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NBA Analysis: Does Age Impact Success?

By Joe Lucas

The front-runners to win the NBA championship so far season includes the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Orlando Magic. What do these teams have in common? They are among the oldest teams in the NBA (they make up 6 of the oldest 8 teams in the league).

The Lakers, Celts, and Mavs all have an average age of over 30 years old. Keep in mind 30 is way past the league’s average age, and usually an age when players start their downslide. The last six NBA champs were, on average, the fifth oldest team in the league.

If you extend the study to twelve years, the champs were, on average, the seventh oldest team in the league.

Teams always need talent to win games, but the overall formula for success changes as teams move from the regular season to the playoffs. In the playoffs, teams need to take good shots. They need to understand late-game situations, keep their composure in tight games, battle back from deficits, and they need to know how to win – all traits that come with experience playing the game. It is implicit that a team with an older average age also has the players with more experience, and most likely, more players with traits that contribute to a winning formula.

Many of you have heard of the 10,000 hour rule. For those who have not, the theory states that one becomes a “master” of a craft after 10,000 hours of practice. Let’s apply this loosely to an NBA player’s career, assuming serious “practice” begins in college. The college season lasts seven months (about 150 days of games and practices) with play/practice time being about three hours a day, and we’ll assume a college player also plays/practices 150 days in the off-season, for 2.5 hours a day (3,300 hours over four years).

The NBA season breaks down like this: 80 games (two hours of game, one hour of shooting/practice pre-game), 100 practices and shoot-arounds (two hours per practice), 100 days of off-season practice (2.5 hours per day) which equates to 750 hours per season.

Our imaginary player in this example is 21 years old when he finishes college (3,300 hours accumulated), he then must spend nine years in the NBA to reach the 10,000 hour threshold, which would put him right at 30 years old, about the same age as the average recent championship teams.

Coincidence? Possibly, or perhaps these teams are made up of relative basketball “masters” who have learned what it takes to win.

What is a normal tactic for a strong team with playoff aspirations? Pick-up a few seasoned veterans who have won before and can play significant minutes. Moves like this would naturally boost the average age of a team, which begs the question: are the old teams better, or do good teams just get older through acquisition?

Any basketball player or coach will tell you that players who play well as a team win games. Changes and trades between teams happen quicker and more often than ever before. Over the last 10 years, the core group of players on the majority of the championship teams has played together for several years. The Lakers had Kobe, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, and Luke Walton while he Spurs had Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker.

Even on these championship teams, it took a few years for the team’s nucleus to gel. Since this process takes time, the age of the team naturally increases.

Whatever the answer, it appears that older teams are more successful in the NBA. Will there be a changing of the guard anytime soon? The only two teams in the younger half of the league with a potential playoff appearance in sight are the Oklahoma City Thunder (the youngest team at just under 24 years old) and the Chicago Bulls (12th youngest at just under 27 years old).

Only time will tell, but for now it looks like it’s an old man’s game.

Joe Lucas is a former college basketball player, and current basketball skill/strength coach. Check out The World Of Hoops for great free training resources (videos, drills, guides, a blog, and more) as well as to see more of his training products and offerings.


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