Power Ranking the NBA Teams by Young Talent

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2013

Power Ranking the NBA Teams by Young Talent

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    One of the most exciting things about watching the NBA is discovering and enjoying its emerging young talent.

    Right now, the league is flush with world-class athletes who are still in the early stages of their careers, as many of them have barely finished their teenage years.

    Some are already superstars, such as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant or Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.

    Others haven't quite made their entrance, but they own the tools of the trade and are poised to make an impact.

    With all these budding stars ready to take over the league, which teams own the best young talent? Find out as we break down every franchise.

Our Criteria

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    Who do we consider "young"?

    For these rankings, we included players who are 25 and under.

    Many analysts like to use 24 as their benchmark, but there are countless 25-year-old athletes who haven't hit their prime yet or are clearly in the early stages of their careers.

    With that in mind, we will try to factor in the difference between proven talent and a bunch of highly anticipated yet untested rookies.

    Read on to find out where your favorite team ranks!

30. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: None

    Role Players/Bench: Darius Morris (22), Elias Harris (22), Ryan Kelly (22), Robert Sacre (24) 

    Mike D'Antoni's Los Angeles Lakers don't have any promising young studs on the immediate horizon.

    All they have right now is a collection of second-tier talent hoping to crack the rotation, and in the meantime, they'll try to learn as much as they can from Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.

    L.A.'s youth outlook could all change in the 2014 draft and free agency. For now, we can't set the bar too high.

29. Miami Heat

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: None

    Role Players/Bench: Norris Cole (24), Greg Oden (25), James Ennis (23), Jarvis Varnado (25)

    Outside of reserve point guard Norris Cole and incoming rookie James Ennis, the Miami Heat don't have much young talent rising through the ranks.

    Greg Oden is still just 25 years old, but we can't really consider him an "exciting young piece" in the traditional sense. He's a couple steps and a couple surgeries short of who he was as a rookie.

    Cole and Ennis are solid, but not star material. Cole's a rotational player who uses his speed and shooting skills to put pressure on opponents, and he played an important role in Miami's 2013 title run. Ennis turned some heads during summer league by making plays in the open floor and connecting from long range.

    Beyond these role-fillers, the Heat don't have much to lean on.

28. Dallas Mavericks

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: None

    Role Players/Bench: DeJuan Blair (24), Brandan Wright (25), Wayne Ellington (25), Jae Crowder (23) Shane Larkin (20), Ricky Ledo (20)

    Rick Carlisle has a decent group of contributors to work with in the frontcourt and backcourt, including newcomers DeJuan Blair and Wayne Ellington.

    However, there isn't much promise for stardom among the Dallas Mavericks youth corps.

    The most intriguing components of the Mavs roster are rookies Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

    Larkin's stock soared after the draft combine, but he still has a lot to prove, and he's recovering from a broken ankle suffered in summer league. Ledo enters the Association as somewhat of an unreliable enigma, but he's shown the ability to create his own shot.

27. New York Knicks

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Iman Shumpert (23) 

    Role Players/Bench: Tim Hardaway Jr. (21), C.J. Leslie (22), Jeremy Tyler (22)

    Even after losing some of their elder members this offseason, the New York Knicks remain one of the most veteran-laden teams in the NBA.

    Their hope for the future lies with Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. Shumpert is already one of the premier defenders in the league, and his offense is rapidly improving. New York should make sure to hang onto him during its inevitable rebuilding process a couple years from now.

    The jury is still out on Hardaway Jr. as a pro, but we know the 21-year-old can shoot and use his athleticism to attack the basket. How he develops as a creator will determine his NBA ceiling.

26. San Antonio Spurs

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Kawhi Leonard (22)

    Role Players/Bench: Cory Joseph (21), Patty Mills (25), DeShaun Thomas (21), Livio Jean-Charles (19)

    Save for Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs don't own any significant young contributors.

    The good news is Gregg Popovich will get the most out of his roster and may even groom a star we don't anticipate.

    As for Leonard, the budding small forward is nearly a star already. His playoff performance (13.5 points per game, 9.0 rebounds, 55 percent shooting and stellar defense) was a major reason the Spurs returned to the NBA Finals.

    In a couple years, there will be a colossal roster shakeup. For now, San Antonio's young talent is in good hands with veteran leadership and a Hall of Fame coach.

