7 Young NBA Teams Filled with Enormous Potential
With the NBA season less than two months away, there are still a great deal of questions surrounding the plethora of high-potential teams in the league. Often as tantalizing as they are inconsistent, it’s difficult to gauge just how much of an impact the league's youngest teams will have on the upcoming season.
To qualify for this list, a team must have an average age of under 25. Here are seven such NBA teams that have the highest upside.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 29-53 (fourth, Central Division)
Projected starters under 25: Andre Drummond (20), Greg Monroe (23), Brandon Jennings (23)
2013 Draft Picks: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (eighth overall), Tony Mitchell (37th overall), Peyton Siva (56th overall)
The Pistons made a huge splash in free agency this summer, signing both Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith to long-term deals. The defensive duo of Drummond and Smith has destructive potential while Jennings-Monroe pick-and-rolls are enticing on the other end. They also brought back former Piston Chauncey Billups to guide this young squad.
The Pistons roster is set and health issues may not be as critical for them as for other teams. Still with three out of five starters being newcomers, the team's future is predicated on how well these younger guys can deal with the inevitable learning curve.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 20-62 (fifth, Southeast Division)
Projected starters under 25: Tobias Harris (21), Nikola Vuvevic (22)
2013 Draft Picks: Victor Oladipo (second overall), Romero Osby (51st overall)
After Dwight Howard's departure, the Orlando Magic were, statistically speaking, the worst team in the league last year. With the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA draft they selected Victor Oladipo out of Indiana, a high-flying, tenacious slasher reminiscent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
A trade-deadline deal with the Milwaukee Bucks landed the Magic Tobias Harris, who broke out and averaged an impressive 17.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in 27 games with the squad.
Orlando's roster is flooded with young, high-potential players just dying to break out. 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic, now going into his third year, averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds in 33.2 minutes last season. Andrew Nicholson had a solid rookie season, averaging 7.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in just 16.7 minutes per game. Maurice Harkless, also heading into his sophomore year, averaged 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds. The growth of these youngsters left Kyle O'Quinn—another player who impressed in the limited minutes he received—waiting in the wings.
The Magic are, for the most part, a question mark. The team's fate will depend on the 2014 NBA draft, the development of Oladipo and Harris and which other players among this team's crop of young talent decide to break out this season.
Portland Trail Blazers
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 33-49 (fourth, Northwest Division)
Projected starters under 25: Damian Lillard (23), Nicolas Batum (24)
2013 Draft Picks: C.J. McCollum (10th overall), Allen Crabbe (31st overall)
This article would be rendered incomplete without the Portland Trail Blazers, who drafted Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard in the 2012 NBA draft. Lillard dazzled fans last year, averaging 19 points and 6.5 assists per game.
The Nicolas Batum-Lillard-LaMarcus Aldridge core is a little older than some in the NBA, but this trio also has a leg up on the rest in terms of development. Portland's true youth, however, lies in its bench. 21-year-old Meyers Leonard averaged just 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds last year, but he's oozing with athleticism and potential. The Blazers trade for last year's No. 4 overall selection, Thomas Robinson, could pay dividends if he manages to harness his untapped potential this season.
This year's No. 10 overall pick, C.J. McCollum will head the Blazers' young, rejuvenated reserve unit. McCollum averaged nearly 24 points per game while shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc in college. He's also one of the most intelligent players from this year's draft.
Finally past their injury issues, the Blazers now must turn their attention to keeping LaMarcus Aldridge happy in a Portland uniform. If they end up trading him halfway through the season, it's likely the team will end up in the lottery once again.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 31-51 (fifth, Northwest Division)
Projected starters under 25: Kevin Love (24), Ricky Rubio (22)
2013 Draft Picks: Shabazz Muhammad (14th overall), Gorgui Dieng (21st overall), Bojan Dubljevic (59th overall)
More than any other team, the Timberwolves need to pray for a healthy season.
Kevin Love, the team's best player, managed to break his hand not once but twice and ended up playing just 18 games last season. His right-hand man, Ricky Rubio, spent the first half of the season recovering from a torn ACL injury while back spasms plagued him until late February. This year's projected starting small forward Chase Budinger played in only 23 games a year ago.
The Wolves selected UCLA product Shabazz Muhammad with the 14th pick in this June's draft, but their most important offseason move came later. Nikola Pekovic, who had his fair share of suitors this summer, chose to stay with the Timberwolves, signing a five-year, $60 million contract.
