Up until it doesn’t, the future in the NBA always seems so far away. The Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton recently had the league’s top young cores. In a short amount of time, all three teams have already been in the NBA Finals, with the Nuggets taking home their first championship this past June.
The league’s next round of bright young cores is now completely beginning to take shape. Over the past three years, the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons have each selected three players in the top five of the draught. Over the same period, the Oklahoma City Thunder have selected five winners from the lottery. Young celebrities like Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, and Anthony Edwards have already agreed to maximum contract extensions.
As the NBA enters its summer lull, we thought it would be fascinating to rank the top young cores throughout the league. Participants in the 2024 NBA Playoffs must be 24 years of age or younger when they begin on Saturday, April 13. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Desmond Bane, and Luka Doncic will therefore miss the deadline.
The top young cores in the league would be ranked as follows. The players’ ages are accurate to when they began the season. Despite the fact that Darius Garland and Evan Mobley both fit the qualifying age range, the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t included since they lack at least three core-worthy players.
Top 11 young cores in the NBA, listed by potential
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
By winning 40 games without injured rookie big man Chet Holmgren last season, the Thunder became one of the NBA’s most welcome young cores. Oklahoma City has the opportunity to quicken its reconstruction and establish itself as a major player in the Western Conference with the former No. 2 overall choice scheduled to make his debut this year. The Thunder are ranked No. 1 on our list despite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just missing our age cut-off because of how nicely each of their components compliment SGA’s game. The remainder of the roster has been filled up by OKC with the ideal balance of length, playmaking, shooting, and secondary scoring, with a great shot-creator already in place.
Holmgren has the potential to be exceptional as a 7’1″ big man with exceptional rim protection and offensive connecting abilities. The former Gonzaga player can shoot from any spot on the court, distribute the ball quickly, handle in transition, and attack a closeout in addition to slamming dunks within the paint. Given how successful OKC was without a true centre on the roster last year, Holmgren’s length and defence present an opportunity to elevate this bunch. In addition to Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey are developing into excellent secondary creators on the perimeter. Williams is a very long wing who is skilled at pick-and-rolls, shooting threes, and finishing deftly close to the basket.
Giddey is a huge 6’8 guard who, while having average shooting and athleticism, packed the stat sheet as a 20-year-old last season (16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game).
Cason Wallace will bring brutal perimeter defence and spot-up shooting. Jaylin Williams is a strong, high-floor player who can rebound, guard the paint, and always take the initiative. The unpredictable player in this group is Ousmane Dieng, a young cores wing with length and shot-making skills. If Holmgren stays healthy and SGA continues his superstar turn, the Thunder will be able to fight in the West for a very long time.
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2. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ young cores seems to still be in its infancy, but Victor Wembanyama is the team’s most important player at this point. There is no ceiling on the 7’5″ French giant’s potential, making him one of the league’s most alluring talents ever. Early in his career, Wembanyama’s projection is easier on the defensive end, where his keen reflexes and 8-foot wingspan may one day become him the world’s finest rim protector. He may take a bit longer to develop offensively, but he will undoubtedly become a fantastic play-finisher around the basket with a smooth mid-range and three-point shooting stroke.
It’s difficult to picture a shot generator this large, but if Victor can stay healthy and achieve his high potential, he has the ability to force us to reconsider the game.
More young cores will be added to this mix over time since the Spurs seem determined to adopt a patient approach to team success, but there are currently some solid supporting cast members in place. Playing off Wembanyama, Devin Vassell, a superb off-ball defender who can shoot threes and has begun to develop his shot-creation abilities, may make an All-Star leap. Jeremy Sochan is a very dynamic big man on defence with fascinating passing skills who still has to improve his shooting. A goods train heading towards the basket is Keldon Johnson. Malaki Branham contributes shooting to the backcourt, and Blake Wesley adds rim pressure.
Even though the Spurs don’t have as many players as a club like Houston, Wembanyama’s unique potential more than makes up for it.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
In the previous two seasons, the Grizzlies have won 56 games and 51 games, respectively, making them one of the top teams in the NBA. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., who will both turn 24 shortly before this season, are reminded of how young they actually are by the fact that they are still eligible for this young chores list. With an All-NBA selection for Morant and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy already under Jackson’s belt, they are by far the two most accomplished players on this list. As he returns from a 25-game ban to begin the season, Morant must undoubtedly demonstrate that he can keep the attention on basketball alone.
The Grizzlies are under significant pressure to succeed after trading multiple first-round picks for Marcus Smart this offseason, but the youthful talent surrounding Morant and Jackson Jr. allows them to keep lifting the bar.
Aldama is a strong 6’11 forward with a shot who began to develop last season. As he enters his third year, Ziaire Williams, a long forward with alluring shot-making glimpses, still has to transition from potential to player. Despite having inconsistent rookie seasons, Roddy and LaRavia are the kinds of young cores wing-depth players that every club requires. There are other players like Vince Williams, Josh Christopher, Kenneth Lofton Jr., and rookie GG Jackson who might all contribute significantly to the core this year.
