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Are the Mavericks as young as you think?

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As Dallas exits the playoff race, we look at what one metric says about how the age of the team is changing.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the season comes to an end, the Mavericks find themselves in a position that’s quite unusual for this franchise: sitting out the playoffs with a losing record. But as unusual as it is, it wasn’t a surprise as the Mavericks continually remained on the outside for making the playoffs over the last month.

Today, I’m looking one way in which the team has changed in response to that reality. Weighted Game Age (WGA) is a metric that takes the age of players and uses their minutes played as a coefficient to get a weighted average of the team’s age on a per game basis. The upshot is that you can get a sense of a team’s true age, relative to the age of the players and amount they actually play. Some of the questions WGA can shed light on include the point at which clubs have made the hard pivot to tanking, which teams have resisted, and the age makeup of championship teams.

I wrote a more in-depth post about this over on Nylon Calculus, but now I’m going to dig a little deeper and focus just on Dallas. One hypothesis is that as the Mavericks’ playoffs odds shrank, they adjusted to these odds and started relying more on their younger and less seasoned players, decreasing the team’s WGA.

To test this hypothesis, I used a five-game moving average as opposed to the 10-game average in the Nylon Calculus article to better detect changes. And voila, there is a mini cliff in the Mavericks’ WGA over the last few games:

To be fair, it might still be a little early to read too much into this as Dallas just got officially eliminated a few days ago. The moving average might still be picking up some variance. Also, Dirk Nowitzki sat out against the Kings.

Speaking of Dirk, Dallas is actually one of the harder teams to measure with WGA due to Dirk’s overall old-ish, old-ing old-ness. At 38, he ain’t no spring chicken and Dirk’s unique age and number of minutes played put him at the edges of the NBA universe. Check it out:

In terms of being up and to the right, Dirk is right there. In fact, Dirk is such an outlier and has such a heavy hand on Dallas’s WGA scale that it can be hard to detect changes in the team’s composition. So, I thought we should see how the team’s WGA looks without him. I also added a couple of the hardest crashing WGA teams (a technical euphemism for “tankers”) for context:

Once you remove uncle Dirk (the line labeled “DAL 2”), it’s very clear the team’s average age has changed.

Still, it’s not as dramatic as you might think, given all you hear about Dallas eyeballing undrafted rookies, signing undrafted rookies, playing undrafted rookies and starting undrafted rookies. That’s because guys like Devin Harris, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea are still getting regular minutes.

It’ll be interesting to see where Dallas’s WGA nets out in the final games with and without Dirk, as Dirk’s gravitational pull with WGA can single-handedly mask a lot of things (just like on the court!).

Still, make no mistake, the Mavs went for a rebuild mid-season and we’ll see how much they commit to it in the final games. True to Cuban’s word, they still plan to compete so I don’t expect Barea, Harris or Matthews to disappear to provide a Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Lakers level tank, even without Dirk playing.