Ranking the best young cores in the NBA

Ranking the best young cores in the NBA


Ranking the best young cores in the NBA

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From Trust the Process to The Timeline, the NBA is littered with exciting young squads and even more captivating young talents.

Some teams have done a good job of balancing current contention with future-oriented roster creation, while others are still in the middle of rebuilds.

Even so, almost every franchise around the Association has at least one young talent with mesmerizing potential.

As such, we decided to rank the best young cores around the NBA, from No. 30 all the way to No. 1.

For the most part, we decided the cut-off to be included in a team’s young core to be that the player must be under 25 years old, with a few exceptions for slightly older guys who are still in the early parts of their professional journeys.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

30. Los Angeles Clippers

Young core: Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Tyrone Wallace, Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell

Surprising upstart Tyrone Wallace, athletic big man Montrezl Harrell and springy wing Sam Dekker highlight the Los Angeles Clippers’ young nucleus.

Wallace was signed to one of Los Angeles’ two two-way contracts midway through the season and surpassed every expectation most had for him almost immediately.

With his squad riddled by injuries, head coach Doc Rivers needed to play Wallace nearly 33 minutes nightly over his first 13 outings as a Clipper. With that playing time, the Cal product impressed by putting up 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.

Because of the nature of his two-way deal, Wallace told HoopsHype he used his time with Los Angeles as an audition for both the Clippers and the rest of the league:

“I never thought I’d be playing over 30 minutes a night right from the start, but I loved it. And because it’s a two-way contract, I also knew that this was sort of like my interview for the rest of the NBA teams too. I thought, ‘If I go up there and play well, it could increase my stock for next year.’ Just because you never know what can happen in the NBA.”

All in all, it was quite the successful tryout for the 23-year-old wing.

But the fact that a two-way player is already one of the Clippers’ two most exciting young prospects explains why they finished last in this countdown.

29. Golden State Warriors

Young core: Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, Patrick McCaw, Damian Jones, Quinn Cook

Second-to-last place. Unfamiliar territory for the Golden State Warriors.

And yet, even the most stringent supporter of the reigning champions would agree: their young core is lacking compared to that of other franchises.

That’s not to say they are totally without talent or upside, however.

Jordan Bell, under Draymond Green’s guidance, has the chance to become a freakish, do-everything two-way terror in the mold of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Kevon Looney is showing signs of improvement in this, his third season. And Patrick McCaw still has the makings of a serviceable role player.

But it’s difficult for a team picking so low in the first round every year, and with such high annual expectations, to have room for many young pieces on their roster.

28. Memphis Grizzlies

Young core: Andrew Harrison, Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, Deyonta Davis, Kobi Simmons, Brice Johnson, Ivan Rabb, Jarell Martin

A young core heavier in quantity than quality, the Memphis Grizzlies’ sneaky tank this season is the right move for the future of the franchise.

With the Top 7 of the 2018 NBA draft chock full of talent, including wonder kid Luka Doncic, who makes a strong case for the top overall pick, landing a game-changer will be of the utmost importance for the Grizzlies’ front office.

Memphis isn’t totally without young talent, though.

Andrew HarrisonDillon Brooks and Wayne Selden have all shown some promise this season in their varying roles and at worst, should blossom into solid complementary pieces one day.

27. Portland Trail Blazers

Young core: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Maurice Harkless, Caleb Swanigan, Jake Layman, Wade Baldwin

The big Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic highlights the Portland Trail Blazers young core. He provides the team with much-needed toughness down low, and if he were to cut back on the turnovers and long two-point attempts, the Blazers will be all the better for it.

Apart from him, there’s also Maurice Harkless who’s having a bit of a down year by all accounts. But when he’s clicking, he gives Portland a legit wing who can slash to the basket and defend multiple positions.

The book is still out on rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, but the former has been coming on a bit of late.

