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5 NBA Franchises with Surprisingly Bright Futures
The landscape of the NBA today is more predictable today than it was in years past. NBA stars have more control over their futures than ever as have the power to demand a trade to a chosen few teams. Carmelo Anthony got his wish and was traded from Denver to New York. Chris Paul demanded a trade and landed with the clippers. Dwight Howard recently requested a trade with the destinations of New Jersey, Los Angeles and Dallas in mind. If a team doesn’t trade their franchise player then they risk losing him in free agency like LeBron James in Cleveland, Chris Bosh in Toronto and Amare Stoudamire in Phoenix. The teams who land the stars are often in big market cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. This is why teams like the Lakers, Bulls and Heat can always maintain relevance in the league. However some small market teams led by excellent General Managers and good ownership have been able to contend in the league such as the Spurs and the Thunder based in San Antonio and Oklahoma City respectively. They do this by building through the draft and acquiring young talent. Since we know that big market teams will always attract elite players and be relevant, one of the biggest joys as a basketball fan is to target younger, smaller market teams to see who can become the next San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Five NBA teams stand out to me as having the most potential be the next small market team to become relevant in he NBA.
As the trade deadline neared last season the Nuggets knew that they had to trade the face of their franchise, Carmelo Anthony, in order to get something in return before he became a free agent. Some of the talent they received in that trade can help them become contenders down the road. The most notable is the 6’ 10 small forward Danillo Gallinari of Italy. Gallinari has a sweet long distance stroke shooting .371% from behind the arc for his career. He can become a very good scorer in this league and create his own shot currently averaging nearly 16 ppg this season. They also have a top 10 starting centers in the league in Nene. He is a legitimate scoring option down low averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He is also very efficient with a career FG% of .562. Perhaps the most important player to the Nuggets future is 24 year-old point guard Ty Lawson. Lawson took over the starting job full time this season and is running with it despite excellent play by backup point guard Andre Miller. Lawson is averaging 16.1 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game this season. The young members of the supporting cast also show promise. Arron Afflalo is regarded as an elite perimeter defender and excellent 3-point shooter. Rookie Kenneth Faried out of Morehead St. is considered by many analysts to be an elite rebounder and athlete with a great motor. He hasn’t gotten much playing time this season yet but has already been good for a few highlights.
The Pacers are a team that can be eastern conference contenders a couple years down the road if they stay together and continue to add pieces. Point Guard Darren Collison is averaging 11.5 points and 5.2 assists in 33.3 minutes per game so far this season. George Hill, the former Spur became a Pacer on a draft day trade which landed the Spurs Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State. Hill had a reputation for being a great defender in College at IUPUI and quickly became a favorite of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at the pro level. He can player either the point or shooting guard and is currently averaging 10.3 points off the bench so far this season. The most intriguing player on the Pacers roster may be Paul George. He is averaging 11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 50% from behind the 3-point line so far. George is a player who may be ready to break out. Experts close to the game of basketball know that George can score and bunches and his length as a guard/forward at 6’8 gives him upside that scouts fall in love with. The man in the middle for Indiana, Roy Hibbert, is off to a very good start this year. He is averaging nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds so far this season. His size and skill level makes him an ideal long-term solution at the center position. The Pacers are just a couple seasons and another all star caliber player from becoming a threat in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time since the Kevin Garnett days, the Timberwolves are a team worth watching. Ricky Rubio has exceeded expectations thus far since coming to America. While his stats in Europe were less than impressive, the fast pace, open-court NBA game is where Rubio flourishes. His passes dazzle, he is a better shooter and more capable scorer than many people expected. He makes everyone around him better. So far he is putting up solid numbers averaging 10.7 points, 8.3 assists 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. Kevin Love is having a monster year as well. It’s tough to argue with 25.2 points and 14.2 rebounds per game. Minnesota isn’t short on talent. Michael Beasley is capable of going off for 30 points on an given night and 2nd pick of the 2011 draft Derrick Williams has developed some chemistry with Rubio if we can read anything into their alley-oop connection. Williams’s statistics don’t inspire much confidence but he hasn’t gotten much playing time given the ridiculous number of Timberwolves who are neither a true small forward or power forward. With this teams young talent and allure of playing with Rubio and Love, you can bet that marquee free agents will find themselves strangely attracted to playing for Minnesota in the future.
