There are 13 players in the NBA that are currently 35 years of age or older and played at least 1,000 minutes in the NBA last season. There are guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan among that group that are still performing at an All-Star level and aren’t likely to fall off in effectiveness just yet. On the other side of things, role players like Derek Fisher and Shane Battier have already retired, Elton Brand hasn’t latched on anywhere yet and could very well be on his way out, and Ray Allen is still mulling over whether or not he should hang ‘em up too (although most recent reports have Cleveland optimistic they’ll snag him).
Somewhere between Dirk and Duncan and the guys at or on the edge of retirement, there are a few players that are still chugging along as regular contributors. Manu Ginobili, Kevin Garnett, Chris Andersen, and Pablo Prigioni (the 37-year-old going into his third NBA season) will keep on keepin' on in familiar surroundings next season, while Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Shawn Marion will be looking to establish themselves on new teams with a new set of responsibilities.
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Will these three prove that wrong?
Vinsanity in Memphis
Vince Carter built a career on high-flying dunks and sheer athleticism, so it’s somewhat surreal to think that he’s still able to contribute enough at age 37 to net a three-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. But the Grizz aren’t paying for the superstar of old, they’re getting the Vince that has prolonged his career by becoming a solid role player.
Carter has traded in the East Bay Funk Dunk for the three-ball, taking 45.7% of his field goal attempts from behind the arc last year and hitting at a rate of 39.4% (including 40.1% on 3.1 catch-and-shoot attempts per contest). Given that the Grizz were 21st in the NBA in three-point percentage last season (35.3%) and just lost their best shooter in Mike Miller to the Cavaliers, Carter’s long-range prowess will be an absolute asset.
Carter played 81 games for Dallas in each of the last two seasons, but only started in three total (all in 2012-13). The main change in role between Dallas and Memphis will be that Carter probably has a decent chance to start at small forward ahead of a growingly ineffective Tayshaun Prince. The chance to move into a spot where he’ll be asked to handle the ball, create shots for himself and teammates, and come up in the clutch will likely keep Vince relevant for at least another season or two.
The Truth Wizard
Paul Pierce played in Boston for 15 seasons, before being traded to Brooklyn last summer, where he played out the final year of his contract. While most would’ve assumed that any exit from the Nets would likely mean going back to the place where his jersey will someday hang in the rafters, he instead shocked everyone by joining on with a young Wizards team on the rise, signing a two-year deal.
By the time the season starts, Pierce will be 37 years old, but he showed last season and particularly in the playoffs that he can still be a difference maker. Washington let Trevor Ariza walk this summer, so Pierce figures to slide seamlessly into the starting small forward spot and should have a decent amount of responsibility. He gives up a bit on D compared to Ariza, but he has the size to play some power forward and gives the Wiz more flexibility to go small when needed.
On the Nets, 36.1% of Pierce’s made baskets were unassisted, which figures to change with the Wiz. With John Wall collapsing defenses and the threat of Bradley Beal on the perimeter, Pierce is likely to be open far more often than he’s used to. Ariza had 76.1% of his made buckets assisted last season and lived in the corners (81 for 180, 45.0%). Pierce was the focal point of many Brooklyn sets last year, so he only managed 22 shots from the corners, but made 12 of them (54.5%). Combine that accuracy with his 39.5% success rate on catch-and-shoot threes last season and Pierce could thrive in a situation where he gets to play off the ball more on offense.
The Matrix: Reloaded in Cleveland
Shawn Marion has become the latest player to team up with LeBron James in order to chase a title in Cleveland (yes, that’s apparently a thing now). Marion played and started in 76 games for the Mavericks last season, averaging 31.7 minutes per game (the most of any player over 35 and not named Dirk). Unlike Carter and Pierce, though, Marion looks like he won’t be maintaining or gaining a starting gig in his new area code - you know, because the best player in the world plays his position.
And that’s probably fine at this point. Coming off the bench, Marion can be both an offensive and defensive spark. His 48.2% shooting from the field and 35.8% from deep last year were still in line with his career numbers at age 36 and he can still defend well on the perimeter, rebound effectively (6.5 per game last season), and even play the power forward position when needed. With both Marion and LeBron able to play the four, lineups that include those two as the forwards with Kevin Love at center become possible (throw Mike Miller and Kyrie Irving into the mix and the floor spacing possibilities will be horrifying).
With 38,996 career minutes played, Marion’s best chance at prolonging his career was probably to sign with a team where his role would be somewhat reduced. As a depth piece in Cleveland, he increases their title chances as well as his own of getting a second ring. If the Cavs manage to add a 39-year-old and still very effective Ray Allen as well, they could effectively corner the market on old players that still kick butt.