Young talent in the NBA is arguably stronger than it has ever been.
With star players consistently emerging so early in their careers, teams continue to increase the value they place on young players. Preferring to fill out final roster spots with young and unproven players, with the hope they can establish themselves, is a strategy many teams have opted for.
This often comes at the expense of established veterans, as their leadership and locker room presence is seemingly valued below the unproven potential of a young player.
Two-time NBA champion J.R. Smith recently spoke on this development, claiming that he and other veterans have been “blackballed” from the NBA. In a recent conversation with Pierce Simpson of Complex, the 36-year-old explained his reasoning.
“I mean, anybody can sit here and tell you that that’s a fact,” Smith said. “You got those 30 teams, or the top three people on each 30 teams, and exclude them, give me the [fourth] through 15th man, just the [fourth] through 15th. Name one of them that’s better than me. I’m sitting there like, bro, I’ve worked out with these dudes. I’ve watched their GM come up to me and ask me like yo why you not playing? You know why I’m not playing. I feel like it’s a whole genre that that happened to. Joe Johnson, who obviously still got game, still plays. Jamal Crawford, still got game, still can play. Nick Young, still got game, still can play. Isaiah Thomas, still got game, still can play.”
Does J.R. have a point?
As previously mentioned, the NBA has undoubtedly been trending in a younger direction. With a few exceptions, most notably Udonis Haslem, teams have been opting to carry young players at the end of their bench instead of veterans. This much is undeniable, but is Smith’s “blackballed” accusation correct?
Had Smith argued that the NBA wrongfully values unproven young players over established veterans, he would have had a much more compelling case. Instead, the former champion has argued that he, along with others, are currently more capable players than several who currently occupy roster spots.
Between J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, and Nick Young, Thomas is the only player younger than 36. Outside of some 10-day deals, Thomas has been unable to stick in the NBA since his days with the Boston Celtics, due to his inability to defend.
This same insufficiency is true for each of the aforementioned players, none of which were defensive stoppers at the peak of their careers, and are certainly only worse on that end at their current ages.
While some of this analysis is speculative, albeit reasonable, the recent data on each of these veterans makes Smith’s claim seem even further from the truth.
What can these veterans actually provide?
Jamal Crawford, who recently announced his retirement, last played a full season in 2018-19 with the Phoenix Suns. Outside of an exciting explosion in his last game, Crawford struggled mightily, converting on just 39.7% of his field goal attempts.
The same trends hold true for both Joe Johnson and Nick Young, who failed to eclipse 40% from the field in their last NBA stints. Now several years removed from those subpar campaigns, it is hard to believe anything better is to come for these former players. When factoring in the negative defensive impact, the sell becomes even harder.
Should NBA teams value veteran locker room presences more than they currently do? Probably. If J.R. Smith wants to make an NBA return, this should be his argument. The idea that he has been “blackballed” despite possessing NBA-level ability, is not backed by anything.