A successful 2018-19 season for the Suns partially hinges on the performance of Trevor Ariza.
Even though it seems like a lofty goal, it is hard to imagine the Suns actually reaching something close to 35 wins if Ariza isn’t a major contributor.
But now, with Ariza turning 33 (which is absolutely old by NBA standards), should the Suns really be leaning on the veteran?
Of those 20, only 10 started a majority of their games.
That means that only 10 of the 150 regular starters in the NBA last season were 33 or older.
Since Ariza just turned 33, let’s look at the other eight 33-year-olds on that list.
- LeBron James - He is a freak of nature, so his career arc isn’t necessarily an indicator of what to expect from others, but his win shares, Box Plus-Minus and Value Over Replacement Player were all much higher between 23-28 years old than in recent years. BUT the numbers last year were higher than most of his second set of Cavaliers seasons.
- JJ Redick - He scored a career high 17.1 points per game on 42% from three last season for the 76ers. Not all of his advanced numbers were great, and defense is a weakness, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that last season was one of the best of his career.
- Marcin Gortat - He started all 82 games for the Wizards last season. Of the 20 players 33 and older, only LeBron, Gortat and Raymond Felton played in all 82 games last season. Unfortunately, he posted his lowest totals in scoring (8.4) and rebounding (7.6) in the last eight seasons.
- Marc Gasol - He recorded the fewest win shares, third-lowest BPM and second-lowest VORP of his career. Some of that can be blamed on team dysfunction, but players can still post good individual numbers on bad teams.
- Carmelo Anthony - His career is over.
- J.J. Barea - I guess the key to aging well is being named JJ — so Josh Jackson should be hitting his stride in about 10 years or so. Barea basically posted career bests across the board in counting and advanced numbers.
- Zaza Pachulia - He’s kind of a weird case. His per 36 numbers are pretty decent — 13.8 points and 11.9 rebounds (above his career averages), but he plays for the Warriors. I think almost anyone at any age would be able to play well on that team.
- Raymond Felton - After being a full-time starter his first nine seasons, Felton has been a reserve the last four. He is still a solid backup point guard, but it is clear his best days are behind him.
Interestingly enough, three of the eight were better at 33 than they were at 32 (LeBron, Barea and Redick).
Zaza was kind of a wash.
Still, that means that four of eight still performed quite well at the age of 33.
But there is another part of this picture to look at.
There were also 13 players who qualified for leader boards based on minutes played in 2016-17 who no longer did in 2017-18.
Arron Afflalo, Aaron Brooks, Jared Dudley, Monta Ellis, Randy Foye, Channing Frye, Al Jefferson, David Lee, Paul Millsap (injury), Thabo Sefolosha, Mirza Teletovic, C.J. Watson and Deron Williams all played themselves into smaller roles (or out of the league).
So now we’re actually looking at four out of 21 players that made the transition from 32 to 33 without a major decline.
So that looks at the transition from 32 to 33, but how did Ariza do from age 31 to 32.
Well, from two years ago to last year, here’s how his per-36 minute numbers and advanced stats stack up:
DOWN - rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers
UP - points (and shooting efficiency)
That UP part might be in trouble since the Suns will be platooning Larry, Moe and Curly at point guard. Something tells me Ariza’s shot attempts won’t be as open as with James Harden and Chris Paul last season.
The DOWN part could go either way. Since the Suns were atrocious on defense last season, Ariza might actually be able to soak up more hustle numbers if he does something the Suns had difficulty with at times last year.
This graphic is from another story I wrote recently. It shows a typical curve for a player’s NBA career. As you can see, the average 33-year-old player is worse than when they were 20. Ariza, however, had a dip during the middle of his career and just recorded his 6th highest total last season.
I stopped the curve at 33 because... well, most players’ careers have ended by then.
It is probably a good thing the Suns have Ariza on a one-year deal, because the only starters in the NBA last season age 34 and up were Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Jarrett Jack.
That’s four players in the entire league.
And all four are shadows of their former selves.
Well, not Jack so much. He never had much of a former self.
This analysis shows the “most-likely outcome” for Ariza this season. He will likely have one of the worst seasons of his career and end up as a reserve at some point during the season.
That’s what history tells us.
Of course, there are always outliers.
Ariza could do what JJ Redick just did for the 76ers last season. Some of the information I dug up suggested Ariza’s career doesn’t exactly fit in the typical mold.
The Suns better hope so.
Because otherwise, the lofty goal of 35 wins becomes that much more of a mirage on the desert horizon.