Young Guns (from left) Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, and DeMarcus Cousins
In today's NBA, youth is the new black. With the impending lockout and a soon-to-be shrinking salary cap, young talent will play a vital role in upcoming NBA seasons.
These 10 promising young cores will bring their respective teams to prosperity in the post-lockout NBA.
I considered 24 years and under to be "young," and I found the 10 teams that have the best core of 24 years old and under players.
Here is the list.
Core (ranked in order of talent): DeMar DeRozan (F), Ed Davis (F), Jerryd Bayless (G), Amir Johnson (F/C), Jonas Valanciunas (C)
To the outside world, DeMar DeRozan is known for little more than his dunk contest participation. In reality, the third-year forward out of the University of Southern California is a force to be reckoned with.
Along with North Carolina product Ed Davis, he comprises a formidable frontcourt duo in Toronto. Davis is an athletic specimen, and with a couple years' experience and a few pounds, he could be a force at the power forward position for the Raptors.
Bayless is another talent who promises to be a factor for the Raptors in the future. He increased his scoring and assist average after moving to the Raptors last year, and with experience in the system, he could easily average 15 points and six assists per game next year.
Amir Johnson is a freak of an athlete, and although limited, he will contribute as a rebounder and shot-blocker.
Valanciunas could be a star in the making, and he and Andrea Bargnani will be a beastly European duo in the post.
The Raptors' talented youth could very well make them a playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference this year.
Core: O.J. Mayo (G), Mike Conley (G), Darrell Arthur (C), Xavier Henry (F), Josh Selby (G)
Orange juice and mayonnaise may be a gross combination, but for the third overall pick out of USC, it is tasty indeed. Mayo made a big impression in his first two campaigns, and his third season slump will likely give way to a breakout fourth season.
He is an exceptional shooter and scorer, and Mike Conley knows where to get him the ball. In the Grizzlies' incredible playoff run last year, they relied upon Conley's quickness on defense and his decision-making, both of which have become strengths for the young point guard out of Ohio State.
Arthur will be joining fellow Kansas alums Xavier Henry and Josh Selby as bench fixtures for the Grizz this season, and all three of them will make an impact.
All three are incredible athletes. Arthur brings rebounding and a nice scoring punch, Henry is a project with tremendous upside potential and Selby is a lightning-quick guard who has the tools to be a NBA star.
Core: Darren Collison (G), Roy Hibbert (C), Paul George (G/F), George Hill (G), Tyler Hansbrough (F), A.J. Price (G)
In two years, Collison has established himself as a rock-solid PG in the NBA. He shoots the three, has great vision and can defend anyone (thank you, Ben Howland).
Hibbert has the size (7'3") to be an epic talent at the center position. His improvement in just two years (improved by 5.7 PPG and 4.1 RPG) is just a taste of how exceptional his upside is.
Despite the talents of Collison and Hibbert, the real reason the Pacers are on this list is because Paul George and George Hill are two of the most underrated young guns in the NBA.
George is a fearless scorer with the size, skill and athleticism to be a 20 PPG scorer in the NBA. Hill is a big point guard with a blend of size and quickness that is matched by only the league's elite.
With second-year bench options A.J. Price and Tyler Hansbrough, George and Hill make the Pacers a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
Core: Thaddeus Young (F), Jrue Holiday (G), Evan Turner (G), Lou Williams (G), Jodie Meeks (G), Spencer Hawes (C), Nikola Vucevic (F), Mareese Speights (F/C)
For the 76ers, the quality of their youth comes from quantity. Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams are athletic specimens, and Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks are savvy beyond their age.
Coupled with the frontcourt presence of potential beast Mareese Speights, as well as smooth bigs Nikola Vucevic and Spencer Hawes, these young guns will bring the 76ers back to prominence.
In a weak Eastern Conference, a starting lineup of Holiday, Turner, Young, Speights and Hawes would have a decent playoff shot—and that's not including Andre Iguodala and the other veterans on Philly's roster.
Core: John Wall (G), Andray Batche (F), Javale McGee (C), Jordan Crawford (G), Jan Vesely (F), Chris Singleton (F), Shelvin Mack (G)
John Wall is bona-fide stud, and the Wizards have enough talent around him to formulate a contender in the East.
Crawford could also be star in this league. He averaged 19.5 PPG over the last month of last season, and if he comes close to emulating those numbers over a full season, he could be a star for the Wizards.
Vesely, Singleton and Mack are all rookies for the Wizards this year. Vesely is a high-flying big man with range, Singleton is a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year (largely due to his defense) and Mack is a rock-solid guard who knows how to win.
These rookies, in combination with the young guards already on the team, will usher in an era of prosperity to our nation's capital.
Core: Tyreke Evans (G), DeMarcus Cousins (F/C), Marcus Thornton (G), J.J. Hickson (F/C), Jimmer Fredette (G), Donte Greene (F), Tyler Honeycutt (F)
2009 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans is the leader of this young core, and for good reason; he became only the fourth rookie in NBA history to record 20 PPG, five RPG and five APG.