26. Charlotte Hornets

Young core: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky, Willy Hernangomez, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon, Treveon Graham, Marcus Paige

Between injuries and struggles shooting the basketball, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t been able to live up to his No. 2 selection in the 2012 NBA draft. Even so, he’s a lockdown defender, a fantastic slasher and a plus-rebounder from the wing.

Plus, along with Kidd-Gilchrist, the Charlotte Hornets have other respectable young pieces.

Landing Willy Hernangomez for a second-round pick could wind up looking like a coup for Charlotte a few years down the road.

Frank Kaminsky probably didn’t merit a Top 10 selection back in 2015, but he’s turned into a nice third big man with shooting touch that extends to the three-point line.

And Malik Monk, who hasn’t gotten much of a shot yet, still has big-time upside as a pure scorer.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers

Young core: Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, London Perrantes

Prior to the 2018 trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been a lock to finish last in this ranking. But times have changed.

With the additions of Rodney HoodJordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr, Cleveland was not only able to find renewed energy for this season, but also two potentially important pieces for the future.

Hood is presently having his best season thanks to his ability to drop buckets with smooth confidence, while Nance has the makings of a future No-Stats All-Star straight from the School of Shane Battier. And not to be forgotten, Clarkson looks like a potential spark plug for the team, who will eventually be able to take over for JR Smith as the team’s all-important scorer without a conscious.

Last but not least, even Cedi Osman appears to finally be coming on by making an impact with his athleticism and defensive acumen.

24. Houston Rockets

Young core: Clint Capela, RJ Hunter, Chinanu Onuaku, Zhou Qi 

Three non-contributors and one sky-is-the-limit big man make up the Houston Rockets’ young core.

Understandably, RJ HunterChinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi haven’t been able to see much of the floor this season considering how freaking stacked Houston is at the moment.

But Clint Capela, the team’s only other under-25-year-old, is a key contributor for what has been the best team in basketball in 2017-18.

Capela is averaging 14.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this season, while leading the league in field-goal percentage at an astounding 65.4 percent.

The Swiss seven-footer will hit restricted free agency this summer; we currently have him ranked as the seventh-best player who will be available to switch teams come July.

In all likelihood, keeping Capela on the Rockets won’t come cheap for general manager Daryl Morey.

23. San Antonio Spurs

Young core: Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Darrun Hilliard, Derrick White, Matt Costello

Although the San Antonio Spurs don’t boast a single player of Capela’s caliber, the triumvirate of Kyle AndersonDejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes more than make up the difference.

Anderson is currently enjoying his best season as a pro thanks to improved aggressiveness as a scorer and play-maker; Murray won the starting point guard spot over team legend Tony Parker due to his insane defensive abilities and tidy scoring near the basket; and Forbes looks like Danny Green’s eventual successor at the 2-guard spot.

Not a bad group for Gregg Popovich to work with over the coming years.

22. Miami Heat

Young core: Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Jordan Mickey, Derrick Walton, Derrick Jones Jr

One of the Miami Heat’s key young players has already received a long-term investment from Pat Riley and his staff. And that’s Josh Richardson.

Signed to a four-year, $42 million extension prior to 2017-18, Richardson has repaid Miami, and then some, for their leap of faith. The athletic two-way wing has blossomed into one of the league’s premiere defenders, both on-ball and off it. Richardson is one of just four active players this season with at least 50 blocks, steals and three-pointers on the year.

Apart from the promising Tennessee product, the Heat’s young core also boasts Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow. Though the former, as a rookie, already appears to be further along in his development than the latter, both still possess high upside as team-first, do-it-all contributors.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder

Young core: Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, Dakari Johnson, Daniel Hamilton, PJ Dozier

Thanks to smart drafting in the mid-to-late first round, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a young nucleus more impressive than most contenders.

Their best young piece, Steven Adams, is still, somehow, just 24 years old, despite looking like a 36-year-old veteran. (It’s probably the beard.)

