The NBA's Best Cores Under 25

The NBA's Best Cores Under 25

NBA

The NBA's Best Cores Under 25

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Author’s note: This article has been edited and changed from one previously published on this site to reflect team changes.

It’s almost time for honest to goodness NBA regular season basketball, and I can’t wait, guys! This has been a great off-season for the league, complete with superstars switching teams, private parts being shared on Snapchat, and as always, a bunch of old timers being cranky about how kids today are soft. And while some of the criticism of KD may be warranted, the fact remains that the league will be more competitive across the board than we’ve seen in recent seasons. While the Superteams (sorry, not you, Knicks) duke it out for the elusive Larry O’Brein trophy this season, a slew of young squads are putting the final pieces together to prepare for their own ascension. So who is off to the best start?

We’re looking at teams who have created a viable core for the future in which the average age is 25 or under (so no Boston or San Antonio), and ranking them based on how their core members performed last season and how well the core is put together, both in terms of the coming season and the teams’ respective ceilings moving forward. Teams that have a more complete core, such as the Jazz and Timberwolves, will do better, since their path forward is the most clear.

Enough of my yappin, let’s count it down!

13. Kings Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Darren Collison Aaron Afflalo Rudy Gay Omri Caspi DeMarcus Cousins
 Ty Lawson Ben McLemore Garrett Temple Anthony Tolliver Willie Cauley-Stein
Malachi Richardson Matt Barnes Skal Labissiere Kosta Koufos
Georgios Papagiannis

Core: Boogie, Willie Trill Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis (I guess?)

Average Age of Core: 22

X Factor: Skal Labissiere has fallen a long way since being pegged as the number one pick over Ben Simmons last summer. From top recruit to late-lottery to almost falling out of the first round, the concerns about Skal’s feel and drive for the game seem legit, but if he were to develop quicker than expected (remember, no one expected Kristaps Porzingis to be starting last season), he could potentially be a really nice fit next to Boogie down low.

Outlook: The Kings are the Kings. Their decision-making on draft night left some scratching their heads, but for the most part, they actually had a disappointingly sane offseason. They signed solid role players and a new coach who learned last year in Memphis how to assemble a puzzle when none of the pieces seem to fit. Could competitiveness be on the horizon?

12. Pelicans Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Jrue Holiday E’Twaun Moore Tyreke Evans Anthony Davis Omer Asik
Langston Galloway Buddy Hield Solomon HIll Terrence Jones Alexi Ajinca
Tim Frazier Quincy Pondexter Luke Babbitt Dante Cunningham
Alonzo Gee  Chiek Diallo

Core: Anthony Davis, Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore

Age of Core: 24.25

X Factor: Jrue Holiday won’t be with the team for who knows how long (and he should take as much time as he needs, because as we know, somethings are more important than throwing an orange ball through an orange hoop), but when he eventually returns, he’ll be the key to unlocking this team’s bigtime potential. Until he does, Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway are fun underdog stat-stuffing guards that should endear themselves to the Smoothie King faithful quickly.

Outlook: The Pelicans are going to be better than they were last year, if only because they can’t be much worse, but they’re already in need of bodies. They swapped out ball-stopping chuckers for defense-minded grinders and drafted Buddy Hield, who can loosen things up when the spacing gets too tight. Oh and they still have Anthony Davis, the best player under 25 in the league (soon, KAT, soon). They need a long-term answer at center, and it’s unclear where those will come from. Add to that next summer’s likely loss of Tyreke Evans, and the Pelicans will find themselves with few options other than Davis that can create a shot for themselves or others.