25. Atlanta Hawks

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    Current Stars: Jeff Teague (25)

    Potential Stars: Dennis Schroeder (19)

    Role Players/Bench: John Jenkins (22), Jared Cunningham (22), Shelvin Mack (23), Mike Scott (25)

    It seems like yesterday that the Atlanta Hawks had some of the freshest faces in the NBA, with the likes of Josh Smith and Al Horford breaking into the league.

    Now it's a mix of mid-level role players alongside a dynamic point guard draftee.

    After making an impression in Germany throughout the winter, Dennis Schroeder's NBA candidacy gained traction, culminating with the Hawks selecting him 17th in the 2013 draft.

    Schroeder already owns a compelling combination of speed and court vision, and he's barely the age of a college sophomore. Given a couple years of polishing in the jump-shooting and decision-making departments, he could be a frighteningly good floor general.

24. Brooklyn Nets

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    Current Stars: Brook Lopez (25)

    Potential Stars: Mason Plumlee (23)

    Role Players/Bench: Tornike Shengelia (21), Tyshawn Taylor (23)

    Brook Lopez isn't fresh out of high school, but it's reasonable to believe his best years could be ahead of him. 

    He's already become one of the best scoring big men in the game; a full season alongside Deron Williams and the influx of Celtics could prove to be a monumental blessing for him.

    Meanwhile, the Nets hope rookie Mason Plumlee can make an immediate impact and earn regular minutes as an athletic two-way power forward.

    Aside from Lopez and Plumlee, Brooklyn doesn't have a wealth of up-and-coming assets.

23. Boston Celtics

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Avery Bradley (22), Kelly Olynyk (22)

    Role Players/Bench: Jared Sullinger (21), MarShon Brooks (24), Jordan Crawford (24), Donte Green (25), Phil Pressey (22), Vitor Faverini (25)

    Rebuilding can be a tough, painful process, but it can also be fun to see a new crop of players come through the ranks and show what they can do.

    The 2013-14 season will be an adventure for the Boston Celtics, one that will likely yield more losses than wins. On a positive note, the campaign will be an opportunity for guys like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger to make an impact, and for Avery Bradley and MarShon Brooks to realize their potential.

    Olynyk and Sullinger weren't four-year college stars, yet they possess highly advanced post skills. Along with Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass, the two young power forwards will attempt to replace the production and impact of Kevin Garnett. Meanwhile, Bradley and Brooks will enjoy expanded roles entering their third NBA campaigns.

    Boston's 25-and-under crew doesn't have any all-world players ready to explode, but there are certainly some winners among them.

22. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Nerlens Noel (19), Michael Carter-Williams (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Thaddeus Young (25), Spencer Hawes (25), Evan Turner (24), Lavoy Allen (24), Arnett Moultrie (22), Justin Holiday (24)

    Just because the Philadelphia 76ers have six role players 25 and under doesn't mean they're destined for greatness in the near future.

    After losing Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday in consecutive summers, the Sixers turned to rebuilding mode as they aim to cultivate the batch of youngsters in place.

    If shot-blocker Nerlens Noel and floor general Michael Carter-Williams achieve their potential, Philly could actually see playoff action in the next three to four years.

    The key word is if. Both Noel and MCW could end up being busts, and in that case, the franchise would be in a heap of trouble.

21. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Current Stars: O.J. Mayo (25)

    Potential Stars: Larry Sanders (24), John Henson (22), Giannis Antetokounmpo (18)

    Role Players/Bench: Brandon Knight (21), Khris Middleton (22), Ish Smith (25), Nate Wolters (22), Viacheslav Kravtsov (25), Miroslav Raduljica (25)

    This list of Milwaukee Bucks young guns seems extensive, yet fans shouldn't hold their breath for success.

    Larry Drew has talent inside and out to work with, but we don't know if any of the pieces are compatible, and only a couple of them have significant upside. It's going to be tricky for him to take this bunch to the next level.

    John Henson, Larry Sanders and Giannis Antetokounmpo represent untapped potential, and Antetokounmpo's ceiling is easily the highest. The Greek draftee has promising raw attributes, as he possesses the makings of a dangerous multi-dimensional player.

20. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Current Stars: Mike Conley (25)

    Potential Stars: Tony Wroten (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Jerryd Bayless (24), Kosta Koufos (24), Ed Davis (24), Quincy Pondexter (25), Jon Leuer (24), Jamaal Franklin (22), Fab Melo (23), Nick Calathes (20)

    Mike Conley has been running the Memphis Grizzlies' show since 2007, and he already has a wealth of NBA experience. What's exciting for the Griz is that he's still in the first half of his career, and he could potentially be an elite point guard.

    The rest of the club's young crew isn't quite as exciting, save for 20-year-old playmaker Tony Wroten and rookie Jamaal Franklin. Grizzlies fans hope the second-year reserve can develop his fundamentals and understanding of the game; that way he can earn more playing time and make plays like this one.

    If players like Wroten, Franklin and Ed Davis can learn to gel with Memphis' veteran core and adopt the team's basketball identity, the squad might actually have some legitimate depth. 

19. Phoenix Suns

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Eric Bledsoe (23), Alex Len (20), Archie Goodwin (19)

    Role Players/Bench: Marcus Morris (23), Markieff Morris (23), Michael Beasley (24), Malcolm Lee (23), Kendall Marshall (21), Miles Plumlee (24)

    No one anticipates the Phoenix Suns to escape the lower tier in 2013-14. There's simply not enough playoff-caliber talent ready to play cohesively.

    Don't let the shaky short-term outlook fool you, because these Suns may scorch opponents in a couple seasons.

    The Morris twins probably won't be stars, but they'll be ultra-reliable from an execution and production standpoint. They're keepers.

    Then there are the new faces: former Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe and rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin. Bledsoe is ready to use his physical tools and improving skills to make a substantial impact immediately, while Len and Goodwin seek to learn and grow as professionals.

18. Orlando Magic

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Victor Oladipo (21), Nikola Vucevic (22), Moe Harkless (20), Tobias Harris (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Andrew Nicholson (23), Kyle O'Quinn (23), E'Twaun Moore (24), Doron Lamb (21)

    Initially, it looked like the Orlando Magic were the losers of the 2012 Dwight Howard trade.

    In less than a year, it became clear that the Magic had better long-term luck than the Sixers, Nuggets and Lakers. The team is still young and raw, with plenty of question marks, but it features athletes who may turn into standouts.

    Meat-and-potato skills like rebounding and post moves are covered by the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn. Agility, explosiveness and finesse are supplied by prodigies such as Victor Oladipo and Moe Harkless.

    It might take a few years and a couple more major pieces, but Orlando has something that can be molded into a winning unit.

17. Toronto Raptors

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    Current Stars: DeMar DeRozan (24)

    Potential Stars: Jonas Valanciunas (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Terrence Ross (22), Dwight Buycks (24), Landry Fields (25), D.J. Augustin (25), Austin Daye (25), Quincy Acy (22)

    Lithuanian post presence Jonas Valanciunas is clearly the Toronto Raptors' most promising young performer.

    The 2013 Las Vegas Summer League MVP looks ready for prime time: He tore up inferior competition for 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game during his week-long session. Valanciunas is poised to be a super sophomore, as he's physically and mentally prepared to battle the NBA's best bigs.

    On the bench, the Raptors have a cast of one-dimensional contributors who are looking to expand their games and earn more playing time. Terrence Ross has yet to validate lottery draft status, Dwight Buycks has yet to compete against big-league talent and Quincy Acy must show that he's more than an athlete.

    The future isn't bleak, but there aren't any surefire studs outside of DeMar DeRozan and Valanciunas.

16. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Kemba Walker (23), Cody Zeller (20), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (19)

    Role Players/Bench: Gerald Henderson (25), Bismack Biyombo (20), Jeff Taylor (24)

    While the young crop of Charlotte Bobcats isn't going to blow you away right out of the gate, there are some strong franchise cornerstones in place.

    Kemba Walker is knocking on the doorstep of stardom, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist aims to produce more consistently and Cody Zeller may quickly become one of the best under-23 post players in the game.

    Zeller posted 16.3 points and 9.3 boards during summer league play, but it wasn't the numbers that were impressive. It was his poise, court awareness and knack for finding high-percentage opportunities. He already owns superb footwork, a soft touch around the rim and a solid jumper.