Adams is a ferocious screen-setter, can box-out anyone and has developed into a fantastic rim-diver on the pick-and-roll. The Thunder, smartly, have already locked him up to a long-term extension.

Along with the Pittsburgh product, Jerami Grant is an explosive backup big; Alex Abrines can knock down triples for days; and Terrance Ferguson may turn into a superb 3-and-D wing with more experience.

20. Atlanta Hawks

Young core: Dennis Schroeder, Taurean Prince, John Collins, DeAndre Bembry, Tyler Cavanaugh, Tyler Dorsey, Isaiah Taylor, Andrew White

The Atlanta Hawks have a deep young core with three main contributors: Dennis SchroederTaurean Prince and John Collins.

Schroeder is one of just eight players averaging at least 19 points, three rebounds and six assists. If he can continue to work on his maturity (an aspect he has already improved upon greatly), he could become one of the better young point guards in the league.

Prince, meanwhile, is a powerful wing who excels on both ends.

And Collins looks like quite the find in the middle of the first round for Atlanta. He can jump out of the building, protect the paint and bully his way to buckets on the low block.

Better days are ahead for the Hawks.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Young core: Dennis Smith Jr, Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nerlens Noel, Johnathan Motley, Jalen Jones

Of all of the Dallas Mavericks’ young pieces, Dennis Smith Jr is the one with the most star potential.

Despite a relatively inefficient rookie season, the explosive floor general occasionally shows flashes that resemble a young Russell Westbrook. And his 14.8-point, 4.9-assist-per-game averages are nothing to scoff at for a player who still can’t legally buy a beer in the United States.

The Mavericks young core would have ranked higher on our list if the Nerlens Noel experiment had even remotely panned out. Instead, it’s been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.

Nonetheless, Dallas refrained from trading the 23-year-old center, and apparently committed to giving it another go once he returns from thumb surgery.

Apart from those two, Yogi Ferrell is developing into a fun scorer off the bench, while Dorian Finney-Smith, though sidelined for most of the year with injury, has promise as a bouncy big man with strong defensive aptitude.

18. Orlando Magic

Young core: Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mario Hezonja, Wesley Iwundu

Low in numbers but high in both current production and future potential, the Orlando Magic boast a respectable young core.

Headlined by Aaron Gordon, who’s putting up 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds nightly this season, and Mario Hezonja (don’t laugh – the Croatian wing is averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest over a recent nine-game stretch), Orlando appears to have the pieces in place to take the next step.

Then again… the Magic’s refusal to get Gordon signed to an extension prior to this season could make his upcoming restricted free agency tricky to navigate. And the fact they (shockingly) turned down Hezonja’s fourth-year option makes it likely he’ll be wearing different colors next year. Especially if he maintains his recent level of play.

Meanwhile, their prized rookie Jonathan Isaac has missed the majority of his first year with lingering ankle issues.

Thus, the Magic’s future will hinge on how they navigate 2018 free agency and how Isaac comes back from what appears to be a lost season.

17. Toronto Raptors

Young core: Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poetl, Malachi Richardson, Malcolm Miller

Despite lacking in name, almost every member of the Toronto Raptors 25-and-under club is a key contributor to what has been the best team in the Eastern Conference at the 2018 All-Star break.

OG Anunoby is the sole starter of the bunch, and though his numbers don’t scream – future superstar! – his quiet contributions cannot be overlooked. The Indiana product, with his long arms and quick feet, could (or should) become a lock-down defender one day. And making his outlook even more exciting, Anunoby is hitting a healthy 34.5 percent of his threes as a rookie.

Apart from the first-year player, Norman Powell has already locked up a long-term extension with the team; Fred VanVleet is already a stud backup floor general; Pascal Siakam is a freakazoid 6-foot-9 forward who can guard multiple positions, and Jakob Poetl can protect the rim and finish out effectively out of the pick-and-roll.

