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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

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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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NBA Daily: 6 G League Players Deserving of NBA Call-Ups

With teams around the league signing players to 10-day contracts, Tristan Tucker takes a look at some of the G League players most deserving of a call-up.

Tristan Tucker

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With most teams in the NBA G-League bubble having around 10 games under their belts, fans are getting a clearer look at which teams have a legitimate shot at winning the G-League championship and which players are stepping up. Recently, the NBA saw a flurry of action after teams became eligible to sign players to 10-day contracts, with G-League players like Justin Patton, Brodric Thomas, Tyler Cook and Donta Hall getting new opportunities.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the top performers from the G-League that deserve NBA call-ups sooner rather than later.

Henry Ellenson, Raptors 805

Ellenson, drafted 18th overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2016, is one of the feature pieces on a 7-3 Raptors 905 team that has very real title aspirations. In just over 30 minutes a night, Ellenson is averaging 19.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. One of the things that makes Ellenson so enticing as a prospect is the fact that, at 6-foot-10, he isn’t scared to unload the clip from downtown.

This season, the big man out of Marquette is shooting 37.5 percent from deep on eight attempts per night. For reference, one of the best shooters in the NBA in Duncan Robinson shoots at a 39.8 percent clip on nearly the same amount of attempts. For any team looking for immediate bench reinforcements with a refined offensive game, Ellenson is a great place to start.

Tyrone Wallace, Agua Caliente Clippers

Tyrone Wallace gets buckets. Wallace originally joined the Los Angeles Clippers on a two-way contract in the 2017-18 season, then a scrappy team that saw major contributions from Wallace and fellow two-way guard C.J. Williams en route to a 42-40 record. After averaging 9.7 points per game as an undrafted two-way contract rookie, Wallace was curiously left out to dry, bouncing around the NBA landscape before coming back to the Clippers’ G League affiliate.

This season, Wallace is averaging 18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and, while his three-point shooting could use some refinement, Wallace is bound to earn another call-up sooner or later.

Jordan Bell, Erie Bayhawks

Bell was a draft favorite for many after being acquired in the 2017 NBA Draft in the second round by the Golden State Warriors. Bell joined the Warriors as the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and it seemed as if he and Draymond Green were a frontcourt match made in heaven.

Ultimately, Bell’s stint with the Warriors and subsequent trip around the NBA didn’t work out, but the forward out of Oregon is proving that he deserves another shot. Look no further than the hilariously efficient rate at which he’s hit shots, 80.6 percent on just under 10 attempts, for proof of that.

Picking up his offensive game was always going to be integral for Bell to be a complete NBA player, something he’s done very well as of late while averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. However, it’s still impressive to note that Bell is hitting such a high rate of shots and is averaging 2 blocks per game at just 6-foot-8 it isn’t like he’s reaching over everyone in the paint to hit these shots.

Myles Powell, Westchester Knicks

After entering the draft out of Seton Hall, Powell was a fan favorite for his scoring antics and many New York Knicks fans wanted to see Powell get a roster spot after he signed as an undrafted free agent. That ultimately didn’t happen, but Powell is tearing it up for Westchester.

One of the things that scared general managers from taking Powell was his efficiency and consistency, both of which he has improved in the G League. Powell scored 21 points per game as a senior in college but shot 39.8 percent from the floor and 30.6 from three on well over nine attempts per game. Adversely, Powell is averaging 17.1 points a night on a 43.2/46.4/82.4 shooting split in the G-League. After seeing such a vast improvement in such little time, it would only make sense for an NBA team to take a shot on Powell, he seems to have good intangibles and is clearly committed to improving himself.

Alize Johnson, Raptors 905

Basketball Insiders took a look at Johnson earlier this season — and he’s meeting expectations while being a key part of a winning 905 team. Johnson is averaging a very impressive 13.3 points and 12.8 rebounds while dishing out 3.6 assists per game. Recently, Johnson scored 22 points with 20 rebounds and 7 assists. He followed that up with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists

There’s no reason for Johnson not to get another NBA chance this season.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Erie Bayhawks

Wright-Foreman was drafted in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, joining the team on a two-way contract. While the Jazz let him go, it’s easy to see that the 6-foot guard still has a future in the NBA after his showings in the G League bubble. Wright-Foreman had a legendary college career at Hofstra, breaking the school’s record for points in a game with 48 and scoring 27.1 points per game as a senior.

While Wright-Foreman’s box score production is somewhat hampered by the sheer amount of talent on the Bayhawks, his impact is still clear to see. The guard is averaging 11.6 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from deep on over five attempts per game. If Wright-Foreman can improve his stamina he averages 14.5 points with one day of rest as opposed to 5.7 points on the second night of back-to-backs — he’ll have a bright future in the league.