11. Magic Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Elfrid Payton Evan Fournier Aaron Gordon Serge Ibaka Bismack Biyombo
DJ Augustin Jodie Meeks Mario Hezonja Jeff Green Nicola Vucevic
CJ Watson CJ Wilcox Stephen Zimmerman

Core: Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Bismack Biyombo

Average Age of Core: 21.5

X Factor: Evan Fournier. The Magic have to hope that the young swing guard they just paid a bundle of money makes big strides, not just as a scorer, but as a defender and facilitator. I eventually want to see Hezonja as the starting 2 and Fournier the sixth man, but for now it’s up to Fournier and Ibaka to provide spacing for this shooting-impaired group.

Outlook: There are a lot of great pieces on this team, but no real vision. Rob Hennigan wants a defensive powerhouse, which seems to point to Biyombo in the starting lineup, but Vucevic has been the guy keeping this team at least competitive for the last few years. How will this logjam play out? If they deal Vucevic and Serge Ibaka walks away, things could get ugly fast. This roster imbalance will also affect Aaron Gordon’s development, since he’ll be playing out of position for most if not all of the season.

10. Heat Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Goran Dragic Josh Richardson Justise Winslow Chris Bosh Hassan Whiteside
Briante Weber Dion Waiters James Johnson Josh McRoberts Willie Reed
Rodney McGruder Tyler Johnson Luke Babbitt Derrick Williams
Wayne Ellington Udonis Haslem

Core: Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside

Average Age of Core: 24.75

X Factor: Chris Bosh’s tragic and uncertain medical conditions make it hard to put him in the core. Pat Riley and the Heat mafia need to be right by their ailing capo. Get better, CB.

Team Outlook: There isn’t much shot creation here outside of Dragic, and the Heat will rely on second-year players and Hassan Whiteside to carry much of the load. Justise Winslow may become a monster or he may top out as an MKG-type defender, but either way he’s a good piece to have. Who knows what Josh Richardson will become? Many pieces are in place for a long run of competitiveness, and for that, Riley deserves credit, but this team sort of feels rudderless right now.

9. Nuggets Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Emmanuel Mudiay Gary Harris Danilo Gallinari Nikola Jokic Jusuf Nurkic
Jamal Murray Will Barton Wilson Chandler Kenneth Faried Darrell Arthur
Jameer Nelson Malik Beasley JaKarr Sampson Juan Hernangomez
Mike Miller

Core: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Garry Harris, Nikola Jokic

Average Age of Core: 20.25

X Factor: Jurkic lives! Mike Malone is, to borrow a phrase, giving the people what they want and unleashing the Baltic Bruisers on the league as a potential antidote to small-ball. Their combination of power and skill are pretty much unmatched in frontlines around the league, especially now that Z-Bo is a permanent bench feature. But it remains to be seen if the two giants can keep up with the wear and tear of chasing stretchy fours around the perimeter for an entire season. I’m excited to see how it plays out.

Outlook: There are just too many players here. The Nuggets have three young guards needing major minutes before you factor in Nelson, Beasley, Barton, and Sampson. The only positions not totally logjammed are manned by veterans who should be on their way out anyway. Tim Connelly needs to figure out a way to turn a lot of small pieces into one medium-sized to big piece, for the sake of everyone on the team. Once they do that, an identity might start to form.

8. 76ers Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Jerryd Bayless Gerald Henderson Robert Covington Ben Simmons Joel Embiid
Sergio Rodriguez Nick Stauskas Jerami Grant Dario Saric Nerlens Noel
TJ McConnell Hollis Thompson Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot Carl Landry Jahlil Okafor
Rachaun Holmes

Core: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric

Average Age of Core: 21.3

Combined Core Stats from 2016 NBA Season: n/a

X Factor: Dario Saric is officially on the team, and there are more questions than ever. How will he eventually fit with cornerstone Ben Simmons, another 6’10 point forward with questionable ability to guard wings? Simmons’ injury buys Saric some time to get comfortable and play to his strengths, but it could make it harder to reintegrate Simmons smoothly. His shooting should allow him, Simmons, and Embiid to work well together offensively, but can they hold up on the other end?

