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Last Summer, I took a look at what every member of the Sixers needed to work on in the Summer Reading series. This year, I'm going to take a different approach heading into the season. I'm going to try to use historical statistics and player comps to peer into the future and get a feel for what we can expect from each player.

After the jump we'll dive right into the numbers for our starting point guard, Andre Miller.
First, the baseline. I'm going to use per game numbers, because I find them easier to swallow than per minute, or per 36 minutes. Andre averaged 36.8 minutes if you want to do the math. Also, all stats used below were grabbed from basketball-reference.com.

Minutes/game: 36.8
Points/game: 17.0 (career high)
Rebounds/game: 3.9 (lowest with starter's minutes of career)
Assists/game: 6.9
Steals/game: 1.3
Blocks/game: 0.1
Turnovers/game: 2.5
FG %: 49.2
3pt %: 8.8
FT %: 77.2

Let's take a look back now. If you watched the Sixers, and Miller in particular, play last season you already know he had a phenomenal year. Not only did he run the offense to near perfection and distribute, but he stepped up and took the big shots the team needed. Whenever the Sixers needed to end a bad stretch, he'd find a way to shake free for a fifteen footer. He had an uncanny knack for knowing when the team needed a hoop, and delivering.

While it may be obvious to all of us how special his season was in '07-'08, I think it'll be shocking when we look for comparables. A couple notes on methodology here. I flipflop back and forth on whether to compare players based on time in the league, or age. For younger players, I think time in the league is a better measure, for older players, I generally lean toward age. For Miller, I decided to use both. To find comps, I chose 4 statistical categories, then searched for players who met or exceeded his performance in those categories, in first their 9th season in the league, and then in their age 31 season. The results are below.

This first group of comps included players from the past 20 seasons in the NBA who in their 9th season in the league averaged more than 35 minutes/game, more than 16 points/game, more than 6.5 assists/game and shot better than 47% from the field. Only 3 players other than Miller hit those averages in their 9th season in the league in the past 20 seasons:
  • Clyde Drexler - 1991-92
  • Magic Johnson - 1987-88
  • Kevin Johnson - 1995-96 (Johnson only played 56 games that season)
To put Andre's season in a little more perspective, in the past 20 seasons those numbers have only been met or exceeded 11 times by a player in his 9th season or later.

The next group of comps was age driven. Only 3 players met or exceeded Andre's numbers in their age 31 season:
  • Magic Johnson - 1990-91
  • Steve Nash - 2005-06
  • Sam Cassell - 2000-01
Again, for some added perspective, only 7 players met or exceeded Andre's numbers at the age of 31 or older, in the past 20 years. That is truly some elite company.

Obviously, we're only looking for categories Andre fares well in for these comps, but I don't think it's unfair to judge point guards based on points, assists, minutes and shooting percentage. These statistical categories are also important because we're trying to use the comps to gauge Andre's expected numbers for the upcoming season. Minutes/game is especially important.

So, let's take the players and seasons we've come up with so far and see how they fared in their follow-up season.

  • Clyde Drexler (1992-93) -The Glide was 30 years-old for his 10th season in the league. He saw his production take a precipitous drop, as well as his health. He only played 49 games, scored over 6 points/game less than the previous season, saw his shooting percentage drop over 4%. Clyde would go on to have one more relatively-healthy and productive season later in his career.
  • Magic Johnson (1988-89) - Magic was only 29 for his 10th season in the league, and he continued to dominate. He put up better numbers across the board, and would continue to play at this high level until his career was cut short by HIV.
  • Kevin Johnson (1996-97) - Johnson was 30 for his 10th season in the league, and it would be his final productive season. He played 70 games and averaged 38 minutes/game, 20.1 points, 9.3 assists and shot 49.6% from the floor. He played a total of 56 games over the next two season, and was out of the league at age 33.
  • Steve Nash (2006-07) - At the age of 32 Nash was in his 11th season in the league. His numbers have remained excellent and he's remained healthy (playing 76 games in his year 32 season, 81 in year 33).
  • Sam Cassell (2001-02) - At 32, Cassell was in his 9th season in the league. He would turn in very productive years in his age 32, 33, 34 and 36 seasons.
I ran one last comp, with this one, I was looking for two guys who had a similar number of miles on their odometers going into their age 32 season. The players I chose were Mark Jackson and John Stockton. Each had played about 1000 minutes more than Miller after their age 31 season, and they had varrying degrees of success later in their careers. Stockton went on to average a double-double for three more season, then play good/very good basketball for another six seasons.

Jackson wasn't so fortunate. He would never average 9 points/game after his age 32 season, his minutes and effectiveness would drop almost every season until he retired at the age of 38.

Looking Ahead

Beyond being a good way to kill a couple of hours over the Holiday weekend, this exercise did have a goal. First, I wanted to see if there was a precedent for the season Miller just turned in at the age of 31 (there was), and second, I wanted to see if there was a trend which would show what, if any, decline we could see this coming season, and beyond.

The good news is that there doesn't seem to be some kind of magical cliff guys fall off as the pass their 32nd birthday. Plenty of these comps put up great years even later in their careers. The bad news is that this seems to be about the time that point guards start to break down. Three factors weigh in Andre's favor on that front. Number one, he's durable. Possibly the most durable point in the history of the game. He's played all 82 games in 6 of his 9 years in the league. In the other 3 seasons he played 80, 80 and 81. Number two, he's a savvy player. Meaning, he knows how to conserve his energy on the floor, he knows when he needs to give max effort and he knows when he can take a breath. He regulates himself during the minutes he's on the floor, which allows him to play more minutes than a lot of guys. Number three, conditioning. Mo Cheeks has his players, every single one of them, in excellent shape. Conditioning helps prevent injuries.

Even with those factors in his corner, there will come a time when Andre will lose a step, the question remains, will it be this year? If I had to bet, I'd say no, at least statistically. He's coming into his age 32 season with probably the most talented roster he's ever played on. The addition of Elton Brand to the young core should allow Andre to transition back to the role of facilitator. It will surely mean that he doesn't need to step into the number one option in the half-court offense as much as he had to last season. He should get better shots and not have to work as hard to find them. On top of all of this, he will probably be playing for the final contract of his career. Another stellar season could land him a lucrative deal to retire on from the Sixers or someone else.

Taking all of this into account, here is my early prediction for Andre's stat line for 2008-09:

Minutes/game: 33.5 (more blowouts = less minutes)
Points/game: 14.0
Rebounds/game: 3.5
Assists/game: 9.2
Steals/game: 1.0
Blocks/game: 0.1
Turnovers/game: 1.9 (passes that used to go to Evans will now go to Brand)
FG %: 51
3pt %: 5
FT %: 75.2

What do you guys think? A step back for Miller? Better overall production/fewer points? Leave your thoughts in the comments, as usual.
by Brian on Sep 2 2008
Tags: Andre Miller | Looking Ahead | Offseason | Sixers |