    Charlotte might not have a vast collection of young Cats, but it could still make a push toward the middle tier of the Eastern Conference.

15. Sacramento Kings

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    Current Stars: DeMarcus Cousins (23)

    Potential Stars: Ben McLemore (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Isaiah Thomas (24), Jimmer Fredette (24), Ray McCallum (22), Patrick Patterson (24)

    From top to bottom, the Sacramento Kings don't have the most impressive assemblage of youth.

    But the top end is worth the price of admission.

    DeMarcus Cousins isn't just one of the most gifted young big men; he's one of the best big men, period. His strength, fluidity and shot-making ability help him score in bunches, and his stats are only going to get better.

    In the backcourt, rookie Ben McLemore was horrendous from the field for most of summer league, but he showed glimpses of the prowess that made him the No. 7 pick in the draft.

    Sacramento is a couple of major players away from tasting the playoffs, so the only thing to do in 2013-14 is cultivate the young guns.

14. Indiana Pacers

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    Current Stars: Paul George (23)

    Potential Stars: Lance Stephenson (22) 

    Role Players/Bench: Solomon Hill (22), Ben Hansbrough (25), Orlando Johnson (24), Donald Sloan (25)

    Throughout the 2013 Eastern Conference playoffs, Paul George and Lance Stephenson showed that the Indiana Pacers have one of the best pairs of swingmen in the game.

    Basketball aficionados knew about George long before the postseason, but by the time his playoffs concluded, even the most casual fans knew his name. He effectively neutralized Carmelo Anthony in the conference semifinals and then gave LeBron James a healthy scare in a seven-game duel.

    Stephenson made a name for himself as well, primarily by crashing the boards, making timely buckets and delivering on defense.

    Indy doesn't have a glut of young talent behind them, but the overall depth of the squad will compensate for now.

13. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Current Stars: Blake Griffin (24)

    Potential Stars: DeAndre Jordan (25), Reggie Bullock (22)

    Role Players/Bench: Byron Mullens (24), Darren Collison (25), Maalik Wayns (22)

    Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan made Lob City the most famous youth movement in the NBA by destroying every rim from Los Angeles to New York.

    Now it's time for them to put it all together and help Chris Paul win a ring.

    Both high-flyers upgraded their post skills significantly in 2012-13, but consistency is the key moving forward. There were times—most notably the first-round clash with the Memphis Grizzlies—when they folded against superior competition, and that's not acceptable from now on.

    On the rookie front, Reggie Bullock hopes to use his summer league production (18.0 points per game via 42 percent shooting) as a springboard to success on the big stage.

12. Washington Wizards

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    Current Stars: John Wall (22)

    Potential Stars: Bradley Beal (20), Otto Porter (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Trevor Booker (25), Glen Rice Jr. (20), Kevin Seraphin (23), Chris Singleton (23), Jan Vesely (23)

    In 2012-13, we witnessed the early stages of what could be a long-term dynamic duo in D.C.

    When healthy, John Wall's speed makes the Washington Wizards infinitely more threatening, and when his sidekick Bradley Beal is clicking, there are few backcourts that can contain them.

    It took some time for Beal to find his groove during his rookie campaign, but he eventually delivered efficient shooting and quality all-around play. Can he keep his legs out of harm's way and build on an impressive first season?

    The other big question is how much Otto Porter will impact the club. We know he's a respectable two-way player who will compete in all phases of the game, but to what extent?

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Current Stars: Kevin Love (24), Ricky Rubio (22)

    Potential Stars: Shabazz Muhammad (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Derrick Williams (22), Alexey Shved (24), Chase Budinger (25), Gorgui Dieng (23)

    Imagine a world where Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio weren't injured all the time.

    That would be a joyous world for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. Unfortunately, the stars have traded injury stints for the past couple seasons, thus crippling the club's stature in the Western Conference.

    Their talent, however, is undeniable, and if they do happen to play 70-plus games together, Northwest foes are in for a long winter.

    Playoff glory won't be attainable without help from the peripheral youngsters. Alexey Shved needs to be more efficient, Derrick Williams must contribute more consistently and Shabazz Muhammad must commit to unearthing his potential.