There are likely no stars in this group, but they’re going to form one fierce bench for seasons to come.

16. Sacramento Kings

Young core: Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Frank Mason, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, Bruno Caboclo, JaKarr Sampson

The team with the largest young core in the league are the Sacramento Kings. With a whopping 10 players under 25, Willie Cauley-Stein is somehow the elder statesmen of the group at ripe ole’ age of 24.

Cauley-Stein, finally, in reaching new levels of productivity in this, his third campaign. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging a respectable 12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per night.

Another former Wildcat, De’Aaron Fox, is one of the league’s most promising young guards. He’s explosive in the open floor and can get to the basket in the halfcourt. Fox still needs to improve his jumper; if he does, he’ll be a legitimate problem for opponents.

Buddy Hield, one of the pieces the Kings received in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, is a bit old for a second-year player (he’s already 24), but he’s knocking down 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts this season. He’s starting to resemble the college version of himself, who was a monster.

And perhaps the most exciting young piece for Sacramento, Bogdan Bogdanovic, is already winning some hardware in the Association. It may be a little early to make any sort of proclamation, but the 6-foot-6 Serbian is starting to look like the NBA’s next great European guard.

In all, it’s an exciting young group in Sacramento, and one Kings fans should be thrilled about. If Hield and Bogdanovic (25) were just a bit younger, they’d surely rank higher on our list.

15. Indiana Pacers

Young core: Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Glenn Robinson III, TJ Leaf, Alex Poythress, Edmond Sumner, Ben Moore, Ike Anigbogu

A legitimate potential franchise cornerstone who is still just 22 years old, Myles Turner somehow went 11th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, behind the likes of Winslow and Kaminsky.

The 6-foot-11 center is special thanks to his uber-unique style of play. Turner is one of just two players this season to average at least 2.0 blocks and 0.9 blocks nightly. The other is a certain Latvian we’ll talk about shortly.

Finding an athletic specimen who can both protect the paint at an elite level and knock down shots from three is not easy. And the Pacers did just that. As long as Turner improves his rebounding and overall consistency, he could become a future star in this league.

Indiana possesses more than just Turner, though.

Domantas Sabonis arrived to the Pacers as part of the Paul George trade, and has been nothing short of great in his time with the team. With averages of 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest, the Gonzaga man has been one of the best bench big men in the NBA this season.

The key to Indiana’s future will be in Sabonis and Turner figuring out how to effectively play together. If they do, the Pacers could have something special on their hands.

14. Chicago Bulls

Young core: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Noah Vonleh, Paul Zipser, Cameron Payne, Antonio Blakeney, Ryan Arcidiacono

Though the decision couldn’t have come easy, the Chicago Bulls hitting the reset button heading into this season was probably the right call.

Now, already one of the youngest teams in the league along with the Kings, Chicago is in line to land another potential franchise talent in the upcoming 2018 draft.

As is, their young core is rather impressive.

Zach LaVine appears to have healed nicely from the torn ACL that ended his 2016-17 campaign. Lauri Markkanen is making the people who disparagingly referred to him as Ryan Anderson 2.0 during the pre-draft process look buffoonish. Kris Dunn is proving you should never give up on young, athletic point guards, no matter how badly they struggle as rookies. And Bobby Portis looks like a solid bench big for the future.

If Chicago can successfully add to their young core with what’s sure to be a high selection in the 2018 NBA draft, their young nucleus will be among the league’s finest by next season.

13. New York Knicks

Young core: Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay, Ron Baker, Luke Kornet, Damyean Dotson, Isaiah Hicks

A savvy trade landed the New York Knicks another interesting young piece in Emmanuel Mudiay, who joins Frank Ntilikina in what the team hopes will be their backcourt of the future.

However, the most important part of their young core still remains, obviously, Kristaps Porzingis. How the big Latvian with superstar potential recovers from a torn ACL will be closely monitored.