Given their present performance, the Grizzlies have a strong argument for being ranked No. 1 on this list, but without Desmond Bane, because he is too young, Memphis’ youthful collective outside of its two mainstays is still quite uncertain.
4. Houston Rockets
In the NBA, Houston boasts the most fascinating young cores talent. All six of the aforementioned players have a solid chance of becoming high-end starters. The only uncertainty is whether anyone in the mix has the potential to emerge as the top player on a champion team in the future. Because of my scepticism there, the Rockets are only ranked No. 4 on this list. Still, Houston has as promising a future as any bottom-feeding team in the NBA because of the sheer volume of talented young players on this roster.
The first significant component of Houston’s reconstruction was Jalen Green. The 6’5″ off-guard is extremely quick, leaps high, and can easily get to the basket because to his outstanding mix of speed and jumping. Jabari Smith Jr., a 6’10 forward, initially had trouble living up to his reputation as a shooter, but in the long run, he should develop into a solid floor spacer and versatile defender. Amen Thompson, a 6’7″ point guard and the team’s fourth-overall pick in the 2023 draught is a top-1% athlete in the league. Although he isn’t yet able to shoot, his stature, playmaking potential, defensive upside, and rim pressure might make him stand out.
Cam Whitmore was rated as one of the top five prospects overall in the 2023 draught class by us, but on draught night, he fell to No. 20. Whitmore, who just turned 19, may need a few more years of growth, but he already possesses all the skills necessary to one day develop into a devastating scorer. Alperen Sengun is a smooth offensive centre who has to show he can remain on the floor defensively, while Tari Eason is a defensive threat who never relents in his attacks at either end of the floor.
Houston signed Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, Jock Landale, and Jeff Green to high-paying contracts in an effort to hasten its recovery. As the youthful core develops into its own, it is hoped that more veterans will assist in keeping this squad organised and professional. The Rockets may not have many victories to their name just yet, but they do in fact have a promising future.
5. Orlando Magic
With one of the youngest rotations in the NBA, the Magic opened the previous season 5-20. The team’s stellar future may be closer than most people realise, as evidenced by their subsequent 29-28 record. With Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner combining to produce a two-headed monster capable of creating supersized shots, Orlando appears to have its best-attacking options in place. At 6’10” and 250 pounds, Banchero is a huge large who can make mid-range jump shots, body smaller players at the rim, and make some outstanding passes. He was without a doubt the Magic’s best selection in the first round of the 2022 draught.
Wagner, who stands 6’10” and weighs 220 pounds, is almost as dynamic with slithery handling and outstanding shooting skill. Both players have All-Star potential and, if things go according to plan, they may even have All-NBA talent.
Orlando is still working to surround Banchero and Wagner with the necessary shooting and defence. They selected Anthony Black, a massive 6’7 guard with tremendous defensive potential but troubleshooting, with the No. 6 overall choice in the June draught. Their selection at No. 11 overall in the June draught, Jett Howard, is a large forward with excellent shooting skills who suffers on defence because to his average athleticism. Jalen Suggs has established himself as a capable defensive guard, but he still needs to demonstrate his ability to make a clear-cut three-point shot. Wendell Carter Jr., a big man, almost missed the age cut-off but should still be a solid two-way large with the ability to play either the four or the five depending on the lineup.
6. Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham is under greater pressure than most other young cores players in the league this year. The former first-round selection last season was only able to play in 12 games before needing season-ending shin surgery. The 6’7 guard was regarded as having All-NBA talent entering the league, but in his 76 professional games so far, he has struggled as a shooter, finisher, and foul-drawer. I’ve always thought of Cade as a top potential, and perhaps having a healthy leg will make it simpler for him to outduel defenders everywhere on the floor.
Cunningham must achieve his potential if the Pistons’ renovation is to succeed, but there are still many other fascinating young cores players on the roster. Jaden Ivey is a young guard who is really fast and can easily go to the basket, but he still has to work on his shooting technique and develop his passing skills. Jalen Duren has always been one of my favourites since he is a strong centre who can dunk anything. Young and agile, Ausar Thompson is a wing with strong defensive potential and emerging passing skills. However, he still has to improve his shooting.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Edwards would have a strong case to go first overall if we were selecting athletes who were 23 years of age or younger. In addition to being probably the NBA’s most athletic rim-attacker, Edwards has a track record of dominating in the postseason, recently averaging 31.6 points per game on a remarkable 60.2 per cent true shooting in a series against the eventual champion Nuggets. The way that Edwards mixes rim pressure, three-point shooting, and big-play defence is just exceptional. He will soon rank among the top 10 players in the league.
