Thursday, May 5, 2011

The NBA Debate: Young vs. Old

We've had an ongoing debate on our staff between two of our NBA writers, myself and Andrew Leff, about whether the NBA has a greater supply of emerging young superstars--like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook--or established veterans still at the top of their games, like Dirk Nowitzki.  It's a pretty tough decision, since the youngsters have MVP Derrick Rose and Slam Dunk champion Blake Griffin. The veterans have Kobe Bryant, who had the fifth best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the entire league this season, and four-time NBA Champion Tim Duncan. Andrew's convinced the old guys would whip the youngin's, but I think the young guys would take the cake. To see who we picked for their teams (and why we picked them), hit the jump!

Benjy Narotsky: 23-and-under

Currently, the NBA has more young talent than it ever has before. A 10-man, 23-and-under team would look like this (2010-'11 stats in parentheses):

PG- Derrick Rose (CHI) (25.0 ppg/ 4.1 rpg / 7.7 apg / 23.62 PER)
SG- Russell Westbrook (OKC) (21.9/4.6/8.2/23.63)
SF- Kevin Durant (OKC) (27.7/6.8/2.7/23.70)
PF- Kevin Love (MIN) (20.1/15.4/2.5/24.39)
C- Blake Griffin (LAC) (22.5/12.1/3.8/21.93)
Bench- Andrew Bynum (LAL) (11.3/9.4/1.4/21.14)
Bench- Serge Ibaka (OKC) (9.9/7.6/0.3/17.70)
Bench- Stephen Curry (GS) (18.6/3.9/5.8/19.46)
Bench- Danilo Gallinari (DEN) (15.6/4.9/1.7/15.71)
Bench- Eric Gordon (LAC) (22.3/2.9/4.4/18.56)

Even though this roster is comprised of mostly college-aged players, it is still a great roster. The starting five for the under-23 squad has a combined PER of 117.27, and all 5 of these players are likely to be first or second team All-NBA next season, including the NBA MVP (Derrick Rose), the winner of the NBA scoring title (Kevin Durant), the winner of the rebounding title (Kevin Love), the winner of the slam dunk contest (Blake Griffin). The bench is also not too shabby, including the 2011 NBA Skills Competition Champion, Stephen Curry.

While the 32-and-over squad is very talented, and has many players who have led their teams to championships in the past, and you could argue all of those guys should be hall-of-famers. 7 of the last 10 MVP awards were won by a player on this team (Duncan 2, Nash 2, Bryant 1, Nowitzki 1, Garnett 1), many of them have lost a step and aren't what they once were. Kevin Garnett averaged only 14.9 ppg and 8.9 rpg, Tim Duncan averaged 13.4 ppg and 8.9 rpg-- both far from their MVP-like production of the past.

The 23-and-under team has more overall talent right now. There is not a single player on this roster who has appeared in the NBA Finals yet, but based on what they have done this season, this squad is overall better than the 32-and-over squad.

Andrew Leff: 32-and-over

PG: Steve Nash (PHX) (14.7 points per game/3.4 rebounds per game/11.4 assists per game/20.81 PER)
SG: Kobe Bryant (LAL) (25.3/5.1/4.7/23.94)
SF: Paul Pierce (BOS) (18.9/5.4/3.3/19.76)
PF: Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) (23.0/7.0/2.6/23.52)
C: Tim Duncan (SAS) (13.4/8.9/2.7/21.94)
Bench: Ray Allen (BOS) (16.5/3.4/2.7/16.42)
Bench: Elton Brand (PHI) (15.0/8.3/1.5/18.57)
Bench: Chauncey Billups (NYK) (16.8/2.6/5.4/18.78)
Bench: Manu Ginobili (SAS) (17.4/3.7/4.9/21.78)
Bench: Kevin Garnett (BOS) (14.9/8.9/2.4/20.67)

Despite their age, the starting lineup for the 32-and-over team has not been slipping. Last season, these five superstars had a total PER of 109.66, while their 2010-2011 figure was a slightly-higher 109.97. That increase includes Steve Nash losing his pick-and-roll buddy Amare Stoudemire in the offseason and Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan playing through injuries at various points throughout the season. Clearly, these five have not even begun to lose a step. Kobe Bryant had an especially impressive season, boosting his PER from 21.95 to 23.94. Though Tim Duncan did look tired in the playoffs against Memphis, he still managed a higher PER this season than his under-22 counterpart: Blake Griffin. The veterans' bench also provides a level depth that a team of youngsters simply cannot hope to match. Ray Allen shot a career-high 44.4% from downtown this season, and Elton Brand had his highest PER since 2006-2007.

By contrast, the under-22 bench is full of players who have great potential, but none of them have really lived up to it yet. John Wall had a PER of 15.85, making him barely better than the average NBA player this season. DeMarcus Cousins only had a 14.62 PER, due to his 43% shooting as an interior player while leading the NBA in personal fouls. These two rookies might grow into great players some day, but right now they are as raw as they come. The 32-and-over team, by contrast, is chock full of accomplished veterans who know how to win big games. Since Michael Jordan retired, there have been 12 NBA Champions, and 10 of those championship teams were led by a player in the 32-and-over starting lineup. One of those exceptions was the 2004 Detroit Pistons, whose point guard was now-34-year-old Chauncey Billups. The starting five for my over-32 squad won every MVP award between 2002 and 2008, and this roster has seven of the 12 Finals MVPs since Jordan. These 10 superstars have been among the best in the game for years, and they are still performing at a high level.

In five years, there's not doubt that Benjy's team will be better.  Maybe even in two years they will be.  But right now, in May 2011, I want Dirk, Kobe & Co. against Durant and Blake all day, everyday.

To our readers: Who would you take?

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