The Future of the NBA

Image: Caris LeVert of the Brooklyn Nets; photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com

By Pasha Hashemzadeh

As the 2017-2018 NBA season commences tonight, I’ll discuss the NBA’s up-and-coming youth on all levels of the spectrum, sans true rookies. The majority of these players are relatively unknowns, or came on strong late last season. I’ve watched countless hours of each of these individuals, and deem them the next cream of the crop in terms of the youth movement in the NBA. List is in alphabetical order by team.

Atlanta Hawks

Taurean Waller-Prince (SF/6’8′, 220/Year 1/Age 23) – The Jazz drafted Prince with the 12th pick in the lottery in 2016 before trading him to the Hawks. Although he’s had many stints in the D-League, he has been somewhat of mainstay in the Hawks rotation since the All-Star break. Injuries to Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap last season opened up minutes for Prince in the frontcourt, and he took every advantage of them. A 4-block game last season displayed his defensive potential along with his already notable offensive prowess. Look for Prince to give the Hawks every reason to join the starting lineup going forward.

Brooklyn Nets

Caris LeVert (SF/6’7′, 203/Year 2/Age 23) – LeVert might be the cream of the crop here. Despite being held to a minutes restriction stemming from an injured foot, the forward displayed star potential in his lone season in the NBA. The wing has shown versatility on offense – he’s able to run the point, facilitate, and has displayed his athleticism on numerous high-flying jams. His length and athleticism will allow him to become an elite defender with time and coaching. In addition, he has shown himself capable of guarding the opposing team’s top player at times. Look out for LeVert.

D’Angelo Russell (PG/6’5′, 195/Year 3/Age 21) – Although D’Angelo can be unfocused at times, his talent is unteachable. Russell had a late season 40-point career-high game (a Lakers’ record for someone that young), and things are looking up for DLoading. Russell can be an elite combo guard in this league, as his passing and scoring is already there. Consistency on the offensive end and development on the defensive end will be key for Russell. Turnovers have been an issue for him in his short NBA tenure; he’ll need to take better care of the ball going forward. His lateral movement isn’t great, but his basketball IQ is high, so he can at least be serviceable on the defensive end. Some clear strengths with DLoading are length (6’9′ wingspan), pick and roll ability (he handles it so naturally), and shooting (he sets it all up with his shot). His weaknesses are his lack of leadership skills, and his aforementioned lack of aggression. In addition, he seems to have too many games where he just stands there and it snowballs for him. He may be improving with his hands and feet on defense but, as previously mentioned, he does not have great lateral quickness. There are some lack of gumption issues, but the sky is the limit for Russell.

Boston Celtics

Jaylen Brown (SF/6’7′, 225/Year 1/Age 20) – Jaylen Brown is arguably the most athletically gifted player on this list, and really, in the entire NBA. The kid is a high flyer and once he gets his shot down, he can be a very effective two-way G/F. Brown started numerous games last year for the oft-injured Avery Bradley, and while disappointing on the stat sheet and being Devin Booker’s primary victim in his 70-point outing, he flashed some potential on both ends of the floor. Brown is a true project with a lot of upside.

Terry Rozier (PG/6’1′, 190/Year 3/Age 23) – Interestingly, rumor has it that Rozier was the reason Ainge didn’t pull the trigger for Jimmy Butler. He simply didn’t want to include his prized possession in the deal. Many, including myself, believed Ainge significantly reached for Rozier in the first round when he was drafted out of Louisville. Although he’s an undersized guard that doesn’t have a true backcourt position yet, he has shown he can be more than serviceable as a backup guard. Rozier’s biggest asset is his scoring ability. He isn’t known as a great facilitator, but I could easily see Rozier as a 6th man of the year candidate and viable scorer off the bench for the Celtics in the near future.

Marcus Smart (PG/6’4′, 220/Year 4/Age 23) – Many like to criticize Ainge for this pick, but the reality is that Marcus Smart is one of the best backup guards in the league. He’s versatile – he can play both guard positions, and is at times even on the court as the 3. He’s a great on-ball defender and now a proven scorer, with the ability to dish the ball and grab some boards as well. Smart is about as good as it gets on the second unit of a team.