DeMarcus Cousins is admittedly a head case, but his talent is undeniable. Cousins and third-year pro Marcus Thornton provide a sizzling scoring punch for the Kings.
Not too long ago, J.J. Hickson was the most valuable player on the Cavaliers; after struggling as the go-to piece for the NBA's worst team, Hickson will now find himself much more comfortable as the fourth scoring option with the Kings.
Think Jimmer is all hype? You can just Fredette about it. The BYU sensation is a dynamic scorer, and his grossly underrated athleticism and superhuman range will allow him to flourish at the NBA level.
Donte Greene and Tyler Honeycutt are two raw talents with NBA size; if either one can develop into an NBA starter, this Kings team will surely contend for a playoff berth.
Core: Wilson Chandler (F), Danilo Gallinari (F), Ty Lawson (G), Jordan Hamilton (G/F), Kenneth Faried (F/C), Timofey Mozgov (C)
The Nuggets make it this far on this list on the back of Wilson Chandler, who plays a lot older than his 24 years. If he can't get out of his Chinese Basketball Association contract, the Nuggets get moved down significantly on this list.
He and Danilo Gallinari combine to form one of the best shooting forward combinations in the NBA, and their scoring makes the Nuggets a contender in the crowded West.
Lawson is a lightning-quick up-and-coming point guard, and his penetrating ability will give Gallo and Chandler great looks from outside. With Chauncey Billups out of the way, Lawson could put up gaudy averages this season.
Hamilton and Mozgov are promising projects, and rookie Kenneth Faried will do the two things he knows how to do (rebound and defend) at an elite NBA level. He'll immediately provide much-needed toughness to this Nuggets lineup,
With obvious scoring punch and defensive capabilities, this young Nuggets core will be a threat in the West for years to come.
Core: Kevin Love (F/C), Michael Beasley (F), Derrick Williams (F), Wesley Johnson (G/F), Ricky Rubio (G), Anthony Randolph (F), Wayne Ellington (G/F), Malcolm Lee (G/F), Chandler Parsons (F)
Kevin Love is the NBA's leading rebounder and has three-point range almost unprecedented for a big man ("almost" only because of Dirk). If you understand that, you shouldn't have difficulty understanding why the UCLA product is one of the league's up-and-coming superstars.
Beasley and Williams are very similar players, but that doesn't mean they're not both valuable to the T-Wolves. I see D-Will coming off the bench this season, and quickly turning into a scoring threat from both inside and outside.
Wesley Johnson has every skill in the book and has the athleticism to be a bona-fide star. Even though he's no longer a rookie, don't sleep on this post-hype sleeper. He still has elite skills and an NBA body.
Although I don't hold out much hope for Ricky Rubio and Randolph, both have the raw ability to get scouts excited. If either one can come through this year, it will be pure profit for the Wolves.
Ellington, Lee and Parsons are all big, skilled players who will be rotation guys in the NBA for years to come.
The sheer quantity of young talent puts the Wolves in the top three, but there are still two teams whose young guns have higher ceilings.
Core: Blake Griffin (F), Eric Gordon (G), Al-Farouq Aminu (F), DeAndre Jordan (C), Eric Bledsoe (G), Travis Leslie (G), Trey Thompkins (F)
Griffin's rookie season speaks for itself. He won Rookie of the Year honors, won the dunk contest and completed enough highlight dunks to earn a "Blake Griffin Top 10 Dunks" special on SportsCenter by November of his rookie year.
Eric Gordon is already an elite NBA scorer, and his deadly combination of three-point accuracy and power going to the basket makes him a candidate to raise his game to an all-NBA level.
Aminu and Jordan are two long, athletic talents who will raise the Clippers' defensive abilities and create serious problems for opponents.
The 7'1" Jordan touches 12'6" on a running jump and is already one of the league's premier shot-blockers.
Eric Bledsoe is lightning-quick, and if he can hone his scoring touch, he'll be a weapon for the upstart Clippers.
Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie were teammates at Georgia, and will continue their working relationship with the Clippers.
The raw, high-flying Leslie was probably the most athletic player taken in last year's NBA draft, and Thompkins was arguably the most skilled big man in the 2011 draft class.
Both players will improve the Clippers' bench and provide the depth the Clippers need to reach the NBA playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Core: Kevin Durant (F), Russell Westbrook (G), Serge Ibaka (F), James Harden (G), Eric Maynor (G)
The best young core in the NBA is a bit of a no-brainer. No team can come close to matching both the Thunder's recent success and their prospects for future success.
Durant is already one of the NBA's best players, and Westbrook is one of the NBA's most athletic point guards. Together, they form the core of one of the NBA's most dangerous teams.
The future of the Thunder is even brighter than the present, due to the immense contributions of the much-improved Serge Ibaka and the blossoming James Harden.
If these two can continue their improvement, the Thunder will be serious title contenders for many years to come.