For all of their potential, the Wolves still have plenty of issues beyond staying healthy. If they do manage to squeeze into the playoffs, they would probably be the worst defensive team in the postseason. It can't be a good thing when the best individual defender on your team is a point guard still working his way back from a knee injury.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 29-53 (third, Southeast Division)
Projected starters under 25: Bradley Beal (20), Otto Porter (20), John Wall (22)
2013 Draft Picks: Otto Porter (third overall), Glen Rice Jr. (35th overall)
The Washington Wizards are another team that's benefited from the draft, although they've been slowed down by a few key mistakes. After selecting John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Wizards missed badly the next year when they selected Jan Vesely with the sixth pick. Luckily, they bounced back last year by choosing the sharpshooting Bradley Beal with the third pick, giving Wall the perfect backcourt running mate.
Beal got off to a rough start last season, but once Wall returned from injury in early January, he averaged 15.2 points and 4.0 rebounds, shooting a staggering 48.2 percent from beyond the arc over 26 games.
In those 26 games that Beal and Wall played together, the team sported a 17-9 record, proving that if the Wizards can stay healthy, they should be able to compete for a playoff spot.
With No. 3 pick Otto Porter ready to bolster the Wizards spacing even further (he shot 48 percent from beyond the arc at Georgetown last season), Washington might be heading back to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 24-58 (fifth, Central Division)
Projected starters under 25: Anthony Bennett (20), Kyrie Irving (21), Dion Waiters (21), Tristan Thompson (22)
2013 Draft Picks: Anthony Bennett (first overall), Sergey Karasev (19th overall), Carrick Felix (33rd overall)
After a 2010-11 season that included the NBA's worst losing streak, the Cavs quickly made well for themselves by drafting Kyrie Irving, who has emerged as one of the NBA's best young point guards. Irving, who scored 22.5 points and 5.9 assists per game last season, is coming off his first All-Star appearance. The 21-year-old Duke product has poised himself to build on last year's breakout campaign, as the Cavs front office surrounds him with more and more talent.
Last season, the Cavs went back to the draft and found Kyrie's future backcourt mate Dion Waiters. Despite an up-and-down rookie campaign, Waiters showed a strong ability to slash the lane, and he is a proficient pick-and-roll player. He averaged 14.7 points per game last season.
Joining the Waiters-Kyrie-Thompson core is this year's No. 1 pick, UNLV's Anthony Bennett.
Despite all of its young talent, Cleveland's playoff hopes also rely on health. The organization took a huge chance on Andrew Bynum this year, signing him to a two-year deal. Before he went down, Bynum was considered a top-five center in the league. His sheer strength and size make him a threat on both ends of the court, but unfortunately, he hasn't played a game since May 21, 2012.
New Orleans Pelicans
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
2013 W-L Record: 27-55 (fifth, Southwest Division)
Projected starters under 25: Anthony Davis (20), Al-Farouq Aminu (22), Jrue Holiday (23), Eric Gordon (24)
2013 Draft Picks: Jeff Withey (39th overall), Pierre Jackson (42nd overall, via Philadephia)
The Pelicans have done themselves a huge favor over the past few seasons by staying patient and stockpiling young talent.
Truth be told, the Pelicans played it smart from the minute Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. In exchange for the NBA's best point guard, New Orleans received Eric Gordon, who still has the potential to be one the NBA's best shooting guards, and Al-Farouq Aminu, an athletic swingman who averaged 7.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game last season.
In addition, the Pelicans received the rights to Minnesota's 2012 first-round draft pick, which they used to draft Austin Rivers.
The verdict is still out on 21-year-old Rivers and whether he has the potential to make a serious impact at this level. Still, the 2012 NBA draft was a huge victory for New Orleans, thanks to their first selection.
The turnabout in the franchise's fortunes started with last year's NBA draft lottery, when New Orleans won the top overall pick and landed cornerstone Anthony Davis. "The Brow" wasn't an immediate superstar in his first season, but he flashed signs of being a special player down the road. In 28.8 minutes per game, Davis averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, proving that his reputation as a disruptive force on defense at Kentucky carried over to the NBA without much pause.
This year, instead of banking on the potential of No. 6 selection Nerlens Noel, the Pelicans pulled off a fantastic trade to bring young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans. The prospect of a Noel-Davis frontcourt is tantalizing, but the Pelicans were intelligent to take the safer bet, especially when you consider the fact that Noel is still recovering from a torn ACL.
To top off a great offseason, the Pelicans bolstered their bench by signing a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate—that is, if everything goes as planned—in Tyreke Evans.
Like many squads, New Orleans' future is primarily dependent on health. Davis missed 13 games over the first two months of his rookie season, while more importantly, Eric Gordon missed 40. Gordon has yet to play over 80 games in a single season.