Ranking the Top Seven Young Cores in the NBA (8/19/22)

The NBA is absolutely loaded with young talent. 

Seven members of my top 25 of the 2022 season are under 25 years old. With all-time greats like LeBron, Steph, and KD aging, the next generation of superstars is coming. 

That being said, who has the best collection of youngsters? Today I’m ranking my top seven young cores. I considered players below 25 years of age as a part of a team’s young core. 

With an honorable mention to Boston (Jaylen Brown aged out), New York (Coach Thibodeau needs to embrace the youth movement), and Houston, let’s get started!

#7: Orlando Magic

Key Pieces: Paolo Banchero (19), Wendell Carter Jr. (23), Franz Wagner (20), Markelle Fultz (24), Cole Anthony (22), Jonathan Isaac (24), Jalen Suggs (21), Mo Bamba (24), Chuma Okeke (23)

Tipping off my list is the Magic. While they lack a sure-fire franchise guy (Banchero projects to be that but he hasn’t played a game yet), they have perhaps the deepest group of up-and-coming talent in the league. Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz, and Cole Anthony all have star+ upside. Jonathan Isaac was an All-Defensive caliber guy when last healthy. Jalen Suggs struggled in his rookie campaign but still has plenty of time to prove why he was a top-five pick. Odds are at least three of Orlando’s core will end up as top fifty players, and that’s a super solid foundation. Combine that with rotational pieces like Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke and this squad projects to be near the top of the conference in five years. 

#6: Detroit Pistons

Key Pieces: Cade Cunningham (20), Saddiq Bey (23), Jaden Ivey (20), Jalen Duren (18), Isaiah Stewart (21), Killian Hayes (21), Marvin Bagley III (23), Hamidou Diallo (24), Kevin Knox (23)

Four seasons ago, Detroit’s roster featured Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson. Now under the guidance of Troy Weaver (who was appointed as GM in 2020), they have undergone a quick rebuild that has set them up for the next decade and beyond. 2021 first-overall pick Cade Cunningham will be one of the best guards in the NBA one day with his combination of playmaking and three-level scoring. He and rookie Jaden Ivey form a formidable pairing in the backcourt. Saddiq Bey has 20 PPG written all over him. Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart are a fantastic big man tandem. Those five, along with other past lottery picks such as Marvin Bagley, compose a top seven young core. 

#5: Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Pieces: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (24), Chet Holmgren (20), Josh Giddey (19), Luguentz Dort (23), Tre Mann (21), Darius Bazley (22), Jalen Williams (21), Ousmane Dieng (19), Aleksej Pokusevski (20), Aaron Wiggins (23), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (21)

The best player mentioned up to this point, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is already a top 25 player and he’s entering his fifth season. Surrounding him is a tremendous assortment of exciting youngsters. Josh Giddey is an elite passer after just one campaign in the league and his potential is limitless. Chet Holmgren is a monster in the paint who would win a DPOY one day, and he possesses unusual skill for a seven-footer which makes him a scary good talent. Lu Dort is one of the better wing defenders in the game and will be a starter for a long time. I didn’t even consider draft picks in this ranking- the Thunder will be even better as they continue to add to their plethora of young studs. 

#4: Atlanta Hawks

Key Pieces: Trae Young (23), John Collins (24), De’Andre Hunter (24), Onyeka Okongwu (21), AJ Griffin (18), Jalen Johnson (20)

At just 23 years old, Trae Young is one of the best point guards in basketball. He’s a ridiculously talented offensive player- his pairing of electric scoring and playmaking wizardry is lethal. He alone is almost enough to propel Atlanta on this list, but his teammates elevate them into the top five. Young and John Collins are one of the most effective pick-and-roll duos. De’Andre Hunter could be one of the league’s best 3&D forwards in the near future. Onyeka Okongwu is their long-term center. AJ Griffin can shoot the skin off the ball. The Hawks should be making a lot more Conference Finals appearances soon behind Trae Young and company. 

#3: Memphis Grizzlies

Key Pieces: Ja Morant (23), Desmond Bane (24), Jaren Jackson Jr. (22), Ziaire Williams (20), Jake LaRavia (20), Xavier Tillman Sr. (23), Santi Aldama (21), David Roddy (21), Kennedy Chandler (19)

Ja Morant is a transcendent talent. His meteoric rise into top-ten conversations accelerated Memphis’s rebuild and they are now one of the better teams in the West. At his side, he has deadly shooter Desmond Bane and defensive beast Jaren Jackson Jr. who both landed just outside my top fifty of the 2022 season. Grind City is also adding a deep rookie class headed by Wake Forest product Jake LaRavia. The future of the Grizzlies is just as exciting as it is watching them.

#2: Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Pieces: Darius Garland (22), Evan Mobley (21), Jarrett Allen (24), Collin Sexton (23), Isaac Okoro (21), Ochai Agbaji (22)

Behind Darius Garland’s big-time breakout, the Cavaliers were the Cinderella story of the 2021-22 season. Garland’s fabulous floor generalship and crafty scoring will put him in top point guard discussions for years to come. Behind him is the menacing twin-tower pairing of first-time All-Star Jarrett Allen and Rookie of the Year finalist Evan Mobley. Collin Sexton’s microwave scoring rounds out a squad that is set to rule the East very soon. 

#1: New Orleans Pelicans

Key Pieces: Zion Williamson (22), Brandon Ingram (24), Herb Jones (23), Trey Murphy III (22), Dyson Daniels (19), Jaxson Hayes (22), Jose Alvarado (24), Kira Lewis Jr. (21)

Sitting atop the rankings is the Pelicans. The pairing of two top 25 talents with limitless potential, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, will make New Orleans serious competitors in the West as soon as this upcoming season. Their contending rotation is in development as well, headlined by the inaugural Bench Mob Player of the Year Herb Jones and 2022 lottery pick Dyson Daniels. The boys in the Big Easy boast the best young core in the NBA. 

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