Jason Kidd and Steve Nash made big news this week, signing with teams in the two biggest markets in the NBA. Of course, given their respective histories, it is probably not surprising that the Lakers acquired the old point guard that is still leading the league in assists, while the Knicks acquired the one that showed marked decline in 2012. That differing outlook is reflected in their prices (Nash, 3 years for 27 million; Kidd, 3 years for 9 million). After the Rockets signed Jeremy Lin to an offer sheet, though, the Knicks either have to match or have Kidd play a larger role to which he is probably no longer suited.
In the NBA, only three point guards have averaged over 5 assists a game at age 37 or older, and two of them just changed teams. John Stockton, of course, is the other (Michael Jordan also averaged over 5 assists at age 38). Thus, while these two point guards have a long history of success in the league, trying to project play at an age when most point guards are providing color commentary is difficult. Only 9 other point guards have even averaged 5 assists a game at age 35 or older: John Stockton, Lenny Wilkens, Mark Jackson, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, Dennis Johnson, Rickey Green, and Andre Miller.
Johnson retired after age 35, and Andre Miller was 35 last season. Among the others, any drops in assists were usually playing time related. They transitioned to backup roles and had their minutes reduced. Jason Kidd, on the other hand, saw his assist rate decline dramatically last year, going from 8.2 to 5.5 (8.9 to 6.9on a per 36 minutes played basis). The only other older point guard to decline so much in a season was The Glove, Gary Payton. He signed with Miami in 2006 and saw his assist rate cut in half on a per minute basis at age 37. He played one more year but did not rebound.
While we don’t know what will happen to Kidd, such a precipitous decline in assist rate is likely not good. He had his minutes reduced last year, but is probably at a point where he should be playing less than half the game.
Kidd and Nash have had differing aging curves. Kidd was the much better younger player, while Nash has developed later and been better in his 30′s. Stockton is the only other example of a point guard still going strong at this age. At 37, he averaged 8.6 assists. At 38, it was 8.7, followed by 8.2 and 7.7 per game. That gradual decline was mostly minutes related. He didn’t decline as a facilitator, just slowed down and didn’t play quite as many minutes. Nash has led the league in assists each of the last three seasons. I’m fine with taking a chance on elite players as they age, when they haven’t dropped off yet. Could he fall off at age 38 like Kidd? It could always happen with Father Time, but I’m guessing Nash ages more gracefully and can justify the move by the Lakers. He’ll just likely see his minutes dip below 30 per game (he was at 31.6 last year) as he moves toward 40.
[photo via US Presswire]