The Lakers and Compressed Schedules

Phillip Barnett —  October 28, 2011

While watching some of the lockout coverage, the idea of still having an 82-game schedule should the lockout end by this weekend or early next week crept into my mind. I thought about the Lakers roster, and more importantly, the collective age of the members on their roster as it currently stands. I wondered how a compacted 82-game schedule would impact an aging Lakers team and decided to look back at the 98-99 season for comparison.

What immediately stood out was the fact that the Lakers played 17 back-to-backs over the course of 50 games during the span of 145 days including three back-to-back-to-backs(!). To put it in perspective, the Lakers played a mere 15 back-to-backs during the course of their 82-game regular season schedule. One would assume that aging teams wouldn’t fare well with such a brutal schedule with little rest between games, but when I looked at the playoff teams for each conference and compared the average age of the team with where they finished at the end of the regular season, I was a bit surprised by what I found.

(Note: I only looked at the Top 10 rotation guys in terms of minutes played when calculating average age of teams. I didn’t think it was necessary to include 11th and 12th men considering they rarely had impact on games and didn’t see the floor long enough to where their age/physical ability correlation meant much to their respective team. Also, this was able to exclude a lot of guys who spent a huge part of the season on the bench due to injuries.)

The 98-99 Playoff Teams and Average Age

Spurs – 30
Jazz – 29.9
Blazers – 27.7
Lakers – 28.3
Rockets – 28.8
Suns – 30.2
Kings – 26.1
Timberwolves – 27.4

Heat – 29.8
Pacers – 30.4
Magic – 28.9
Hawks – 29.9
Pistons – 27.9
76ers – 26
Bucks – 28.5
Knicks – 29.2

What you’ll find above is that the more experienced teams finished with the top two spots in each conference while no team with an average under 28 finished with home court advantage in the first round except for the Portland Trailblazers (who ended up getting swept by the Spurs). While the younger teams might have been better equipped to physically handle the grueling schedule, it was the teams that were better prepared mentally with lots of veteran presence that ended up finishing with the best records at the end of the regular season. Furthermore, the two teams that made the finals had an average age of 30 (Spurs), and 29.2 (Knicks) years old. Now take a look at the average ages of all of the playoff teams from last season.

The 10-11 Playoff Teams and Average Age

Spurs – 28.8
Lakers – 29.8
Dallas – 34.3
Thunder – 23.9
Nuggets – 28.1
Blazers – 26.5
Hornets – 25.7
Grizzlies – 25.7

Bulls – 27.4
Heat 29.1
Celtics – 29.6
Magic – 27.7
Hawks – 27.4
Knicks – 24.6
76ers – 24.5
Pacers – 26.5

The Lakers had the second highest average age in the league last season, which, if I could actually make any correlation between the unpromised upcoming season and the 98-99 season, would bode well for the Lakers. In reality, there probably isn’t any connection between what happened over a decade and what might happen next season, but it was interesting to see that the older guys in the league didn’t have a problem hanging with the younger guys after playing back-to-back-to-backs. Also, the style of play was much slower and much more physical than what we see in today’s NBA. It’ll be interesting to see if the rule changes over the last decade will flip the results of the 99 season and have the younger guys running the older guys off the floor in today’s faster paced NBA. Either way, I’ll pay attention to how guys like Kobe, Pau, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes handle a much more compressed schedule and how Mike Brown toys with the minutes of these guys as the season progresses.

Phillip Barnett