Ranking the best young cores in the NBA

Ranking the best young cores in the NBA

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Ranking the best young cores in the NBA

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Every year, the league gets inundated with more and more fresh talent – young men who are capable of things players their age 20 years ago couldn’t even dream of doing.

As such, various teams around the Association have used the draft to create contenders, with many going out of their way to lose games in order to secure higher draft picks, and increase their chances of securing their next franchise cornerstones.

Of course, certain teams have been more successful than others using this strategy.

Below, HoopsHype ranks all 30 teams based on the strength of their 24-and-younger players.

30. WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Young core: Thomas Bryant, Sam Dekker, Devin Robinson, Troy Brown

Despite the promise Thomas Bryant has shown while filling in for the injured Dwight Howard (Bryant is averaging 9.7 ppg on 67.5 percent shooting as a starter) over the past few months, we still ranked the Washington Wizards’ young core as the weakest in the NBA.

With just four members, only two of whom are actual nightly contributors, the Wizards lack both depth and talent among their group of 24-and-under players.

Their top priority this offseason should be replenishing their young core, as being a borderline playoff team, while also being expensive and old, is a recipe for disaster.

29. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Young core: Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, Jacob Evans, Marcus Derrickson 

Various young members of the Golden State Warriors were expected to turn the corner this season, but in reality, only Kevon Looney (6.6 ppg and 5.6 rpg, +8.2 swing rating) has seen an uptick in production.

Over 24 games before experiencing a season-ending pectoral injury, young big man Damian Jones struggled to be a positive contributor, while Jordan Bell is currently playing fewer minutes per contest (11.4) than he did as a rookie, mostly due to his inconsistency.

Meanwhile, the team’s first-round pick, Jacob Evans, has only been on the floor for a total of 92 minutes this season, spending most of his time in the G League.

In all, aside from Looney, Golden State’s group of young guys have been mostly a disappointment this year.

28. DETROIT PISTONS

Young core: Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Keenan Evans

Had the Stanley Johnson or Luke Kennard selections (both in the lottery) panned out, the outlook of the Detroit Pistons’ young core would be much different.

But with both players struggling mightily thus far in their professional careers (Johnson: 7.2 ppg and 3.4 rpg while shooting 28.9 percent from three as a pro; Kennard: 7.5 ppg and 1.6 apg while shooting 43.5 percent from the floor), Detroit’s group of young guys simply don’t inspire much confidence moving forward.

Apart from those two, the Pistons have already declined Henry Ellenson’s fourth-year option, meaning they’re already prepared to cut bait with the former first-round pick. Hard to blame them, as Ellenson is averaging 3.8 points through three professional seasons. What’s more, he’s only played in 59 career games since reaching the NBA.

Besides Kennard, who it’s still far too early to give up on, the most promising member of the Pistons’ 24-and-under crew might be Bruce Brown, who isn’t much of a scorer, but has carved out a decent bench role, in which he provides the team with defensive toughness from the 2-guard spot.

27. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Young core: Willy Hernangomez, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, Dwayne Bacon, JP Macura, Joe Chealey

The best player in this group, Willy Hernangomez, is already almost 25 years old, and putting up a modest 7.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

There’s a chance for it to improve over the next year, but it’ll require that Malik Monk and Miles Bridges, the Charlotte Hornets’ two latest lottery picks, both take serious steps forward in their development. Monk, in his second season, is averaging 10.6 points and shooting 39.6 percent from the floor, while providing the team with nearly nothing else across the board. While Bridges, in his rookie campaign, is playing just 19.3 minutes nightly and putting up 6.4 points per contest.

Luckily for the Hornets, both players are still just 20 years old, so they’ve got more than enough time to develop into, at worst, productive NBA players.

26. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Young core: Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Hamidou Diallo, Terrance Ferguson, Deonte Burton, Timothe Luwawu, Donte Grantham

Oklahoma City Thunder big man Jerami Grant is having a breakout year this season, averaging 12.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest, and knocking down 35.4 percent of his threes.

But the fact that he’s already almost 25 (and because the rest of the Thunder’s young core is nowhere near as productive), forced us to rank Oklahoma City’s young core among the bottom five in the league.

That’s not to say there isn’t promise among these guys.

For starters, Nerlens Noel (5.1 ppg and 4.6 rpg) is having a solid bounce-back campaign after spending a year and a half in limbo with the Dallas Mavericks. Additionally, the duo of Hamidou Diallo and Terrance Ferguson may not have star potential, but both young shooting guards do look like they’re well on their way to becoming productive role players.

