The Top Three Up-and-Coming Teams of the NBA (Part 1)
In this article, I am going to attempt to break down the top-three young teams with the brightest futures in the NBA. The way I will break them down is a brief overview of the team, and then go into their top-three players on their roster that will be the team leaders in the future.
Hopefully this will be an intriguing read, so with that being said here we go.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are easily the brightest up and coming team at this point in time. Behind rookie superstar Blake Griffin, and guys like Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan, and Aminu, this team has so many bright young players on their roster.
When you watch them, they are already starting to find chemistry, and while they aren't winning consistently yet, they have had very impressive stretches where they have won consistently. Head coach Vinny Del Negro seems to be the perfect fit for them, as even during their rough stretches, he's never given up coaching them and helping them get better. He's a young coach as well, so as this team grows, he will as well and get better at coaching. I think the combination of a young, excited team and a young, excited coach will do wonders for the Clippers.
Blake Griffin, Forward
Obviously when you think of the Clippers you think of last year's first overall pick, Blake Griffin. He's been a monster already in his "rookie" season after missing all last season with injury. Not only has he been dominating the glass like many expected him to do coming into the league, but he's been putting up monster scoring nights as well, and putting up highlight-reel caliber plays
There just hasn't been anyone with the athletic ability that Griffin has, seen in the NBA recently that actually had a consistent all-around game as well. His defense isn't quite where I'm sure the Clippers are hoping it will get to, but I wouldn't be worried, as Griffin has one of the highest standards of himself and work ethics in the league. He'll continue to get better which is a very thought considering how good he is already.
DeAndre Jordan, Center
DeAndre Jordan has emerged this year into the talent that everyone knew he had coming out in the Draft. Jordan has come onto the scene as another very athletic, and very long big man to go alongside Griffin. With the two of these guys, the Clippers' frontcourt looks set for quite a few years to come. Jordan's strengths are definitely his strength, his jumping ability, and also his very talented game. While I did make a comment about Blake Griffin's defense, Jordan is one of the best young defensive big men in the game at this point in the NBA. His long arms allow him to be a very effective shot-blocker, and also he's got a great offensive game. His touch around the rim is impressive, and he also has a couple nice post moves. Assuming he keeps working hard, he's going to be something special as well.
Eric Bledsoe, Point Guard
Every team must have a point guard to run the offense, and on the good teams they also score points. Bledsoe does it all, and very easily could be a steal in the Draft looking back in a few years. The Clippers have a point guard right now, so Bledsoe isn't starting, but when he was starting for the injured Baron Davis earlier in the season, he had some very good moments. There were times where he would turn the ball over and look like a rookie point guard, but with his quickness, and speed with the ball he can help this up-tempo offense start a fast break even off of a made shot.
I saw one game where he got the ball off the inbound pass, and just took off down the court, got to the rim before the defense was back, and then made a spectacular pass to Blake Griffin for a dunk. The kid has a lot of talent, and is also a player that has a high work ethic. He'll keep getting better as a point guard, and will be dangerous in the future.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are the obvious choice for this second slot. With young talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and even guys like James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and company, they definitely are the second brightest team out there in my opinion.
Kevin Durant, Small Forward
Durant is obviously the choice for No. 1 on the Thunder right now. His offensive skills are practically unmatched in the NBA right now from what I've seen, and his ability to hit big shots is also up high in the NBA. If there is one knock on Durant, it would be his defense, and yes that issue has been brought up by all the Durant haters.
That being said, I am going to defend him right now. He's been improving a lot in his on-ball defense, and in all honesty he's never been that bad following his man and defending off the ball. The only thing that he needs to improve on is moving his feet and staying in front of his man consistently. When he does that, then I think he should be considered one of the best, if not the best players in the NBA. (Toss-up between him, LeBron, and Kobe in my opinion).
Russell Westbrook, Point Guard
Russell Westbrook is one of the most exciting guards in the NBA, and has one of the highest potentials in the league. When you put him as a number two scoring option, you have the best duo in the NBA no doubt, and that's exactly what the Thunder have with the Durant-Westbrook combo. He's so athletic, and quick, and knows how to run the point effectively as well. The reason that OKC are so good is that Westbrook is more than willing to be the facilitator rather than the main scorer.