Outlook: This ranking is totally wrong, and I accept that. Embiid has been a beast in the NBA preseason (although zero assists in five games is… interesting), and Simmons looked enticing before he got hurt. But the only members of this team that can be considered “core members” are unknown commodities, so for the parameters of this article, they lose points. By the way, Jahlil Okafor’s six-week rehab has now ballooned into almost seven months. That can’t be good.

7. Suns Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Eric Bledsoe Devin Booker TJ Warren Jared Dudley Tyson Chandler
Brandon Knight Leandro Barbosa PJ Tucker Marquese Chriss Alex Len
Tyler Ulis Archie Goodwin Dragan Bender Alan Williams

Core: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss

Average Age of Core: 20.5

X Factor: PJ Tucker’s injury means TJ Warren is going to get another crack at the starting gig. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t relinquish it. He looked ready to break out before going down with an injury halfway through the season, although neither his defensive fit next to Booker and his rebounding fit next to Dudley are ideal. You can’t teach his scoring instincts though. This team could quietly be a handful.

Outlook: In two years, will a starting lineup of Bledsoe, Booker, Warren, Chriss, and Len be good enough to be a playoff lock? Maybe, but probably not. Booker strikes me as the closest thing to a superstar on this squad. I like the pieces that are here, but this team is going to need a few more years before it’s ready to threaten anyone.

6. Lakers Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

D’Angelo Russell Jordan Clarkson Luol Deng Julius Randle Timofey Mozgov
Jose Calderon Lou Williams Brandon Ingram Larry Nance Jr Tarik Black
Marcelo Huertas Nick Young (for now) Anthony Brown Ivica Zubac

Core: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle

Average Age of Core: 20.75

X Factor: Defense. In terms of filling out a starting lineup for the future, the Lakers have done a pretty great job: Russell-Clarkson-Ingram-Randle-[insert non-Mozgov center here] will in time be formidable offensively, both powerfully athletic and exceptionally skilled. But none project as plus defenders, and I’m not super optimistic about any except Ingram bucking those expectations.

Outlook: This is one of the best collections of young talent in the league, especially if Randle can combine all his various gifts with an outside shot. The red flags are defense and distribution–though Russell, Clarkson, Ingram and Randle are individually capable of making the right pass, they’re all shoot-first players who prefer to bring the ball up themselves. Will they be able to find the right balance? Luke Walton seems like a good choice for trying to navigate that particular obstacle. But can he give it a rest with Lou Williams as a starter? It’s 2016, for goodness sake!

5. Trail Blazers Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Damian Lillard CJ McCollum Moe Harkless Al-Farouq Aminu Mason Plumlee
Shabazz Napier Allen Crabbe Evan Turner Ed Davis Festus Ezeli
Pat Connaughton Jake Layman Noah Vonleh Meyers Leonard

Core Players: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu

Average Age of Core: 25

X Factor: Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless just got paid big — a combined whopping $156 million big. Now the flashes of potential have to gel into something more consistent. If the youngsters are to do that, the Blazers will have six young rotation players locked in place and ready to add to their playoff experience.

Outlook: The Blazers had a great 2015-2016 season by most metrics, and especially given their radical off-season exodus. They’ve got most of the responsible players under long-term deals, and added Evan Turner (for some reason). Damian Lillard proved himself to be one of the best leaders in the NBA, and flat out one of the best players, but this isn’t a team in the serious running for a ring this season. They need more pieces, but considering their three best players are 24, 25 (yup, Aminu is a year younger than Lillard), and 26, they’re well set for the future.

4. Bucks Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Matthew Dellavedova Khris Middleton Giannis Antentokoumpo Jabari Parker Greg Monroe
Jason Terry Rashad Vaughn Tony Snell Mirza Teletovic Miles Plumlee
Malcolm Brogdon  Michael Beasley Thon Maker John Henson

Core: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton

Average Age of Core: 22

X Factor:  Thon Maker could end up being a bust, but if he reaches any fraction of his ceiling, he’ll be a perfect addition to this core. Even if he’s just a rim protector/rim-runner who occasionally hits a three, he will make life infinitely better for Jabari and Giannis, who need the spacing created by a stretch big man in order to wreak havoc. I’m rooting big time for Thon.

