"I'm not the man that I once was. But I'm all the man, once, that I ever was."
When I was a kid, my dad and his friends used to laugh over that statement when talking about each other. They would say that they could no longer do what they used to be able to do on a regular basis but that on any given good day they might be able to turn back the clock. That expression comes to me every year at about this time, and it dominated my thoughts on Sunday night, as like clockwork, the 30-something crowd starts struggling with the day-to-day marathon that is the NBA season.
On Sunday I took my son to the Celtics-Pistons game. He's four years old, so his good time was guaranteed when I bought him an Icee at halftime. But for me, the fun in watching a game live is getting to see all of the action that happens on the court that is usually off-camera. So I was paying attention to the young, fresh legged Pistons throwing alley-oop after alley-oop then jogging off the court when they were subbed out then jumping up-and-down on the sideline to cheer a good play. Meanwhile, on the other side, I also noticed Paul Pierce trudging towards the sideline when subbed out like he had anchors on his ankles. I noticed Kevin Garnett sitting on the sidelines with his head bowed into his lab and a towel draped over his head. If there were a thought bubble to sum up the Pistons that night, it was "Let's go!" The thought bubble for the Celtics, on the other hand, would state, "Good grief, I'm tired."
That thought bubble is shared by many an "old man" in the NBA right now. Let's take a look at some of the top players in the NBA that were old enough to vote back in the 2000 election, comparing their ranking on the year with their recent play.
Tim Duncan: Yahoo rank No. 4. He's currently battling an ouchy knee injury, and as of Friday will have missed 3 of his last 4 games because of it.
Kobe Bryant: Yahoo rank No. 8. In December, he averaged 33.8 points per game on 47 percent field-goal shooting, while in January that's dipped to 27.1 ppg on 43-percent shooting from the field.
Jason Kidd: Yahoo rank No. 24. In December, he averaged 9.8 ppg (40% FG), 5.4 rebounds per game, and 4.8 assists per game. In January, he's down across the board with 6.3 ppg (38% FG), 4.1 rpg, and 3.9 apg.
Paul Pierce: Yahoo rank No. 27. In December, he was scoring 20.8 ppg (44% FG), while in January he's down to 15.9 ppg (40% FG) entering Thursday.
Kevin Garnett: Yahoo rank No. 57. In December he shot 52 percent from the field, while in January he's down to 45-percent shooting from the field.
Dirk Nowitzki: Injured in December, he's averaging 16.2 ppg (43% FG) in January.
The first five of these vets were being hailed earlier this season for having renaissance years at their age, and all of them are either struggling with their shots or missing games at the moment. Nowitzki was battling knee problems early, and now that he's back, his scoring numbers are pedestrian. But as always, the trick is figuring out what this means. Does it mean that the old guys are just old, and that's all that needs to be said? Or is there a silver lining? To answer that, let's take a quick peek at these same players last season. (I'm removing Kidd here, since he wasn't making much impact last year).
January: 13.8 ppg, 49% FG, 7.8 rpg
April: 16.5 ppg, 59% FG, 8.8 rpg
February: 26.0 ppg, 40% FG
April: 27.8 ppg, 52% FG
February: 16.4 ppg, 40% FG
March: 22.3 ppg, 46% FG
January: 14.1 ppg, 47% FG, 7.7 rpg
March: 17.2 ppg, 55% FG, 8.5 rpg
January: 15.1 ppg on 44% FG (coming off knee injury)
March: 25.2 ppg on 47% FG
So, what does this tell us? It tells me that the January through February time period pre-All-Star break is consistently the worst time of the season for the mega vets. The legs aren't feeling great; the ouchy injuries are kicking in; and the end of the season seems long way away. The result is a lot of dead legs and underwhelming efforts. On the other hand, our prideful vets seem to get energized after the All-Star break once the end is in sight. And this is especially important for head-to-head leagues, as the end of the regular season corresponds with your fantasy playoffs and thus the time that you need your players to step up.
So, does this mean that you should just run out and stock up on the oldies? Not necessarily. You still have to go on a case-by-case basis and look at the circumstances. Of this group, Duncan is the ultimate sell-high candidate because a) it's exceedingly unlikely that he improves on his top-5 play thus far on the season, b) the Spurs are cruising into a high seed in the playoffs, and c) we know that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has no qualms whatsoever about sitting all of his vets on a consistent basis to keep them rested. Duncan's knee injury is inconvenient timing, but it's supposed to be minor. As soon as he gets back for a few games, I'd casually put him on the block and see what you could get for him.
The others? The Lakers, Mavericks, and Celtics are all in dogfights to even make the playoffs this year. Assuming that they don't fall completely out of the playoff hunt, I don't see any of them getting much rest down the stretch as they'll need every win they can get. And in Dirk's case, just like last year, he had an early season knee injury that slowed him down, but he should continue to get healthier as the season goes along. Based on last year's template, Dirk should experience the biggest improvement in output from here until the end. You could probably get any of the old heads outside of Kobe at a reasonable price right now, and even Kobe's owners might be getting worried by the depressing cloud swirling around the Lakers (as well as Kobe's recent string of 6-for-29 type shooting efforts). The value could be there.
