Are the Knicks the Oldest Team in NBA History?

The Knicks’ aging free agent duo.

Since the New York Knicks signed 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace two weeks ago, there have been a plethora of articles and “hot takes” in the media about how the Knicks have become “the oldest team in NBA history.” Most appear to stem from this Wall Street Journal article by Chris Herring. While it is certainly true that the average age of the New York roster is the oldest of any team in history, that is a red herring.  In fact, when viewed through the proper lens, the Knicks probably won’t even be one of the ten oldest teams in the last 15 years.

The average age of a team assumes that each member of the team is playing an equal role. Obviously that is not the case. A 25 year old starter is far more important to a team than a 40 year old deep bench player; why should their ages be given the same weight? To come up with a meaningful measure of team age, we need to weight the ages by the amount of minutes that each team member plays.

To make this point clear, let’s examine the oldest team by simple average age from 1994 until the present: the 1997-1998 Knicks. 

The Knicks appeared ancient on paper, but three of their starters, Charlie Ward, Allan Houston, and Larry Johnson, were among the youngest players on the team. The oldest players, by contrast, played fewer minutes. The minutes-weighted average age is almost 1.5 years younger than the simple average.

On the other hand, let’s examine the oldest team by the minutes-weighting criteria: the 2001 Utah Jazz.

In contrast to the Knicks, the Jazz gave most of their minutes to their oldest players: John Stockton, Karl Malone, and John Starks. It is amazing that they were able to keep their older players so healthy. On a minutes-weighted basis, the Jazz were far older than if you simply averaged their ages.

How do the 2012 Knicks come out on a minutes-weighted basis? Well, we won’t know until after the season, but we can make some assumptions to get an idea. I assume that most of the players on the Knicks’ roster will play similar minutes to last season, except for halving Iman Shumpert’s minutes because of his injury and assigning those minutes to Paolo Prigioni and Ronnie Brewer. I also assume about 600 minutes for Wallace. Here is how the roster would look:

The core of the Knicks’ rotation is actually fairly young. Amare, Carmelo, Ray Felton,  Ronnie Brewer, and Tyson Chandler are all between 27 and 30. Thus, the Knicks’ minutes-weighted age is far below their average age. Even if you assign Jason Kidd starter minutes at the expense of Felton’s playing time, and give Sheed more minutes from Amare, the minutes-weighted age does not come close to the Jazz’s mark of 32.

While it makes for good headlines to proclaim that the Knicks will be “the oldest team in NBA history,” the reality is that New York will likely not even be one of the ten oldest teams of the last 15 years. For that to occur, they would have to start Kidd and play both Wallace and Camby more than Stoudemire and Chandler. Barring injuries, it is hard to envision that scenario happening.

There is no doubt that New York got substantially older this offseason, they will almost assuredly not be the oldest team in NBA history.

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4 Responses to Are the Knicks the Oldest Team in NBA History?

  1. Pingback: When you look at their minutes, Knicks aren’t historically old | ProBasketballTalk

  2. Pingback: Artists, Hustlers, Vagabonds, and Old Men | The Barnstormer

  3. James K. says:

    John,
    If you wouldn’t mind, could you send me your dataset for predicting ncaa upsets in .csv format? I would like to try and replicate it as well. Thanks for your time.

  4. filipvb says:

    We should keep in mind that Shumpert is not playing right now and the team will be getting older when the season advances. At this point (Nov 17, 2012) the minute weighted age is more like 31.5 and will grow until Shumpert return and/or roster change.

    And then (and more importantly) “oldest team” means oldest team roster; the impact of a player is not measured just with minutes played.

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