30 is the New 40; Age and the NBA
It seems like basketball players age quicker than any other of the major sports, with the exception of the running back in the NFL. When a running back hits 30, he’s invariably done and this has been proven over and over again. Is the same thing true for NBA players? Is 30 the death knell for most pure scorers? Centers and even power forwards (Shaq, Kurt Thomas I’m looking at you) can hang around forever because you “can’t teach size” and at the very least they provide a defensive presence. But a scorer isn’t afforded the same luxuries and is usually jettisoned at the first hint of decline in production.
In the interest of science we’ll compare are Tracy McGrady and Rashard Lewis. Both players were “scorers” but of two decidedly different skill sets. McGrady is in his 13th year in the NBA and is 31 years old. Lewis is also 31 and is in his 12th NBA season. Both players skipped college and went directly to the NBA draft out of high school.
“T Mac” in his prime was as exciting as any player in the league. Overshadowed by Vince Carter his first two years in the league, he broke out in year three averaging 15.4 per game and led the Raptors to their first playoff appearance in history. In that year’s offseason he was traded by the Raptors, who knew they couldn’t re-sign him, to the Magic where he was supposed to play alongside Grant Hill. But Hill couldn’t stay healthy and McGrady became a one man show averaging a robust 28.1 points per game over his four years in Orlando, leading the league in scoring two years in a row. After his first year in Houston where he played in 78 games and scored almost 26 ppg, McGrady’s back began to ail him from then on. For the next three years he averaged 23 ppg but only played an average of 61 games a season. Additional injuries to his knee and shoulder limited him further allowing him to play in a career low 33 minutes a game in just 35 games during his final season in Houston. At age 29 he was essentially done, though now at the age of 31 he is still hanging around coming off of the bench for the Pistons.
Similar to McGrady, Lewis took three years to produce as well before he became a full time starter in Seattle. Lewis never led the league in scoring because he was never Seattle’s number one option; he was surrounded by talent. Lewis was the beneficiary and honed his craft of knocking down three’s from the outside and made his rep that way. In 2004 Lewis had his first 20+ppg average for the season, the first of three straight, and made the all star team and ultimately became the Sonics’ biggest star. After averaging 22.4 ppg in 2006, Lewis signed a six year, $118 million dollar deal to play for Orlando. A lot of scoring was expected of Lewis at this time and to justify the contract, but he sort of fell into the background like he did in Seattle, feeding off of other players rather than creating his own shot. In three years in Orlando his scoring dipped every year and he became less and less a pivotal part of the offense. But he did help them to an NBA Finals appearance in 2008. Now playing in Washington, Lewis looks completely done thanks to a lingering knee injury which means even less ability to create his own shot. Lewis played decent last year, so we’ll say he was done at age 31.
Is 30 the universally dreaded age in the NBA that it is in the NFL? With McGrady and Lewis it sure looks like it. Who can you think of that bucks this apparent trend?
(image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison])