Grading Every NBA Team’s Young Core: Western Conference

By Max Feldman

Western CONFERENCE EDITION

The rules in place for this assessment are the inclusion of players the age of 24 years old or younger as each teams “Young Core”. While some teams might have limited talent under the age of 24, their star power might largely be in players in their mid to late 20’s who are approaching or in their prime. This is not a grade of each teams collective roster, only their young core. The core is listed out by their longterm value according to FOG.

GRADING SCALE:
A+
A
A-
Elite core in place with a cemented direction for the future.
B+
B
B-
Collection of strong pieces but have various holes to fill.
C+
C
C-
Have one or two pieces in place but lack and identity – unclear longterm direction.
D+
D
D-
Little to no cemented identity or direction. Stuck in a purgatory between a rebuild and contention with a recent history of poor drafting.
FNo pieces for the future. Young core is unidentifiable.

Dallas Mavericks

The Pieces

Luka Doncic (21)

Kristaps Porzingis (24)

Jalen Brunson (23)

Home to the best player in the NBA under the age of 24, Dallas gets an emphatic A grade here. Not much more needs to be said about Luka as his stock his widely regarded as the best young player in the league, a future MVP and potential face of the NBA. It seems hard to believe Porzingis is only 24 years old because it feels like he has been the league for a long time, but when healthy, Porzingis is among the top tier of big men in the entire NBA with his gargantuan frame, advanced feel for the game and elite shot blocking instincts. Brunson has proved himself as a solid, trustworthy ball handler and should stick in the rotation for many years to come. With two young stars in the fold, the future of the Mavericks organization is in good hands, but the young core is still a bit shallow.

What’s next for their core? When you have two young stars, logic points toward filling out the rotation with veterans to bring maturity and locker room experience. Moving forward, the Mavericks should prioritize adding more mature prospects who have played multiple seasons in college or overseas. Floor spacing wing shooters, back court defenders and front court athletes should make up the majority of Dallas’ future selections.

Denver Nuggets

A-

THE PIECES

Jamal Murray (23)

Michael Porter Jr (21)

Bol Bol (20)

Monte Morris (24)

Keita Bates-Diop (24)

Another elite core atop the West. Arturas Karnisovas was an absolute wizard in the Draft room while building up the Nuggets organization. The blend of high, upside young prospects alongside mature, NBA ready high production collegiate players vaulted Denver to top of the Western conference without an All-Star free agent signing. Jamal Murray has continued to improve his efficiency, but still has some work to do. His feel for the game and playmaking ability have developed smoothly alongside Nikola Jokic’s leadership. Michael Porter Jr is healthy now and has climbed into a very strong role, and it’ll continue to grow. Bol and MPJ are both guys who slipped in the draft due to injury concerns but stunted extremely unique skillset and monster measurements. The risk was no doubt worth the reward as both have proved to be worth more than their draft stock when respectively healthy. Monte Morris was selected 51st overall in 2017 but has quietly become not only a incredible fit in the Nuggets backcourt, but also one of the most efficient lead guards in the entire NBA. He makes very few mistakes and brings consistency in a role which is hard to come by these days. His production at Iowa State has translated to say the least, making this pick as well as the Gary Harris pick extremely telling of how Denver’s scouting department is able to dissect which proficient collegiate players have the ability to contribute in alike manner in the NBA.

What’s next for their core? With Karnisovas at the helm in Chicago now, the Nuggets should continue to blend in mature prospects with high upside youngsters. The roster is very deep while consequently being strung thin in terms of the salary cap situation. Capitalizing on cheap, young players who can contribute in their role will be key to determining how far the Nuggets can continue to elevate in the West.

