJackson11) got me thinking: how should we judge NBA coaches and rank them across eras? Jackson is often referred to as the greatest coach in league history. 11 championships certainly lends a good deal of proof to that claim. Yet he was blessed with the best player ever in Jordan, in addition to two others in the top 10 (Shaq and Bryant). That's not to mention the terrific role players who filled out his rosters: Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, Fisher, Gasol, Odom, etc.). How much of his success can be attributed to his style of coaching? How much of it is based on pure talent? Would this year's Lakers team have a better record if Jackson was their coach?
- Michael S.

Coaches should be judged on a combination of success as well as how hard it was to achieve that success. The latter , which is often overlooked by the media, is why current Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni is the worst in the league; he has such a talented team that simply staying out of the way would be more effective than trying to implement his style. Not only is he coaching four hall-of-famers, but they would also complement each other perfectly under any sane system that didn’t involve Pau Gasol coming off the bench and playing 25 feet from the basket like Ersan Ilyasova, Steve Nash not bringing the ball up, and the slowest team in the league trying to “pick up the tempo.” 

Although Derek Fisher is not a “terrific role player” as you say he is, Phil’s jobs were easier than most because he always had a reliable player, whether it was Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe. Once, when a game was getting out of hand and the Lakers got into the huddle, Jackson turned to Bryant and said, “Kobe, activate the ball. Score.” Is that great coaching? Of course not; you can only do that with a handful of players in the history of the NBA, and he happened to coach three of them. There’s no denying that Jackson got the best out of his superstars, made them buy into his triangle offense, and tweaked his system when necessary to allow for those superstars to excel. However, he was rarely forced to coach a bad team out of a hole, and therefore, his teams didn’t really over-perform or go any farther in the playoffs than expected.

Now that isn’t entirely true, seeing as Los Angeles’ 2006 and 2007 seasons featured the two least talented supporting casts to make the playoffs since the 1987 Chicago Bulls (if you don’t believe me, please try to find one that’s worse) – we’re talking about a team giving 40+ playoff minutes to Lamar Odom in back to back seasons, 33 minutes to Luke Walton, 30+ minutes to Smush Parker in back to back years, 25+ minutes to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown in the same season (yikes!), and 11 minutes to somebody named Laron Profit. Both of those teams played competitive first round series, so while it’s a small sample size, Phil has shown the ability to get good years out of fairly terrible teams through his offensive system.

Additionally, the talent that Jackson coached regularly did not perform as well without him. Jordan didn’t once make the Finals in his first six seasons without Jackson, and then went on to win six out of eight championships with Jackson (Jordan obviously didn’t peak until the 90s, but it still means something). Similarly, the Kobe-Shaq duo failed to reach the Finals in the two seasons before Phil arrived, after which they immediately ripped off a three-peat. Also, in 2005, Jackson’s one-year hiatus from coaching, the Lakers went 34-48, then made the playoffs the next two seasons with nearly identical rosters. So, in response to your final questions, I think without a doubt that if Phil were coaching the Lakers this season, they would be one of the better teams in the league, because one thing you can say for sure about Jackson is that he never underperformed with a lot of talent.

However, I was surprised that when I googled “Top 10 NBA Coaches of All Time,” I could not find a single list that did not rank Jackson #1, because I think Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach of all time, simply because of what he has done with mediocre talent. He has the third highest winning percentage of all-time and four NBA championships (although he coached Tim Duncan for his entire career, his other players have only had a combined 10 All-Star appearances in his 17 years of coaching the team, and never once did he coach more than two All-Stars in the same season). Additionally, he has been successful with four very different starting lineups surrounding Duncan – 1999 Champions (David Robinson, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliot, Mario Ellie), 2003 Champions (Tony Parker, 37-year-old Robinson, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen), 2005 and 2007 Champions (Parker, Bowen, Manu Ginobili, Rasho Nesterovic / Francisco Elson), 2013 going for his third consecutive #1 seed in the West (Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter).

"Who is the greatest NBA bench player of all time, and why was he never a starter?"
- Brett G.

