Examining the "thirtysomethings"
I celebrated my 43rd birthday over the weekend. That doesn't seem so bad when I'm hanging out with my 93-year-old grandfather, but it's still unpleasant to know that there isn't a single person my age playing in the NBA. When there's a conversation about Jason Kidd playing his 17th season, a voice in the back of my head says he must be old. Then I realize he's six years younger than I.
NBA players typically reach their physical peak between the ages of 27 and 30, and almost all of them are rendered useless in fantasy terms by the time they get to Kidd's age. This is why most of my fantasy hoops rosters are packed with players under 30. For the most part, I'd rather have a young player whose career arc is on the rise, rather than a veteran baller whose arc is in decline. But that doesn't mean all thirtysomething NBA players are dead to me. Some guys can still produce despite their physical decline. So let's examine a number of aging NBA players to determine their trade value now and in the coming years.
Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks: I've had a love-hate relationship with Kidd's fantasy value for much of his career. I've often felt he was overrated because of his pedestrian scoring and terrible shooting; he has had just one season in which he scored more than 16.9 points per game, and has averaged 13.4 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting over his lengthy career. That's the hate, but there also has been plenty to love; he has averaged 9.2 assists per game, 1.4 3-pointers per game and 2.0 steals per game. The truly amazing thing about Kidd in the twilight of his career is that he has played at least 80 games each of the past five seasons. As long as you can acquire him at the right price, Kidd still holds plenty of fantasy value if you are in need of dimes, 3s and swipes (8.5 assists, 1.6 3s and 1.8 steals per game this season). The fact that he's averaging just 7.8 points and shooting an embarrassing 33.5 from the field should keep his trade value to a reasonable level. Don't sweat the field goal percentage too much since he takes only 8.2 shots per game.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: You know how canine age is measured in "dog years" because their life cycle isn't the same as humans? Well, that same logic could be applied to hoopsters. At 32, Kobe isn't all that old. The catch is that he's in his 15th season, so in "baller years," he has a lot of wear and tear for a guy his age. That's particularly important to note because he had trouble staying healthy when he was younger. In fact, Kobe topped 71 games only three times in his first nine seasons. To his credit, though, he has been a warrior the past five campaigns (80, 77, 82, 82 and 73 games played). I'm not worried about him this season because despite battling knee problems, his stats are only slightly diminished from last season's performance. I'd have no problem trading for him right now, because he usually flourishes later in the season as the playoffs approach. Next season and beyond, though, there's a good chance his body will give him more problems and limit his ability to produce like he's capable of.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Like Kobe, Dirk is a lot older in "baller years" than most guys his age; he's only 32, but this is his 13th campaign in the Association. However, despite troublesome ankle issues throughout his lengthy career, he has missed only 29 games since his rookie season. Of course, he did just return from an extended absence due to a knee injury, and he'll be more prone to random injuries like that one the further he climbs into his 30s. The good news for Diggler and his ability to stay on the floor in the future is that unlike most 7-footers, he doesn't spend all his time banging bodies in the paint. Instead, he's primarily a perimeter shooter who avoids contact. For that reason, I probably have the least concern about his game diminishing rapidly over the next few years among guys his age.
Steve Nash, Vince Carter and Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns: A lot of people move to Phoenix to retire, and it appears the Suns front office is running with that notion, building the team around guys who can see retirement in the not-so-distant future. Nash turns 37 next month, Carter turns 34 in about a week, and the 38-year-old Hill's nickname should be "Over The Hill." Hill's late-career renaissance is unexpected because he could barely even get on the court (because of injuries) when he was in his prime. But his performance should be considered the rarest of exceptions; very few players will offer this kind of a return this late in their career. I still expect his stats to dip in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Nash's conditioning is well-documented, so I'm not surprised he's still playing at an elite level at his advanced age. I expect him to continue dominating this season and beyond. On the other hand, Carter has never put in the extra effort off the court, so I truly expect his game to diminish rapidly in the next couple years. And I'm skeptical about his ability to stay on the court for the Suns this season. Trade for him at your own peril.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: Duncan has been one of the most reliable players in fantasy hoops over the past decade and a half; you could mark him down for at least 20 points per game, 10 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 50 percent field goal shooting, and he rarely missed extensive action (2003-04 and 2004-05 being the only seasons in which he played fewer than 74 games). This season, the Spurs are cranking out wins with ease, and they aren't leaning on the 34-year-old Duncan for scoring in the process, but the rest of his stats are good, and odds are he'll pick up the pace as the postseason rolls around. That makes him a quality buy-low guy right now. I've dogged Ginobili throughout his lengthy career for being a flopper, because I think it's a chump way to play (though it's really on the refs to not give in to the flopping). Now that he's 33, though, there's a legit concern about the potential injuries that can come from throwing your body around like he does when driving the lane or flailing like a soccer player. This is especially true for a guy who has topped 75 games just once in his career (77 games played in 2003-04). If you trade for him, make sure you factor in the health risk.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Shaquille O'Neal, Boston Celtics: Ray-Ray is 35, Pierce is 33, KG is 34, and Shaq will turn 39 on March 4. Celtics fans better hope their front office can make some serious moves in the next few years or Rajon Rondo is going to be passing to himself. Obviously, any perimeter player is going to be a far safer bet to age gracefully than a big man who slams his body into other bigs game in and game out. There haven't been many players as graceful as Allen in NBA history, and his stroke is so smooth, I would actually be surprised if he doesn't remain fantasy-relevant for the next three seasons. Pierce is similar, because he has rarely missed games during his career and has such versatility that he'll find a way to produce even as his body slows him down. Look for Pierce to continue being a quality option for at least the next three seasons. I wouldn't hesitate to count on Allen and Pierce in the second half of this campaign. I bring up Shaq only because he's the old man of the Association, and because his slow statistical decline through his 30s should be similar to what we can expect as KG's career arc heads toward retirement. Banging in the paint is going to lead to nagging injuries and extended stays in the infirmary. At the same time, the veteran can still score and hit the glass enough to help any fantasy team.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.