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Aging Gracefully: Veterans Who Still Contribute

Eric Saar looks at some veterans in the NBA who have aged gracefully and are still significant contributors.

Eric Saar



Most NBA players can’t stick in the league. The average length of a player’s career was 4.8 years, according to our own Larry Coon in 2011. That fact makes the lengthy careers of some of the game’s greats that much more impressive. Some players are no longer effective when they lose their athleticism, but others age gracefully and continue to produce for their respective teams.

The following players may or may not still be a focal point, but they are still playing at a relatively high level compared to other players around the league (some of whom are more than a decade younger than them). The players on the list have been arranged from oldest to youngest.

Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)

Duncan will turn 40 years old during the playoffs and while the offensive load has been taken off of him, he is still impacting games for the Spurs. He’s been sidelined with a knee injury for the last five games and has rested against sub-par competition this season, but that’s to keep him fresh for the playoffs. The 41-8 Spurs are on track to make the playoffs for the 19th consecutive time, coinciding with head coach Gregg Popovich’s first full year coaching and the selection of Duncan first overall in the 1997 draft. With a postseason berth, San Antonio would tie the fourth-best playoff streak in NBA history.

While a lot of their success can be attributed to their All-Star Kawhi Leonard, the five-time NBA champion is still an impact player even at his advanced age (by NBA standards). His player efficiency rating (a somewhat comprehensive measurement of a player’s impact) is above average at 17.38. Duncan is still somehow averaging 7.5 rebounds per game (putting him in a tie for 32nd in the NBA) in a, by far, career-low 25.9 minutes per game. However, this year’s average is a far cry from his career average of 10.9 boards.

Most impressive is Duncan’s calming presence on the court, helping keep his team even keel and on course to meet the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. It’s not just his demeanor either; on the court, he covers up for miscues and prevents other mistakes from happening. According to the advanced metric defensive real plus-minus, Duncan is the number one player in the league with a valuation of 6.83. That is just incredible. Not only is he a lock for the Hall of Fame, he’ll go down as one of the best players ever.

Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)

Ginobili is certainly an interesting player. Fans of the Spurs like his tenacity, veteran smarts and ability to get under the skin of opponents. Meanwhile, opposing players and fans probably think he flops too much, occasionally plays dirty and gets lucky. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as it usually is. The Argentinian was drafted in 1999 with the 57th overall pick. He didn’t start playing in the NBA until 2002-03, but has been a productive player for nearly 14 years (all with the Spurs).

While he is out four to six weeks after a recent groin surgery, the four-time NBA champion has still been playing well even at 38 years old. In his reduced role, he is averaging 10 points, 3.3 assists and three rebounds this season. To be clear, Ginobili was never a superstar – as his best statistical year was in 2007-08 when he averaged 19.5 points per game. But keep in mind that San Antonio has never been a statistically-driven team and the crafty left-hander was an integral cog on the franchise’s championship teams. He fits their system perfectly, and he was talented enough to be named to two All-Star teams, receive two All-NBA Third Team nods and win Sixth Man of the Year in 2008.

When he decides to retire, he’ll likely be a Hall of Famer given his NBA accolades as well as his success as the focal point for the Argentinian national team.

Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)

One of the best foreign-born players in NBA history, Nowitzki has ruled Dallas with owner Mark Cuban for over a decade. The seven-foot sharpshooter was drafted in ninth overall in 1998 and now, nearly 18 years later, he is still significantly helping his team – as they currently sit as the sixth-best team in the Western Conference. Nowitzki is still averaging 17.7 points per game, which leads the Mavericks. That’s not as productive as his career-average (22.1 PPG) or his best year in 2005-06 (26.6 PPG), but it still puts him tied for 3oth in the NBA with Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. Even more incredible is his PER, which is 19.87.

Nowitzki has his signature one-legged, fadeaway jumper from about 15 feet out on the right side of the basket and he consistently gets left open at the top of the arc for his three in transition as the really-late trailer. The 2011 champion has popularized those moves, leaving his mark on the league. Like Duncan and Ginobili, he’s Hall-of-Fame bound and deserves some credit for the “stretch-four era” because of his unique combination of shooting skills and size.

Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)

Bryant has played more than half his life in the NBA. Not many people can say that. In 1996, he landed with the Lakers – via a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets – when he was only 17 years old, so his parents had to co-sign his contract. Now, after a 20-year career that included five NBA championships and countless individual accolades, Bryant is still going strong in his final year. Bryant said he’d retire at the end of the 2015-16 season and that’s probably good timing since his body has been breaking down in recent years.

He’s going out with a bang, and he’s certainly still getting up a bunch of shots. The 2008 MVP is still averaging 16.7 points per game, which is tied for 36th in the league with both Gasol brothers and Nikola Vucevic. He certainly isn’t scoring as much as his career average (25.1) or as much as he did during his prolific career-high season (35.4 in 2005-06), but he’s still been effective at times. He’s even had a “vintage Kobe” week lately – averaging 29.3 points per game in his last three contests, highlighted by 38 points in a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In that game, he hit seven of 11 shots from behind the arc and 11 of his 12 free throws. He also contributed five rebounds and five assists along with a couple steals (just to remind the league of his 12 All-Defensive team selections). Bryant is somewhat rejuvenated this year on his farewell tour as he heads off into the sunset as a sure-fire Hall of Famer and arguably a top-10 player all time.

Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles Clippers)

Of all these players, Crawford is the only one to play for multiple teams. The 35-year-old is a two-time winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award, joining Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf as the only players in NBA history to have at least two such awards.

Crawford is a solid scorer and the perfect sixth man, as he provides instant offense when the starters take a seat. Now with his sixth team, the Clippers, he is still close to his career average in scoring. He’s averaging 13.1 points per game on the year in only 25.7 minutes a night, compared to his career average of 15.5 points per game.

Crawford is also known for having some of the best handles in the game, making a name for himself with his killer crossover and ability to create his own shot. Crawford is also known for leading the league in four-point plays. He likely won’t be a Hall-of-Famer, but after nearly 16 years in the league, Crawford is still going strong and says that he wants to continue playing for several more seasons.

Dwyane Wade (Miami HEAT)

The 34-year-old is the youngest of these players and is still going strong, averaging 18.7 points per game. Even though injuries have slowed him down a bit in recent years, he is still a focal point for the HEAT. His best year was in 2008-09, when he averaged just above 30 points a game. While he isn’t as explosive as he used to be, he still has the craftiness to get to the hoop – scoring and creating for others.

Most impressive is his PER of 21.28, which ranks 27th in the league right behind his teammate Chris Bosh.

Wade likely still has several years in the league before he’ll retire, but when he does, he’ll have at least three NBA championships, 12 All-Star selections and many other accolades to his name. He’ll also have a pretty strong Hall of Fame argument, although he’s not a lock like some of the players on this list.

Which veterans continue to impress you? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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