Golden State Warriors

C

THE PIECES

Eric Paschall (23)

Marquese Chriss (22)

Alen Smailagic (19)

Kevon Looney (24)

Jordan Poole (21)

Ky Bowman (23)

Obviously, you can not expect TOO much from a team that has been picking at the bottom of the first round for the last six seasons. Chriss and Looney are two nice young, cheap big men that have brought strong production on both ends for the Warriors. Chriss has bounced around since being picked 8th overall in 2016, but is still just 22 years old and had debatably the best season of his career on the struggling Warriors this season. Eric Paschall was probably the Warriors best player in his rookie season, although that doesn’t mean much as they were the worst team in the NBA. It’s unclear how much better he will get, but he brings a physical, gritty edge on both end that should provide a boost in the rotation when the Warriors are back in full gear. Jordan Poole is a pure shooter and should grow into a role off the bench in coming years assuming he refines his shot selection. Probably a surprise, but Smailagic is my favorite young piece here. He needs to put on more weight and only played in 14 NBA games in his rookie campaign due to injuries, but he showed consistent flashes of strong footwork, great touch around the rim and some surprising power on finishes. Don’t be surprised if the 19 year old develops into a very nice piece in a few years.

What’s next for their core? Nail this top three pick in the 2020 Draft. Those who follow FOG content know which direction I think they should go, a backcourt tool with advanced feel for the game. As appealing as one of the top athletic big man might be this year, they already have a wealth of young options who give exactly what they need in rebounding, hustle and finishing dunks around the rim. Their pick is simply too high to waste on something that holds such low value in their system. Slotting in another ball handler between Steph and Klay might allow Curry to float some more off ball where he has proved to be deadly as well as allowing Andrew Wiggins to carry less of a load and develop some efficiency which has been ever so allusive for him thus far. Add pieces who are ready to win but begin planning for life after the splash brothers. Bob Myers is not accustomed to losing and while this year was an unfortunate sequence of events, the GSW’s should be right back on track to battle atop the West.

Houston Rockets

F

THE PIECES

Isaiah Hartenstein (22)

Chris Clemons (22)

The first Failure grade given out. The Rockets could be in trouble here. They have stretched themselves thin in terms of the salary cap and have given away draft assets over the years to add veterans. They’ll enter the 2020 playoffs at the 6th seed most likely and have been extremely inconsistent in terms of competing. Yes, they have two of the best ball handlers in the entire NBA in their backcourt, but I hate to break it to you Rockets fans, they are both over 30 years old now. I do not think the best is yet to come for Harden and Russ, so when their time comes to move on, Houston could be in trouble. Hartenstein has showed some flashes as a floor stretching big man but injuries and athletic limitation make it hard to rely on him for the future.

What’s next for their core? They are in a bit of trouble here. Denver owns their first round pick so they only have the 52nd pick in the 2020 Draft. With Harden and Russ in the fold, they have to go for it as they are passed the point of no return. In terms of youngsters, they have to make some moves to get some assets back in future drafts. They do not have much room to maneuver but Daryl Morey might need to make the move to plan for the future sooner rather than later.

Los Angeles Clippers

C+

THE PIECES

Landry Shamet (23)

Ivica Zubac (23)

Mfioundu Kabengele (22)

Terrence Mann (23)

This could be considered too high if you’re evaluating on star power or top end potential, but the consistency and clear roles that Shamet and Zubac have solidified at just 23 years old have become essentially the glue of the Clippers ring chase. Shamet has become one of the off ball shooting threats in the NBA, placing in the 97th and 95th percentile in spot up and off screen shooting respectively. Having a floor spacing threat with the deadeye ability of his allows and enhances the performance of Kawhi and PG. Zubac is the former second round pick of the Lakers in 2016, but has grown into a bigger role since being traded cross town. As his body develops, his production will grow as his rebounding instincts and interior touch have always been above average. Kabengele is a nice long term piece with a very mature frame, powerful athleticism and floor stretching flashes. It might be a few years till his production becomes relevant but mentors like Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris should go a long way.

What’s next for their core? They only own the 57th pick in the 2020 Draft, but the future is now regardless. Great scouting is the key to never suffering and stooping to a rebuild phase which the Clips have done a good job. With so many assets sent to OKC in the Paul George trade, there is little room to maneuver in upcoming drafts. Developing these tools into more than role players should be the priority as picks of any value will be hard to come by on this side of Los Angeles for a few years.