It’s easy to be impressed with the sheer production fans see from players in the G-League on a daily basis and so many more players deserve opportunities than one article can name. One thing is certain though, NBA teams are re-tooling their rosters which will be sure to lead the way to more young players getting chances. Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders to keep up with all the latest news and rumors.

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NBA PM: What Brooklyn Needs At The Deadline

The Brooklyn Nets are rightfully among the favorites to win the NBA championship. Garrett Brooks takes a look at what the Nets need at the deadline to give themselves the best chance to win it all.

Garrett Brooks

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As they’ve acclimated to one another, the Brooklyn Nets are finding their groove on both ends of the floor recently. While that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA, there are still things the Nets need to address before making their eventual playoff run.

Winning regular-season games is one thing, winning playoff series is a whole different animal. We know the Nets have offensive firepower like few teams in the history of the NBA. Their big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving can carry them to regular-season success.

If they want to maximize their chances to win a title, though, they have more moves to make to fill out the roster.

Another Frontcourt Option

The Nets have to be pleased with what they’re getting from Jeff Green in small ball lineups at the five, as well as the recent emergence of Bruce Brown too. That’s going to be a trend for this team moving forward, as it should be.

Still, there’s a lack of depth on the roster in terms of capable defensive big men that needs to be addressed before an eventual run at an NBA Championship. This is especially true because of the teams they could face on their way to a title, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, beating those teams four out of seven games with a big man rotation consisting of DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green is just highly unlikely.

Green is a great weapon to use at the five but is far too undersized to be counted on in any given playoff series. He’ll get picked on by opposing bigs with offensive skillsets if he’s asked to play all the minutes that Jordan isn’t on the floor. While Brown has been great in his own right, asking him to defend Nikola Jokic, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol and beyond is just too big an ask.

Jordan is not the player he once was but is still a difference-maker in the right situation. Additionally, it would be ideal to add another big that has a different skill set than Jordan in order to increase the options head coach Steve Nash has with his lineups.

With a rim runner in Jordan and small ball fives in Green and Brown, the Nets need to target a versatile big man to add to the mix. Floor spacing would be ideal but isn’t necessary if they bring in someone that can make a big enough impact on the defensive end.

The ideal target will bring two key attributes to the team: The first is rim protection when called upon. The Nets don’t have a long list of strong perimeter defenders, so extra help at the rim would be much-needed. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a shot-blocker as it can also be a smart defender that mainly relies on successfully contesting shots under the rim.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the center they target needs to be capable of switching on the defensive end. One way the Nets like to cover themselves defensively is by going switch-heavy for stretches. This allows them to play the passing lanes aggressively and often forces the opponent out of their offensive rhythm. The more capable their big men are when it comes to switching, the better this strategy will work.

Kevin Durant’s versatility on the defensive end allows the Nets to search for somebody that excels in defending multiple positions even if they may not be great as the last line of defense. Durant is a strong help defender and has the length to make things difficult at the rim. This ability is proven by the 1.8 blocks he averaged during the 2017-18 season with the Golden State Warriors.

Durant can be the help side defender when asked, but how often can he be asked to bang in the post defensively? The answer is not often.

It’s important that any addition to the frontcourt can hold their own in the post against players such as Joel Embiid or Bam Adebayo. But the harsh reality is that the Nets likely won’t have the luxury to be picky with the type of big man they add. It’ll be hard to find a player that can defend most bigs and switch on most positions throughout a game.

Given their lack of assets remaining, the Nets will need to target what they can afford on the market.

Names to keep an eye on: Thaddeus Young, Chicago Bulls; JaVale McGee, Cleveland Cavaliers; P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets.

Depth At The Point Guard Position

With James Harden leading the way as the point guard and Kyrie Irving very capable of handling the offensive load as well, this is an easy need to overlook. Unfortunately, the Nets can’t afford to do that as the trade deadline approaches. If they can’t acquire a traditional point guard for depth, they’ll need to address it on the buyout market.

After Harden, Irving and Durant, the Nets’ core rotation does very little in terms of playmaking. In fact, DeAndre Jordan ranks next among players in the rotation for assists per game. The big three can certainly carry the load when it comes to getting players involved, but the Nets could use another veteran that’ll get their offense good looks.

Most notably, this type of move would aid them in finishing the regular season without riding their stars too hard – which they’ve already done. That versatility would be a great asset to Nash and his coaching staff in both the regular season and playoffs.

That’s without mentioning the always-existent possibility of injury or potentially-required quarantine. It’s always best to have depth and options, and that’s truer than ever in the current NBA landscape. The ideal addition would be a natural distributor capable of knocking down an open shot and holding his own on the defensive end of the floor.

