There’s a reason players are able to stay in the NBA even after their prime. There’s a reason coaches seek out tried-and-tested veterans to help out younger teams.
By the time veteran players reach 10 years in the league, they generally have a much more improved basketball IQ, given the experience they have gained on the court through the years. They also need to find creative ways to keep up with the younger players.
The playoffs are a series of adjustments, which usually expose both teams’ weaknesses. When the stars get cancelled out, they need to find other options, and that’s where the vets come in.
In this year’s playoffs, younger teams have risen to the top. With their age comes a lack of experience, making the contributions of their veterans extra valuable.
Lou Williams of the Atlanta Hawks made his first playoff start in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals after Trae Young went down with an ankle injury in the previous game. Williams, who has won Sixth Man of the Year three times, stepped up to the occasion and made big-time plays while the Hawks’ main scorer was sitting out.
This comes 18 seasons and six teams from the start of his career. Williams has always been seen as a valuable asset off the bench, but hasn’t really gained heavy minutes. He was more of a back up to every other superstar guard he played with, not the one carrying the team.
That changed in the Hawks’ Game 4 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Williams delivered 21 points in an extremely efficient 7-of-9 shooting. He was so heated up, he only started missing shots late in the third quarter. Williams also did more than scoring as he dished out eight assists with only one turnover in 35 minutes.
Like Williams, the LA Clippers’ Reggie Jackson has also struggled to find the perfect fit for him. After 10 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and the OKC Thunder, Jackson wanted to call it quits. He felt like he was on his way to retirement after he agreed to a contract buyout with the Pistons in 2020.
“I had hit basketball depression,” said Jackson, who played six seasons in Detroit.
However, his longtime friend Paul George wouldn’t accept this. Knowing that Jackson still had a lot of fight left in him, George asked him to sign with the Clippers. He later had the best opportunity to prove himself in LA’s deep roster.
Jackson had big shoes to fill, becoming the substitute starter when Kawhi Leonard was out with a knee injury. He went on and carried the load in the playoffs, averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 33 minutes. He went from being tired and frustrated to becoming an essential part of the Clippers’ success.
“First thing I told these guys was, ‘Thank you for saving me.’ I appreciate every guy in that locker room. I appreciate Paul [George] for getting on that phone last year, at the end of the season,” said Jackson. “I’m thankful for everything I’ve experienced being here – this city making me feel at home, this organization welcoming me, my quirks, my strengths, my weaknesses. I’m not here today without this team. I’m not here playing without this team. So, yeah, I thank them.”
Another veteran who’s given it all in these playoffs is the Milwaukee Bucks’ big man Brook Lopez. Like many role players, Lopez was talented – a terrific post-up player, defender, and 3-point shooter – but he wasn’t the main option in his teams.
Lopez was a former All-Star who had to adjust his game due to foot injuries. Once he reached Milwaukee, he hoped things would get back on track, but being under the shadow of Giannis Antetokounmpo left him in the dark.
When Antetokounmpo sat out due to knee injury, it was the perfect time for Lopez to show out. After ending the regular season with only 12.3 points per game, Lopez exploded for 33 points in the ECF’s Game 5 to steer the Bucks to victory.
All the doubts on whether or not Lopez can still perform were erased as he was a key factor in the Bucks advancing to the NBA Finals. In fact, reaching a playoffs career-high at this point of his career is sweeter than ever because it proves that Lopez is still capable of dominating after 13 seasons.
As the NBA evolves and moves toward the emergence of younger stars, the valuable contributions of veteran players – especially in the playoffs – cannot be replaced just yet. With their hustle and experience, they can still shine and make a mark for their teams.
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