Look, I'm sold on the impact of well-utilized stats on the success of a basketball team. For instance, the impact of a strong veteran presence doesn't always show up in the box score but successful teams all seem to have that role filled on their roster.
The Indiana Pacers are thin in this area as they try to accrue young talent to build toward the future. At some point, though, the veteran leaders are needed to help raise the level of play and expectations among the developing players.
I consider players with ten or more years of experience as the type of players I'm looking for. In some cases, he's a literal leader of the team, like Chauncey Billups or Jason Kidd, the seasoned superstar guiding his younger teammates through the post-season battles.
In other cases, like Juwan Howard and Marcus Camby with the Blazers or Anthony Carter with the Nuggets, they're players who have been around the league forever, seen the league from a lot of different angles and are willing to take a support role on teams with talented young players on the rise.
The impact of these types of players may not involve a basketball play at all, but instead a quiet chat in the corner of the locker room to get a young player's head straight or on the court in an enforcer role to make sure that savvy vet on the opponent doesn't succeed in trying to distract the young player who will eventually decide the game.
Although, every year it seems like this type of veteran role player comes off the bench to turn a game in the series. When foul trouble, injuries or foul play hit a playoff team, being able to turn to an old pro who won't be overwhelmed by the moment and knows how to get things done on the court can give a boost to help win a key game that in turn helps win a playoff series.
Currently, only Jeff Foster fits the mold of the veteran player willing to do the dirty work on and off the floor for the Pacers. He's been in the league the requisite 10 years and even has some solid playoff experience. Adding a vet with a similar resume is desperately needed for the Pacers as they try to enhance their young core players. After taking a look at the Eastern Conference playoff teams, these types of players are part of the mix on all of the better teams.
Of course that's easier said than done. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy aren't 10-year vets but have been thrust into that type of role with the Pacers. Unfortunately, neither have played in a playoff game so they can only carry follow me-type of leadership so far.
That veteran presence would make a critical culture tweak to the culture change brought about by Jim O'Brien when he arrived. Not only is it a different voice, but a veteran player with the respect if his teammates can push the team toHey, we need to do this to succeed and we're not getting it done."
The other issue facing the Pacers is that quality vets willing to defer salary and and play in a support role are looking for a playoff team to play with, not a reclamation project. Until the Pacers' young players show they're worth latching onto, any vets will join the Pacers for the wrong reasons (money, minutes, then leadership).
I compiled a quick look at the 10-year (minimum) vets dotting the Eastern Conference playoff teams this year.
- Atlanta: Mike Bibby (70 playoff games) runs the show for the Hawks and has tons of playoff experience from his days in Sacramento. Notice who knocked down key buckets late in Game1 when the Bucks made a run. Joe Smith (53 playoff games) doesn't play a big role on the court for the Hawks but also won't be a surprise if he steps up with some key minutes in the playoffs.
- Milwaukee: Jerry Stackhouse (65 playoff games) has been an excellent addition to the Bucks this year. After what may be considered a self-centered career, Stack was forced into a support role to extend his career and has thrived in that role with the Bucks. Kurt Thomas (83 playoff games) might just be the poster boy for the been-there-done-that type of veteran presence I'm talking about here.
- Orlando: Lethal young talent can enhance the vets and help them find the fountain of you, especially in the playoffs. The Magic have several vets playing prominent roles alongside Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Vince Carter(43 playoff games) doesn't have the playoff experience you might think, but a new life playing with some young blood may bring out the best in VC. Rasahrd Lewis(51 playoff games) has taken a lot of big shots in a lot of big games. Anthony Johnson (99 playoff games) has seen it all and always seems capable of providing spot relief in big moments when called on in the playoffs. Jason Williams (54 playoff games) has found a role in possibly his last and best chance for playoff success.
- Chicago: Brad Miller (46 playoff games) offers more of a lead by example role on the court. 8th seed Bulls could probably use some more experience to lean on although LeBron James pretty much nullifies any amount of veteran savvy you can bring to the party.
- Charlotte: Theo Ratliff (40 playoff games) made his 10th move when he landed in Charlotte at the trade deadline. He's been on great teams, mediocre teams and bad teams but he's still making a defensive impact, playing a part in Charlotte's strong close to the season. Larry Hughes (46 playoff games) has fallen into that niche veteran role player after never quite breaking through in the prime of his career. Still, he can offer some spot offense in a pinch for the Bobcats. Nazr Mohammed (41 playoff games) is the Larry Hughes of big men, providing front-court depth and lots of know how for Charlotte.
- Cleveland: Shaquille O'Neal (204 playoff games) has been there and done that with the rings to show for it. 3530 pounds of veteran savvy. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (65 playoff games) has always fit into a successful role alongside LBJ. Antawn Jamison(32 playoff games) doesn't need to lead on this team but should provide the Cavs a boost at some point in the playoffs.
- Boston: Boston's big three of Ray Allen (78 playoff games), Kevin Garnett (74 playoff games) and Paul Pierce (78 playoff games) aren't counted on for their veteran presence, they're key components to any success the C's hope that have. Rasheed Wallace (154 playoff games) and Michael Finley (112 playoff games) have much more playoff experience to offer in their limited role and all Boston fans hope both can make their presence felt on the court at some point.
- Miami: JermaineO'Neal (77 playoff games) has been through the playoff wars as we well know and at this point has to pick his spots but needs to rise up to help Dwyane Wade if the Heat want to take out the Celtics. Jamaal Magloire (42 playoff games) is working in the veteran filler role off the bench.
As you can see, faithful vets are a valuable commodity found on successful NBA teams. Their roles vary greatly but the positive impact they can bring also comes in a variety of forms, some measured and many not, which shouldn't be overlooked.