Charlotte Hornets

Nada.

Chicago Bulls

Denzel Valentine (SF/6’6′, 210/Year 2/Age 23) – Valentine was the definition of gumption at Michigan State. Many analysts deemed Valentine a reach in the draft given he was a 4-year collegiate athlete and lacks elite athleticism. To his credit, Valentine filled in serviceably for the depleted Bulls last year and appears to be one of the future mainstays, particularly after GM Paxon shipped away Doug McDermott. Denzel can score at any given time in any given way, and has a very high basketball IQ. Don’t expect him to turn it over much; he can definitely be a player you want on the court at the end of close ball games.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Nothing to see here.

Dallas Mavericks

Nerlens Noel (PF/C/6’11’, 220/Year 4/Age 23) – The Mavericks incredibly gave up close to nothing to acquire this young stud. He’s known as a shot-blocking big with little polish on the offensive side of the game, but he has the potential and willingness to be very good in this league. His shot, which is one of the easier thingd to develop, needs work, but because of his rebounding and defensive ability, the Mavs can currently plug him in games to stop opposing big men.

Denver Nuggets

Will Barton (G/F/6’6′, 175/Year 6/Age 26) – Will the Thrill enjoyed a very nice season with the Nuggets. Denver has one of the deepest rotations of young talent in the league and that Barton has become a mainstay in the rotation speaks volumes to his development last year. Mike Malone has brought the young gun on nicely. Barton can score from anywhere on the floor and has elite athleticism. He has come along as a defender and is a crunch-time-mainstay for the Nuggets.

Gary Harris (SG/6’4′, 210/Year 4/Age 23) – I see a lot of Bradley Beal in Gary Harris. Harris is an elite defensive 2 guard and picked up his offensive game last season with the Nuggets. Should he remain consistent and progress further on offense, he has All Star written all over him. Outside of Avery Bradley, there aren’t many 2s besides Gary Harris that I want covering the opposing team’s guards.

Nikola Jokic (C/6’11’, 253/Year 4/Age 22) – With the emergence of players like Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kristaps Porzingis, Jokic has been largely overlooked by the mainstream media. Jokic leads the way for a Denver team on the verge of making the playoffs with its young and impressive roster. He is arguably the best passing big man in the game, which is reflected in his league-leading triple doubles for centers last season. He has a high basketball IQ, though has a low ceiling in terms of defensive potential because of his lack of athleticis. All-NBA should not be out of the picture for him. Jokic was 5th in the NBA in field goal percentage (0.584) last season. He did this in the first half at Indiana on 3/24/2017:

Jamal Murray (SG/6’4′, 207, Year 2/Age 20) – Another NBA talent scooped up from its farm team – The University of Kentucky Wildcats. A top high school recruit who excelled at Kentucky, Murray was selected 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets. Staying true to their nickname, the Nuggets struck gold with Murray, who overtook Emmanuel Mudiay as the top guard option for the Nuggets late last year. He became a mainstay in the Denver rotation and a big part as to why they were in the playoff race. He’s already the best shooter on the roster. If you leave him open on the perimeter, you can kiss three points goodbye. Murray doesn’t have the makings of a great defender, but his offensive prowess will largely make that irrelevant.

Detroit Pistons

N/A.

Golden State Warriors

Blah. Super-team.

Houston Rockets

Clint Capela (C/6’10’, 240/ Year 4/Age 23) – Capela was the model for consistency on both ends of the floor at the center position last season. Despite splitting minutes with Nene, Capela put up numbers and helped the Rockets reach the #3 seed in the Western Conference last season. With a superstar talent in James Harden dishing the ball, Capela’s transition to the NBA game has been smooth and progressive. Excelling at both rebounding and shot-blocking, he has developed to be a good defensive present in the paint. He’s a highlight reel waiting to happen in Houston’s high-flying offense.

Indiana Pacers

Myles Turner (C/6’11’, 243/ Year 3/Age 21) – Turner was viewed as a project big man coming out of Texas, yet he had an instant impact in the Pacers frontcourt his rookie year. He became the starting center for the Pacers last season, excelling at defensive rebounding and shot blocking. Although the potential to be elite on defense is there, he needs to improve his interior man-to-man defense. He has developed a nice midrange game on offense to go along with his post moves. Consistency will be key with Turner, as he tends to drift off at times in his young career. Turner ranked 4th in the NBA in blocks per game (2.09) last season.

