Some teams reached the promised land by acquiring stars. We saw the Heat do this with their Big Three. We also saw teams like the Golden State Warriors build a championship through the draft, picking Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green and developing them into a championship core.
Putting together a championship team takes time and patience. But there are still many teams who go through this conventional way of building a winner. During the 2019-20 season, we were witnesses to the birth and growth of young stars who will lead their teams to the future.
Let’s take a look at the best young cores in the NBA in 2020:
1. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans got a ransom for Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles Lakers traded their young core to land AD. In exchange, the Pelicans got Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. Then New Orleans also got lucky by winning the draft lottery, and they were able to pick Zion Williamson. Williamson missed the first 44 games of the season due to injury but once he stepped on the floor, this young team gained confidence.
The year belongs to Brandon Ingram who earned his first All-Star selection after averaging 24.9 points per game while shooting the ball with an effective field goal percentage of 53.9%.
Williamson has been as good as advertised as he’s averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Zion was Rookie of the Month for February 2020.
Lonzo Ball also started to play better with Williamson on the court. Zo’s averages increased to 11.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per 36 minutes while shooting at a 40% clip from behind the three-point arc. Josh Hart has provided the needed spark off the bench and he has been a versatile player who has been able to play the 2,3 and even 4 spots. New Orleans is one of the highest-scoring teams in the league and with a little fine-tuning, they should be playoff contenders very soon.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies were supposed to have a rebuilding season after they officially ended the Grit and Grind era with Mike Conley’s departure. The Grizzlies picked Ja Morant with the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and he has been spectacular. With Zion Williamson out during the first half of the season, Morant played like the #1 overall pick.
- Morant’s per 36 minutes average was 21.1 points, 8.6 assists, and 4.1 rebounds as a rookie, numbers that only Trae Young has matched.
- Jaren Jackson is having his best season as a pro, averaging 17.7 points while shooting 40.5% from deep.
- 21st overall pick Brandon Clarke has been a revelation at 12.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.
The Grizzlies were the 8th seed in the Western Conference when play was suspended and they were one win away from matching last season’s total with still 17 games left to play. Memphis exceeded expectations this year and the upside of this team is immeasurable.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks struck gold with Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. After winning Rookie of the Year honors, Doncic has been nothing short of spectacular. The 20-year old phenom averaged 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game this season, numbers that only the greats Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook have been able to put up.
Kristaps Porzingis also returned from a serious injury and he had an impressive year considering what he went through. The Latvian unicorn 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game while playing as Doncic’s sidekick. If Porzingis continues to stay healthy, he will be a regular 20-10 player.
With the likes of Jaylen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, and Dorian Finney Smith, the Mavericks have a young core that’s going to make them a playoff contender for the next decade. If Doncic and Porzingis continue to grow, they could be title contenders in the next couple of years.
4. Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA today and his numbers prove that. No center in the last 50 years has ever averaged 20.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game. The only other player in the history of the NBA to do that was Wilt Chamberlain, who did it twice. So although he doesn’t have the flare and fancy moves, he was one of the MVPs of the 2019-20 season.
Throw in point guard Jamal Murray who continues to improve as he adds more seasons under his belt. Murray averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game and he possesses a deadly outside shot that is much needed in today’s brand of play. Murray isn’t afraid to take the big shots and that’s what separates him from his peers.
Denver may have found a diamond in the rough in Michael Porter Jr. Porter vanished from everyone’s radar because of his injuries but he’s showed flashes of greatness whenever he was given the chance to play. Malik Beasley is another member of this young core and he continues to be a key player for Mike Malone. Manute Bol’s son Bol Bol has yet to play his first NBA game but he could be a steal like Porter.
5. Boston Celtics
The Celtics have found their next franchise player in Jayston Tatum. The 3rd pick of the 2017 NBA draft has blossomed to an All-Star this year. Tatum averaged 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game this season while leading Boston to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Jaylen Brown also emerged as a star for the Celtics this season. Many wondered how he would be used after Boston drafted Tatum but they have proved that they can be an unconventional duo that could lead this team in years to come. Brown averaged 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game this season. He too will be an All-Star very soon.
The Celtics also have youngsters like Romeo Langford, Robert Williams III, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and the very enigmatic Tacko Fall. Brad Stevens is very good at making the most of whatever talent he has and if the Celtics keep this group together, Boston will be a force to reckon with in the East.
6. Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker was the most notable All-Star snub this season. The Suns’ leading scorer averaged 27.2 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game. He joined Larry Bird and Stephen Curry as the only players to shoot 50% from the field and 90% from the foul line during an NBA season.
Phoenix then picked DeAndre Ayton in 2018 and he has been impressive as well. Save for the early season suspension, Ayton has averaged 19.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. He’s established himself as one of the up and coming big men in the league.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Cameron Johnson, and Mikal Bridges also give Phoenix a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Booker and Ayton are among the best tandems in the league and if they continue to develop and stay healthy, the Suns will return to prominence in the Western Conference.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Former GM Sam Hinkie told us to trust the process and because we did, the gambit has paid off. Although Hinkie is no longer here to enjoy the success, there is no doubt that he deserves credit for the Sixers’ renaissance Hinkie’s sacrifices led to the arrival of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who are the current 1-2 punch of the Sixers.
Embiid has overcome injuries to become one of the best big men in the NBA. The former Kansas star averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Simmons continues to struggle with his outside shot but despite that, he was able to put up 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game.
Philly also has young players like Furkan Korkmaz and Zhaire Smith who have unlimited potentials. The Sixers also hit the jackpot when they picked Matisse Thybulle with the 20th overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft. Thybulle has been an excellent defender who ranked 5th in the league in deflections per 36 minutes and averaged 1.4 steals per game in just 19.5 minutes per game of action.
8. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks missed out on Luka Doncic but getting Trae Young in return was probably the best move for them. While Young doesn’t have Doncic’s 2019-20 numbers, the former Oklahoma guard has blossomed into a superstar too. Young was 4th in the league in scoring at 29.6 points per game and he was also 2nd to LeBron James in passing at 9.3 assists per contest.
John Collins has also emerged as Young’s partner in Atlanta as the big man averaged a double-double with 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this season. Collins should learn much from Clint Capela whom the Hawks acquired at the trade deadline.
Then the Hawks have the likes of Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and Cam Reddish who also have tons of potential that are waiting to be tapped. It’s too soon to judge this team but given the talent on board, they have one of the best young cores in the NBA.