Yesterday, I wrote a post about the Nets and how they had one of the best young cores in the league. It got me thinking about all the other top young teams, so I decided to rank them. I know “young core” is kind of a vague term that technically could include CP and the Hornets, the Jazz and the Magic. So I set up a couple of parameters.
By young core, I mean players who have not accomplished much yet in their young NBA careers and are still paying dues. I’m talking about players and teams that are not quite ready to contribute anything big this upcoming season, but will be right there in the mix two or three years down the line. All of these players are relatively young, have no more than three years in the league and have not been all-stars or major contributors in the playoffs.
6. New Jersey Nets (Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee)
As I mentioned yesterday, this is a solid young squad. Terrence “T-Will” Williams has the versatility to be a borderline all-star in a few years. Having an old-school type of center is rare these days. But the Nets got a throwback in Brook Lopez. He has the skill set and size to be a great NBA center one day. The x-factor would have to be Yi Jianlian. As of now he has performed lower than expected, but has great offensive skills and just might breakout in his third season. Courtney Lee surprised a lot of folks during the Magic’s playoff run with his heart and his jump shot. I know I said no major playoff contributors on this list, but he got traded to the Nets so he is basically starting over. Plus, he missed a wide open alley-oop lay-up in the Finals that would have won Game 2.
5. Sacramento Kings (Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Spencer Hawes, Kevin Martin)
It seems like an eternity since the Kings’ glory days of C-Webb, Jason Williams, Vlade and Peja. Lately the Kings have been as irrelevant as the Sony Walkman. But there are brighter days to come for Sactown. Yeah, Kevin Martin has been in the League for more than three years, but really, who knows anything about him? He hasn’t played a playoff game since the 2005-’06 season. He is one of the guards in this league that has the potential to be a superstar. Tyreke Evans is going to be a leading candidate for ROY. He is a tall guard who can shoot, pass (when he wants) and lock people up. Jason Thompson had a solid rookie year and will be even better this year. And Spencer Hawes has a nice all-around game, if he can only grow some hair on his chest and be more aggressive he’ll be OK.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, DeAndre Jordan)
Blake Griffin. Do we even have to explain this one? He can play his first game in Timberlands and jean shorts and still get 17 and 9 on anyone. He is a guaranteed all-star in the next two years. Eric Gordon had a stellar rookie campaign averaging 16 points and nearly 3 boards and dimes a game. He will be a 20 point per game scorer one day. Al Thornton has been quietly putting up numbers for the past few seasons and if he develops any time of a perimeter game – watch out. The Clippers also got a steal with DeAndre Jordan, who proved he could block shots and rebound in limited minutes. I think we all agree, the Clips are still another solid lottery pick away from completing the puzzle.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer)
Kevin Love and Al Jefferson will one day be the next McHale and Parrish. Love has the complete package and was groomed from birth to be a star. I don’t see anybody being able to stop that front court down the line. Yeah Ricky Rubio, pulled a Steve Francis-esque move by refusing to play in Minnesota. While that could change in the next few years, I wouldn’t count on it. Fortunately they snagged up Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn who has Nate Robinson type athleticism. Corey Brewer and Wayne Ellington are good young prospects who were both winners in college.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Hasheem Thabeet, OJ Mayo)
Even since they hijacked the team from Vancouver, Memphis has been known as the armpit of NBA destinations. But that is changing slowly as the Grizz are putting together a monster roster. With Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo, they have two of the most athletic and strong forwards in the game. Mike Conley is beginning to look like the player he was at Ohio State. If Thabeet proves to be even slightly better than Shawn Bradley, I think we might be able to talk playoffs as soon as next year.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, James Harden)
I know by me throwing the Thunder in the number one spot, I am giving into this Thunder fad that’s sweeping the hoops world as of late. But as trendy as they are, they have the players to make some serious noise in ’09-10. Kevin Durant, who is the current Dime’s cover boy, is on the cusp of being a top five NBA player. Russell Westbrook opened a lot of eyes last season and will be even better this year. Jeff Green’s versatility will allow him to contribute wherever is needed and they got a proven shooter and scorer in draft pick James Harden. If they can find away to keep this core together than you can expect to raise a couple of banners in the rafters of the Ford Center.
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