10. Denver Nuggets

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    Current Stars: Ty Lawson (25), Danilo Gallinari (25)

    Potential Stars: Javale McGee (25), Kenneth Faried (23)

    Role Players/Bench: Evan Fournier (20), Darrell Arthur (25), J.J. Hickson (24), Anthony Randolph (24), Quincy Miller (20)

    If we were doing an under-25 ranking instead of a 25-and-under ranking, the Denver Nuggets' placement would be quite different.

    For now, they have a prolific trio of 25-year-olds and a lethal 23-year-old athlete.

    Floor general Ty Lawson is just entering his prime, which is a scary notion for adversaries, considering he dropped 21.3 points and 8.0 assists per night in the playoffs.

    In the post, Javale McGee, J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried will continue to jump over and through people. Can Faried implement some finesse in his game?

    The babies of the bunch are Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller, both of whom are seeking to join the regular rotation.

9. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Current Stars: Damian Lillard (23), Nicolas Batum (24)

    Potential Stars: C.J. McCollum (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Thomas Robinson (22), Will Barton (22), Victor Claver (24), Meyers Leonard (21), Allen Crabbe (21), Robin Lopez (25)

    Terry Stotts should have a fun year watching his fledgling bunch grow as a unit.

    The Portland Trail Blazers will have a tough time competing with the elite franchises, yet they'll serve notice to the West that a storm is brewing.

    Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard are already unfazed by the rigors of the NBA, and C.J. McCollum will soon join them. Rip City fans hope Lillard's Rookie of the Year performance was just the tip of the iceberg, and they hope McCollum (21 points per game in summer league) can make it back-to-back ROY's for the Blazers.

    The supporting cast and bench doesn't boast much proven success, so that hurts the club's ranking. But talented sophomores Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver and Will Barton could change that in a hurry.

8. Detroit Pistons

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    Current Stars: Greg Monroe (23), Brandon Jennings (23)

    Potential Stars: Andre Drummond (20), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Tony Mitchell (21), Kyle Singler (25), Peyton Siva (20), Luigi Datome (25)

    Detroit's young lineup is at wide-ranging stages of NBA development, but the Pistons are definitely going to mix things up in the Central Division.

    There are polished pros like Greg Monroe and Kyle Singler, and at the other end of the spectrum are raw athletes such as Andre Drummond and Tony Mitchell. The leadership of the former and the growth of the latter will determine the ceiling of these Motor City upstarts.

    Keep an eye on Brandon Jennings' point guard ventures. His ability to mesh with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith is critical to the Pistons' playoff hopes.

    An intriguing side story to watch are the rookie efforts of guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva. Their contributions in the backcourt could be the factor that tips the scales in Detroit's favor.

7. Golden State Warriors

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    Current Stars: Stephen Curry (25)

    Potential Stars: Harrison Barnes (21), Klay Thompson (23)

    Role Players/Bench: Kent Bazemore (24), Festus Ezeli (23), Draymond Green (23), Nemanja Nedovic (22)

    You're familiar with Golden State Warriors gunners Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, along with thoroughbred rookie Harrison Barnes.

    They're already household names, and they're only getting better.

    While Curry and Thompson continue to sink triples, Barnes and Draymond Green will progress as glue guys whose versatility will stabilize the team.

    An added bonus is the potential of big man Festus Ezeli and summer league star Kent Bazemore. The sooner the Dubs lineup is authentically deep, the sooner they can make a push for the Western Conference crown.

6. Chicago Bulls

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    Current Stars: Derrick Rose (24)

    Potential Stars: Jimmy Butler (23), Tony Snell (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Marquis Teague (20), Erik Murphy (22)

    With an MVP trophy already in hand, the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose is one of the global stars of the entire league, not just the younger generation.

    Windy City fans can't wait to see him back in the lineup, terrorizing Eastern Conference challengers with the threat of exploiting them on every possession. When he's on the floor, the club turns from a gritty playoff team to a championship contender.

    Rose's only substantial help from the non-veteran crowd is swingman Jimmy Butler. The Marquette product saw a huge uptick in playing time his sophomore season, and he responded with commendable results on both ends of the floor. His athleticism and defensive intensity point to a bright future.

