In 2019 several teams with exciting young cores dazzled but finished in the NBA lottery. Those results may have been disappointing, but they allowed franchises to add to their roster and give fans an exciting future to ponder. Last season the Nets, Nuggets and 76ers’ playoff runs were headlined by players still figuring out the NBA. The season before, it was the Celtics’ group that took the league by storm. This year offers another group of talents hoping to take that next step.
Here, we take a look at five young cores hoping to take a leap out of the lottery in the next few years.
1. Sacramento Kings
The Kings shocked the basketball world by finishing ninth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with a core led by point guard De’Aaron Fox. He was assisted by Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles. Hield and Bogdanovic are the oldest guys featured on this list at 26, but neither has over three years of NBA experience.
This group’s potential will largely depend on the improvements of Fox and Bagley. All Fox concerns were erased after a stellar second season in which he showcased the blistering speed and athleticism that made him a top-five pick. Fox also improved to 37% from three and became a defensive nightmare for opponents. Post All-Star break, Bagley took his game to another level, averaging 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds. His production will only improve with more playing time. In games in which he played 30 minutes or more, Bagley averaged 21.2 points and 10.9 rebounds. The Kings have a dynamic duo, two shooters entering their prime and a talented wildcard. Things are looking up in Sacramento.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
Ah, the impact of Zion Williamson. This group will get more TV time than any other team on this list, including a Christmas matchup against the Nuggets. Headlined by Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes, the Pelicans will be armed with dynamic athletes. While the former Lakers trio has spent time together, they have yet to translate it to a high volume of winning. Shooting concerns exist all throughout this group, but the tantalizing athleticism can’t be ignored. Their defensive length will harass teams and the thought of a Ball, Williamson and Ingram fastbreak or constant Ball-to-Hayes alley-oops are frightening. Lob City may have taken its talents to The Big Easy.
3. Phoenix Suns
After being drafted by the Suns in 2018, Deandre Ayton said that he could see himself and Devin Booker being “a little Shaq & Kobe 2.0″. Only time will tell if his bold statement has any truth to it, but the dynamic duo gives Phoenix fans hope for the future. Booker averaged a career-high 26.6 points and 6.8 assists while playing a James Harden-esque offensive role. Ayton became the third rookie since 2010 to average a double double, putting up 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Joining them will be Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, Ty Jerome and Cameron Johnson. Oubre Jr. put up the best numbers of his career in a Suns uniform, and Bridges has earned a reputation as a future defensive stopper. Bridges finished seventh in the NBA in deflections and led all rookies in steals. Winning has been hard to come by in Phoenix, but the pieces are in tact to move forward.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young led the Hawks’ exciting offense to the fastest pace in the NBA last season, but their defense left a lot to be desired, giving up the most points in the NBA. Young, along with John Collins and Kevin Huerter, each lived up to their hype last season. Huerter was billed as a shooter and cashed in on 38.5% of his attempts, Young’s sizzling second half made the Rookie of the Year race closer than expected and Collins averaged 19.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and shot close to 35% from three-point range. Top-10 picks Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter will determine the ceiling of this core. Both of these players have been noted as quality defenders, which is something that is currently missing in this group of young offensive stars.
5. Chicago Bulls
Drafting Coby White seems to reflect the last piece of starters in the Bulls’ puzzle. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen combined to average 42.4 points, and Wendell Carter Jr. teased his offensive potential while showcasing his ability as a defensive anchor. White flashed as a passer and gave Bulls fans a glimpse of his speed at Summer League, but he’ll need time to adjust to the NBA. The defensive development of the players around Carter Jr. is the key to unlocking their full potential.