Los Angeles Lakers

C-

THE PIECES

Kyle Kuzma (24)

Talen Horton-Tucker (19)

Kostas Antekounmpo (22)

During certain points, the Lakers core, specifically Kyle Kuzma, appeared to be a top end youth core in the West. But, Kuzma has gone from starting 105 games to just 7 in his third season with the Lakers. As playing time has gone down, as his output, efficiency and every single major statistic with the addition of AD in the Lakers front court. Time will tell and his future might not be with the Lakers, but his shot selection, motor and lack of defensive mindset make him a bit of an awkward fit to grow into a larger role in the modern NBA. THT boasts some incredibly impressive physical measurements and was barely even 18 when he was picked in the second round in 2019, so the best is yet to come and the flashes shown with the South Bay Lakers were certainly enticing.

What’s next for their core? After essentially stocking all their rebuild assets and trading them away to get Anthony Davis and chase rings in the final few chapters of the LeBron era, the new youth core simply is not a priority. Making the most of their picks that fall pretty low will be a priority to avoid a future rebuild but it will likely be mostly older, more mature prospects who can bring some contributions spacing the floor or on the defensive end to fill in the roles between LeBron and AD who make up that core. Once again, the future is now for the Lakers.

Memphis Grizzlies

THE PIECES

Ja Morant (20)

Jaren Jackson Jr (20)

Brandon Clarke (23)

Dillon Brooks (24)

De’Anthony Melton (22)

Grayson Allen (24)

Tyus Jones (24)

Justise Winslow (24)

Jontay Porter (20)

Josh Jackson (23)

Not too much explaining to do here with an EASY A, but it is incredibly frightening for the rest of the West that the star power on this Grizzlies roster is still so young. Jaren Jackson Jr is still just 20 years old after two seasons in Memphis with consistent, gradual improvement from his freshman to sophomore campaign. The addition of Ja alongside Jaren has brought the optimism that many hoped for. Two future All-Stars at just 20 years old put the Grizzlies in fantastic position longterm, but the short term has not been a struggle as the Grizzlies are in the playoff picture already. Ja’s talent is well known and should anchor the franchise for the decade ahead with his refined flare and uber athleticism. Brandon Clarke was noted as a steal the night the 2019 NBA Draft ended and that followed through in year one. Clarke was one of the most efficient players in the entire league as a P&R roll man and in transition, so the development of his overall skill moving forward will be a cherry on top for the Griz. Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton, two former Pac-12 standouts and second round picks, have quickly solidified themselves as strong rotational fits in their respective roles as two-way scorers with toughness and elite motors.

What’s next for their core? Boston owns their pick this year but that should not be too much of a problem. Of all 32 teams, Memphis has one of the most set young cores. Different than most other situation where more roles need to be filled within the core or overall direction has to be built, Memphis simply has to focus on the development of these youngsters. Cap space is available but Zach Kleiman and the rest of the front office would be wiser to develop this core for a few seasons until they are approaching their peak but retain their cheap contracts and then add maximum contract talent to chase rings. The top of the West is ultra competitive at this point and Memphis is not quite in the picture yet, but their timeline brings extremely high optimism as potential contenders 4-5 years down the line.

Minnesota Timberwolves

THE PIECES

Karl Anthony-Towns (24)

D’Angelo Russell (24)

Jarrett Culver (21)

Malik Beasley (23)

Josh Okogie (21)

Juan Hernangomez (24)

Omari Spellman (22)

Jarred Vanderbilt (21)

Naz Reid (20)

Jacob Evans (23)

