The Mavs have long had one of the oldest average ages in the league, and while that holds true again this season, comparatively speaking Dallas is undergoing a bit of a youth movement.
Dallas currently has 19 players under contract, and the club’s average age sits at 27.94. This number is brought down by some of the youngest players under contract, including rookies Justin Anderson (21 years old), Brandon Ashley (21), and Maurice Ndour (23), plus youngsters Dwight Powell and Jamil Wilson, each of whom is 24.
While it remains to be seen which players will make the final 15-man roster, that number is still nice to see, as it’s a far fall from last year’s average age of 29.9 which, according to Basketball-Reference, was the oldest in the league, slightly edging second-place San Antonio by 0.1 years. It should be noted, however, that the top-eight and 13 of the top-14 teams in terms of age all made the playoffs. To be “old” is not a bad thing in the NBA, especially when your older players are very good. For example, last season Dirk Nowitzki made the All-Star team at 36.
Landing toward the top of the average age list is not new for the Mavericks. Dallas hasn’t finished out of the top-five on that list since the 2006-07 season, when the 28.1-year-old Mavs were sixth. We’d have to travel in time back to 2003-04 to find the last season in which Dallas was outside of the top-10.
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In fact, one of the more interesting trends to pop up when looking back at season-to-season average ages is the small group of clubs which consistently appear toward the top. Joining the Mavericks at the top of the list, year after year, include the Spurs and LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Heat. The Boston Celtics were at the very top of the list during their “Big 3” era when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen led the team to two Finals appearances in three seasons.
The teams toward the top of the list have consistently gone to the playoffs and, more often than not, at least one team in the top five has appeared in the Finals for some time. It makes sense, too: Think of the best teams of the last decade — the Mavs, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, Lakers, and Celtics, then going all the way back to the Pistons of the mid-2000s — and the one thing they all have in common was not only a starting lineup full of veterans, but also a bench complete with veteran role players. Depth is paramount to surviving in the playoffs, and typically teams on the verge of making nice playoff runs are able to load their benches with quality players willing to sacrifice minutes in an effort to win a title.
But while veterans have led many a title team throughout the sport’s history, last season’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, bucked the trend. The Warriors’ average age last season was 26.6 years old, good for 16th in the league. Runner-up Cleveland finished 14th at 26.9, indicating that perhaps a youth movement could shift the balance at the top of the league. The Warriors obviously featured several veteran players — including Andrew Bogut and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala — but both Golden State and Cleveland brought plenty of youthful talent and athleticism off the bench. That’s exactly what Dallas is trying to do with the signings of players like Jenkins and Ndour, and also with the development of Powell.
As it stands now, the Mavericks bench has an average age of exactly 27 years old, assuming center Sam Dalembert fills the backup role and Zaza Pachulia starts. If their roles are reversed, the bench would boast an average age of 26.8, right in line with the league mean last season. Keep in mind that Dallas still has one roster spot to fill, so that number is set to change before training camp.
There are so many elements to keep in mind when building a team, but the Warriors and Cavaliers proved last season that boasting a roster full of young talent can lead to lots of wins in this league. While some West rivals — including the Spurs and Clippers — got older this season, Dallas appears to be following suit with last year’s Finals opponents, dropping its average age by more than two years. Again, the number will change before tipoff come opening night, but it’s good to see that the Mavericks are beginning to take steps toward perhaps the most significant youth movement we’ve seen in Dallas in a decade.