Some stars fade faster than others
Full disclosure: I'm 42 years old. That means that ever since the mysteriously aged Dikembe Mutombo retired, I've been older than every player in the NBA. At times it's an unusual situation getting used to your age, like when you're assessing a player's trade value. Sometimes you knock a player down a few spots in your head because you know he's way old ... only to realize you're five years older than he is. I'm looking at you, Shaquille O'Neal. Hell, I'm older than Brett Favre!
While the downside of aging for me was battling constant injuries and seeing my own hoops skills diminish rapidly as 40 approached, the upside is I learned from my experience. That's given me some pretty good insight on what to expect from NBA players as they go through their own physical declines in their 30s. I think they call that gaining wisdom. I guess if you lose your first step and can't keep up on D anymore, the least you could get out of it is a little insight and wisdom.
In general, you can count on me targeting talented players younger than 27 years old, because they have so much potential and upside. On the flip side, I typically shy from players who are in their 30s. That's not to say I won't draft them, only that other people will draft them before I'll consider adding them to my roster. I don't like the risk involved due to nagging injuries, potential career-ending injuries and the inevitable decline in physical skills.
Every player has value, though, so let's put on our reading glasses and take a close look at players who are creeping into their 30s to determine their value for next season and beyond.
Let's give our propers to the guys who give us all hope: players whose decline is slow and subtle. Players like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash are defying the odds to play at a ridiculously high level despite the 40-year mark on their horizons. Nash turned 36 this month, and is averaging 17.3 points per game and 11.2 assists per game. Meanwhile, Kidd, who will turn 37 on March 23, messed around and got a monster triple-double (19 points, 17 dimes, 16 boards) in 46 minutes of work in an overtime game last week.
Seeing production like this can make young fantasy folk think everyone can play at an elite level forever. Trust me, tough; these guys are the rare exceptions to the typical decline. It's not a complete fluke that Kidd and Nash are still killing it on the hardwood. They're future Hall of Famers who have conditioned their bodies as well as anyone in the league throughout their careers.
Current players who fit that mold include Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. They have elite talent, avoided major injuries when they were young and have maintained top conditioning levels as they crossed into their 30s.
For every player sipping from the fountain of youth, there are three, four or five guys who are sliding down the other side of the proverbial hill like it's a cliff.
Sometimes it's pretty obvious that a player is going to fall off that cliff. Look at Baron Davis, for instance. He has been dinged up throughout his career, has missed large chunks of seasons and has a career-long reputation for being out of shape. Davis turns 31 next month; anyone out there think he's going to be churning out quality stats for 75 games a season in a couple of years? Neither do I.
Manu Ginobili is another example of a rapid decliner we all could see coming. He flopped his way around the NBA like Raggedy Andy for eight seasons while battling a wide variety of injuries. So it's really no surprise that the 32-year-old's production has been on a rapid decline since he turned 30. Jermaine O'Neal is another example. He might be only 31 years old, but he's battled injuries throughout his career. Just as important is noting that O'Neal is an old 31, because he's been playing in the NBA since he was barely 18. It's no surprise, then, that his fantasy game went in the tank before he even got to 30.
Sometimes the risk is more subtle, though. Consider Kevin Garnett. Like O'Neal, KG has played a very long career. On the other hand, he fits the bill of the Everlasting Globetrotters mentioned above -- he's a future Hall of Famer who maintained peak conditioning throughout his career. Despite all he had going for him, though, once Garnett joined the Celtics, his stats declined and his injuries spiked. We could have seen some of this coming, because he battled sore knees on and off for several years in his late 20s. He just toughed it out and played through it most of the time. It's a great lesson in my eyes, because I see this as the norm for aging stars, and the players like Nash and Kidd as the exceptions.
Some more examples of players who likely will see their production drop off (or continue to drop off) at a rapid rate because their physical history suggests their bodies will betray them soon or because their hoops skills are limited at this point: Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic.
While I shy from players in their 30s, there are some guys who aren't top-end studs like Nash and Kidd and who aren't falling off a cliff like Ginobili and KG. These players are in relatively good health for their age and have found a nice niche on a team that allows them to produce without too much physical punishment. So long as they maintain those qualities, you'll see a slow but steady decline in production each season.
Typically, these are outside shooters who don't have to earn their keep in the paint. And because you can draft them in the middle-to-late rounds, they maintain good overall fantasy value.
Ray Allen is a prime example. He's been relatively healthy and in great shape throughout his career, and now he just runs around the arc dropping jumpers at a high rate, which he probably could do from a wheelchair. In his sleep. Even Allen's days might be numbered, though. Last season's 18.2 points per game and 2.5 3-pointers per game were enticing, while this season's 16.5 ppg and 1.7 3pg are pedestrian.
A few more players who appear to be in good physical shape and have skill sets that should allow them to produce at a decent pace for at least another season or two: Jason Terry, Rashard Lewis, Lamar Odom, Al Harrington, Antawn Jamison, Hedo Turkoglu, Andre Miller, Shane Battier and Richard Hamilton.
Retro Roto: Tom Gugliotta
When Washington Wizards big man Andray Blatche dropped 36 points and 15 boards on the New Jersey Nets on Sunday, he became the first Wizards franchise player with at least 15 field goals and 15 boards since Tom Gugliotta did it for the then-Bullets in 1992.
Googs was an amazing fantasy stud in his prime, but you wouldn't know it from his looks. If you were choosing teams in a pickup game and Googs didn't happen to be 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, you probably would have looked him over and picked someone else.
Fantasy folks loved the look of his statistical production, though, because he could score, dish, rebound and steal at a terrific rate. As a rookie during that 1992-93 campaign, he not only had 15 field goals and 15 boards in the aforementioned game, but he averaged 14.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.8 apg and 1.7 spg. The next season, Googs shot 46.6 percent from the field and bumped his scoring and steals to 17.1 ppg and 2.2 spg.
His production maxed out during a two-season stretch, 1996-97 and 1997-98, while playing with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Over that time period, he averaged about 20 ppg, 4.1 apg, 8.7 rpg and 1.5 spg. Unfortunately, that 1997-98 campaign ended 39 games early for him due to bone spurs and chips in his right ankle.
At age 30, during the 1999-2000 season, Googs was cut down by a brutal knee injury that included a ruptured ACL, PCL, MCL and damaged meniscus. Like most 30-year-olds, his production prior to the injury was already in decline: 13.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg. Needless to say, he was never even a blip on the fantasy radar after blowing his knee out.
Googs remains a stellar example of what I love about fantasy studs and what I fear when they try to ball in their 30s.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Karabell: Four Downs: Rookie WRs shine in 2014
- Fantasy Hoops Forecaster: Dec. 29-Jan. 4
- Fantasy Hockey Forecaster: Week 12
- NFL Nation: 2015 breakout fantasy stars