There are really five categories of bench players (I would consider players in categories 1 and 2 “true bench players” and those in categories 3, 4, and 5 “situational bench players") so I’ll give you an answer for each:

(1) Actually the sixth best player on his team, natural bench player

- Bobby Jones – Terrific defensive player for the stacked 1983 champion 76ers and the co-captain of the All-Time “The Stats Don’t Show the Full Picture with Him” Team (Bill Russell being the other co-captain). Check out this video for more on Jones:

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(2) Cannot start because the player starting at his position is clearly better

- Vinnie Johnson – Streaky scorer with Joe Dumars and Isaiah Thomas starting ahead of him

(3) Is brought off the bench for chemistry reasons, often to provide instant offense off the bench, even though he is better than the player starting at his position

- Manu Ginobili

(4) A player who was only a bench player for part of his career due to any of the first three reasons, but was a high quality starter for another team

- Detlef Schremf – Obscenely rich man’s Danilo Gallinari who won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards in ‘91 and ‘92, and then was an All-Star the following year (James Harden is a modern example for this category)

(5) Came off the bench upon first coming into the league, but later proved himself as a star player. Or, conversely, a star who later adapted to coming off the bench as he got older

- Kevin Mchale – Fits both of the possible requirements above, coming off the bench as a young player during the Celtics’ ’81 and ’84 championship seasons, and then again at age 32 in ’90 (averaging 21pts, 8reb, 2ast, 2blk, 55% field goal shooting in just 33 minutes per game)


Who are the top 5 low post guys in the NBA right now?
- Tal A.


5) Carmelo Anthony

4) Pre-D’Antoni Pau Gasol

4) Lebron James

3) Marc Gasol – Best passer in the league out of the post

2) Dirk Nowitzki – He makes his one-legged turn-around look so easy that even a caveman could do it (speaking of GEICO commercials, the latest one featuring Dikembe Mutombo is an A+).

1) Tim Duncan – His career per-36-minutes averages: 20.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.3 blocks. His per-36-minutes averages at age 36 (his 16th season): 21.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.2 blocks. That’s incredible. They don't call him The Big Fundamental for nothing. 

Matching-up playoff teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences based on the current standings (i.e. Miami vs. San Antonio, OKC vs. New York, etc), would any Eastern Conference team besides Miami have a chance to beat their Western Conference opponents?
- Mike H.

Maybe the Atlanta Hawks over the Golden State Warriors, but that’s just about it. I even think the Sacramento Kings - whose rotation consists of four point guards, four power forwards, and Marcus Thornton - would beat the Detroit Pistons. Interesting observation here by Mike.

However, this email was sent before the New York Knicks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last Sunday, and I think one could make a real argument for the Knicks in that matchup. I’m even going to make the argument that the Knicks could beat the Miami Heat in a seven game series, and here’s why: This 2013 New York Knicks team is so similar across the board to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks team that beat Miami. The formula for beating the Heat (besides being coached by Tom Thibodeau) is to have an confident scorer who irrationally believes that they’re the best player on the court (Dirk Nowitzki / Carmelo Anthony), a bench player who can build leads (Jason Terry / JR Smith), a help defender (Tyson Chandler / Tyson Chandler), random guys that enter the game solely to hit threes (Peja Stojakovic / Steve Novak), an elite perimeter defender (Shawn Marion, Iman Shumpert), and Jason Kidd. I’m not saying the Knicks will win, I’m just saying that the similarities are there, not to mention that they’ve already had success against Miami this year and are not scared to play them whatsoever.


Any still unanswered questions will have to wait until part 3 of this All-NBA mailbag after the playoffs, and I have recived a few very juicy ones for then. But for now, make sure you vote on the right sidebar for who you think has the best shot to beat Miami.



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Reply Mike
11:30 PM on April 21, 2013 
Nice analysis of the correlation between average age and winning percentage. I would not have expected such a significant correlation, given that success in the NBA relies so much on athleticism, which declines as a player ages.

However, I'm not convinced that the Knicks turn the ball over so infrequently due to their advanced age. I think it may have to do more with the fact that the Knicks often play with multiple point guards on the floor at the same time (Kidd/Felton/Prigioni). Also, the Knicks offense is very much isolation oriented with Carmelo and JR Smith, which I believe results in less turnovers than a motion offense.

Would you be able to perform a rough analysis to predict the Knicks' turnover stats if each player on the roster was playing in their first few seasons in the NBA? For example, you could look at Turnovers per minute for each player in their first few years in the league and compare to 2012-2013 stats. Wouldn't be a perfect analysis but may shed some light.
Reply balllllll
9:13 PM on April 13, 2013 
Lebron best player ever to touch the plantet