Another very, very easy A. KAT and D Loading have both completed 5 NBA seasons and have already eclipsed the All-Star mark. The addition of D’Angelo Russell has accelerated the rebuild and was a strong move to off-load a frustrated Andrew Wiggins. With the star factor in full effect in the front and back court, Scott Layden has done a fantastic job filling roles with high floor prospects in the last few drafts while also maneuvering multiple trades to add young talent. Jarrett Culver has all the tools to grow into a multi-faceted scoring option on the offensive end and a versatile perimeter tool on the defensive end. Josh Okogie has become a premier perimeter defender with his ability to guard the 1-3 using his massive wingspan, mature physicality and high level athleticism. Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid are two front court pieces I am higher on than most. Vanderbilt’s passing ability and physical development are enticing as play time has been limited through his first two seasons. Don’t forget his name quite yet. Malik Beasley was absolutely incredible in 14 games with the T-Wolves following the trade with the Nuggets, where Beasley was buried in a stacked group of wings. His future as part in the Timberwolves starting group should be cemented as his athleticism, two-way swing ability and blend of slashing and deadeye shooting combine wonderfully with D’Angelo Russell’s crafty ball handling.

What’s next for their core? A top five pick in 2020 adds even more optimism to the Timberwolves franchise. Layden should look to hit it big in adding another backcourt weapon to shore up Russell’s defensive shortcomings and offensive efficiency issues. Defense and athleticism will be the priorities with their top five pick and the 17th overall pick whether it is a wing or a big man to help out KAT. With no gaping holes in the roster, they can not really mess this one up but I do see it being a backcourt option with their first pick and a versatile, athletic big with their second pick.

New Orleans Pelicans

THE PIECES

Zion Williamson (19)

Brandon Ingram (22)

Lonzo Ball (22)

Jaxson Hayes (20)

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (21)

Frank Jackson (22)

The one and only A+ grade given out. Thank you, Anthony Davis! At the end of the day, the trade will likely work out for both the Pels and the Lakers, but what a swipe of assets by David Griffin to start his stint in New Orleans. I never jumped off the Lonzo Ball train and am quite grateful for that a few years later. An article is coming soon on how Lonzo and LaMelo are essentially changing the direction of the NBA with their lead guard skills, but Lonzo’s skillset specifically is too polarizing to not breed stardom eventually. His ability to manipulate an entire game is unmatched. Lonzo’s offensive struggles with the Lakers might just wind up being the greatest thing that ever happened in his career, as he wholeheartedly focused on the defensive end, where he is now a consensus All-NBA defender. In just season three, Lonzo has developed not just into a decent shooter, but a strong perimeter option in New Orleans. Simply put, his development and improvement in three NBA seasons makes me extremely confident he’ll be an All-Star in a few years. Brandon Ingram has come into his own and become one of the best wings in the entire NBA in his first season in NOLA. He surpassed the All-Star mark at 22 years old and he’s only getting better. Zion has not disappointed and has only provided more optimism to spectators, if that is even possible. You can not take your eyes off of him while he is on the court and just continues to produce in an efficient manner regardless of the stage he is on. Just 19 years old, Zion will be a treat to watch for years to come. Jaxson Hayes has room to grow and fits the timeline of the Pelicans to a tee. Still raw, Hayes must develop more touch and improve his IQ on both ends, yet, there still is a ton to like. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a more underrated favorite piece of mine as his size, feel for the game, toughness and opportunity to learn from Jrue Holiday bode well for his future. The opportunity is not quite there yet with veterans like Holiday, Moore and Reddick swallowing up most of those minutes, but he is an impressive talent with all the tools to produce as a backcourt facilitator.

What’s next for their core? The star power is in place so moving forward it should just be about filling in roles. An athletic wing defender in between BI and Zion would make their small ball lineup incredibly dynamic, so I would opt for that direction. Wing shooting should be the other option in this years draft to assist in spacing and diversifying their core. There should be no doubt league-wide that the Pelicans own the most dynamic young core.

