NBA Aging: A Lost Year Would Be Particularly Bad for NBA Veterans
It is common for NBA fans to criticize players for “load management.” However, basketball is a grueling sport that takes a toll on athletes’ bodies. This is particularly true for aging NBA veterans.
The 2019-2020 NBA season is at a halt as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And, reports are circulating that the season may not be completed.
This would be devastating for NBA veterans. Not only would they miss this season, they’d also be prone to declining play as a result of the impact of aging.
Statistical research is commonly done on the effects of aging, including multiple analyses on the impact of aging and player development in the NBA.
One resulting figure from this type of analysis is the RAPM aging curve, which can be seen here. This aging curve was later updated, and Jeremias Engelmann, of the Dallas Mavericks, has shared the updated version on Twitter:
A student-run sports analysis program at Harvard also included an aging curve in a study they conducted on player development. And finally, WagesOfWins.com posted an article with an expected performance curve that evaluates expected performance with respect to age.
One thing is clear in this research: as you age beyond 33, your play tends to deteriorate. It does so quite drastically.
The potential cancellation of the NBA is bad news for the league’s players and fans. For veteran NBA players, it will mean not getting to vie for late-season or postseason success. Also, bypassing this season’s conclusion means an entire year will elapse and thus open up the possibility for veteran players to fall victim to some level of deterioration as a result of age.
I considered a few aging NBA veterans who could be impacted by their age next season and who likely had a chance to accomplish something special this season.
Toronto Raptors G Kyle Lowry and C Marc Gasol
While many analysts projected the defending champions to fall out of contention after losing Kawhi Leonard this offseason, the Raptors have maintained their prowess in the Eastern Conference.
Kyle Lowry will be 35 and Marc Gasol will be 36 entering next season and they continue to be two of the most important players in Toronto. And while the Raptors have done a good job setting themselves up for their eventual departure (with Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakem), these players had a shot at winning the east this year, and now face a steep drop in their expected output as a result of age.
Miami Heat G/F Andre Igoudala
The 36-year-old wing finally found a home midway through the season in Miami. The Heat were shaping up to contend in the Eastern Conference. They continually established themselves as a formidable team during the season.
Igoudala is well on the righthand side of the aging curve and had little on-court time this season. He’s played in only 14 games with the Heat. Now, he has to spend a considerable amount of additional time away from the court and will likely miss out on the opportunity for a deep playoff run.
Los Angeles Lakers G Rajon Rondo and C Dwight Howard
Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard are NBA mainstays and both were once major contributors on championship contending teams (Boston and Orlando). As this point in their career, they’ve both settled in quite nicely as role players for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had, arguably, the best shot at winning a championship this season.
Dwight Howard is averaging more than 7 points and 7 rebounds per game this season. Rajon Rondo is averaging over 5 assists per game. Both were doing so in right around just 20 minutes of action per night.
Rondo and Howard are both 34 years of age. These former NBA stars would have played significant roles down the stretch for the Lakers as the team angled for a title. Now they may not get to.
Also, Howard and Rondo both could become free agents this offseason (Rondo has a player option). So, in addition to not being able to compete with the team this year, they may not be able to do so in the future either.