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Final Destination: NBA Legends Facing Down Father Time

By 07.29.11
Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki (photo. Nike Basketball)

Dirk Nowitzki (2010-2011)- per 36 minutes: 24.2 ppg….7.4 rpg…2.7 apg…0.7 bpg…52, 39 & 89 percentages
Karl Malone (1997-1998)- per 36 minutes: 26.0 ppg…9.9 rpg…3.8 apg…0.8 bpg…53/76 percentages

I went with the Karl Malone comparison because there really isn’t anyone else to compare Dirk too. I originally thought Larry Bird would be the choice, but because of his back issues and the fact that his minutes didn’t completely stand up, I thought this comparison between two consistent power forwards could work better.

Amazingly, Malone’s production didn’t drop off for another three years. It wasn’t until he was 38 years old did we see his numbers per 36 minutes go to 21 & 8. Still, this year (1998) was the last time the Jazz made the Finals, and it also marked the end of Malone’s prime. The next year, his scoring (26 to 22.9 per 36) and his rebounding (9.9 to 9.1) dropped off and he entered a new era where he was still an All-Star, but wasn’t really all-world (even though he won an MVP in the lockout year, which REALLY should have an asterisk).

Dirk has actually already hit that point. We might not realize it, but his prime was about a four-to-five year stretch between 2004-2009. His minutes are the lowest since he became a starter, and his rebounding is slowly going. In his prime, he averaged close to 10 rebounds a night. Last year, he was at 7.0. Because he seems to have the same lasting powers as Malone, plus he has an unstoppable jumper, Dirk will continue to be an All-Star for probably three more years, averaging something like 22 & 6 a night with ridiculous percentages.

Will he ever put up MVP-type numbers again? I doubt it, although he did just finish up busting everyone a few months ago, so who knows.

Paul Pierce (2010-2011)- per 36 minutes: 19.6 ppg…5.6 rpg…3.4 apg…1.0 spg…50, 37 & 86 percentages
Alex English (1990-1991)- per 36 minutes: 15.7 ppg…5.2 rpg…2.2 apg…0.8 spg…44 & 85 percentages

English didn’t hit Pierce’s minute totals until his final season because he so rarely played deep into the postseason – only 2,427 total playoff minutes – and often had long summers. Still, English’s numbers during the entire decade of the 1980s are eerily similar to Pierce’s career arc. It wasn’t until his final season that his play dropped way off.

During that year at 37 years old, English’s scoring dropped 50 percent, as did his assist numbers, while his shooting fell off the map as well (49 to 44 percent). Not a great sign for Pierce fans.

We can also use the Havlicek comparison again (since it works here as well). At 33 years old, Hondo’s minutes matched up with the Truth’s and he averaged (per 36) 20 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 5.2 apg with 46/83 percentages. In his final four seasons, Havlicek’s points dropped every year, and his rebounds and assists ever year but one. With his percentages staying relatively the same, basically, Hondo just couldn’t do for 40 minutes a night anymore (more like 25-30 a night).

If Pierce follows this formula, next year he should still average about 17, 5 & 3 a night (with the potential for much more when the C’s call on him).

Steve Nash (2010-2011)- per 36 minutes: 15.9 ppg…3.7 rpg…12.3 apg…0.7 spg…49, 40 & 90 percentages
John Stockton (1996-1997)- per 36 minutes: 14.7 ppg…2.8 rpg…10.7 apg…2.1 spg…55, 42 & 85 percentages

Incredibly, Stockton played another six years after he hit Nash’s minute barrier, and somehow, his 36-minute numbers didn’t suffer at all. Six years later, he was still putting up 14, 3 & 10 with a couple steals every 36 minutes. The difference though, and it’s a big one: Stockton’s minutes dropped from 35 a night during 1996-97 to 27.7 in his final year while his shooting percentages at that point were the lowest we had seen from him in nearly a decade. He couldn’t do it for a full game any longer.

Nash is a few years older so even if we add that into the equation – Nash stays in just as great a shape as Stockton did – the two-time MVP should slowly fall off. That’s a good thing. If Nash were to play until he’s 40, that would give him a few years to move into retirement, a few years to watch his numbers dwindle.

The thing with Nash is that while hit scoring and percentages will take a slight hit next year, he’s averaging the most assists he ever has. I think he’ll have one more year before he starts to slide. But if Nash can get on a good team, his minutes should drop and we might not even notice the slide.

What do you think these guys will put up next year? Who is most likely to fall off?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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