They’re just not quite there yet.

And that’s why this group is ranked here.

25. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Young core: Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton, Cameron Payne, Ante Zizic

Though no one really expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to make much noise in their first year following LeBron James’ departure, it’s still disappointing they haven’t gotten more out of their young core.

Cedi Osman putting up 11.7 points per game, but requiring 10.5 nightly field-goal attempts to do so, has been a letdown. As has his 30.5 percent clip from three. Collin Sexton, too, has been quite inconsistent overall, despite the raw stats – 14.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists – looking decent for a rookie. Finally, Croatian big man Ante Zizic still hasn’t been able to carve out a legit role since reaching the NBA, despite his imposing physical tools.

Luckily for the Cavs, thanks to their paltry 9-35 record, they appear well on their way to earning the top overall selection in the 2019 draft, which should help them raise the ceiling on both their young core and on the roster as a whole.

They desperately need it.

24. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Young core: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Wade Baldwin, Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons

Besides Jusuf Nurkic, who’s been a downright beast in his second full season with the club, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, no other member of this group is really worth writing home about right now.

Zach Collins is still in just his second season and barely just turned 21, so all hope is not lost when talking about the Blazers’ young core, but Portland probably hoped to see more out of the Gonzaga product in his second season. Collins is putting up 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds as a sophomore, while his big swing skill as a prospect, his outside touch, has yet to display itself since he reached the NBA. Collins is shooting 31.2 percent from three as a professional.

23. MIAMI HEAT

Young core: Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr., Duncan Robinson, Yante Maten

This group’s ranking on this list was hurt by Josh Richardson missing the cut (the talented Most Improved Player candidate just turned 25), but aided by the huge step Justise Winslow has taken in his development.

To start the season, it appeared that Winslow was on track to being the same player he had always been – an inconsistent scorer who struggled to excel in any one position. But that changed once Goran Dragic went down with a knee injury, which allowed Winslow to become the Miami Heat’s starting point guard, a role in which he has absolutely thrived.

Over 13 games as full-time lead ball-handler, the Duke product has averaged 13.7 points, 5.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 36 percent from three and playing tough-nosed, hounding defense.

Apart from Winslow, Bam Adebayo remains a per-36-minute darling (the big man is putting up 13.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists according to the stat), who looks ready to take over as the team’s starting center once Hassan Whiteside’s contract expires, while Derrick Jones Jr. has turned himself into someone deserving of a spot in Miami’s rotation thanks to his cutting off the ball and offensive rebounding prowess.

22. HOUSTON ROCKETS

Young core: Clint Capela, Gary Clark, Isaiah Hartenstein, Marquese Chriss, Vince Edwards

As far as this ranking goes, the Houston Rockets are lucky Clint Capela doesn’t turn 25 for another few months, because apart from him, none of the other under-25 Rockets have shown much of anything as NBA players.

The Swiss big man is having yet another absurdly productive season, one in which he’s putting up 17.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest, and shooting 63 percent from the floor. Capela is obviously aided by the fact that he shares the floor with two of the best playmakers in the NBA in James Harden and Chris Paul, but either way, he deserves a ton of credit for how much he’s improved since his rookie season – when even just catching a pass in traffic was hard for him.

Not many people thought Capela had yet another level in him after his outstanding 2017-18 campaign (13.9 ppg and 10.8 rpg), but he’s shown this season that he’s not done getting better – a scary proposition for the other big men of the Western Conference.

21. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Young core: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, Lonnie Walker, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu, Ben Moore

The San Antonio Spurs’ young core was slightly hurt in this ranking due to Dejounte Murray missing the year with a torn ACL. A healthy Murray, coming off a solid sophomore campaign (8.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 2.9 apg) would have been enough to bump them up a few spots on this list. For that matter, having a healthy Lonnie Walker, the No. 18 pick of the 2018 draft, would have also helped.

Regardless, even without the two talented ball-handlers, the Spurs still get important nightly contributions from two other 24-and-under players, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl. White is averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this year, while Poeltl (5.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg) remains an excellent backup big man, as exemplified by his impressive +5.9 swing rating.

The Spurs have a solid mix of veteran and youthful talent – it’s just a matter of the two highest-upside young pieces, Murray and Walker, getting healthy.

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