You give Westbrook the ball, and you know that your team is going to get the best shot available, and that if things break down, he'll just take his man off the dribble and finish at the bucket. The thing that is so impressive about him is the motor that he has on defense. You never see him give up on a play, or stop moving his feet, or stay back to rest. He's always up on his man giving ball pressure, and he has such quick hands that if the opposing guard makes a mistake, or gets careless with the basketball, Westbrook will have it going the other way.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward/Center
Ibaka is one of the most athletic players in the game as well, and will be showcased in the dunk contest this year to prove that point. Once again, Westbrook comes into the equation when you look at Ibaka even because he does what Steve Nash used to do for Amare Stoudemire. He penetrates into the lane, and then finds Ibaka on the backside for an easy bucket, more than not a thunderous dunk (no pun intended on the thunder-ous).
He's also one of the better shot-blockers that I've seen lately, and while he could still use work on his shot-blocking ability, he's still a great potential on the defensive end of the court. Assuming he keeps working hard on his game, he could turn into the big man that the Thunder need to succeed in the next couple of years.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
This team is a sleeper for sure, but I have to put them at number three. With talent like Kevin Love, Johnny Flynn, Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, and even Ricky Rubio coming over next season, they just have to be put here.
Kevin Love, Power Forward
There’s just not enough to say about Kevin Love, the one word that comes to mind is beast. Earlier this season with the 30-30 games, and pretty much every night with the double-double, the dude is just ridiculous on the glass, and is improving each game on the offensive side of the ball. Something that has really impressed me from last year to this year is both his three-point shooting and his confidence in his game.
Coming out of college, he had a three-point ball, but he just didn't shoot it that much last year, or when he did he was hesitant, but this year he's come onto the scene wanting to shoot the ball, and has done a very nice job of it. He's improving his post moves, and also is improving in passing and defense. The dude just has unreal potential, and I'm very excited to see what he turns into. The one thing that could hurt Minnesota is if Love decides to leave in free agency, but I really don't see that happening.
Ricky Rubio, Point Guard
Right now, Rubio is thought of as a selfish guy, who doesn't want to play in Minnesota, but I believe that those reports have been blown up. Almost every single player in the NBA wants to play in a big market city like New York, but they just don't vocalize that. If you really think about it, Rubio doesn't come out and talk himself, it's always a family member. In all honesty, Rubio wants to play in the NBA, and the T-Wolves are the team that gave him the shot, and he'll play for them next year, there's no doubt in my mind about it.
While we haven't seen how his skills will translate into the NBA, the mere talent that we see in the footage of his career thus far is so impressive. The fancy passes, and the quickness in the open court very well could lead the T-Wolves to the promised land at some point in the future, and could wind up making Rubio one of the best point guards in the NBA in just a couple seasons. That being said, his weakness to me is his offensive game. He'll need to improve his shooting, and ability to finish at the rim to be able to be a big scorer and contribute in that way for the Wolves. If he does improve more offensively, then he'll be set. His defense is about average, and leaves something to be worked on, but it's still very solid. He’s definitely a very exciting prospect for the Wolves and their fans.
Michael Beasley, Small Forward
The former number two overall draft pick, has finally found a home with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Originally drafted by the Miami Heat, he was never able to settle down and focus on playing basketball there. Heat fans were always putting added pressure on him to be a great player, and help take Wade and the Heat to the Finals and he just wasn't able to take all of the pressure as such a young player. During this past off-season, Miami decided that it was time to move on from Beasley, and traded him to Minnesota for just a second-round pick.
Looking back at that deal, the T-Wolves look like geniuses, and many teams around the NBA are regretting not giving up the small asking price for him. He's developed an amazing offensive game, similar to what he had at Kansas State, and from what I've seen, has kept his attitude in check as well. The only thing I'll question still is his work ethic. Is he willing to keep getting in the gym and working on improving his game? If so, then he'll eventually develop into that star player that he was supposed to be.
This is the first article of what I hope to be a three-part series. By the end, we will have the top nine up-and-coming teams in the NBA mapped out, and it should be a fun time to write about and comment about with you guys. I'd love to hear some thoughts on my rankings, and even hear yours if you wish to share. Thanks for reading.
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