Los Angeles Clippers

Nay.

Los Angeles Lakers

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG/6’5′, 205, Year 5/Age 24) – The former SEC Player of the Year out of Georgia, KCP developed into an elite 3 & D guard under Stan Van Gundy while with the Pistons. He excels at perimeter defense and raised his shooting percentages last season. His offense is about as streaky as it gets, so that is something to monitor with him going forward. Once he gets that clicking, however, he’ll be one of the top 2-way guards in the league.

Jordan Clarkson (PG/6’5′, 194/ Year 4/Age 25) – As a Wizards fan, it was devastating when GM Ernie Grunfeld traded Jordan Clarkson to the Lakers for cash immediately after drafting him. Clarkson excelled as an offensive player at Mizzou, and replaced highly touted second year man D’Angelo Russell in the Lakers starting rotation last year. While he may not be an ideal fit as a starter, Clarkson is a proven scorer in this league, can create open shots for his teammates, and stretches the floor with his vast repertoire of offensive skills. He excels at driving to the lane and creating contact. While not a great passer, he is improving. He’ll be a key cog in the Lakers second unit going forward. I see him as a future 6th man of the year candidate.

Brandon Ingram (SF/6’9′, 180/Year 2/Age 20) – Ingram was highly touted coming out of Duke and didn’t completely disappoint in his rookie year. At times, he flashed elite offensive capability, effortlessly draining shots and getting to the rim. Consistency and aggressiveness were issues with the youngster last season. He has all the talent in the world to be good on both ends of the ball -you can’t teach the kind of ridiculous length he has. Like many of the current Lakers’ youngsters, he needs to keep his head in the game and be more aggressive. He will need to majorly upgrade his defensive performance that was rather awful last season. I do think he will eventually be one of the better defenders in the league. He gets burned, in part, because he often has to guard the opposing team’s best player and the rest of the Laker defense offers him little support. I like Ingram as a future All Star caliber player, even if it might take time for him to develop. His offensive game reminds me of Andrew Wiggins, but Ingram is taller, longer, and seemingly has more potential as a two-way player.

Ivica Zubac (C/7’1′, 265/Year 2/Age 20) – The Zoob. He’s the man, and one of my favorite players on this list. Ex Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak went and scouted Zoob when no one else did, and liked what he saw, enough to draft him in the second round. Zoob has been a pleasant addition to the Lakers young revolution, and it seems like he’s there to stay. Zoob became the starting center towards the end of last season and didn’t disappoint. With an already nice interior game on offense, Zoob has the tools to develop and maintain a midrange game as well. While his rebounding efficiency is good, his interior defense needs work but all the tools are there. Watch out for the Zoob.

Memphis Grizzlies

So much for the Chandler Parsons contract.

Miami Heat

Tyler Johnson (PG/6’4′, 190/Year 4/Age 25) – TJ got paid and should be quietly up for 6th man of the year this year. He was good enough in Miami’s eyes to match Brooklyn’s $75 million offer for him when he was a restricted free agent a couple summers ago. Johnson is a do-it-all combo guard that excels at scoring and creating offense for his teammates. He can shoot the trey and drive it well. He’s been an excellent backup to Goran Dragic and much of the team’s success is due to their strong bench, which includes fellow 6th Man candidate James Johnson. Tyler can shoulder the offensive load when he’s on the court, and will always be in the mix as the go-to guy in key situations on offense. He’s not great on defense, but Miami has enough strong defenders to mask his deficiency. I love TJ as a perennial 6th Man candidate.

