NBA
July 2, 2020
BY Jay Sanin

10 Best Young NBA Cores, Ranked

The NBA is loaded with young talent, as the current NCAA one-and-done rule gives players a chance to improve without wasting their youth in college for four years while not getting paid.

With the infusion of superstars every year, the league is filled with intriguing young teams who show the potential to win an NBA title in the near future. But which young cores — with key players under 26 — are the most impressive? 

On our list, there are some teams that are already championship contenders, while others aren't far behind. 

Below, we've ranked the 10 teams that boast the best young cores who could one day have the next great NBA dynasty. 

10. Miami Heat

Miami has a history of developing young talent, with Dwyane Wade helping the Heat to win a title early in his career as a notable example. And right now, the Heat have a number of players who could help them to climb to the top of the NBA once again. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have both been better than expected for the Heat, with big man Bam Adebayo also outperforming his expectations.

Adebayo is an interesting case for the Heat, as the center position continues to lose value in a league that continues to prioritize perimeter shooting. But Adebayo, Herro and Nunn all fit together nicely.

While they are currently being helped by the veteran presence of Jimmy Butler, these young stars should have all the tools to succeed on their own when the time comes.

9. Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls have been floundering in the Eastern Conference, and it looks like they will be in the draft lottery again in 2020. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t young pieces in place that could help them in the future.

Zach LaVine is the star in that group, and at 25 years old, he's looking to prove that he's more than just a dunker. 

And with other young players like Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr., the Bulls have a lot to like.

The problem for the Bulls is the current environment around the young stars. There has been news of front office instability, along with issues with the last two coaches. LaVine and company have a lot of improving to do, but that will be difficult without any kind of steady hand to guide them in the right direction.

8. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix has struggled to be competitive in the Western Conference since Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were leading the charge for the Suns. But there are a lot of reasons for optimism in the desert, as the Suns have some exciting young players who may be good enough to change the fortunes of the franchise for the foreseeable future.

Devin Booker is the leader of the Suns’ youth movement. The former Kentucky star has shown that he can score in a number of ways. And DeAndre Ayton has been reliable on the glass, transitioning nicely to the NBA after playing his college ball at Arizona.

The question for the Suns now is if young players like Dario Saric and Cam Johnson can raise their level to become solutions for the team like Booker and Ayton have been.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

While the Minnesota Timberwolves have been nearly irrelevant since Kevin Garnett punched his ticket out of town, the young nucleus that the T'Wolves have assembled is a quality one.

Minnesota is led by phenom Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who has proven himself as a dynamic scoring guard. 

Towns, despite the team's serious lack of winning, has transformed into a nearly unstoppable weapon on the offensive side.

Minnesota has several other young players with plenty of potential, such as Naz Reid and Jarrett Culver.

After previous draft mistakes — remember Jonny Flynn? — the Wolves appear to have a core group in place that could grow into something special. Of course, the history of the franchise would suggest that it won’t pan out, but there's always a chance that this squad breaks the cycle of dysfunction in the Twin Cities.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant is one of the most exciting rookies in recent memory, as his unique brand of explosiveness has made the Grizzlies one of the most fun teams to watch in the league since his arrival. But there is much more to the Grizzlies than Morant, thanks to a set of young players who have all turned heads at one point or another during their careers.

Outside of Morant, the Grizzlies have Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow and Brandon Clarke as key members of their core. With all of these players having experience at high-profile college programs, the bright lights of the NBA have not been an issue.

As long as they all continue to develop, the Grizzlies are in a good position for the future for the first time since the Grindhouse Era in Memphis.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Led by one of the best young players in the NBA in Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks are building something that could be great in the near future. Young is one of the top-five scorers in the NBA at just 21, and he is joined by impressive young talents such as Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Clint Capela.

The addition of the 26-year-old Capela is what could push this team over the top in the future, as Capela is an elite rim-runner in the pick and roll and a strong rim-protector. His defensive abilities — combined with the explosive scoring skills of Young, Collins and Huerter — could make the Hawks one of the most improved teams in the NBA as these young players hit their collective stride.

4. Denver Nuggets

With several key players under the age of 26, the Denver Nuggets have built a roster that looks like it will be downright dangerous for years to come. Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are already in the rotation for the Nuggets. 

The real wild card is former first-round pick Michael Porter Jr., who has shown potential to be a big problem for opposing defenses. 

This young core has already seen some action in the postseason, which bodes well for the team going forward. The Nuggets have already faced tough challenges from the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers in the postseason, with the Nuggets looking destined for a high seed in the playoffs again in 2020. 

The thought of Jokic, Murray and Co. possibly improving further should scare opponents, even in the loaded Western Conference. 

3. New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans received a lot of quality pieces from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Anthony Davis. Because of that, the Pelicans have stockpiled a more than a respectable group of young, talented players.

Brandon Ingram is a budding superstar, while rookie Zion Williamson has lived up to the incredible hype. And with Lonzo Ball developing nicely as a point guard, the Pelicans have the makings of a potential champion in the near future. 

The biggest question for the Pelicans will be the durability of Williamson. The No. 1 pick in last year’s NBA draft suffered injuries at Duke that delayed his NBA debut.

While he has not missed time since then, the Pelicans will have to hope that he stays healthy if the team is going to reach its full potential.

2. Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic is arguably the best player in the NBA under the age of 25, and he spearheads one of the best young cores in the NBA. Doncic is just 21, and looks likely to be one of the faces of the league for the next decade-plus. He is joined on the Mavericks by 24-year-old Kristaps Porzingis, who is already a gifted scorer and could continue to get better if he adds some more bulk to his 7-foot-3 frame.

The only thing stopping the Mavericks from being No. 1 on this list — and a real title contender — is their lack of talent around their big two. 

The Mavs desperately need to find a third player to help shoulder the load. Dwight Powell looked like he could be that third wheel of the tricycle, but he tore his Achilles earlier in the year. 

Either way, the Mavericks look like a team that should contend for championships before you know it. 

1. Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics spent years stockpiling first-round picks, thanks to some ill-advised trades. And they cashed in on those picks with some of the best young players in the NBA, who they have used to remain relevant in the Eastern Conference in spite of some big changes to their roster.

Led by Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics will be one of the top teams in the East for as long as those two are on the roster. During their time with the Celtics, Tatum and Brown have seen veterans like Kyrie Irving and Al Horford leave town.

They have also helped steady the team after the gruesome Gordon Hayward injury. And they have continued to get better and better.

Tatum appears to be the bigger star between the two, but this duo certainly appears to be the best set of young stars in the NBA today.

Photo: Getty Images