Aging Players Stumble in the Playoffs

Diminished performances are a reminder that Father Time catches up to NBA stars, no matter how talented.

Garnett’s Celtic teammate Ray Allen turns 35 this summer, ancient for an NBA perimeter player. While his game is in decline, it has been a slow wane. Despite a well-rounded game, Allen has been best-known as one of the league’s top sharpshooters. In the last few years, Allen has begun to resemble his stereotype of being a mostly a shooter. His assists and rebounds are down, but he, too, remains a valuable player on the floor. The Celtics are seven points better per 48 minutes with Allen in the lineup.

Tim Duncan, who turned 34 last month, is the sort of player who should age especially well. He is a classic pivotman who denies the paint to all opponents, and his coach, Gregg Popovich has thoughtfully limited his regular-season minutes with the expectation of long annual playoff runs. His regular season and playoff numbers have been consistently stellar. Yet after seven games into this postseason, Duncan’s performance is off substantially. His shooting and assists are down, and his turnovers are up. (His rebounding has remained steady.) Seven games is too small a sample size to draw any sound conclusions, but he does bear watching.

The picture is clearer on other NBA geezers. Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal, 38, is a valuable role player, a far cry from his years as one of the best centers ever. Phoenix Suns swingman Grant Hill, 37, missed most of four seasons in his prime, but he continues to enjoy a remarkable, late-career renaissance as a stellar role player. Hill’s teammate, guard Steve Nash, who turned 36 in February, is still playing at an all-star level. He is turning into a beacon of hope for players who hope to fend off the vagaries of aging.

Tick tock. Tick tock…

Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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