Oklahoma City Thunder

B+

THE PIECES

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (21)

A wealth of future draft picks

Darius Bazley (20)

Luguentz Dort (21)

Terrence Ferguson (22)

Isaiah Roby (22)

Hamidou Diallo (21)

SGA is really the only future star in this group, but thanks to the Paul George/Clippers exchange, there is plenty of opportunity to find more in the coming years. The trade resulted in the most future draft picks exchanged in one trade in NBA history. The Thunder surpassed expectations this year to say the least, and Shai’s development as a dynamic three-level scorer was a driving force. His playmaking output should naturally rise as tools are added over the next few seasons. He’s not an explosive athlete, but his skill level is over the top with incredible touch in the mid-range, mature feel in the P&R and a unique finishing ability with impressive finesse. Bazley was a mysterious prospect entering the 2019 Draft, but the Thunder took a shot and I do think it will pan out down the line. Long arms, athletic burst and positional versatility make Bazley a piece to count on as the Thunder build for the future. Dort somehow went undrafted in 2019, but landed in OKC, produced effectively specifically on the defensive end, and now has locked down a 4 year contract with the Thunder. He showed flashes as a lockdown defender on the 1-3 position and showed strong perimeter flashes on the offensive end. Ferguson’s shooting numbers dipped this year, but has a natural stroke and explosive vertical atheticism. Roby was another nice find in the second round who has all the tools to produce as a high motor, athletic rim runner following a Brandon Clarke-esque role in OKC. Sam Presti is one of my favorite General Manager’s in the NBA who is not afraid to make the risky pick and is heavily reliant on his feel for organizational and league-wide direction. The Thunder had nothing to gain from tanking this year and subtly are competing out West. Whether or not it lasts, the Thunder are in great hands with Presti’s innovative mind and bold eye for talent.

What’s next for their core? Wing talent. Dort, Ferguson and Diallo all can grow into solid roles, but do not provide star power. Adding more perimeter shooting and diverse scoring ability should allow Shai to become even more dangerous as the head of the snake for the Thunder. Continue to stock pieces and rebuild efficiently with their wealth of assets. Allow Shai’s unique lead guard ability to shine because there is not another young guard in the entire league who is as talented or dynamic as a P&R ball handler.

Phoenix Suns

THE PIECES

Devin Booker (23)

DeAndre Ayton (21)

Kelly Oubre (24)

Mikal Bridges (23)

Cameron Johnson (24)

Cheick Diallo (23)

Ty Jerome (22)

Jevon Carter (24)

Jalen Lecque (20)

Another squad out West that is very, very close to turning the rebuild into competing mode. They’ve stocked up a large group of young assets including two stars in Booker and Ayton. An A grade does not necessarily mean there are not holes though, as their defense is still extremely poor. Devin Booker should be a multi-time All-Star moving forward who will compete for NBA scoring titles year after year. The Suns do not get much attention and for some reason DeAndre Ayton is still slept on as one of, if not the best young big men in the NBA. 19 points, 12 boards and nearly 2 blocks per game at just 21 years old is nothing to gloss over. He should eclipse the All-Star mark before he hits 24 as well. Cam Johnson was a peculiar pick in the 2019 Draft and remains a bit of a question mark as how much he can truly improve at 24 years old already. His role as a wing shooter off the bench should stick in the rotation but might not ever prove to be more. Kelly Oubre has consistently improved throughout his career and is still only 24 years old. His toughness, three level scoring ability and defensive flashes should make him a staple of the rebuild. Mikal Bridges was the first defensive pick the Suns made in years but is proving to be exactly what they need. He has lockdown potential and brings solid wing production that is cherry on top when you have Booker and Ayton carrying the scoring load. Bridges should be a identity builder for what they look to develop into in the new few seasons. Diallo and Carter both bring extremely high motors and defensive toughness. Once a feel for rotations is solidified throughout the Monty Williams era, these two stand out as young assets who will star in their roles. Jalen Lecque obviously screams potential and is just 20 years old, making him an intriguing piece to develop.

