5 Young NBA Teams Waiting to Take the Next Step

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2013

5 Young NBA Teams Waiting to Take the Next Step

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    In professional leagues such as the NBA, fans have an obsession with who is next.

    This is one of the reasons college basketball is so successful, NBA fans want to watch tomorrow's stars, today. We all want to be ahead of the curve in knowing what is about to happen, or who is about to break out. 

    This season there are a handful of teams just teetering on the brink of breaking out, and a couple more who have already seen the front end go over the first roller-coaster drop. However, keep in mind that these teams are very young, and may still be a piece or two away. 

    The NBA is pushing through a fascinating youth movement right now, and has been for the past year or two. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers, featuring young stars, are trying to force out the old guard of the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.

    This extends beyond franchise monarchies though, the individual players on some teams are outnumbering the aging stars. All of these teams are on the verge of something.

    So, who is going to be next?

Houston Rockets

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    Average Age: 24.3 years old

    The Houston Rockets regularly feature a starting five with the average age of 23.8, but have played this season to an impressive 34-29 record with a firm grasp on one of the final playoff seeds in the Western Conference.

    Following a recent trade with the Sacramento Kings, they acquired Francisco Garcia. At 32 years old, Garcia immediately became the Rockets' oldest player. Only he and Carlos Delfino, 30, are over the age of 28.

    Yet, with a roster of kids in their mid-20s, the Rockets are winning. They are doing this, of course, in a very youthful way. Houston is scoring a scorching 106.8 points per game. They find themselves in the top 10 for field-goal attempts per game, despite a fairly poor offensive rebound rate. This means they are moving at a faster pace than most teams.

    The Rockets also take the second-most three pointers of any team in the NBA, behind only the New York Knicks. Commonly thought of as a young man's shot, seven Rockets are averaging three or more attempts per game.

    What Houston is missing is any semblance of defense, particularly on the perimeter. Allowing the second-most points per game in the league is not just a product of pace. This team has definite defensive issues.

    That is the next step, though. For now, they may purely outscore a top team in the first round, for one game. In the NBA postseason, though, you have to be able to get stops. Until Houston takes that next step, they'll be a fairly easy out.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Average Age: 25 years old

    The team with the probable 2012-13 Rookie of the Year obviously has some talented youth to it. 

    With two of the top 11 picks in last June's NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers were set to get even younger than they already were. With the addition of Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, along with second-rounder Will Barton, the Trail Blazers become one of the NBA's youngest teams.

    They've certainly played like a young team down the stretch as well, losing ground in the playoff race at a high rate. Once in definite contention for one of the final two Western Conference playoff seeds, they have fallen to the role of long-shot. 

    An awfully timed seven-game losing streak hit Portland hard, and now has them 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 spot. Unfortunately the veteran-laden Los Angeles Lakers are standing between them and the postseason as well.

    The Trail Blazers have shown a disturbing trend over the past few seasons defensively. As they have gotten younger, their defensive has slipped from top three in 2009-10, to their current No. 20 NBA ranking. Portland allows opponents to shoot 46.6 percent from the field, and it's tough to beat anybody when that happens. 

    There is a lot of promising talent on this roster, but the majority still needs to mature defensively.

New Orleans Hornets

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    Average Age: 24 years old

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have the NBA's youngest team.

    Like the Portland Trail Blazers, the New Orleans Hornets used two lottery picks in the 2012 NBA draft to continue their immense youth movement. Taking Anthony Davis (19 years old) and Austin Rivers (20), both in the top 10 of the draft ensured that.

    Both have had their minutes tempered as rookies, Davis due to injuries and Rivers due to performance, but both do show promise.

    New Orleans' three leading scorers are all 26 or younger, with Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Greivis Vasquez leading the way. At 26, Vasquez is practically a grandfather on this team. They boast just one over-30 player in Roger Mason Jr., age 32. 

    The Hornets suffered through a pair of lengthy losing streaks this season, making their current record 21-41. They have been without both Davis and Gordon for long stretches, really hurting their chances to build chemistry.

    They are staring right now at another top-five pick in the 2013 draft, a move that will only make them younger. However, the next step is getting some veteran leadership on board. Whether a guy like Gordon, now in his fifth NBA season, is capable of doing that is in question.

    They may have to look elsewhere, or risk falling into the same story for the next few of seasons until their youth can fully mature.

Denver Nuggets

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    Average Age: 24.9 years old

    The Denver Nuggets' step is obviously a little different than the step the rest of these young teams are looking to make.

    Denver needs to take the step to become championship contenders, not just playoff-hopefuls.

    Perhaps unbelievably, this is another team with one lone player over 30 years old. Andre Miller is the 36-year-old elder statesman of the Nuggets. Yet, they have played themselves to a 41-22 record and are in a nice battle with the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the opening round. 

    The beauty of the Nuggets is in their young leadership. Despite being just 24, Danilo Gallinari is in his fifth NBA season and has been starting for four of them. Andre Iguodala has a wealth of postseason experience, as well as an Olympic gold medal.

    Their stable of point guards brings the best of both worlds. Ty Lawson is a young, athletic penetrator, while Miller brings wisdom of age and experience. 

    Experience is that next step for these Nuggets, I believe. It isn't something that George Karl is going to want his brass to go out and get, though. The experience the Nuggets need to take that next step is something they'll have to get on their own this spring.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Average Age: 26.4 years old

    The Philadelphia 76ers don't appear to be that young on paper, as they are fairly middle-of-the-pack in the NBA. 

    However, a lot of their age is lopped off after this season. Of their four players over 30, only Jason Richardson is definitely under contract next year. Instead, look to their starting lineup, which has changed through injuries, but features four budding stars, all under 25. 

    Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday are the big names here, both young and with monster potential. Thaddeus Young is having a very good season and Lavoy Allen is working to become a solid role-playing big. Let us not forget as well, that Andrew Bynum is just 25.

    Unfortunately, the 76ers are now 23-38, and have played themselves out of playoff contention. A lot of that blame can be placed on Bynum, as he has yet to play a minute of basketball for the team that dealt some serious talent away to get him.

    That doesn't mean Philadelphia can't take that next step as a franchise in the next year or so. They will either bring Bynum back next season, or let his $16.8 million walk and have plenty of room to make noise in free agency.

    This young core will stay together and grow together. That next step is still there for them to take, it just took a year-long hiatus in the form of Andrew Bynum's knees.