Is the Trail Blazers core still too young to really contend?


Last season, the Trail Blazers swiftly entered the conversation for teams on the rise in the NBA. After finishing the 2012-13 season with a whimper (33-49), they surprised everyone with their success in the 2013-14 season (54-28) and cemented their status as a force to be reckoned with by following it up with a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. Now that the April clamor has settled to September quietude, the intrigue no longer rests with how far they have come, but rather how far they can go.

Between LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez, there is little doubt that the talent is there for an outside shot at a finals appearance in 2014-15. However; the West is tough enough that there is an equally plausible outside shot that they miss the playoffs entirely. If the former were to come to fruition, are the Trail Blazers really prepared to seal the deal and bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Portland?

According to and a lot of math, the average age of an NBA championship starting five (post NBA/ABA merger) as they entered the season in which they won the title is 28.6 years old. This is an average of 2.4 years older than the current Trail Blazers’ starting five (26.2). In fact, only two teams as young as the present day Trail Blazers have won an NBA championship in this span of 38 years (1977-present): the 1977 Trail Blazers (24 years old) and the 1979 Super Sonics (25.2 years old).

NBA basketball is, and always has been, a veteran’s game— perhaps even more so than is generally acknowledged. Dating back to the 1980s, when “games started” data began to be recorded for future, public availability, very little has changed. Most successful NBA starting fives have consisted of a few 30+ year old veterans and a few studs entering their young prime, averaging out to a typical age of 28-30 between those players.

Average age of 1980s championship starters: 27.8
Average age of 1990s championship starters: 29.9
Average age of 2000s championship starters: 28.4
Average age of 2010s championship starters: 29.2

Even modern NBA champions, like the San Antonio Spurs, that receive criticism for the age of their core have previous championship iterations with even older starters (1999 & 2007). “X team is too old” sings the common chorus of skeptics when “X team is too young” is historically more concerning by a landslide. The Trail Blazers are in rare position to make strides this year, but will face an uphill battle against their own relative inexperience.

Take the three current favorites from each conference right now: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and Miami Heat from the East; the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Clippers from the West. The Cavaliers and the Thunder have the youngest core, but are only in position to compete for a title because of the all-time NBA talents of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Everyone else is hovering around that average championship age of 28.6.

Chicago Bulls average starting age: 29
Cleveland Cavaliers average starting age: 26
Miami Heat average starting age: 29.2
Los Angeles Clippers average starting age: 28.8
Oklahoma City Thunder average starting age: 26.2
San Antonio Spurs average starting age: 29.8

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The Trail Blazers core is younger than that of almost all of these teams and they possess no players that can yet be considered all-time NBA talents. Although they are one of the most gifted Trail Blazers teams that we have seen in the last couple decades, I still need convincing that they have been around the block enough times to etch their names in history.

BUT (and this is a big “but”), while the average age of a team’s core is largely in correlation with their readiness to contend, there is no magical, numeric standard that captures the intangibles of a championship team. If the Trail Blazers are ready to win, they will do so regardless of bygone age statistics. The question remains, though, are they ready right now?

Based on the numbers and the present state of competition, the answer is probably ‘no,’ but a firm stance would be presumptuous at this juncture. The Trail Blazers’ starting five may not be the most experienced, but they are among the strongest and deepest in the NBA. If they can win as a young group they will make history, but if they cannot, the passage of time could be their ally, contracts permitting.

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