The 2011 All-Star festivities showcased a new era of young talent. DeJuan Blair, DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden and John Wall kicked off the weekend with big games in the T-mobile rookie challenge. JaVale McGee and Blake Griffin were not to be outdone with their epic slam dunk showdown and Kevin Durant poured in 34 points in the main event on Sunday night. The 2011 All-Star weekend showed why these young men will be the faces of the NBA very soon.
The weekend’s events made me take a look at which NBA teams have a stash of young talent, and are in good standing for the future.
Here is a list of the top 10 young NBA teams.
John Wall leads this roster of young guns. Wall showed the NBA why he was taken with the number one pick in the 2010 NBA draft by dishing out 22 assists in the T-mobile rookie challenge. JaVale McGee also displayed his above the rim skills in the dunk contest.
The two Wizards who are not mentioned enough are Nick Young and Andre Blatche. Young is leading the Wizards in scoring with 17.6 PPG, and has taken the pressure off Wall to be the number one scorer. Blatche has also quietly becoming a very reliable big man averaging 15.8 PPG and 8.1 RPG. All four players have only been in the league five years or less.
This Wizards team is chalk-full of talent, and if they can play as well at home as they do on the road, then they will be in the playoff hunt next year.
The Kings have reining rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, who is scoring 18.3 PPG, and DeMarcus Cousins who scorched the sophomores with 33 points and 14 rebounds on Friday night.
The real concern for the Kings is disciplinary issues. Cousins was flagged as a risk coming out of college due to attitude problems, and he has already been fined and suspended for choking gestures and fighting. The Kings also have Carl Landry, Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia who are averaging 11.9 PPG, 9.4 PPG, and 9.3 PPG respectively, and have been in the league less than five years.
The Kings need another star before they can begin to think about the playoffs. Cousins has the potential to be that star, but he will have to harness his talent or the Kings will continue to draft in the lottery.
Kevin Martin is the head of the Rockets, and is currently 10th in the NBA in scoring at 23.0 PPG. Martin has been in the league for seven years, but is still young.
Though Martin leads the team in scoring, Luis Scola is the Rockets MVP. He is averaging 19.2 PPG which is three points higher than last year, and five points higher than his career average.
The Rockets will need captain Aaron Brooks to play well in order to win. Brooks started the year off very hot, but has cooled down due to an ankle injury. Though he has struggled in his return, Brooks is a talented scorer and passer and could become an elite point guard.
Chuck Hayes has also played well averaging career highs in scoring 7.3 PPG and rebounding with 6.8 RPG. Solid play from Hayes will be needed as Yao Ming and Brad Miller are on their way out the door.
Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry
The Warriors might have the most talented backcourt in the NBA with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.
Ellis is fifth in the NBA in scoring with 25.3 PPG, and Ellis and Curry combine for 43.7 PPG. The Warriors added young talent this offseason by acquiring David Lee from the Knicks. Lee is a double-double machine, and has only been in the league for six years.
But the biggest surprise for the Warriors this year has been the play of Dorell Wright who is at the top of the most improved player list. Wright has improved his scoring by almost ten points to 16.5 PPG and is grabbing 5.7 RPG.
The issue with the Warriors is lack of defense and depth. Curry and Ellis can score at will, but if they cannot stop anyone they will be sitting at home during the playoffs.
No one can argue that Blake Griffin is hands down the rookie of the year. Griffin is averaging 22.8 PPG and 12.6 RPG. Griffin is one of the most dominant rookies since Shaq, some could argue even more dominant.
Third year man Eric Gordon has also improved his scoring from16.9 PPG last season to 24.1 PPG which is good enough for ninth in the NBA. Gordon is a pure scorer and another candidate for most improved player of the year.
Rookie Eric Bledsoe has played well this season averaging 6.6 PPG and is a better passer than Eric Gordon. Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye have emerged as key components of this core of young Clipper talent.
My biggest concern about the Clippers is the health of Blake Griffin. He has already missed a full NBA season, and he goes so hard that it is only a matter of time before he gets hurt again. Without Griffin the Clippers are nothing.
Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay
The Grizzlies are currently tied with the Utah Jazz for the eighth playoff seed, and are 8-2 in their last ten games. This is due in large part to Zach Randolph who is a veteran, but he is surrounded by a young core of talent.