As the kind of four-man squad that other clubs in the league crave, Jaden McDaniels is Minnesota’s next-best young talent. Although McDaniels may never be a major scorer, he is near to becoming exceptional on defence and is capable of stretching the floor offensively, even if he would soon benefit from increasing his volume from beyond the arc. Naz Reid is an offensive centre with tremendous shooting ability, but it’s difficult to grasp all of his potential when he’s buried in the rotation behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.
After falling to the second round, Leonard Miller could wind up being the steal of the draught, but Minnesota can only use him in so many lineups right now given his poor shooting.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Without a doubt, Zion Williamson’s massive frame will support the New Orleans Pelicans as they move forward. Williamson’s outstanding 2020–21 season, in which he participated in 61 games, was when he initially showed signs of having MVP-caliber talent, but he hasn’t been able to play since. Given the trade whispers surrounding Zion this summer, it’s probable that even the Pelicans are starting to lose interest in him. Because of his restricted availability, he has the lowest floor of all the players on this list, but his potential peak is almost as high.
Around Williamson, the Pelicans have some strong young pieces at their disposal. Trey Murphy III, a 6’9 sharpshooter who averaged more than six attempts per game last year and nailed 40.6 per cent of his three-point shots, is comparable in that sense. He makes a fantastic long-term match next to Zion because of his pure shooting stroke. Huge 6’8 guard Dyson Daniels has excellent defensive potential, but he must demonstrate his ability to score against a predetermined defence. Despite not being my favourite first-round selection this year, Hawkins is a superb three-point shooter, which is usually advantageous.
9. Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton is in charge of the Pacers after receiving a five-year agreement for up to $260 million this offseason. In his first three seasons, Haliburton has established himself as nothing less than one of the league’s top young cores, mixing explosive passing with lethal long-range shooting and deft basket finishing. After acquiring veterans Bruce Brown and Obi Toppin in free agency, it’s mostly due to Haliburton’s sustained rise that the Pacers can be considered a dark horse playoff possibility this season.
After his strong start as a rookie partly fell away down the stretch, Benedict Mathurin has a lot to prove. Mathurin possesses the pace and strength to go downhill and finish at the hoop, and his shooting projection is much better than his 32.2 per cent three-point shooting as a rookie would imply. He should be an explosive scoring two-guard. In order to move on, Mathurin must improve his shooting and develop his passing eye.
Jarace Walker, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound wrecking ball, fits in well with Indiana, and I’m optimistic about his future there. He has offensive potential if he isn’t only employed as a floor spacer, and pairing up with Myles Turner, a true stretch five, should give him access to a wider variety of offensive options. Other young cores players on the Pacers with potential include guard Ben Sheppard, centre Isaiah Jackson, and forward Kendall Brown.
10. Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo was mine. Ball was considered the greatest player in the 2020 draught at the time, and despite having a rocky first three seasons in the league, he is still in on his upside. Ball has improved greatly as a shooter; he has a lifetime three-point percentage of 37.7 per cent and was third in the NBA in three-point attempts made per game last season, trailing only Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry. For a man his stature (6′ 8″), Ball has always been a very gifted passer and ball handler.
The next step is to show that he can stay healthy, and utilise his physical gifts and really high level of intelligence to be an every-play defender as opposed to someone who regularly takes chances in the passing lanes and both creates and destroys big plays.
The future of Charlotte’s other young cores players mostly depends on Brandon Miller, whom the team controversially chose over Scoot Henderson at No. 2 overall in the June draught. Miller is a large wing who can run pick-and-rolls and drain threes, but he is not an exceptional athlete. To earn this coveted spot, he’ll need to be a great three-point shooter. Mark Williams is a very lengthy centre who will largely finish plays around the basket and play drop coverage defence. He doesn’t contribute much as a passer or shooter. Nick Smith has the potential to be an explosive backcourt scorer, but he likely needs some experience first.
Charlotte also boasts some underrated players in their core, like guard Amari Bailey, big James Nnaji, guard Bryce McGowens, and forward Kai Jones, all of whom have the ability to shine in the near future.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
Although Scoot Henderson is still extremely young, Portland’s youthful core already recognises him as the franchise’s future face. The explosive 6’3 point guard has an excellent blend of agility, scoring, and playmaking, but in order to realise his full potential, he will need to significantly improve as an outside shooter and become more reliable defensively. Shaedon Sharpe, his longtime backcourt partner, possesses every physical attribute team to look for in a wing. Sharpe has a 7-foot wingspan, jumps like Vince Carter, and an effortless long shot, but he still has to work on his decision-making, passing, and ball-handling skills as well as learning to understand the game from both ends.
Anfernee Simons, who will turn 24 at the conclusion of the current campaign, is also qualified for inclusion on this list. Simons is an excellent scorer at all three levels, but because he lacks Henderson’s size, strength, and defensive potential, he is not the best partner for Henderson. He should have great trade value even if he is not a good long-term match. The quality of the return in the upcoming Damian Lillard trade will decide Portland’s future.
So these are the Top 11 young cores in the NBA. Do let us know your reviews in the comments section below.