Brandon Jennings recently joked about assembling a superteam in the future of current second-year players, consisting of himself, Tyreke Evans, and Stephen Curry.
He was obviously poking some fun at the Heat’s recent moves to team up LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in order to compete with the Lakers. He might also have been referencing the Lakers who made sure to get Pau Gasol three years ago to team up with Kobe Bryant in order to compete with the Celtics. Jennings might have also been referring to the Celtics who assembled Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce in the summer of 2007. And don’t forget that Amar’e Stoudemire is already trying to get Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul up to New York so they can compete with anyone.
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All of this got me thinking, if I had to pick a 15-player team of youngsters (let’s say players about to start their first, second, or third NBA seasons) to play together for the next 10 years, who would I take? Here it is.
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
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C, 3rd year
He’s one of the top-three centers in the East, which makes him one of the top-three in the NBA. Lopez is already a great defensive force, and he showed last year on a shallow team bombarded with injuries that he can carry a heavy load down low even with the opponents looking at him as the only inside man worth bothering with. He’s obviously improving, and his maturity and composure are phenomenal for a 22-year-old.
Cole Aldrich, Oklahoma City Thunder
Aldrich is a defense-first banger who can pile up the blocks and rebounds, plus he’s OK being the last option on offense, although he is still plenty efficient once the ball is in his hands (56% FG last year at Kansas). If you don’t like the pick, who would you take as your second center? Keep in mind this team needs more defense, rebounding, and consistency than anything from a back-up center.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
PF/C, 3rd year
He’s one of the most efficient rebounders in the NBA (11 rpg in 29 minutes) and he’s smart. He won’t carry an offense or defense, but his jumpshot and passing are improving, and he knows his limitations. Love will work his tail off and he’s strong as an ox, so you know his value under the hoop won’t suddenly disappear at any point.
Derrick Favors, New Jersey Nets
Favors is a defense-first big man whose explosiveness and instincts were compared to Dwight Howard’s and Amar’e Stoudemire’s more than a few times before the draft. He’s a hard worker and his offense is much better than people give him credit for; whenever he actually gets the chance to be a scorer, he does so just fine (scored 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting in his final Summer League game when the Nets pulled Terrence Williams).
PF, 2nd year
Blair is the consummate rebounding machine: never ending motor, perfect positioning, freakishly long arms, strong as hell, and monstrous rear end. He managed to shoot a great 56% as a rookie last year despite being 6-feet-7, and his Defensive Rating of 101 tied him with teammate Tim Duncan and was better than Antonio McDyess’s 103 (please don’t take this to mean he’s a better defender than them—he isn’t—but he played 82 games and the Spurs’ D seemed to be just fine when a fairly slow, 6-7 center manned the middle; he’s doing something right).
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
I’m really hoping Griffin’s explosiveness isn’t gone when he comes back from his year-long absence due to a broken knee cap. The dude can play tough, score on the fastbreak or in a multitude of ways within 15 feet in the halfcourt, and he’s already quite composed. He could be one of the NBA’s top-5 PF’s this year.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
F, 2nd year
That noise you just heard was the record screeching to a halt in your brain. You’re thinking, “Taj Gibson? Who the…what?”. Let me explain. I can’t have a team of nothing but alpha males all expecting to be starters. I need a glue guy who knows his role and does it exceptionally well – that’s Gibson. For starters, he’s strong and fast enough that he’s already a great defender on any size forward. While still figuring things out last year, he shot an acceptable 49% from the field, blocked 1.3 shots per game (top-25 in the league), and recorded the league’s 8th-best Offensive Rebounding Percentage of 11.6. His following statistics all improved significantly from the first half of his rookie season to the second half: FG%, FT%, Rebounds per game (6.4 to 9.1), Assists per game, Blocks per game (1.1 to 1.6), and Points per game. Hard worker, strong defender, constant improver – I can’t think of a better person to add at this position who won’t disrupt team chemistry.
Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers
SF, 3rd year
Some fans, and Michael Jordan, have said Batum could be the next Scottie Pippen. That seems a bit far-reaching to me, but I see what they’re getting at. He’s a lanky, quick 6-feet-8 defender asked to stick damn near every position, he is a smart player with a controlled game, and his offense has come along quickly. In an injury shortened 2009-10 season (did I mention he played in Portland?), Batum posted a tremendous trio of shooting numbers (52% FG, 41% 3FG, 84% FT) matched by only three other players in the league: Steve Nash, Mike Miller, and Rodrique Beaubois. He showed significant improvement from his rookie season to last year, and he was already starting as a rookie because of his defense.
Anthony Morrow, New Jersey Nets
SF/SG, 3rd year
Best 3-point shooter in the game = on the team and getting playing time.
Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
Turner’s silky smooth game gets compared to Brandon Roy’s on the regular. He has a great mid-range game, wants the ball in his hands at the ends of tight contests, makes his teammates better, and has an attitude any coach would love. Turner could end up being the top scorer on this team in a few years, or he could be a whatever-you-need-right-now off the bench since his game is so versatile and under control.
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
SG/PG, 2nd year
You need at least one bull-in-a-china-shop player whose goal is to attack the rim at full speed and force as much as possible without getting stupid about it: that’s Evans. And he’s a passer, and he’s a good rebounder for his position. Not only is he one of this team’s top-two scorers right now, Evans has shown that he can do some serious damage at the ends of games, like his 12-point, 2-steal, 3-assist outburst in the final 1:39 back on February 3 against the Spurs.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
PG/SG, 2nd year
Everyone knows he had a great rookie season, but I’m not sure fans understand how good he had gotten by the end of the year. In February through April, Curry put up averages of 22 ppg, 8 apg, 5 rpg, and shot 47% FG, 44% 3FG, and 91% FT. The dude also picked off 1.9 steals per for the season and he stopped fouling so much as the year went on. Great shooter, great passer, great attitude – he just might be starting on this team.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
PG, 3rd year
Westbrook looked a little rushed and sloppy during his rookie season, and a middling A-TO rate of 5.3-3.3 confirmed it. But as Dean Smith used to say, the best thing about freshmen (in this case rookies) is that they become sophomores. Westbrook obviously worked on his game last summer, particularly his ball security, and suddenly he was averaging 8 apg. He’s a great defender with the speed, size, and know-how to create problems for opposing PG’s, and his intelligence is making things work for him on offense. The turd in the punchbowl is his shooting, which continues to be a work in progress (which is a nice way of saying terrible – career 41% FG, 25% 3FG).
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
PG, 3rd year
He’s nearly impossible to stop from going to the hoop one-on-one, he’s a super athletic scorer but still an unselfish passer, and he’s showing that ability to take over games. Rose is another American-born uber-quick guard who has trouble shooting 3’s, although there have been obvious improvements in that area (knocked down 10 triples in his last 14 games after missing four contests due to a wrist injury – had only 22 in the first 145 games of his career). Rose is a few pieces away from being an elite NBA PG, but all of the athletic and mental skills are present and being used to reach that level.
Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers
PG, 2nd year
Collison is super fast, loves to pass, can shoot (48% FG, 40% 3FG), and has already shown confidence running a team. He needs to cut down on his turnovers some, but I feel plenty comfortable using Collison as my team’s third or fourth PG.