The Grizzlies backcourt is led by fourth year point guard Mike Conley and third year guard O.J. Mayo. The Grizzlies appear to have their big man of the future in Marc Gasol. While he is not as talented as his brother, Pau, Marc is still good for 11.8 PPG and 7.0 RPG.
Their main scorer Rudy Gay is developing from a dunker into a well rounded offensive player. This season Gay is averaging career highs, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor, 39.6 percent from three, and 80.5 percent from the free throw line. Gay is also second on the team in scoring at 19.8 PPG.
The Grizzlies have a good shot at making the playoffs this year with the Utah Jazz struggling, and they could turn into a team to fear in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves are the only team that cracked my top five that currently have a losing record. The reason is Kevin Love. Love is without a doubt the best rebounder in the NBA. He averages 21.1 PPG and leads the league with an astounding 15.5 RPG. Love is not just a rebounder, but a shooter as well, averaging 42.5 percent from the three point arch and 87.6 percent from the free throw line. Kevin Love is a force to be reckoned with.
Along with Love, Michael Beasley has been playing very impressive basketball. Beasley is averaging 19.9 PPG and looks more comfortable in Minnesota than in Miami because he does not have as much pressure on him now.
The problem with the Timberwolves is they have a weak backcourt. Rookie Wesley Johnson was supposed to fill that void, but has come up short this season averaging just 8.8 PPG. The Timberwolves will need to build around Love or he will follow in the footsteps of Kevin Garnett and walk out the door.
Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Amare Stoudemire
The Knicks have not had a winning record in a decade, but Amare Stoudemire has turned this franchise around. Amare’s MVP-like season is not the only reason the Knicks are winning.
The Knicks are very young, and six year guard Raymond Felton runs the team. Felton is averaging a career high 17.1 PPG, and 9.0 APG in his first year in New York. Wilson Chandler is third on the team in scoring at 16.4 PPG in just his fourth year, and is followed closely by third year pro Danilo Gallinari’s 15.9 PPG.
Rounding out the young talent on the Knicks is rookie Landry Fields who scores 10.1 PPG and grabs 7.1 RPG. The play of these young Knicks has been overshadowed by Amare, but come playoff time the league will see that the Knicks win because of their whole team.
The balance of young talent could be upset if Carmelo Anthony is traded from the Denver Nuggets. The Knicks would most likely ship out at least two of their core young players in order to acquire Carmelo.
Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose
Third year guard and MVP front runner Derrick Rose has elevated the Chicago Bulls to a 38-16 record despite the Bulls playing only nine games at full strength. Rose is the only player in the NBA to be in the top ten in points and assists, averaging 24.9 PPG and 8.2 APG.
The Bulls do have a few veterans with Carlos Boozer in his ninth year and Luol Deng in his seventh year, but any team led by Derrick Rose will be a top team in the Eastern Conference every year because Rose is just that talented.
But the Bulls do have young talent other than Rose. Joakim Noah is in his fourth year, and he is a threat to corral double digit boards when healthy. Noah is the heart of the Bulls, he provides the energy, and upon his return to the lineup this week he will show why the Bulls will be a dominant team in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Defense wins championships, and that is what Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer provide. Taj Gibson averages 1.6 BPG in just 22.8 MPG, and Ronnie Brewer chips in with 1.33 SPG. The Bulls as a whole are the second best defensive team in the league giving up just 92.41 PPG. Anytime you get a young team to play defense they will be dangerous.
Like the Bulls, the Thunder are one of the few teams on this list that are already a dominant NBA team.The Thunder gave the L.A. Lakers a scare in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and should they meet again in the postseason the outcome might be different.
Kevin Durant leads the Thunder and the NBA in scoring at 28.9 PPG, but in my mind the MVP of the Thunder is Russell Westbrook. This third year guard is averaging 22.2 PPG, 8.6 APG, and 5.0 RPG. Westbrook has put his name in the discussion for best point guards in the NBA, and he will lead the Thunder past the first round of the playoffs this year.
The Thunder also have a pair of sophomores in James Harden and Serge Ibaka who provide athleticism, energy and scoring every night. The Thunder need to improve their defense, though they have Thabo Sefolosha, who is one of the best individual perimeter defenders in the NBA.
The Thunder are a darkhorse to represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals, but we will see how the youngest team in the NBA handles the pressure.