Justise Winslow (SF/6’7′, 225/Year 3/Age 21) – Winslow is largely known for his successful championship season at Duke, which subsequently led to his lottery selection by the Heat. Injuries have marred his short tenure in the NBA but the promise is still there for the youngster. He reminds me of James Harden coming out of college, albeit with better defensive and less superstar potential. Once fully healthy, he should regain his position in Miami’s starting rotation. He projects to be solid on both ends of the floor; it’s just a matter of him staying on it. He has an NBA-ready body and can bang with the best of them. He prides himself on his defense and it shows, as both the energy and effort are there. Once he gets his offensive game together, the sky is the limit for Winslow.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Nemanja Bjelica (PF/6’10’, 225/Year 2/Age 29) – Bjelica exceeded expectations with the Wolves last season. Making the most of his minutes, Bjelica helped the Wolves remain competitive last season. A scoring boost off the bench, he can shoot from anywhere on the floor, including his preferred spot on the perimeter. He’s drained 3s all last year, and figures to be a cog off the Wolves bench going forward, though his and defensive liabilities are something to note. In this age of stretch 4s, he fits the bill on the offensive end.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo (PG/SF/6’11, 222/Year 5/Age 22) – Giannis was an All Star last year, but he made this list because his year-to-year progression has been absolutely ridiculous. This Greek Freak has been nothing short of spectacular for the Bucks. He does it all on both ends of the floor: his unique length and athleticism allow him to guard practically anyone on the floor and fly through the lane for highlight reel jams, along with opening up his teammates for easy buckets. Giannis is a superstar and has MVP written all over him. He led the Bucks in all five major statistical categories last season, a very rare feat.

New Orleans Pelicans

Will Boogie stay?

New York Knicks

Willy Hernangomez (C/6’11’, 240/Year 2/Age 23) – Willy made his mark last season when Joakim Noah went down. Aside from occasionally getting in foul trouble, he did not disappoint. He flashed double-double potential, and is an above average rim protector. Although the age of the big man is upon us with the emergence of so many young studs, Willy will be a serviceable big man in the Knicks’ rotation going forward.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Josh Huestis (F/6’7′, 230/Year 4/Age 25) – Huestis is largely unknown as he has played sparingly for the Thunder and has spent most of his time on their D-League squad. I’m writing about him purely based off what I saw from him at Stanford where he played alongside fellow NBA big man Dwight Powell (Dallas’ forward/center). He’s got true grit for a youngster, and has the size to be a serviceable 4 in the NBA. He has a polished game and a high basketball IQ, rarely committing turnovers. He can dish, rebound, score inside and out, and plays aggressive defense. I see him as a mainstay in the Thunder rotation in the near future.

Orlando Magic

Aaron Gordon (SF/6’9′, 220/Year 4/Age 22) – Gordon entered the league fresh off a successful freshman campaign at Arizona, where he displayed his drool-worthy athleticism. Gordon’s development has been slow but his shot has significantly improved. His shot still needs practice and he must become more consistent on the offensive end. He has the potential to be an All NBA defender, and is only getting better at defending opposing wings. Once Gordon pieces together his offensive game, he’s got All Star potential on this young but talented Orlando squad.

Mario Hezonja (SG/6’8′, 218/Year 3/Age 22) – The highly selected European SG talent’s transition to the NBA game has not exactly been smooth. His game tape coming into the NBA showed a high-flying athletic combo guard that can dish the ball and sky for dunks and blocks all while displaying elite shooting form and touch from the perimeter. He’s played limited minutes in Orlando where he has failed to impress, but I include him here because he’s still very young and athletically talented. He’ll need a good mentor to improve his overall game, and hopefully, HC Frank Vogel is the right man for the job. Should he hit his ceiling, he’ll be a more than serviceable athletic sharpshooter for the Magic.

Elfrid Payton (PG/6’4′, 185/Year 4/Age 23) – Elf can drop a triple-double on any given night but consistency remains his issue. His tendency to disappear in games forces Vogel to bench him at times. If Elf gets his head completely in the game, he’ll be the floor general the Magic aspire him to be. He’s an elite rebounder for a PG of his size. He finds his teammates in good spots, and sets them up for success on offense. While his shot isn’t great, it has vastly improved since he first entered the league, when he struggled to shoot with much success. He’s not afraid to take it to the hole, and despite his size, he is gifted athletically and can be a good defender at the PG spot.

