August 09, 2021 at 06:55 pm
Nathaniel Dela Cruz
As the smoke of the preseason transfer clears, there seems to be a sudden fixation about the age of several Los Angeles Lakers players, with the poorly veiled insinuation that a team with that many veteran superstars is an old unit that will have a hard time - if not be truly incapable – of winning the championship.
I say this as a fan, not of the LA Lakers, but as a fan of avoiding hasty conclusions and putting to full use the merits of being observant, prudent, and thoughtful: if you are looking for the chink in the armor of the Lakers, it is not the age of its players. That number is irrelevant. The Lakers will not lose because they are old, by NBA’s (or the NBA fans’) standards.
If you think a team loaded by players in their 30s is weak, then consider this: there are at least 3 players in their 30s in each of the four best basketball teams in the Tokyo Olympics. Slovenia has Jaka Blažič, who is 31, while Zoran Dragic is 32 and Jakob Cebasek is 30. Six players in the Australian men’s basketball team are in their 30s - Chris Goulding (32), Joe Ingles (33), Matthew Dellavedova (30), Nathan Sobey (31), Aaron Baynes (34), and Patty Mills (32), who had 48 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal against Slovenia to lead Australia to its first-ever Olympic medal in men’s basketball.
First runner-up France has four on the roster who are in their 30s - Andrew Albicy (31 years old), Thomas Heurtel and Nicolas Batum (both 32 years old), and Nando de Colo (34 years old). Five gold medalists from the US team are in their 30s - Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, and Draymond Green are all 31 years old; Kevin Durant is 32 while Javale McGee is 33.
And it is not just in basketball. The Tokyo Olympics hosted a slew of elite-level athletes many of them in their 40s or 50s - Australia’s Mary Hanna (equestrian) is 66, mind you. Ni Xialian (Luxembourg, table tennis) is 58; Phillip Dutton (US, equestrian) is 57; Steffen Petters (US, dressage) is 56; Jessica Kraut (US, jumping) is 55; Nino Salukvadze (Georgia, shooting) is 52; Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan, gymnastics) and Rune ‘The Danish Destroyer’ Glifberg (skateboarding) are both 46; Abdi Abdirahman (US, track and field) is 44; Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena (beach volleyball) and Antonio Díaz (Venezuela, karate) are all 41; Sue Bird (US, women’s basketball) is 40. This is not to mention the long list of athletes in their mid-30s and late-30s competing - and winning - in the biggest sporting stage in the world.
A 2018 study on the linear decrease in athletic performance points out that decline begins after swimmers, long-distance runners, and sprinters reach 70 years old, while a 2008 research noted that “for elite athletes in all sports, as for the general population, age-related muscle atrophy begins at about 50 years of age”. Active NBA players in their 30s are still decades away from experiencing the start of the considerable decline of their athleticism, and people easily believe that the mid-30s Lakers are not competitive enough. I hope they are not betting men putting money on it, and before you do, consider that these basketball players who are ridiculed for their age, have been playing elite-level, highly competitive basketball with enough minutes logged in practice, training, regular season, and postseason games to stay in peak shape.
The number that will matter in LA’s winning or losing is not age.
A more important number to consider is minutes - how these will be dispensed and how it will affect those who get the short end of the stick. Young or old, it is not easy to be a solid contributor if you are playing limited minutes in sporadic appearances.
A more important number to consider is their defensive rating as a unit, or their outside shooting and turnover averages. It does not matter if they are old if they can defend. It does not matter if they are old if they can outshoot you. It does not matter if they are old if they can outsmart you. It does not matter if they are old if they can work together seamlessly and flawlessly; after all, success is the rabbit in a magic trick and teamwork is when the wand, the hat, and the hands are all complicit to an act meant to prove you can teach old dogs new tricks.
More important than their age that will factor in winning is the number of days key players will be forced to sit out because of injuries. Considering the trend in recent seasons, I think this will be the most important of all. We can argue that Denver didn’t survive the Playoffs because Jamal Murray was out. Jaylen Brown’s absence left too big a hole in Boston to remain afloat and make it to the second round. And if the 26-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo was not fit to play in the Finals, the Bucks-Suns series would have played out differently.
Right now, oddsmakers see the Lakers as one of the most dangerous (if not the most dangerous) teams among contenders vying for the trophy, old age notwithstanding. So don’t confuse the LA Lakers with your tito’s Sunday Club team – at least, not yet.