Outlook: This is one of the most fun young teams in the league. The Middleton-Parker-Greek Freak trio is about as good as it gets to build around, and Delly was a great pick-up–a defensive grinder who loves throwing alley-oops and shot 41% from three last season. Oh, and MCW is gone! Tony Snell isn’t much of a needle-mover, but if he can grow into the three-and-D guy Chicago so desperately wanted him to be, he may be able to keep the ship steady until Middleton returns. Now they just need to get out from under Greg Monroe.

3. Thunder Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Russell Westbrook Victor Oladipo Andre Roberson Ersan Ilyasova Steven Adams
Cameron Payne Anthony Morrow Kyle Singler Domantas Sabonis Enes Kanter
Alex Abrines Josh Huestis Nick Collison
Mitch McGary

Core: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams

Average Age of Core: 24.66

X Factor: Forward rotation–currently there are massive holes in the small forward and power forward rotation. Ilyasova is a stop-gap, and OKC will almost certainly make a big-time run at Blake Griffin this off-season. That still leaves the small forward spot in major trouble.

Outlook: The Thunder did the hard part–they locked up Westbrook for three more years. They have the two-way shooting guard they’ve been searching for since Harden, and Steven Adams looks like a top-10 center in the league. They won’t be winning a championship this year, but Presti has them one or two moves away from being right back in contention.

2. Jazz Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

George Hill Rodney Hood Gordon Hayward Derrick Favors Rudy Gobert
Dante Exum Alec Burks Joe Johnson Trey Lyles Boris Diaw
Shelvin Mack Joe Ingles  Joel Bolomboy Jeff Withey
Raul Neto

Core: Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert

Average Age of Core: 24.25

X Factor: In Dante Exum’s rookie season, he was put in the starting lineup to learn the ins and outs of the job and not make too many mistakes. After tearing his ACL in the summer before his sophomore season, he spent the year watching from the sidelines, again, learning how to see the game. It’s time for him to combine that knowledge with his tremendous physical gifts and instinctive facilitating/defensive ability.

Outlook: Don’t look now but the Jazz might just be the fourth best team in the West. They should have one of the best defenses in the league, the depth to weather Gordon Hayward’s broken finger and Alec Burks’ mysteriously long rehab, and they added vets who can make plays in crunch time. As crazy as it might sound, they might be the team with the length and versatility to hang with Golden State come playoffs time. Not to beat, obviously. But hang.

1. Timberwolves Depth Chart

Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Foward

Power Foward

Center

Ricky Rubio Zach LaVine Andrew Wiggins Gorgui Dieng Karl-Anthony Towns
Kris Dunn Brandon Rush Shabazz Muhammad Jordan Hill Cole Aldridge
Tyus Jones Nemanja Bjelica Nikola Pekovic
Adriean Payne
Kevin Garnett

Core: Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio

Average Age of Core: 21.75

X Factor: Kris Dunn sure looked good in those two summer league games, didn’t he? Came back down to Earth a bit during preseason, but depending on how long Thib’s leash is, the Wolves have a legitimate chance at having three consecutive ROY-winners on their roster. His presence casts a doubt over Rubio’s place in this group, but until Rubio’s out, he’s part of the core.

Outlook: Come on, it’s a Timberwolves blog, who’d you think would be #1? The Wolves are set for the long-term at every position except power forward, though it would be nice to get some more depth at the two/three spots. Wiggins and LaVine can get their shots against anyone, and I expect each to make a leap defensively and from the outside. KAT will be an All-Star within two years. The future is bright!

And as a reward for being such good readers, here’s a video!

 

 

 

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