A Quick Look At Some Older Stars

The main question going into the stretch run of the season is whether any team can beat the Celtics.  We’ll come back to that question in a few weeks but, for now, I was interested in the durability of and performance of the old stars in the Western Conference.  While they aren’t quite the top of the conference, the Clippers, Suns, Warriors, and Lakers are riding old stars in a way that NBA team rarely have since the time that the Jordan Bulls, Stockton-Malone Jazz, and Hakeem-Barkley-Drexler Rockets did so in 1997 and 1998.

Unlike those teams, most of the current teams aren’t serious contenders.  This isn’t the fault of these older stars, who are still playing great.  I thought we’d take a quick look at how these stars are doing this year versus their last few years to see how close they are to their established norms and what, if anything, this tells us about the future.

The Clippers Stars

The Clippers are playing much better than the other teams noted above.  Their stars are also a little younger but let’s review their Big Three (Russell Westbrook doesn’t really count any more) because they each have had significant durability (or other issues) in the past.

Kawhi Leonard, age 32: 23.6 PER, .199 WS48, 6.1 BPM

Kawhi’s advanced stats are in line with his 2022-23 stats overall.  He has shown an ability to get more shots in the 3-10 foot range (20%, highest of his career), while finishing the 0-10 foot range shots at the highest percentage in his career and has dunked the highest percentage of his shots (.078%) since 2013-14.  He has also has nearly stopped taking any long twos (career low .092% of his shots).  Kawhi is still near his peak, assuming his knee can take the rigors of the playoff schedule for the first time since 2020.

Paul George, age 33: 18.3 PER, .128 WS48, 2.1 BPM

PG13’s advanced stats are a little down from the last few years, though that seems to be a function of losing shots to a more available Kawhi and the acquisition of James Harden.  George’s passing and usage are down but his turnover rate has also dropped to a career low 9.7% (he was at 13.4% last year).  He has also turned into more of a 3-point shooter, taking a career high .480% from three and making them at a .394% clip.  In short, he’s still good but the change in personnel makes him a second or third banana on offense.

James Harden, age 34: 19.5 PER, .185 WS48, 5.1 BPM

Can we actuallymake any conclusions from Harden’s year-to-year stats?  He’s constantly changing his role and his (ahem) intensity level.  While his usage is way down this year (20.6% versus 25.0% last season), the plus-minus data has been largely consistent since he left Houston in 2020.  In terms of shooting, Harden is not getting to the rim (.146% of his shots), a number that’s been cratering since 2021-22.  But, man, is Harden adaptable.  He’s shot a career high .594% of his shots from three and made a career high .416%.  Look, I wouldn’t want to pay his next contract either, but the guy is super talented.

In sum, the Clipper Crew has been as good as ever this year and the results seem fully sustainable.  The Clippers can do damage as long as Kawhi stays healthy (TBD). 

Kevin Durant, age 35: 22.5 PER, .161 WS48, 5.1 BPM

It’s hard to criticize KD but his advanced stats are simply a notch below what he did in Brooklyn (26.0 PER, .199 WS48, 7.1 BPM).  The decline seems to be pretty evenly distributed among the statistical categories too.  Nor does KD have the explanation that his stats are down because he’s deferring to teammates on the shallow Suns.  Also troubling is that KD is playing 37.2 mpg, the highest since 2021-22, when he clearly ran out of gas in the playoffs from high minutes.  Durant is still awesome but there are warning signs that Phoenix could flame out.

LeBron James, age 39: 22.9 PER, .144 WS48, 6.2 BPM

LBJ is fairly amazing.  His decline is real but quite gentle.  He has matched his 2022-23 stats, which are a notch below his peak but still great.  His usage is slightly below 30% for the first time since he was 20 years old (his percentage of shots made off assists are near the career highs set in his teenage years with Cleveland).  LeBron still gets to the rim and finishes and he is somehow shooting a career high .408% from three.  The Lakers look like their playoff chances are tenuous but James is doing his part.

Stephen Curry, age 35: 20.9 PER, .145 WS48, 5.4 PER

The major problems in Golden State have nothing to do with Steph and they have seemed to correct the rotation issues recently.  Still, a focus on Curry’s stats show a little erosion in assists, despite his high usage.  The real decline, though, is his ability to get shots near the rim.  He is taking a career-low .070% at the rim and the number has descended 20-30% each of the last four seasons.  Steph has been much more three-point reliant.  This is not too big a deal because threes are Steph’s thing but this decline in layups bears watching going forward.