What’s next for their core? Oh, this one might get exciting. A playmaker next to D Book and a versatile, switchable, athletic four man have to be the priorities. Ricky Rubio had a solid season but bringing in a high level playmaker that fits the Suns timeline provides even more optimism. What do I think the first move will be with Rubio locked down through 2022? Bringing in a 6’7″ – 6’9″ athletic big with high credibility as a P&R, heady defender. Not only is this a gaping hole in their roster in terms of defensive game planning, but a prospect like that would also blend in nicely with the fast tempo, run and gun philosophy they’ve engrained in the young core. Extend DeAndre Ayton and continue filling these holes. Their plan moving forward is a bit less complicated than most, as their strengths and weaknesses are both well documented.

Portland Trailblazers

C

THE PIECES

Zach Collins (22)

Anfernee Simons (21)

Nassir Little (20)

Gary Trent Jr (21)

Caleb Swanigan (23)

With so much money allotted into Dame, CJ and Nurkic, young options will become all the more important if the Blazers want to solidify themselves atop the West. The four pieces within this young core have not produced on a large scale as of yet, as each was drafted with limited prior experience. Collins has faced his fair share of injury problems but when healthy has provided the flashes that he can step into a big role following the conclusion of Hassan Whiteside’s contract. Anfernee Simons should bring the Blazers fanbase some excitement with his scoring flare, athletic burst as well as advanced ball handling and touch at all three levels. Simons’ role off the bench should allow Terry Stotts to keep the same game plan in place when Dame needs rest. Nassir Little is stil extremely raw and the concerns over his shot making ability remain. His defensive instincts, raw athletic ability and mature frame translate but the lack of production at UNC likely made the Portland front office aware that his timeline would be stretched out. Gary Trent Jr impressed in his second season with his shot making ability and improved consistency. His role off the bench and occasionally in the starting lineup fits the high powered scoring system in place.

What’s next for their core? An underwhelming season in the win column for the Blazers wastes a year of Dame and CJ’s prime, but it does allow them to be on the fringe of the lottery and add a valuable piece to their rotation. A stretch forward who can provide some athletic burst and valuable scoring upside could be key on both ends to take a load off of the back court. Nurkic brought value when he was healthy, providing the idea that when the scoring output is heavily reliant on Dame and CJ, the Blazers are much easier to game plan again regardless of how explosive Dame is at times. The pieces in place still have plenty of room to grow, but the time is now for Portland. There should be some urgency instilled which may lead to selecting more mature prospects this year and moving forward.

Sacramento Kings

B+

THE PIECES

De’Aaron Fox (22)

Marvin Bagley III (21)

Harry Giles (22)

Kyle Guy (22)

In comparison to other young cores, this one could be higher with players like Fox and Bagley in the fold both under 22, but the group is extremely shallow. When healthy this season, Fox continued his quick transition to the league eclipsing the 20 point per game mark as well as showing signs as one of the best back court defenders in the league with his lightning quick hands and impressive instincts. Marvin Bagley has also played in a very limited fashion due to injuries, starting only 10 games in 2 seasons. When on the court, his finishing ability, high level rebounding and athletic burst in the front court are evident. His defending and shooting ability require plenty of development as he enters his third NBA season. Harry Giles has shown signs of shedding his bust label as the former top overall recruit but still has work to do with his body and rebounding volume. Other than the big two, there is not very much that is noteworthy.

What’s next for their core? With too much money allotted in poor veteran contracts and unhealthy cornerstone pieces, the Kings still will be picking at the back end of the lottery. Another scoring option in the backcourt and on the wing are the gaping holes. If Buddy Hield is on his way out come the end of his contract like many assume, infusing another young stud to complement De’Aaron Fox might just re-energize the organization. Vlade Divac has not quite settled on a direction to build in, but another young wing with a bright future and some offensive fire power could be the key.

