NBA Power Rankings: Oklahoma City Thunder and the Best Young Teams in the NBA

Michael CahillCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: Oklahoma City Thunder and the Best Young Teams in the NBA

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    The conference finals, with the exception of possibly Miami or Chicago, should feature the same cast of characters the NBA has been watching in the biggest moments for years. Tim Duncan and the Spurs look poised to make noise. Kobe's showing that he's got at least one more Finals run in him and Kevin Garnett and the Celtics are showing that winning comes with experience. 

    But just because these three teams are sitting atop the NBA throne doesn't mean they have a lifetime guarantee. In truth, these teams are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and that only makes room for the young teams in the NBA to race for the throne. 

    If you're an NBA fan, this is a good time. There are plenty of talented young teams that are taking the steps to be elite or look like they could be on their way there in a few years. So feast your eyes on a list of teams you could be seeing for years to come. It's the NBA's best young teams. 

10. Washington Wizards

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    From the outside looking in, it's hard to see the potential of the Wizards at times. They have found themselves with, by far, the worst road record in the NBA. They are in the middle of a massive rebuilding mode and the way the NBA is moving, they are not a serious contender for the marquee free agents whenever they become available. 

    However, they do have John Wall, and that's a great start. They also managed to dump the albatross contract of Gilbert Arenas. They have young talent in JaVale McGee and Nick Young and with the money they freed up by moving Kirk Hinrick and Arenas, they should be able to keep these guys around for a while. They'll have more lottery picks coming up. 

    They are not ready to take over the East but count on them to be a playoff team much sooner than anyone thinks. 

9. New Jersey Nets

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    The Nets make this list only under the assumption that Deron Williams will stick around past his 2012 free agency. There is no doubt that the Nets are looking to make him a long-term fixture in New Jersey/Brooklyn. But if he skips out, they are in big trouble and they know it.

    Still, assuming Deron sees his future in New Jersey, they will be a tough team in the conference as they move along. The Nets don't have the most talented roster, but with Anthony Morrow and Brook Lopez, they have the chance to grow. 

    The best thing that can happen for the Nets is that they convince Dwight Howard to leave Orlando to join them, but even if that doesn't happen, as long as they have Deron they'll be ready to compete. 

8. Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clippers finally have hope after decades of being the forgotten team in the land of the Lakers. Here's hoping that Donald Sterling understands the true value of his franchise and how much Blake Griffin means to it. 

    The Clippers have been the talk of the NBA world since Griffin became a SportsCenter sensation, but what's more important is that these Clippers have a real upside the first time in a long time. Since stumbling out of the blocks, the Clippers have rebounded to show themselves as a middle-of-the-road team which says something, considering they were anything but for a long time. 

    Getting rid of Baron Davis might be a setback in the short term, but it's an upgrade in the long run. They have freed up money to pay DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Gordon and they will have built themselves a nucleus of players who are only going to get better with time and experience. It's a good day to be a Clippers fan, and there aren't many of those. 

7. Golden State Warriors

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    While the Golden State brass is trying to figure out whether Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis is their future, the Warriors continue to grow as a team and beg the question: why can't both of them be? 

    Certainly, once Curry's rookie contract expires, he's going to want to be paid more money, but why does it have to be one or the other? David Lee and Dorrell Wright are two complementary players who the Warriors can build with.

    The is no question that the Warriors have the offensive output to be good. But if they can get a coach in there that can install a defensive system that will do its best to make something out of the limited defensive skill their backcourt owns, then you could have a team to compete in the West. 

6. Philadelphia 76ers

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    At one point this season, the 76ers were looking to deal, but the difficult contract of Elton Brand, the value they were trying to get for Andre Iguodala and the fact that they were starting to win kept them from making moves. Maybe it was for the best.

    Philly planted itself in the No. 7 seed and should remain there for the rest of the season. This means they'll be looking at a first-round exit to Chicago or Miami(or, on the off chance, Boston), but that won't mean the 76ers don't have something to build on.

