The NBA has recently experienced a renaissance in the league. The game has changed before our eyes and the superstars that we watched grow up are now grizzled veterans. Eventually, legends in this game like Lebron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant will have to hand over the torch to the NBA youth cores of the future. The youth movement in the NBA is as strong as ever and the next generation of the league is in good hands.
The young talent is spread out all over the league, but some teams have collected a special group of guys that play well together. The best NBA youth cores are composed of guys that are 25 and younger and able to make an immediate impact in the league. I’ll rank the teams that have put together the best NBA youth cores so far and detail why they are the best youth cores in the NBA.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves have arguably the best player that’s 25 or younger in Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. KAT is by far the best young big man in the league and it’s not particularly close. The only thing keeping Towns from being a top 3 big man in the NBA, in general, is the fact he has had no experience winning in the league. It’s an unfair expectation to put on the back of a young guy but the Wolves are expecting KAT to lead them into the future. The current construct of the roster in Minnesota is filled with young budding talent, making them an easy choice as one of the top NBA youth cores.
D’Angelo Russel is another young guy that might have unfair expectations put on him, but he’s surrounded by other young guys that can sympathize with each other. The wolves have an abundance of young talent and just need to find a way to win. They have guys like Jarrett Culver who was the 6th overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft and Juan Hernangomez, another top 20 pick. There’s no way you can forget about the 2020 1st overall pick and front runner for Rookie of the year candidate Anthony Edwards who came into the league as the projected best player in the draft.
The Wolves are young, which is a big factor as to why they aren’t winning, but the potential for a young core that can take over the league is there. I haven’t even mentioned guys like Malik Beasley and Josh Okogie who are formidable pieces to an NBA roster. If, or rather when, the Wolves make the playoffs with one of the best NBA youth cores in the league, there will be no doubt about their future.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have one of the most highly rated and hyped prospects since Lebron James. Zion Williamson has not disappointed in his limited time in the league, already becoming one of the best finishers in the NBA. Zion isn’t the only young talent in New Orleans, however. They have a lineup with guys under 25 who were all 1st round draft picks. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Jaxon Hayes were all lottery picks and have had some success in the league so far. Just like with the Timberwolves, the Pelicans have not won much and that’s a huge factor when judging a team.
Even though the Pelicans have not won much in recent years, there’s still room to be optimistic about one of the best NBA youth cores in the league. Zion is currently 8th in points per game and has made the most 2-point field goals in the league. Ingram and Ball are both having the best seasons of their careers. If the Pelicans can continue to build off the success they have found so far, this squad can be very scary in the future. Watch out for this Pelicans team. If they can hold onto the young core they have and acquire another piece, this team could be a contender very soon.
3. Memphis Grizzles
Zion may have been the most hyped and highest-rated prospect out of the 2019 draft, but you have to say that reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant has been the most consistent force in the draft. Morant led his young team to a play-in game for the 2020 playoffs last year, and he is leading his team to the 8th seed currently this season. The Grizzlies are one of the most exciting teams in the league and have one of the most exciting NBA youth cores to watch. They run and gun with the best teams in the NBA and have that typical rugged playstyle Memphis teams are known for.
The Grizzlies’ roster is filled with youth, starring guys like Dillion Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Josh Jackson, and Jaren Jackson Jr. This year’s Grizzlies team may be a sleeper team in the playoffs and have the recipe to knock off a contender if given the opportunity. They have the heart, the grit, and the talent to be a dangerous team now and in the future. Watch out for this Memphis team. If you sleep they might smack your favorite team in the mouth.
2. Charlotte Hornets
Lamelo Ball is the youngest rockstar in the NBA and there’s a reason he has that much hype surrounding his name. Ball has silenced the doubters in his rookie season and helped make the Hornets must-see TV. Ball hasn’t turned this ship around alone though. The young trio of Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington led the Hornets to a play-in game last season in the NBA playoffs. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier may be over 25, but they are still a vital part in leading this young core down the right road.
The Hornets are a fun team to watch, but they are just as dangerous as they are fun. The youth movement in Charlotte has been an experiment but has paid off so far. If the Hornets can continue to build upon the culture they have now, the Eastern Conference will have a problem on their hands for the future with one of the brightest NBA youth cores in the league. The front office needs to stay patient and let these young guys grow together before they jump the gun and look for stars elsewhere. If they can stay consistent, the Hornets will have a few All-stars on their hands and may be able to contend in the near future.
1. Atlanta Hawks
Ice Trae Young has led one of the youngest teams in the league to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference. Even though Young is having a down year, the Hawks are in a much better position than they were last season. One of the main reasons the Hawks climbed 9 spots in the standings is the youth around their star point guard. Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter have built on solid seasons last year and look to be big factors for the future in Atlanta. Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins are also having a down year statistically, but they are making winning plays to help this team in the long run.
The Hawks youth may be abundant, but they are still winning now. One of the most important things for good NBA youth cores to do is win along the way. Putting up the stats is a major factor to consider for young guys, but making winning plays is one of the most important things for a young team to do. Trae Young may be one of the best young guards in the NBA, but he has a squad that can help each other elevate into the future. The culture the Hawks are currently building upon is undeniable, and it is already paying off.
Honorable NBA Youth Cores Mention: Houston Rockets
The Rockets were forced into a full rebuild by unfortunate circumstances this season. General manager Rafael Stone has done an amazing job so far this season in sniffing out young talent to build around. It has gone under the radar how good of a job Stone has done filling the roster with young talent. Time will tell how successful the young core of the Rockets will be, but their potential is through the roof. The Rockets roster is filled with guys 25 and younger starring Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., and Kenyon Martin Jr. leading the team into the future. Jae’Sean Tate and Armoni Brooks are also guys that will help the Rockets in their pursuit to take over the NBA.
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