If not for the unfortunate injury, the Knicks’ young core would have broken the top 10 of our countdown.

12. Detroit Pistons

Young core: Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson, Kay Felder

The first young core featuring an All-Star in our countdown, the Detroit Pistons are most certainly in win-now mode, but the future of the franchise doesn’t look so bad either.

By any measure, Andre Drummond has been a monster in 2017-18. He leads the league in rebounding (15.7 per contest) while also chipping in 15.6 points, 3.6 assists, 1.6 assists and 1.6 blocks nightly. His improved consistency and free-throw shooting have helped become a new player – one who can Detroit build around.

Besides Drummond, the Pistons also have Stanley Johnson, a tough-nosed wing who’s still too young to give up on, and Luke Kennard, whose silky jumper and scoring prowess make him look quite promising.

11. Washington Wizards

Young core: Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Devin Robinson, Chris McCullough

Another All-Star headlines the Washington Wizards’ young core. Bradley Beal has been able to improve every single season of his career, and now reigns as one of the NBA’s premier shooting guards.

Though this is already his sixth season as a professional, the fact Beal continues to get better and better allows for his inclusion in this ranking.

Beal’s young counterpart, Otto Porter, has also seen a meteoric rise over recent years. With his defensive toughness and pristine shooting touch (knocking down 42.2 percent of his triples over the last two seasons), Porter is maybe the league’s top 3-and-D specialist at this point. (And he’s certainly being paid as such.)

The youngest of the trio, Kelly Oubre, is experiencing a breakout campaign in 2017-18. The athletic wing can defend multiple positions, spend time at small-ball power forward and knock down open triples. It’s no surprise Oubre was heavily bandied about around the trade deadline, when rumors ran rampant about Washington making a move for a big-name target out west named DeAndre Jordan.

10. Brooklyn Nets

Young core: D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Isaiah Whitehead, Nik Stauskas, James Webb, Milton Doyle

The Brooklyn Nets, especially Sean Marks, deserve nothing but praise for how they’ve been able to rebuild despite an utter lack of high draft picks.

Trading for D’Angelo Russell (while agreeing to take on Timofey Mozgov’s bad salary) was a stroke of genius, as the third-year guard looks like a potential building block.

Signing Spencer Dinwiddie on such a team-friendly deal was more brilliance from Marks, as the Colorado product has been one of the league’s most improved players in 2017-18.

Rondae-Hollis Jefferson looks like the prototypical do-everything forward, perfectly suited for the modern game. Caris LeVert is an absolute magician as a creator and ball-handler off the bench. Jarrett Allen, thanks to his freakish finishing and shot-blocking, was a find later in the first round.

And it’s still too early to give up on Jahlil Okafor.

There’s a great group of young players in Brooklyn – one fans should be extremely excited about going forward.

9. Utah Jazz

Young core: Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, Naz Mitrou-Long, Erik McCree, Tony Bradley, Georges Niang

It defies logic how far Donovan Mitchell fell in the 2017 NBA draft. One of the two front-runners for Rookie of the Year, the Louisville product has been nothing short of a revelation for the Utah Jazz as a first-year contributor.

Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest, while acting as the team’s closer – a role he’s excelled in.

Along with Mitchell, Utah also has Dante Exum, who there was legit pub about heading into this season (before he suffered another freakish injury), and who the Jazz feel good enough about that they felt comfortable moving Hood to the Cavaliers.

There’s also Royce O’Neale who, though not a star, looks like a find out of the G League. He could provide healthy depth sometime down the road.

8. New Orleans Pelicans

Young core: Anthony Davis, Cheikh Diallo, Frank Jackson, Charles Cooke

If not for having one of the best under-25 players in the entire NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans’ young core would be battling the Warriors for the title as league’s worst.

But they do have Anthony Davis, who is single-handedly talented enough to launch New Orleans into the Top 10 of our countdown. Davis can literally do everything – score, rebound, dish the rock, swat away shots and jump passing lanes – and is even hitting a career-high number of threes in 2017-18.