    Spencer Hawes is a solid big man and they have a tremendous young talent in Evan Turner who hasn't had the season Philly fans would have hoped for. But there's still a lot of time for a young man with a lot of skill.  

5. New Orleans Hornets

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    This team is very much in the same boat that the New Jersey Nets are. As they put together a stellar season with a less-than-stellar roster, they know that their future hinges on the future of Chris Paul. If he bolts to play in MSG for the next five years, not only is New Orleans in dire straights to be legit, but they are looking at being contracted or, at the very least, relocated. 

    But if we can assume that Paul will stay in New Orleans, then there is reason to think that the Hornets will continue to get better. Let's not forget that Paul appears to be leading this team on one leg. He's not the same player he was before the injury, but another offseason of recovery should put him back to elite form.

    The Hornets rank sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency and only 18th in offensive efficiency, with one of the great playmakers in the NBA in the backcourt. If Paul and the Hornets can grab another piece in the draft or through trade, they might find themselves rising past the Spurs and Mavericks (when they eventually make their way back down to average).

4. New York Knicks

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    Never have the New York Knicks held so much promise. Since they landed Carmelo Anthony, this has been a different Knicks team. But perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for NYK was getting Chauncey Billups. The Knicks didn't just get a guy who's been one of the best point guards in the league for the last decade, but they got a man who's a little upset that he's been considered a toss in with Melo.

    However, both Knicks and the city of New York know that Billups isn't the answer long term. If the Knicks want to be an elite team, they are going to need another elite player. With Williams and Paul on the market in a year, the Knicks could be in a position to bring them in.

    What made the Carmelo deal so good was that it gave the Knicks the clutch scorer they needed, a player who knows how to move well without the ball and how to be the second part of a power trio. That makes coming to play at MSG even more exciting. 

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    If the Thunder were any further under the radar, they'd have disappeared completely. But anyone who's played the Thunder in the last two seasons knows who they are and just how dangerous they can be. 

    The Thunder may have pulled off a bigger trade deadline move than Melo to New York by getting Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics. Size was the one thing this talented lineup, featuring superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, was begging for. 

    The only thing stopping the Thunder is the last stand of a few teams in the West. The Thunder are in great position to be the team to beat in the West. They are clearly on the cusp. 

2. Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat, by average age, are not a young team. However, the only three on the Heat that matter in the long run are young enough to be put in this category. There are those out there that get great satisfaction watching the Heat struggle, but the truth is that these guys should only get better. 

    Sure, they have trouble beating elite teams, but they are still in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, and they are only going to get better with time.

    The key for the Heat will be finding help around them. Udonis Haslem has been out most of the year, and the complement of guys surrounding the big three are anything but complimentary. The Heat may have been better off skipping out on Bosh and using that money to find more depth, but they'll never know now. 

    Miami will have to continue to find creative ways to get better pieces around Bosh, Wade and James. But more importantly, the Heat just need to find their own identities on the floor. Once they do that, they are going to be a headache for the rest of the NBA.

1. Chicago Bulls

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    It's difficult to say who deserves the credit for the Bulls' fantastic season thus far.

    Is it Tom Thibodeau for installing an defensive system that has been tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency?

    Is it GM Gar Foreman for bringing in Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer? 

    Or is it Derrick Rose for taking the next step to becoming the elite player everyone thought he could be? 

    The answer is probably all three, but what's most exciting is that the Bulls have made a huge jump in one season with a rookie head coach and a full complement of new players playing together for the first time. At one point earlier in the season, the Bulls weren't thought of to be in the category of the Boston Celtics, but the Bulls are now the Celtics biggest competition.

    The only thing Chicago seems to lack is a scoring threat from the two-guard spot. However, if they can use a little bit of offseason money and picks to land themselves a solid guard to play with Rose, the Bulls could be closer to raising a banner than any other young team in the NBA.

    The Jordan Era is gone, but the career of Derrick Rose is just beginning.