So I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a throwaway stat in Marc Berman’s piece on Sunday about the Knicks and age.
Berman writes: “The last time five players 35-and-over suited up for a team was 2000-01 (the Trail Blazers and Raptors), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.”
But obviously, there’s relying on older players, and then there’s utilizing older players without the season depending on them. My suspicion was that both these teams, which I remembered being pretty good, would fall into the latter category. And to an extent, this is the case, though encouragingly, probably not as much as this year’s Knicks.
The five players 35-and-over on the 2000-01 Trail Blazers were: Scottie Pippen, Arvydas Sabonis, Detlef Schrempf, Will Perdue and Gary Grant. In minutes played, they ranked fifth, seventh, eleventh, fourteenth and sixteenth, respectively. Really, only Pippen and Sabonis could be considered rotation members. (By the way, the leader in minutes played on that team? 26-year-old Rasheed Wallace.)
The 2000-01 Raptors actually had six players 35-and-over, too: Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson, Dell Curry, Kevin Willis, Tyrone Corbin and Muggsy Bogues. Their ranks in minutes played, respectively, were second, sixth, eighth, tenth, sixteenth and eighteenth. Only Oakley, Jackson and Curry could be considered rotation members.
Let’s compare this to an estimated breakout of minutes played for this year’s Knicks from Posting and Toasting’s Paul Chillsap. The Knick 35-and-overs are Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni. His estimates have the elder Knicks ranked, in logging minutes, as sixth, ninth, and out of the rotation.
Now consider what the ramifications would have been for the Blazers or Raptors if their elder players had faltered. The Blazers regularly started Pippen and Sabonis. Pippen played 64 games, starting 60; Sabonis played 61 games, starting 42. The Raptors rode 37-year-old Charles Oakley even harder, starting him in 77 of his 78 games played, while Mark Jackson started all 54 of his games played at age 35.
That just won’t be the case for the Knicks’ elders, unless something goes seriously wrong. If Marcus Camby is starting regularly, that means something happened to Tyson Chandler, and Camby is a useful facsimile for Chandler. (This is a far better plan than last year’s alternative in case of a Chandler injury, which is to run hysterically through the streets screaming, “God help us all!”) If Jason Kidd is starting, that means something happened to Raymond Felton, and Kidd still has Prigioni to spell him. And both Wallace and Thomas represent backup plans for Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony when Stoudemire sits, depending on matchups.
By the way, even with greater reliance on older players than the 2012-13 Knicks, both teams did just fine. The Blazers won 50 games, losing in the N.B.A. Playoffs to a Lakers team that won it all. And the Raptors won 47 games, beat the Knicks in the playoffs, then fell to the Eastern Conference champion Sixers in seven games. Neither these teams, nor the Knicks, were doomed thanks to age.
The real reason for concern about this Knicks team and age is that its three best players- Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony- are entering their age-30, age-30 and age-28 seasons, respectively. And the younger talent behind them is Iman Shumpert, and… well, that’s really it. Having so many seniors on the team means roster spots aren’t taken up by young players who could presumably join Shumpert in a next group of talent. But both in the way this team is constructed, and the large number of young assets sacrificed to get to this point, those young players on the next good Knicks team after this one probably aren’t even out of college yet, possibly even high school.
The point is, age is not a this season kind of problem.