Philadelphia 76ers

Robert Covington (SF/6’9′, 225/Year 5/Age 26) – A great 3 & D wing option, Sir Robert Covington has become a mainstay in the Sixers starting lineup dating back to last season. He’s had good success guarding some of the league’s elite wings and is a promising piece to the young Sixers core. While not always aggressive offensively, he can take it to the hole when he wants. His 3-point shooting percentage has increased and he is a good offensive option on the perimeter. Additionally, he absolutely smothers opposing wings on the defensive end.

Joel Embiid (C/7’0′, 250, Year 2/Age 23) – Greg Oden 2.0? I certainly hope not but his knee issues are very bothersome. The Sixers, who traded away a top draft choice in Nerlens Noel for seemingly nothing with the hopes that Embiid would be their future big man, should be especially concerned. Hopefully this is a minor setback for a major comeback for the uber-talented big man. He was putting up All Star caliber numbers prior to his injury last year, and he showed the ability to do everything on offense and defense. He has Anthony Davis-type talent, or Anthony Davis has Joel Embiid-type talent. Health is a major concern, but should that not be an obstacle going forward, Embiid will play in many All-Star games, be on many All NBA and All Defensive teams, and has HOFer written all over him. No exaggerations here.

Richaun Holmes (F/C/6’10’, 245/Year 3/Age 24) – Holmes has proven to be a serviceable big man for the Sixers. He has filled in for Embiid, Okafor, and Noel in the past, and has displayed impressive rebounding and blocking skills. Although he has much work to do, Holmes has shown he can occasionally play in the post and even hit a three pointer from time to time. He also guards the perimeter well, which is a plus given the numerous stretch 4s he faces across the league. Foul trouble is an issue that needs to be fixed. Holmes can be a good rotational player for the Sixers going forward, as he brings the energy every night.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (G/F/6’6, 205/Year 2/Age 22) – He might be the most unknown player that is currently in an NBA rotation. The young Frenchman has flashed his talent in limited NBA action. Filling in as the starting wing for Robert Covington on several occasions last season, Luwawu displayed an ability to score from the perimeter and drive through the lane for buckets. He’s very long and athletic, with good potential on the defensive end of the ball. His shooting touch and form is very natural, but he still has a long way to go on both ends of the floor. I like him as a mainstay in the Sixers young rotation going forward. Luwawu started against the Nets on 3/28/2017 and posted this gem: 17 points (3 3-pointers), 3 assists, 9 rebounds, a steal, and a block in 33 minutes. Look for more starts from the youngster going forward as the Sixers evaluate their team for the future.

Dario Saric (PF/6’10’, 245/Year 2/Age 23) – After a few years of toying with the idea of coming over from Europe, Saric finally did and has done nothing but impress. Now the starting 4 for the Sixers, Saric is the prototypical modern-day stretch 4 and figures to be a mainstay in the team’s starting lineup going forward. While many consider him to be a great shooter, Saric was actually shooting just 32% from beyond the arc for a good stretch last season. I don’t believe that to be his true strength; I think he’s more like Lamar Odom, but with gumption. He’s big but one who can be a facilitator and run the offense. He is a good rebounder but can also take it full court and score or make a great pass. His ceiling remains high because his biggest weakness (shooting) can be easily improved. He’s definitely got the ‘clutch’ factor as well. Saric is good on the defensive front with room to improve his interior defense. He’s a future All Star.

Ben Simmons (G/F/6’10, 240/Year 1/Age 21) – While many deemed Andrew Wiggins the ‘next LeBron’ and generational talent, I truly believe Simmons is closer to that guy than any recent prospect. Losing his rookie year to a broken foot, Simmons remains a key part of the Sixers future. He is a point-forward that has the ability to get all his teammates involved offensively. Simmons’ passing ability is elite for his size, and he figures to have the ball in his hands most of the time he’s on the court. Defensively, he can guard 1-5 and his versatility will be on display once he hits the court. His length and stature are huge plusses on the defensive end of the floor. Once Simmons gets his shot down, he’ll be an All Star with superstar caliber potential.

Phoenix Suns

Devin Booker (SG/6’6′, 210/Year 3/Age 20) – When talking about the best pure shooters in the game, Booker’s name has to be in the discussion. He’s a silky smooth shooter and can score in bunches. He’s not limited to just midrange or 3 pointers either – the young gun can drive the ball and throw a nice dish from time to time as well. He can certainly improve on the defensive side of the ball, and has the potential to do so. As Booker’s offense grows and his defense develops, he’ll be an All-Star caliber player in no time for the Suns. Booker dropped a 70 point gem on the Celtics, with subsequent praise from NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and Juancho Hernangomez.

