Kevin Garnett: The Kid No More
In a lot of ways, life is almost only about beginnings and endings. Semisonic once so eloquently stated that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Not to get too philosophical on late-90s alt-rock, but as a young awkward pre-teen who would grow into an awkward adult, I found the lyric wondrously fascinating. In my young life, I had never considered that life is a series of beginnings capped off by ends. Looking back at the lyric – it says what a lot of philosophers, authors, poets, artists, and people have tried to state: the idea that as one door closes, another opens.
There is an obsession - not just in sports, but in life - about this idea. Hot takers all over the globe philosophize on the “end of eras” and the “beginning of dynasties." The “what once was” always precedes the “what comes next." I suppose it’s just in our nature, to reminisce on the past and to gaze towards the future.
This idea has particularly been something that has hit me over the last couple of years. My favorite childhood player, Marcus Camby, is out of the league. Sure, I remember watching Michael Jordan, I remember being brought to tears as a child as Charles Smith was fouled countless times by the Bulls as the Knicks let another series against their arch-rivals slip away (how I’d pine for that).
But perhaps the most meaningful slip to me has been the one from Kevin Garnett. It’s shattering to me to see the guy once known as “The Kid” - a bastion of youth, a symbol of the young energy that, for a time, took the league by storm - as a 37 year old struggling to stay on the floor. Gone are the days of the 19 year old who exuded energy and emotion in the new-wave-esque Minnesota Timberwolves jerseys. In his stead we see an old (by NBA-standards) man, wearing perhaps the league’s most old-fashioned (though not the most classic) no-frills uniform, playing in the league’s newest building – an almost perfect amalgamation of circumstances.
On the one hand, the newness of Barclay’s, the new team with a new attitude – perhaps a new beginning – is watching another beginning’s end in Kevin Garnett.
Garnett didn't show up in Brooklyn making any bones about where his career stood. He was always going to be somewhat limited, making it clear that back-to-back games were essentially out of the question. This year, Garnett has played in his fewest games ever, 54, aside from the strike-shortened 1998-99 season where he logged 47 games. However, in these contests this year, Kevin Garnett has only logged 20.5 minutes per game – easily his lowest total of his career, down nine minutes from just last year.
Additionally, in those minutes, Garnett has done less than ever. Below are Garnett’s numbers per 36 minutes in field goals attempted, points, and rebounds, and win shares per 48 minutes (to adjust for minutes played):
Though Garnett saw a slight uptick on his rebounding in the regular season from his career totals, all of his other numbers are down pretty significantly, even from the year prior. The numbers have improved in the playoffs so far – per 36 minutes in the playoffs, Garnett is averaging 15.2 points (about his career averages), but the rebounding is down per 36 minutes from 13.9 to 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. And, again, Garnett has been performing in limited minutes in the playoffs, seeing 20 minutes per game compared to 35.3 minutes per game just last year. In his career, Garnett had never played fewer than 33.3 minutes per game in the playoffs, until this year (where he is, obviously, way below those numbers).
Now, you're probably saying, “But Keith, you idiot, the Nets don’t have Garnett to play offense, he’s there for his defense.” Fair point, Internet Commenter. But that end of the floor hasn't been much better to KG. This year, Garnett's defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) in the regular season was 101 – tied for the worst of his career since 1997-98.
Additionally, in the playoffs so far, Garnett has a defensive rating of 104, his worst playoff defensive rating since 2001-02 (where the Timberwolves were swept in three games by the Dallas Mavericks). Again, this is all adjusting for minutes, but if Garnett, even in limited time, can't really contribute positively on offense, and he really isn’t making a huge impact on the defensive end (at least from a team defensive-perspective), it's tough to see what KG’s role is besides "mentor" moving beyond this year.
I have broken it down a bit already, but I think the best way for me to illustrate Garnett’s inefficiency is to look at our nERD numbers – a cumulative stat illustrating how much a player contributes to his team’s winning and losing. Since 2000, Kevin Garnett has never had a negative nERD. Until this year. KG has been on the decline since 2011, where he had a nERD of 9.3, and then an 8.1 – both numbers would have snuck him into the top 10 nERD amongst centers this year. Last year’s 3.1 nERD was the worst ever recorded for Garnett up until that point.
But this year, KG clocked in at an unthinkable -2.2 nERD. This is a far cry from the 21.5 nERD registered in 2003-04 (which, for your reference, would have put him behind only Kevin Durant this year). In fact, this number is the 10th-worst amongst centers, and is worse than even Andrea Bargnani (though had Bargs stayed healthy, I have no doubt he would’ve been in the running for worst center ever).
Circumstances look especially dire as KG will D-up two of league’s best centers in terms of nERD this series - Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh, who clocked in at 10th and 12th, respectively, amongst centers in nERD this year. The Nets are, in many ways, lucky that they can spell KG with rookie Mason Plumlee, whose 4.5 nERD is good for 25th amongst centers. It's ironic that the veteran Brooklyn Nets and Garnett’s chances at one more title rely on youth, isn't it?
The End, My Friend
All of this probably sounds extremely negative, and it’s hard to spin it any other way. In a lot of ways, it hurts to write this article – to realize that I am now (gasp) old. I can remember the youthful Garnett, the exuberant, loud, brash young man that, at his peak, was one of the most fun players to watch and root for. This Garnett is not just a shell of that kid, but he’s barely what he was even at age 36.
But, with each end, springs a little bit of hope - a new future, a new crop. The once youthful Garnett will give way to the now-youthful Anthony Davises of the world, and eventually someone will supplant Davis, and so on and so forth.
The Brooklyn Nets may be, as a franchise, everything that’s new and hip in the NBA. But in a lot of ways, they have the one player who represents the last vestige of the previous era.