Old Man Legs; The Relationship Between Age and Distance Traveled Per 36 Minutes

The Relationship:

We graphed the miles traveled per 36 minutes for all players averaging more than 15 mpg and found some pretty interesting data. When accounting for age, we noticed a curious but expected correlation; Older players tend to move less. Why is this? Are there any outliers to this trend? Let’s dive in to find out.

*View graph in landscape on mobile*

The Grind:

There’s two main reasons I can think of for why it is that older players run less. The first is quite obvious and intuitive; older players have been through the grind. The NBA season is a long and grueling journey. There’s (normally) 82 games in a season and an immense amount of travelling that comes with the extensive schedule. It’s both mentally and physically tiring for these guys. Not only are they playing 3 games in a week, likely with a plane ride(s) in between, but they’re doing it all away from their families. They’re also under enormous pressure to perform on a nightly basis, both from their fans and from the media. On the physical side of things, it’s virtually impossible to go through a season without getting banged up here and there; there are bumps and bruises that players must play with, and these add up. There’s also always a possibility for more serious injury which can have chronic effects on a player’s explosiveness and confidence. All of this is to say that as you play more games and log more miles onto your body, it becomes more difficult to stay fresh and explosive.

Experience = Efficiency: 

The other reason I can think of for why older players would run fewer miles is because they become smarter, more efficient basketball players. As I’ve explained in my Jaylen Brown article, as players get older and gain experience in the league, the game often slows down for them. They become more adept at effectively using their bodies and changing speeds, which allows them to accomplish the same moves and separation with fewer movements. Older players don’t fool around with their defender by trying double or triple moves, rather they make a quick hesitation or crossover move and attack the rim north to south. On the other hand, we often see the opposite with younger players. Younger guys sometimes are sporadic in their movements; they have lots of energy and are eager to show people what they can do. However, these guys have yet to master their pace, and they often try to move faster than their bodies can keep up with. They’re more likely to move east to west when trying to attack the cup. That being said, it would make sense that older players, because they are more efficient with their dribbles and movements and have a better understanding of HOW to be effective, are more likely to log fewer miles.

Now, I’ll dive into three players who serve as extreme yet solid examples of this trend.

Tyler Herro:

Let me put it plainly for you: Tyler Herro does a heck of a lot of movement on the basketball court. On defense, he plays hard and fights over screens on every possession. He’s active on the help side and aggressively looks to push it in transition when his team secures a rebound or turnover. He flies around the court. Offensively, he virtually never stops moving. This might be in part due to the fact that the Miami Heat offense is known for their ball and player movement, but I still think Herro takes it to the extreme. He’s constantly sprinting into off ball picks and dribble hand off actions with Bam or the other bigs, and you almost never find him just spotting up in the corner. When there’s other actions going on around the court that he isn’t involved in, he’ll go set a back screen or make a paint cut rather than being stagnant. As Herro progresses, though, I expect him to be more efficient with his dribbles and movements. Too often he plays around with his defender and goes east to west when he’s in isolation. And when coming off screens and dribble handoffs, I think he can shorten his steps and really get tighter to the screener - he can learn from Duncan Robinson in this aspect. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, and I have ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT, given his IQ and feel, that he will be able to figure it out and become more efficient than he currently is. He will be great.

Blake Griffin:

If you’re familiar with Blake Griffin earlier in his career, you will legitimately not recognize him now. I’m not sure I've ever seen such a bizarre transformation of a player in my lifetime. Blake went from being one of the NBA’s most high flying forwards to being a guy that shoots threes for a living. He has not even dunked the basketball this year. I’ll repeat that again for you - make sure you’re in a seated position. Blake Griffin, one of the best leapers to ever grace an NBA court, has not dunked the basketball during the 2020-2021 season. This is seemingly an example of wear and tear on the body. Griffin has had injury problems throughout his career and they finally caught up with him. He obviously realized that he lost his burst and athletic ability and had to figure out a way to keep himself on the court - props to him for that. He’s basically changed his game into being a quasi-stretch 4. He’s shooting the most threes per minute of his entire career and is barely taking any shots inside the arc. His shot isn’t particularly nice looking, but it goes in sometimes I guess. You can probably tell from my tone that I’m not a huge fan of Blake’s new game; I think Detroit would be better off developing one of their younger forwards. If Blake isn’t going to give you the athleticism on both ends that he gave you earlier in his career, is he effective at all?

LeBron James:

Bron has run the 3rd fewest miles per 36 minutes of all players averaging 15 minutes or more, and he’s having an MVP caliber season. What Lebron has done in terms of development is unique and fascinating. He came into the league being a below average shooter; teams allowed him to shoot fairly open threes. He would hit them occasionally, but he didn’t really need to, because he was so effective and unstoppable going to the rim. This year, Lebron is shooting 40% from three and is shooting the most threes he’s ever shot in his career. He’s also shooting the fewest 2 pointers. What’s crazy, though, is that Bron didn’t start shooting more threes because his body started breaking down. Yes, perhaps he’s lost a half a step (or maybe 1/16th of a step), but he CERTAINLY is still dominant taking the ball to the hoop. I think he has realized that there’s no point to expend that much energy during the regular season; it makes more sense to save that burst for the playoffs when he might have to take over games in the fourth quarter. Regardless, his three point accuracy has allowed him to make this seamless transition. He’s able to simultaneously be extremely effective (making threes, picking his spots to attack, finding open teammates) while saving energy for the playoffs. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t attack at all anymore, he just attacks less. He picks his spots and attacks when he finds a wide open lane to the hoop, whereas he would normally try and bully his way to the rim. 

I think we need to take a step back to fully understand what LeBron is doing. There’s a solid chance he’s STILL the most dominant athlete and most physical player in the NBA in his 18th season. But even if he isn’t, he’s become an elite shooter to make up for it. Yes, it’s time we call him an elite shooter, because he is. Basically, he was the best player in the NBA in his first few years by just bullying defenders to the rim and punishing them with his strength. Now, he’s arguably still the best player in the NBA and he’s doing it by shooting 40% from three and essentially being a point guard. This man is the best to ever do it. Case closed.

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