This time of year in the NBA, players who are lucky enough to be playing are, many times, dealing with nagging injuries from a long season. From Tony Parker’s old hamstring and now weak ankle to Dwyane Wade’s troublesome knees; injuries can dictate an entire series.
Many sports journalists write about how the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs are too old to withstand the punishment of an undoubtedly close and competitive series.
This led me to question, which is actually the older team?
Looking at the average age of the rosters leaves out the valuable variable of usage. For instance, the Spurs’ average age is 28 years and 185 days old while the Heat’s average age is 30 years and 347 days old. However, when you consider 3 out of 4 of the Spurs top minutes per game players (in the playoffs) are over 32 years old and their top player with the most usage is Tim Duncan at 38 years old the age gap misrepresents the Playing Age of each team.
To find the true playing age of each team I compared the minutes played per playoff game to the age of each player, creating the metric: Playing Age. The Playing Age (PA) metric, measures the wear and tear on each player throughout the 2014 playoffs.
The higher the percentage the higher the young player usage rate and less wear and tear on the experienced players.
The top 9 players on the Spurs roster, in minutes per game, combine for a 7.606 PA, while the Heat players combine for a 7.387 PA. So effectively, the Heat play 3% older than the Spurs.
But when you compare each team’s “Big Threes” Miami has a significant Playing Age advantage. Heat big three: 3.520 PA while the Spurs’ big three PA: 2.485; a nearly 30% increase in big three age from the Heat to the Spurs.
Again when you compare each team’s top 5 players in minutes played in the playoffs, the Heat are younger. Heat top 5: 5.171 PA while the Spurs’ top 5 is 4.753 PA; over 8% increase in age from the Heat’s top 5 minutes played in the playoffs players to the Spurs’.
When each team’s top 4 bench players (in minutes per playoff game) are compared, the Spurs are dramatically younger. Spurs top 4 bench players: 2.853 PA while the Heat’s top 4 bench players are 2.216 PA; over 22% increase in age from the Spurs’ top 4 bench players to the Heat’s.
So to recap: the Spurs are younger in average age, total PA and PA of their top 4 bench players, while the Heat are younger in big three PA and top 5 players’ PA.
The question becomes, what is the most crucial unit for the outcome of the games? If the most crucial unit is each team’s big three than the Miami Heat have the advantage, whereas if the bench dictates the outcome, the Spurs have the advantage.
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