*Part I, featuring teams ranked 9-17, was published last week and can be found HERE.
This exercise was originally slated to include only 10 teams, the ones that are likeliest to beat long odds and emerge as legitimate contenders going forward despite their youth and current standing. But re-building is fluid. Only taking the cream of the crop into account could allow kismet to play too big a hand when assessing the NBA even a year from now, let alone at the turn of the decade.
Using specific parameters on which teams to profile ensured that the entire league wouldn’t be included, and also ensured less-notable cases wouldn’t be negligently overlooked. Here’s the rubric:
- Only players aged 24 or younger before the 2016-17 season begins were counted
- Teams containing four or more of those players made the first cut
- If fewer than four of those guys were deemed less than “likely rotation players” at their reasonable playing peak, their team was eliminated from consideration
After way too much time spent poring over all 30 rosters, we were left with 17 qualified teams and subsequently ranked them in the order from least-to-most likely to succeed. But team building and a player’s potential, as should be abundantly clear by now, is complicated. The strengths and weaknesses of these groups of youngsters deserve much more analysis than a passing glance – hence this operation being broken into two parts.
Without further ado, here’s Part II of the league’s best and worst young cores.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
Core: Jordan Clarkson (24), Larry Nance, Jr. (23), Julius Randle (20), D’Angelo Russell (20), Brandon Ingram (18)
Most will deem this ranking a few spots too low for a team with as many sure-things as the Lakers. All five players here are primed to carve out meaningful roles in the league before their careers are over, and some would argue each has the chance to star. That’s a wildly optimistic perception, though, one proven most outlandish by Nance positioning himself beside or just behind Randle in the race to become Los Angeles’ power forward of the future.
But that positional battle is on the periphery of what most matters to the Lakers both now and going forward. Russell has the scoring and playmaking instincts reserved for superstars. If he continues to work on his body and comes close to his ceiling as a shooter, the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft is poised to emerge as the conductor of Luke Walton’s motion-heavy, uptempo system. That’s hardly a formality, though. Russell’s work ethic and professionalism was consistently questioned throughout his rookie year, and the bright lights of Los Angeles have been blinding for some players in the past. Time will tell.
The Lakers’ biggest prize might be Ingram. Players with his package of size, skill, and coordination are few and far between; the Kevin Durant comparisons aren’t far off. A lack of strength really could be the 18-year-old’s undoing, though. Much of Ingram’s value is gleaned from his potential ability to guard multiple positions down the road. But if his exceedingly lanky frame fills out like Austin Daye’s as opposed to Durant’s, that versatility won’t ever quite come to pass.
Los Angeles got Clarkson to re-sign for a bargain contract, which is especially important considering his fit with this roster isn’t so seamless with Russell and Ingram around. He’s a useful piece during this team’s evolution either way. Randle and Nance are, too, and their battle for playing time under Walton will be much more hard-fought than reputation suggests – particularly after Walton’s hiring.