By Dan Kelly @HoopandTieGuy
Only ten players in the history of the NBA have played more games than Kevin Garnett.
Only 5 players in history have logged more cumulative minutes.
At the outset of his 19th NBA season Garnett will be 37 years old.
Only six active players have spent more time on this earth than KG and none of them have logged nearly as many minutes (Ray Allen (38) is closest, trailing by only 3,393).
Considering his age and his odometer it’s not unreasonable to question (albeit quietly) what kind of performance The Big Ticket is still capable of.
Lets take a look at some relevant examples from the past and then hypothesize about KG’s 2013-14 season.
The 7’0” 230 pound Center began his career at age 23 meaning that at age 37 he was playing his 15th NBA season. That was a solid year for the Big Chief and a good omen for KG. Parrish’s 19th season stats are pretty underwhelming but the two numbers to really focus on are the games played (81) and the minutes (16.7). The year before he was playing 26.9 minutes! If the Nets can get 81 games out of KG they’ll be thrilled. If they have to limit him to 17 mins/game in order to do it they’ll be in trouble.
At age 37 Karl Malone was showing no signs of slowing down. The numbers are amazing. Malone’s 19th and final season ended with a knee injury on this play. He was averaging a hefty 32.7 minutes that season before the injury and had started all 42 games to that point. Maybe Garnett should invest in some shape-ups.
Cliff retired at age 40 after 18 seasons on the court. But we can guess what his production would have been like in year 19. At age 37 he was still chucking outside jumpers like a young man (11.5 fg attempts/game, 3.8 3pt attempts/game). While Cliff’s shooting numbers got steadily worse over the last 5 years of his career KG’s have stayed about the same.
This is concerning. In his 18th season, at age 36, Moses played in all 82 games averaging 30.6 minutes, 15.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. His 19th season didn’t begin until late March on account of back surgery. Back surgery! He was never the same.
Kareem is the most encouraging comparison for KG. At age 37 he finished 4th in MVP voting, was voted to the ALL NBA 2nd team, won a championship and was named the Finals MVP. In his 19th season he made the All-Star team and won another championship.
It’s reckless to look too deeply into these stats. Every player has a different body. Every player has a different style of play. Some of these guys just took better care of themselves. None of these guys had the benefit of kale smoothies on every corner, fish oil in their fridge and hyperbaric chambers in their homes. Plus, this is a super small sample size. There just aren’t a lot of players who played 19 seasons and logged over 40,000 minutes.
But one quick glance at the numbers shows that while dudes are perfectly capable of performing well at age 37, the 19th NBA season can be a vulnerable year.
Last season, at age 36, KG appeared in 68 regular season games and put up 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in an average of 29.7 minutes. He also appeared in 6 playoff games where he upped his minutes to 35.8, scored 12.7 points and grabbed a monstrous 13.7 rebounds.
Given the wealth of offensive weapons on this Nets team (especially compared to last year’s Celtics) it would make sense for KG’s points to drop down to around 10 per game. His 7.8 rebounds will still be necessary and could even go up while playing next to Brook Lopez. KG’s most important impact will come on the defensive end where the only relevant stat will be opponent points per possession.
None of the above stats for Robert Parish or Moses Malone can measure how quickly they were able to show help and get back to their man. We can’t see how many shots Kareem altered or how well Cliff Robinson hedged on the pick and roll. What we do know is that Garnett has been doing all those things at a high level for 18 years. And he’ll do them again if he can stay healthy.
Moses Malone came into the league at age 19, just like Garnett. They both dominated the league in their twenties (Malone didn’t slow down until he was 35. KG pumped the brakes at 32). Malone had back surgery before his 19th season after a solid 82 game campaign in his 18th season. He managed only 83 games in the next 3 years.
These things happen to 37 year olds. Lets just hope it doesn’t happen to Garnett.