Somehow, someone with five-time All-Star appearances under their belt is still getting better.

Scary proposition.

7. Phoenix Suns

Young core: Devin Booker, Elfrid Payton, TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, Tyler Ulis, Alec Peters, Danuel House, Davon Reed, Josh Gray

Only four players in league history have averaged at least 24 points, four rebounds and four assists in their Age-21 season. One of them is Devin Booker. And the other three are LeBron JamesMichael Jordan and Tracy McGrady.

Though Booker’s defense isn’t close to that of the three current or future Hall-of-Famers, there’s no doubt he’s a special talent with the ball in his hands.

The Phoenix Suns also landed Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline for a measly second-round pick. The athletic floor general is a tough-nosed player, who attacks the basket with aplomb, distributes and isn’t afraid to get amongst the trees for boards. Why the Magic valued him so lowly is a bit strange, though there must have been something behind the scenes between the two parties that went unreported.

Apart from their promising young backcourt, the Suns also have TJ WarrenJosh JacksonDragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, all exciting sub-25-year-olds with good-to-great potential.

They may not be The Process, but The Timeline is starting to come together nicely.

6. Denver Nuggets

Young core: Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles, Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley, Tyler Lydon, Monte Morris

The Denver Nuggets’ young core already have a certified star in their midst. And his name is Nikola Jokic.

Though he may not get the acclaim some of his counterparts do, the big Serbian can do it all on offense. Jokic is currently averaging 16.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists nightly. Those marks put him in the company of guys like Kevin Garnett, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain, among other unforgettable names.

And for those saying he can’t defend, they simply haven’t been watching Jokic on that end this season. Because of his plus-instincts and quick hands, the Nuggets big man has actually become underrated as a point-stopper.

Along with Jokic, Denver also has Gary Harris who, by most measures, is already a Top 10 shooting guard. There’s also Jamal Murray, the second-year ball-handler who can absolutely light it up on anyone offensively. And Trey Lyles, the floor-spacing 4-man, has really started to figure out his place in the league this season.

The Nuggets’ young core will take them far, and the fact most of them are signed for at least the next couple of years is fantastic for Denver’s short- and long-term future.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Young core: Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Tyler Ennis, Alex Caruso, Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant

There’s no doubt the future of the Los Angeles Lakers is extremely bright.

With six key contributors under the age of 25, three of whom are rookies, and a fourth who is still in his second season, the young Lakers have upside that not many other teams in the league can match.

Lonzo Ball, before going down, was putting up marks unheard of for a rookie by averaging over 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists nightly. The only other first-year players to equal or surpass those totals were Oscar RobertsonMagic Johnson and a guy we’ll be discussing shortly. No, his jumper isn’t all that reliable just yet, but the impact Ball has while on the floor is astounding. Especially for someone with his level of experience.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kuzma has the makings of a smooth scorer from the wing, one with a picture-perfect jumper. Brandon Ingram, or Slender Man as his teammates like to call him, can do a bit of everything, be it score, rebound or create for others. As Ingram continues to get stronger, he could grow into a star-level talent.

Julius Randle is finally starting to find his niche in his third actual season (his first-year campaign only lasted 14 minutes), as an agile defensive big man who is unstoppable in the paint. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the old man of the group, can knock down threes and defend aptly for a 2-guard.

And Josh Hart looks like the perfect complementary piece on a team with so many potential future stars on it.

The only reason Los Angeles’ young core didn’t rank higher is because none of the aforementioned players actually are stars yet, while Randle and Caldwell-Pope are set to be free agents this summer, meaning they could very well be gone by the time 2018-19 rolls around.

Still, it’s a mighty impressive unit, and one the Lakers’ front office is probably thrilled about.

