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Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Young Man's Game

Veteran savvy and playoff experience can be helpful when trying to win a title but ultimately youth and raw talent are the most important ingredients in the championship recipe. Magnus Carlsen demonstrated this in the 2013 World Chess Championship and the past two NBA seasons have reinforced the value of youth/health/energy relative to experience/accumulated wisdom. The injuries and fatigue suffered by older players more than offset the theoretical advantages that veteran players enjoy in terms of their experience in pressure-packed games.

The 2012-13 L.A. Lakers assembled a starting lineup that would have dominated the NBA just a few years ago: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. Unfortunately for the Lakers, four of those five players have declined, while the fifth--Howard--moved like an old man as a result of his recovery from offseason back surgery. That star-studded quintet started just seven games together and did not win any of those contests. They did not play a single minute together as a collectively healthy unit. Assembling that group looked great on paper--and I thought that the Lakers had the right kind of balance to challenge the Miami Heat--but expecting those five players to stay healthy and to quickly mesh together was, in retrospect, not realistic. The Lakers were not the 1995-96 Bulls, a squad that partnered three Hall of Famers who were each in--or at least very close to--their primes; Bryant was the only Laker who consistently played at a high level in the 2012-13 season and his left Achilles tendon ruptured under the weight of the Lakers' ineptitude.

The Brooklyn Nets did not draw the right conclusions from the Lakers' failed geriatric experiment; the Nets brought in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry--three older players who have championship experience--to bolster the Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Brook Lopez trio. On paper, a starting lineup of Garnett, Pierce, Lopez, Williams and Johnson looks powerful--but on the court that quintet has gone just 3-5 this season. Much has been written and said about the strategic acumen of first year Coach Jason Kidd but the reality is that he has not yet had the opportunity to direct the squad that he expected to lead; the Nets have been wracked with injuries and several of their veteran players have performed well below expectations: Garnett has appeared in 28 of Brooklyn's 31 games but he looks washed up, averaging just 6.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 1.6 apg while shooting a career-low .364 from the field.

Experience can certainly be an asset--LeBron James became a back to back champion in no small part because he learned from his failures in the 2011 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals--but the benefits of youth cannot be overstated; LeBron James possesses superior health/conditioning, enabling him to maximize his talent and thus overpower/wear down opposing teams during a seven game series. The NBA season is such a long grind that older teams like the 2012-13 Lakers and the 2013-14 Nets struggle to make it to the postseason at full strength, let alone survive the mental, physical and emotional rigors of playoff basketball.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:58 AM



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