San Antonio Spurs

B-

THE PIECES

DeJounte Murray (23)

Jakob Poeltl (24)

Lonnie Walker (21)

Trey Lyles (24)

Keldon Johnson (20)

Luka Samanic (20)

Chimezie Metu (23)

The post Tim Duncan and Tony Parker era was bound to struggle a bit and while DeRozan and Aldridge have been a bit of a bandage for Coach Popovich, the current young core has shown some nice flashes. Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson are both two explosive wings who slipped a bit too far in the first round of the two recent drafts. Walker, specifically, brings me a ton of intrigue as his shot making ability expands consequently opening up his driving game which displays his spectacular athletic ability. Learning from DeMar DeRozan might do more good later than it has thus far, but once the veteran’s time comes to an end, I am on the end of the spectrum which sees Walker turning into a high volume scoring off guard. DeJounte Murray has been a FOG favorite who slipped way too far in the 2016 Draft, so respect on R.C. Buford’s end for making some big time picks at the end of the first round to shorten the duration of this rebuild. His defensive prowess should anchor the Spurs back court for years to come as he continues to develop on the offensive end as a primary playmaker. All-Star appearances could very well be in reach for the 23rd year old entering his 4th NBA season. Poeltl is a nice piece down low with shot blocking instincts and effectiveness around the paint. Luka Samanic has not gotten the opportunity to produce yet but that was not the plan when selecting him 19th overall last draft. His pick and pop ability and fluid finishing ability on rolls should settle in nicely next to Murray down the line.

What’s next for their core? The Spurs should hit it big this year with what looks like the 11th overall pick. A big men should be the priority whether it is a stretch four man or an athletic five man who can be groomed under the care of Aldridge and Tim Duncan. They are surpassing expectations for a team transitioning from a franchise altering era of success to a new wave, and while they are outside the playoff picture, these pieces provide plenty of hope. Solidifying the front court with more high ceiling prospects rather than unknown projects should continue their push back into contention. Surrounding DeJounte Murray with both floor spacing shooters and vertical spacers in the paint will be key.

Utah Jazz

B-

THE PIECES

Donovan Mitchell (23)

Emmanuel Mudiay (24)

Tony Bradley (22)

Rayjon Tucker (22)

Miye Oni (22)

The definition given to the B grade range is – Collection of strong pieces but have various holes to fill – so as much star power as Donovan Mitchell provides at just 22 years old, they can not be higher than a B- because using the word “collection” for this group would be blasphemous. Utah owns as top heavy as a young core as any team in the NBA. Mitchell’s success has been well documented, eclipsing the All-Star mark in just his third season at the age of 22. Over 20 points per game in each of his three seasons, Mitchell is among the elite scorers in the NBA and has shown signs of growing defensively with his physical tools. Of course, he is the cornerstone piece for the Jazz and a future Super-Max deal candidate. Mudiay has not quite panned out like many hoped, as his shot remains mediocre and the athleticism he flashed before opting to play in China rather than college has proved to be nothing outside the ordinary at the NBA level. Tony Bradley got more exposure in season three, but still not too much to write home about. The former Tar Heel still needs a few years in the weight room. Taking shots on Oni and Tucker were the right moves, but remain hopeful projects.

What’s next for their core? Another pretty simple case – A lead guard to take Mike Conley’s role and take the playmaking load off of Donovan Mitchell as well as a wing with upside. The Gobert flurry of events could result in a trade eventually if things do not smoothen out, and if it were me, it is the perfect time to move on from the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. An extraordinarily athletic, gargantuan rim runner who still does not much produce much outside of dunks and put backs on the offensive end is approaching his 30’s with a massive contract can be worth a ton to a lot of other teams. If the relationship between the Jazz stars can not be bridged, there is no better time to move him now while his stock is still relatively hot. A new figurehead at the lead guard position should be the priority as Mike Conley seems to be a failed project with injury issues and a $32 million contract for a 32 year old. The Jazz snagged a gem at the 13th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, so anchoring down on the development of Mitchell while supplying him all the surrounding tools to develop into an All-NBA performer should solidify Utah as leader out West in the future, regardless of the bold moves surrounding Rudy Gobert that might be ahead.

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