4. Boston Celtics

Young core: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, Jabari Bird, Abdul Nader

A fantastic young core along with a team ready to contend today, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge deserves nothing but praise for the team he’s been able to put together.

Jaylen Brown is breaking out as a second-year pro, averaging 14.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists while providing the clamps defensively. Jayson Tatum, despite a recent cold stretch, appears to be a future star scorer in the making. Terry Rozier has improved to the point Marcus Smart was made available in trade talks.

And Smart himself is so highly valued by his organization that he was only available for a first-round pick and a good young player, according to various reports.

That nucleus, plus Kyrie IrvingAl Horford and Gordon Hayward, will help the Celtics reign among Eastern Conference royalty for years to come.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Young core: Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Tyus Jones, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Justin Patton, Amile Jefferson

One big man who’s already a Top 10 MVP candidate, one promising wing with All-Star potential and one underrated floor general make up the Minnesota Timberwolves’ young core.

Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best young players in the NBA, averaging 20.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest, while merely trailing James Harden in win shares for the year.

Andrew Wiggins hasn’t lived up to the huge extension he just got quite yet, but he’s still a beast in transition and as a cutter. If he manages to improve his consistency and shot selection, he has the tools to make a huge jump.

And Tyus Jones‘ impact as a high steal rate spark plug off the bench cannot be overstated. The Wolves outscore opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions with the Duke product in the game.

With the way the young pups are performing, it should come as no surprise that they, plus new addition Jimmy Butler, are helping Minnesota enjoy their best season since the Kevin Garnett era.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Young core: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Marker, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, Sterling Brown, DJ Wilson

Though lacking in depth, the Milwaukee Bucks’ young core has something almost no one else in our countdown has: a potential future MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is freakish in his ability to attack the basket, can rebound like a center, can distribute like a point guard and is legitimately unstoppable in the open floor.

And he’s still just 23 years old.

Along with the Greek Freak, the Bucks also have Jabari Parker, who looks decent after returning from his latest knee-related setbackMalcolm Brogdon, though being 25, is still in just his second season as a pro. His prowess in playing either guard spot, defending and knocking down threes makes him quite the asset. And Thon Maker, whose development is starting to drag on a bit, still has huge upside as an athletic big who can shoot and defend in space.

Nevertheless, Milwaukee’s future, in reality, lies mostly on the development of their star wing.

If Antetokounmpo can somehow continue to get better (which is possible, considering he still doesn’t have much of a three-point shot), the Bucks’ ceiling will only keep rising.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

Young core: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu, James Young, Furkan Korkmaz, Demetrius Jackson

Was there ever any doubt who would finish first in this ranking?

With Joel EmbiidBen Simmons and Dario Saric at the forefront, the Philadelphia 76ers look like a team who will eventually contend for multiple championships.

That may seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. Embiid is the perfect modern big man who doesn’t solely have to depend on inefficient post-ups to score. He can shoot, face you up and destroy rims on pick-and-rolls. Hell, he probably has the dexterity to run pick-and-rolls himself if head coach Brett Brown asked him to.

Simmons is a 6-foot-10 point guard who is averaging a tidy 16.4 points nightly as a rookie without any semblance of a jumper. He forces defenses to place their attention on him before dishing flashy assists to his teammates. And he rebounds like a man of his girth should.

Quite simply: Simmons is beast.

And the forgotten man, Saric, has improved greatly between his first and second seasons. The Croatian wing has adapted wonderfully to playing next to another ball-dominant player in Simmons, thanks to his improved three-point shooting, which is all the way up to 38.7 percent in accuracy.

What’s more, despite whatever it is he’s going through, we can’t forget about Markelle Fultz, who could eventually be the key in Philadelphia taking what they have to the next level.

If Fultz remembers how to shoot the basketball, the Sixers will become legit contenders over the coming seasons.

Trust the Process indeed.

You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_

HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa and Bryan Kalbrosky contributed to this article.

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