I can tell that you are shaking your head from here, so let me give you the hard sell. First of all, Demar DeRozan should become a great player in this league. He has improved his offensive repertoire every year. For example his career 3-Point % is a scary bad .206 but this season he has seemed more confident in his shot and as a result is shooting a respectable .353 from deep. Everyone who has seen him knows that he is a freak athletically. His hops are unreal and remind one of a certain #15 who used to do the same thing in Raptors uniform. He can become a very good perimeter scorer and with hard work and use of his athleticism, a solid defender. Another young talent beginning to blossom is Andrea Bargnani who is finally making the selection of him as the #1 pick of the 2006 draft seem credible. He is one of the best big man scorers in the league averaging 22.3 points per game. His range forces opposing big men to follow him out to he three point line and opens the lane for slashers such as DeRozan. While he’s not a dominant rebounder or defender there is one man who can fill that role. The #5 pick of the 2011 draft Jonas Valanciunas is not a typical European big man. He is physical, he loves to play above the rim and he can defend the paint. He combines his willingness to play physically with a nice offensive skillset. He is only 19 and still has a ways to go in terms of his development but some NBA scouts thought his talent surpassed players chosen before him and he has drawn comparisons to Pau Gasol. But don’t take my word for it. In the 2011-2012 NBA GM poll Valanciunas was voted the best international player not in the NBA taking a 36.0% plurality of the votes. The Raptors still have a long way to go in their rebuilding process but 3 potential all-stars can make the struggling franchise a team that is desirable and even threatening.
The Jazz is in an interesting position at the moment. Their three best players Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andre Kirilenko are all on different teams. But the state of their franchise is really not so bad at all. While I don’t expect their current success this regular season to be maintained, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this were the norm for Utah in a couple years. They have hands down the best future frontcourt in the NBA. Double-double machine Al Jefferson is holding down the fort at center and Paul Millsap is putting up solid numbers at power forward averaging 15.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game at a very impressive .560 FG%. They have two very good young backups at their positions. Enes Kanter selected third in the 2011 draft is a very good rebounder, a solid defender and a polished offensive player down low. His numbers don’t look great due to little playing time but 5.2 rebounds per game averaging only 14.2 minutes gives you a taste of what should be to come once he is a starter. Backing up Millsap is a player with tremendous upside in Derrick Favors who showed that he will be a force in this league once he is a little older and can land the starting job when he destroyed Portland’s lengthy frontcourt for 25 points and 12 boards. Players like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks can be good complementary players on an old school team that plays through their big men. The Jazz are a couple years and one all-star guard away from making serious noise in the Western Conference.
The best players in the league today view legacies differently than they did in the days of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Team loyalties no longer stand much of a chance against the allure of the big city, creating your own brand and teaming up to form super teams. Most small market teams will be left in the dust for long periods of time. However the Nuggets, Pacers, Timberwolves, Raptors and Jazz all have a shot to become the next pioneer of the small market franchise based on their personnel and potential to attract great players in spite of an undesirable location.
I did mention inmates running the asylum, but that's more of a reference to a nut house, where the crazies are running things, not a prison. That's why I didn't realize what you were talking about.
Is it better now that I explained it?
Hi John. Thanks for the comments, but did I make a prison reference in my article? I don't remember doing that. Maybe I'm getting senile.
For another take on the Chris Paul debacle, check out the article I wrote and let me know what you think. It's a bit controversial compared to just about everyone else, but I would love to hear your opinion on it.