That may seem like a tough sell, but it’s certainly a skill set that will be available for the right price. The Nets would do well in targeting a player that is underperforming due to circumstance. It’s fair to assume a lot of players would benefit from playing in the kind of environment the Nets are currently constructing.

Names to keep an eye on: Austin Rivers, New York Knicks; Quinn Cook, Free Agent; George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Nets can address these two needs they’ll be as well-rounded as any team. The added versatility and flexibility would make them that much stronger come the playoffs. While they’re finding some excellent, wonderful regular season successes, the postseason is a different beast – and the Nets, plus a rookie head coach, will need to learn how to adapt on-the-fly.

General manager Sean Marks is never truly done molding his rosters – and Spencer Dinwiddie may even be available, according to Ian Begley of SNY – so what the Nets run with today certainly isn’t final.

We know what the big three are capable of – now it’s time for the roster to be rounded out for their best chance to succeed.

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Bruce Brown Thriving As Nets’ Small Ball Center

Brooklyn has thrived with Bruce Brown playing minutes as a small ball center – and what started out as an experiment may just change the Nets’ championship aspirations for the better.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden has proven to be worth it so far. However, their depth and size were seriously hurt as a result of the deal – so the Nets have been forced to get creative with the limited options they have. 

Enter: Bruce Brown.

Standing at a meager 6-foot-4, Brown may be the Nets’ best option at center against certain matchups. DeAndre Jordan, the starting center now that Jarrett Allen is in Cleveland, has seen his defensive capabilities decline rather drastically since his time in Lob City. He is still an elite alley-oop threat but has some lapses with effort levels. Reggie Perry is a rookie who was the 57th overall pick isn’t ready for a heavy load of minutes just yet. Nic Claxton has shown promise but has played in just two games due to injury. 

In a win against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13, Brown started at center with Jordan out to injury. He finished the game with 18 points and 7 rebounds. It wasn’t the first time this season Brown spent time at the center position, but it was reflective of his ever-changing role on this Nets team. 

Brown arrived this past offseason and came thought as more of a point guard. Now that the Nets have three of the best playmakers in the NBA, his role has shifted. He is practically never counted on to initiate the offense – instead, he has become the guy who does the dirty work. Think of him as the Nets’ version of Draymond Green. 

Now the small ball option at center, Brown’s strengths have been accentuated. Offensively, he has become a screen-setter and roll man, thus forming chemistry with James Harden, and has played his way into a crucial part of the rotation. Brown’s minutes at the beginning of the season were sporadic and included four DNP’s. Now he’s an invaluable piece to the Nets’ puzzle. 

When teams trap or double James Harden or Kyrie Irving, Brown is often the outlet. He catches the ball in the middle of the floor, turns and has options available to him. Able to attack the basket or make the right pass to an open guy, Brown’s decision-making has been a positive for Brooklyn. 

Defensively, Brown is one of the few Nets players who is a consistent positive on that end. He can guard multiple positions due to his strength and often defends the opposing team’s best players. While his height will never allow for him to be a full-time center, being an option for coach Steve Nash to plug in for small ball lineups is a game-changer. 

“Bruce is remarkable, I mean, I believe he mostly played point guard last year and he’s playing – what do you want to call him our center?” Said Steve Nash, per Newsday. “He’s picking and rolling and finishing with two bigs in the lane. His willingness and ability to do that is remarkable.”

Really, that’s what has been most impressive. Brown is playing a role he has never been asked to do in the NBA and thriving. He scored a career-high 29 points against the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 23. That night, he straight-up shared minutes with Jordan, which speaks to his versatility. Wherever the Nets have needed him this season, Brown has been willing and able. 

Brown’s counting stats won’t jump off a stat sheet. He’s averaging just 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting just 22.2 percent from the three-point line but he’s made a living around the basket. A look at his shot chart shows how little he operates from outside the restricted area – and due to the attention his superstar teammates garner, he usually gets open looks right near the rim.

 

He’s also often being guarded by opposing team’s big men. In a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, former defensive player of the year Marc Gasol guarded Brown to start the game. The role of the small ball center is not as rare as it used to be, but Bruce Brown may be the smallest guy in terms of height to fill the role. To wit, Draymond Green is 6-foot-6 and PJ Tucker is 6-foot-5. 

The Nets traded for Brown this past offseason in what looks to have been an absolute steal of a deal, giving up just Dzanan Musa and a second-round pick. Given that the inconsistent Musa is now playing overseas, it was a trade that is already providing dividends. 

But, at the end of the day, there are championship expectations in Brooklyn. While the Nets certainly have the star power to beat just about anybody, role-players who thrive in their role can often swing a game or a series come playoff time. So far, more so than nearly any other player outside of the big three, Brown’s ability to fit in wherever needed has changed the contender’s long-term outlook in a positive way.

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