Old men are easy to give up on, easy to make fun of, and relatively risky to rely upon due to brittle bones. Know that going in. That said, the name of the game at this time of year is identifying the underpriced players on the market and stockpiling them for less. Right now, while the tired old men are at the nadir of their doldrums, might just be the perfect time to add a few of the elderly to your portfolio.
Around the League
Twitter topic of the week (follow me @ProfessorDrz). Dropping marginal players for injured potential studs: Reggie Turner tweeted me to ask if he should drop Randy Foye to add Andrew Bynum. Similarly, TK asked if he should drop Jared Sullinger for either Andrew Bogut or Andrea Bargnani. Both of these questions deal with the issue of whether it is better to keep a marginal player that is actually producing at the moment vs. whether you should use a roster spot on an injured player with more potential. Like everything, you go on a case-by-case basis. Bynum has flat-out superstar potential, so if he's out there in your league, you almost have to take a chance on him if you have someone like Foye on your team who is utterly replaceable. I had more trouble with the other question because Bogut's microfracture surgery and Bargnani's bad start, not to mention his uncertain role when he returns, are big enough question marks to give me pause. Nevertheless, if your team situation suggests that you need to swing for the fences then going after injured players on the wire is a reasonable way to do it.
Duncan's knee: As I mentioned in the lead, Duncan has already missed two of the past three games with a sore left knee and has already been announced as out' for Friday's game. The good news for Duncan owners is that the injury is not considered serious, and he is listed as "day-to-day." That said, Duncan is 36 years old, so no injury should be dismissed.
Paul's knee (again): Chris Paul's sore knee is starting to get concerning. He missed three games last week with the injury, then returned for two outings but played poorly in the second one as he apparently aggravated it and has now missed the last two games. Paul has a history of knee troubles that have either sidelined him or attenuated his play for long stretches, and the lack of positive news on a return date has him flirting with an "out indefinitely" tag versus a day-to-day tag. I don't suggest that you do anything drastic with your franchise player just yet, but definitely keep an eye on this moving forward. Even if he returns soon, I'm spooked enough now that I might want to move Paul for value if the opportunity arises just in case this plagues him for the rest of the year.
Varejao's done: After an amazing start to the season, Varejao went down with a long-term injury that made it questionable whether he should continue to be rostered. That question has now been answered, as a blood clot in his lung has sidelined Varejao for the season. This means that Tristan Thompson's recent elevated play should continue, making him an impact player moving forward.
Howard's shoulder: In the latest chapter of the Lakers' on-going saga, Dwight Howard had to leave Wednesday's game after he aggravated his damaged right shoulder. Doctors have since confirmed that he did not damage the shoulder any further, and he is cleared to play again on Friday, but with his injury shortened outings, Howard has averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in his last three starts. Adding an ouchy injury risk that could potentially cut any outing short to his already debilitating free-throw percentage is just another check mark against relying on Howard this season.
Gay is a rumor mill candidate: Last week in my rumor mill article, I ended up focusing primarily on big men that could be on the move. As such, I didn't include Rudy Gay, whom many of you went on to point out is one of the most talked about trade targets in the league. If Gay is traded, though, it is hard to project who the winners might be among his current teammates because odds are that another wing would have to return to the Grizzlies in the trade. They are already strong up front and at point guard, so wing would be the natural position for them to trade for. Tony Allen has always done well when Gay was out, though, so he is a viable beneficiary (as mentioned below in New Additions).
Andre Drummond (38% owned): I put Drummond in this space every few weeks it seems like, but he warrants it. At the game I went to on Sunday, he had to have had at least four alley-oops. He's just too physically gifted not to produce, and all signs are that his minutes and role should increase down the stretch. The free-throw percentage is terrible, but as long as he's taking only two or three attempts per game, that weakness is manageable.
Tony Allen (35% owned): As mentioned above, Allen does well whenever Gay is out, so he'd be a possible beneficiary if Gay is traded. But even if a trade doesn't happen, Allen's ability to contribute defensively, while flirting with double-digit scoring, makes him rosterable in most leagues.
Earl Clark (22% owned): Some of you rightly questioned my decision not to include Clark as the beneficiary of a potential Pau Gasol trade last week, so I'm rectifying that here. All Clark has done in the week since is average a double-double with a block in 37 minutes per game while replacing Gasol in the starting lineup. I still don't believe that Clark is a long-term solution for the Lakers at power forward, and if Gasol isn't traded, I have to believe that he eventually takes the job back. Nevertheless, Clark has the job now and is producing, so he's worth a pick-up.
Devin Harris (22% owned): With Lou Williams out for the season, Harris is potentially a key player for the Hawks right now. The door is open for him to get bigger minutes and produce, if his own health allows. Harris is currently battling a sprained ankle, and as I tweeted to Steven Chen this week, Harris never seems to be as good in roto as I expect him to be. Nevertheless, much like Clark, he's worth an add as long as he's able to hold onto his increased role.
Jimmy Butler (5% owned): This is purely a short-term add, assuming that Luol Deng returns from his hamstring injury soon. Nevertheless, Butler has played very well as a replacement starter (15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 15-for-16 FTs in three games) and deserves a shout-out as someone to keep on the radar in case he gets this opportunity again soon (or in case Deng's hammy injury lingers).
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.