Marquese Chriss (PF/6’10’, 230/Year 2/Age 20) – A rookie lottery pick for the Suns, Chriss was in the starting lineup at the 4 for much of last season. The athletic specimen has shown some versatility to his game on offense – hitting 3s, getting into the lane, finding open players, but hasn’t performed well on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, his flashes on the floor are a positive sign for the Suns, who are a young, developmental team. He has great vertical leaping ability, displayed by his sky-high blocks last season. Despite some success, he was a liability on defense for the Suns last year, failing to close out on the perimeter and getting beat regularly in the paint.

Tyler Ulis (PG/5’10’, 160/Year 2/Age 21) – Gumption. The small PG out of Kentucky proved more than serviceable with the Suns in full tanking mode last season since Eric Bledsoe was listed out for the year. Ulis was dishing out double digit assists most nights and makes his teammates better – both with his play and attitude. He takes command of the game for the Suns and has a shot that drops. I love Ulis’ grit and effort, and see him as a key backup PG for the Suns going forward. Ulis was a mainstay as the Suns starting point guard with Bledsoe and Knight being shut down for the year. With the heavy minutes he played, Ulis was a double double machine with points and assists. Look for him to give the Suns every incentive of keeping him in their future plans.

T.J. Warren (SF/6’18’, 225/Year 4/Age 24) – During his stellar ACC Player of the Year sophomore season at N.C. State, Warren proved to be an elite offensive wing, making it a rather smooth transition for him over to the NBA. He has shown that he can do it all on offense. A player you can count on down the stretch, he can be a go-to guy in key situations. He will never be an elite defender as his main focus is getting buckets, but he can at least be serviceable guarding the perimeter. I like Warren as a top option on offense for the Suns going forward, and he figures to remain a vital figure in the Suns explosive young offense that includes Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker. The Suns are thrilled with his progress and his shooting percentage was incredible following last year’s All-Star break.

Portland Trail Blazers

Moe Harkless (SF/6’9′, 220/Year 6/Age 24) – Harkless came into the league with a reputation for having a lot of upside. While it’s been a slow development for him, he’s finally become a regular in an NBA starting rotation after some good play on the wing for the Blazers last season. The Magic appeared to give up on him when they traded him to the Blazers but he has found a home in Portland. With their young backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum locked up for years, Harkless hopes to be a mainstay in the Blazers rotation, and has good upside on both defense and offense. Harkless can stretch the floor, hit the trey, and attack the rim. His defense remains a work in progress, but, as mentioned, the ability is there.

Jusuf Nurkic (C/7’0′, 279/Year 4/Age 23) – Mason Plumlee had been hitting on all cylinders for the Blazers last season. It came as a surprise when they opted to trade him for Nurkic and a pick, but they seem to be right in what they saw with Nurkic. The young and talented big man is limited athletically but makes up for it as he is a smart rebounder, can dish the ball better than average for a big man, and is a strong scoring option for the Blazers on the interior. He will never be elite, but he’s definitely in the running to remain the Blazers starting center for the foreseeable future. Nurkic dropped 33 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 33 minutes against his former Nuggets on 3/28/17.

San Antonio Spurs

Dejounte Murray (PG/6’5′, 170/Year 2/Age 21) – Tony Parker missed a decent amount of time last season, allowing Murray to garner a few starts. The Spurs are the best at developing their players (e.g. Kawhi Leonard) and Murray is their next project at PG. He flashed playmaking ability and good eyes in small doses. He was sent down to the D-League at times last year to get more playing time as the Spurs went down the stretch with Patty Mills backing up Parker, but don’t be surprised to see Murray in the rotation as soon a this year. His length is a huge strength as he has a 7 foot wingspan, which should enable him to become an elite defender. He projects as a solid backup combo guard for the Spurs and should be in their future plans.