5. Houston Rockets

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    Current Stars: James Harden (23)

    Potential Stars: Chandler Parsons (24)

    Role Players/Bench: Patrick Beverley (25), Jeremy Lin (24), Isaiah Canaan (22), Greg Smith (22), Donatas Motiejunas (22), Terrence Jones (21), Omri Casspi (25), Robert Covington (22), Jordan Henriquez (23), B.J. Young (20)

    Dwight Howard's arrival in Houston says a lot about the young ballers Kevin McHale has at his disposal.

    None are more important than James Harden, the sixth man-turned-superstar who lit up the league en route to 25.9 points and 5.8 assists per game in 2012-13. Without him, Houston's rise to relevance wouldn't be possible.

    Harden's supporting cast doesn't end with Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. Sophomore Patrick Beverley wants to prove last spring wasn't a fluke, Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas will battle for low-post minutes, and a slew of rookies will fight for a chance to be a part of the fun.

    We know the ceiling is high, but can they put it all together in their first year together?

4. Utah Jazz

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    Current Stars: None

    Potential Stars: Gordon Hayward (23), Derrick Favors (22), Enes Kanter (21), Trey Burke (20), Rudy Gobert (21)

    Role Players/Bench: Alec Burks (22), Jeremy Evans (25)

    Even if some of the Utah Jazz's "potential stars" don't actually become stars, Tyrone Corbin has an impressive supply of building blocks who will eventually bring the squad back to the playoffs.

    Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward were particularly impressive in 2012-13. Hayward's efficient shooting (42 percent from distance) kept the team afloat at times, and Kanter's physical presence on both ends gives fans plenty to look forward to. According to 82games.com, the Jazz allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Kanter was on the floor compared to when he sat.

    Rookies Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert aren't yet locks to excel in the NBA, so the last thing they should be worried about is stardom. They should (and will) focus on executing each possession and gelling with their teammates.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Current Stars: Kyrie Irving (21), Andrew Bynum (25)

    Potential Stars: Dion Waiters (21), Anthony Bennett (20), Tristan Thompson (22)

    Role Players/Bench: Tyler Zeller (23), Earl Clark (25), Carrick Felix (23), Sergey Karasev (19)

    With five top-10 draft picks, including four top-four selections, the Cleveland Cavaliers are a smoldering volcano ready to erupt.

    That is, if everyone can stay healthy.

    Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum both have injury histories, but if they can play 65-75 games together, the Cavs will compete for the seventh or eighth playoff seed in the East.

    Assuming everyone keeps progressing, a top-four seed should be the goal for 2014-15.

    Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson will be able to shoulder more responsibility this season. Greater production from that trio means less pressure on Irving to be a superhero every night.

    Plug Anthony Bennett into this balanced mix and Quicken Loans Arena will be rocking once again.

2. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Current Stars: Jrue Holiday (23), Eric Gordon (24)

    Potential Stars: Anthony Davis (20), Tyreke Evans (23)

    Role Players/Bench: Ryan Anderson (25), Al-Farouq Aminu (23), Darius Miller (23), Austin Rivers (21), Jeff Withey (23)

    New Orleans changed its name and its uniforms in 2013, but more importantly, it upgraded its product on the floor.

    The additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans give the Pelicans an influx of fresh legs and a truckload of playmaking ability. Alongside returnees Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, these newcomers can take aim at a playoff spot. It won't be handed to them, but there's no reason to set their goals lower.

    While the front line gets most of the attention, it should be noted that Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers are far from reaching their pro potential.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the oldest player on the entire roster is 27.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Current Stars: Kevin Durant (24), Russell Westbrook (24)

    Potential Stars: Serge Ibaka (23), Reggie Jackson (23), Jeremy Lamb (21), Steven Adams (20)

    Role Players/Bench: Perry Jones III (21), Andre Roberson (21), DeAndre Liggins (25), Daniel Orton (23), Grant Jerrett (20)

    When your top two youngsters rival LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, you automatically win the "best young talent" category.

    Such is the case for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the reality is there's much more brewing at Chesapeake Energy Arena than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    Aiding the 24-year-old megastars is a pair of 23-year-olds ready to move up in the food chain. Serge Ibaka seeks to further expand his offense and rebounding, and Reggie Jackson will use his stellar summer league to fuel his third NBA season.

    Jeremy Lamb is somewhat of a wild card, a gifted one capable of scoring in bunches when given the opportunity. If he can earn rotational minutes and have a breakout year, the Thunder will score nonstop for 48 minutes every night.

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