Sacramento Kings

Willie Cauley-Stein (PF/C/7’0′, 240/Year 3/Age 24) – I’ll admit, I thought this guy would be a total bust as a lottery pick. He’s proven me wrong. Since the Kings decimated their roster with the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Cauley-Stein has found a home as the starting 4 for the Kings. He has the ability and length to play both the 4 and 5 spots, and can be an elite defender in this league. He reminds of Tyson Chandler, with possibly more upside on offense. WCS figures to be a key cog on this young roster going forward.

Skal Labissiere (PF/6’11’, 225/Year 2/Age 21) – Skal is up there with LeVert on this list for me. Despite not having much action in either college or the pros, he has displayed incredible value for the Kings when he is on the court. He isn’t close to polished, but his flashes on both offense and defense – represented by a 32 points (11-15 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 9-11 FT), 11 rebounds, and two steals performance across 30 minutes during a late season win over the Suns – should make the Kings feel really good about the future prospects of their frontcourt. Skal displayed his versatility in 3/24/2017 loss to the Warriors by posting a 10-8-10 line, two assists shy of a triple double. Look for Skal to emerge this season as a key figure in the Kings rotation.

Toronto Raptors

Not much outside of their studs.

Utah Jazz

Rudy Gobert (C/7’1′, 250/Year 5/Age 25) – Rudy Gobert is well-known in NBA circles, but the fact that this guy got basically no traction for last year’s All Star game was absurd. He’s an elite center talent on a team with a decent grasp on a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference. Gobert is an elite shot-blocker and rebounder with the ability to get into the lane for jams at ease. His touch around the rim has only gotten better with his time in the league and his ability to protect the rim will keep the Jazz as an elite defensive team for years to come. If not for all the other ridiculous young talent in the frontcourt among Western Conference rosters, Gobert would’ve easily been an All Star this year. Don’t be surprised to see this big man consistently on All NBA rosters in the near future.

Rodney Hood (SG/6’8′, 215/Year 4/Age 24) – Hood was a stud at Duke and it didn’t take long for him to get the starting SG spot in Utah’s rotation. He’s battled injuries of late, but should be good to go for the start of the new NBA year. He’s a great shooter and has really developed his offensive game well in his short NBA tenure. With Gordon Hayward out of town, look for Hood to be a go-to player down the stretch in games for the Jazz. What’s surprising with Hood is how he’s able to create offense for others. He’s improved his handles and attacks a lot instead of just shooting. I project him to see his fair share of All Star games in the near future, with the Jazz boasting a good amount of young potential.

Ricky Rubio (PG/6’4′, 190/Year 7/Age 26) – You may ask why I’m including veteran Ricky Rubio on this list. Coming into the league, he was a victim of his own success abroad, as many with high expectations had deemed the kid an All Star before he ever stepped foot onto an NBA court. While his development was slow and painful for Wolves fans, he significantly stepped up his game last season. Now with the Jazz, he has cemented his status as one of the league’s best passers, along with making significant progress in his scoring game. He has shown the propensity to get to the rim and either score or create open shots for his teammates. Rubio’s on-ball defense will never be great due to his athletic limitations, but his high basketball IQ will keep him serviceable on that end and he has shown the ability to be among the league’s leaders in steals.

Washington Wizards

Kelly Oubre (SF/6’7′, 205/Year 3/Age 21) – Prior to the acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings last season, along with Ian Mahimni returning from injury, Oubre was the Wizards’ first player off the bench. Washington had one of the worst benches in the league before the trade deadline, which gives you an idea of why Oubre was getting so many minutes early in his career on a team with an talented starting 5. A great athlete with elite length, Oubre should become a great 3 & D player for the Wizards off the bench once he develops his shot. I like Oubre as the Wizards’ 6th man going forward, as it’ll be tough for him to crack the starting rotation with the Wizards having locked up Porter for years.

Otto Porter (SF/6’8′, 205/Year 5/Age 24) – Ottobot came to full fruition last season. He led the league in 3 PT%, though much of this can be credited to John Wall’s offensive aggression in the paint creating open shots for him. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing feat for such a young player. 3 & D is not adequate in describing Porter. He can rebound, facilitate, and is already such a polished defender on the perimeter, on-ball, you name it. Porter is one of my favorite up-and-coming wings. Stay tuned.

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