NBA: Five Non-Playoff Teams with the Brightest Future

For those not fortunate enough to assemble a team that’s winning right now, hope is a strong anesthetic to numb the pain of defeat and disappointment. In most cases, teams that lose a lot are young in NBA years – they lack the mental and physical fortitude to withstand the strains and difficulties of an 82 games in 5 month schedule not to mention all the traveling, the practice, the pressure and more.

But as with most things, experience can be the best teacher. With enough years in their clock, their bodies start to adjust, their minds are fortified and prepared and their skills and chemistry improve. And there lies in the hope – the hope that with enough time, this team gets better. That our struggles were only because we were not experienced enough but we know we have the capacity to do it. 

So without further ado, here are the top 5 non-playoff bound teams in the NBA with the Brightest Future.

1.) New Orleans Hornets

I checked out the standings and looked at the top 14 bottom teams – the probable lottery bound ones – and it was pretty clear who has the brightest future among them – the New Orleans Hornets. And it starts and ends with Anthony Davis — the #1 pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. This team is basically primed for contention (health be willing) in the next 2 or 3 years.

Remember when Oklahoma started their 0809 season so badly – accumulating just 3 of their first 32 games? Well, the Hornets 1213 season didn’t start as horrible as that but it’s not like we fared any better – winning just 5 of our first 27 games. But Oklahoma finished better than how they started – winning 20 of their next 50 games. The Hornets are looking to do the same – 8 of their past 12 games, to improve their record to 13 – 26.

What makes this team so scary is the fact that they are so young (they are the 2nd youngest team in the league at an average age of 24) and yet they still have so much room to grow. Anthony Davis is a generational talent — one who’s effect on a team can mirror those of today’s elite like Tim Duncan, Lebron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. It will be a long time until he becomes a “go-to scorer” but his effect goes way beyond what the box score can tally. He can be the second coming of Kevin Garnett — extremely long, quick and agile and skilled in multiple facets of the game. In fact, Anthony Davis was dynamite to start the season (in his first 6 games, he scored 20 points 4 times, had double digit rebounding figures in 3 of them and having multiple blocks in all but 2) before a stress reaction on his left ankle sidelined him for 11 games. Since then, Coach Monty Williams has monitored his minutes to preserve him for the entire season (with conditioning issues because of the injury).

To go along with Anthony Davis are 2 “young” veterans in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon – both are 24 and under players. Ryan Anderson is a complementary piece who keeps his mistakes low (TOV% of 8.3%), and can shoot the lights out of a team (career 1.9 3PTM on 5 attempts) not to mention his normally good offensive rebounding. It’s been down in New Orleans, but that’s probably because of the system. Eric Gordon is an efficient, high volume scorer (a rare breed in the NBA). His unorthodox hesitation dribble beguiles defenders into a lull before he eviscerates them with a sudden burst of speed. Once at the rim, he can finish with either hand and because of his upper body strength and control, can finish shots even in the tightest spots. That’s not even to mention his incredible defensive instincts. I’ll just let a video teach you:

2.) Cleveland Cavaliers

If New Orleans has the next big thing on bigs (mobility, length, instinct, perimeter skills) then Cleveland has the next big thing on guards. He combines precision shooting, dribbling wizardry, a contorionist’s flexibility, upper body strength, body control, basketball IQ, killer instinct and cold-bloodedness to become one of the best young guards in the league. If Kevin Durant is the “cheat mode” version of a modern forward, and Lebron James is the “cheat mode” version of a point forward, then this guy is an early version of a “cheat mode” version of a point guard.

His name is Kyrie Irving.

And his presence alone puts Cleveland comfortably in the 2nd spot of the most exciting upcoming teams. The great thing is that Cleveland is hell bent on not repeating the same mistake they did during the Lebron era – when they fast tracked the process by trading for vets. Now? Kyrie Irving is joined by Tristan Thompson — an athletic pogo stick that gobbles up offensive rebounds like they are candies – and Dion Waiters (who I still can’t figure out). There season is looking lost right now but that only means that they’ll get a high lottery pick (probably top 5).

Add those to the fact that Cleveland has so much financial flexibility and one more trade chip in Anderson Varejao and what you have is such a bright future.

And if you didn’t believe Kyrie Irving’s dribbling wizardry, here’s another exhibition for you:

See how he blew past not just one, not two, but three defenders using some sort of dribbling wizardry? Yeah, he can do that to an entire team.

The kid is just 20 years old and he’s toying with 4-5 year NBA vets. He’s shooting 40% from deep (while being assisted on just 48% of them, according to HoopData), he’s drawing fouls at a good rate (5 FTA per 18.4 FGA). His only flaw right now is the turnovers which he’s actually improved on this year (14.9% Turnover Rate compared to 16.1% in his rookie season). His defense isn’t above average but the effect of a PG on a team’s defense are minimal compared to the effect he has on Cleveland’s offense. He currently has a usage rate of 30% and Cleveland is 9.6 points better on offense with Kyrie Irving on the court. The guy is a difference maker, period.

3.) Detroit Pistons

Does anybody remember the Los Angeles Lakers’ twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum? It feels like it’s been such a long time but as recently as three season ago, that humongous duo was a huge key to the Lakers winning the 2nd of their back-to-back titles. And despite the league’s  move to a more “small ball” oriented offense, having two bruising bigs can still be a great asset.

Detroit might be building something similar to that with the finesse of lefty Monroe mimicking Gasol’s and Drummond’s over the top physical presence mimiking that of Bynum. And it’s true — both of those players have great careers ahead of them (and a great career so far) that it’s not farfetched to think that a little bit more seasoning (maybe one more year) and time together, and they can dominate the league.

Monroe is a skillful big man. His midrange numbers aren’t on par with what people think (he’s not yet a consistent threat from midrange. According to Hoopdata, he’s shooting just 29% from 16 to 23 feet and 21% from 10 to 15 feet) but his shooting stroke is solid and it just needs reps. But Monroe is a good rebounder and an unbelievable passer for his size (he’s averaging 3.3 assists per game this year, up from 2.3 from last year). If he can somehow make defenders respect his midrange jumper (and it’s very possible that he’ll get there), then he’ll be a great option on the elbow extended – where he can operate on the high post and torment teams with crisp passes to cutters or points of face ups.

Drummond is a physical specimen that can outmatch Lebron’s physical gifts. Yes. He’s that gifted. He’s a 7 footer with the agility of a forward, a 7′ 6″ wingspan, incredible leaping ability, an NBA ready body and he’s only 19! But that is where the comparison ends. He did not have Lebron’s IQ, drive and skill. Many questioned his drive and love for the game with his lackadaisical showing in UConn — where physically inferior players regularly out hustled, out muscled and outplayed him when he should have dominated them just by his physical gifts. But Detroit management has done a great job of easing Drummond into the NBA. They basically told him to just rebound relentlessly, finish around the basket and defend for 15~20 minutes. They’ve asked him to go all out for 15~20 minutes (to develop his focus). And the early returns are great. According to basketball-reference, Drummond leads all rookies in PER, TS%, eFG%, OREB%, DREB%, TRB%, BLK%, WS/48 and WS (at least 600 minutes played). In the entire league, he ranks 11th in PER, 20th in TS%, 4th in eFG%, 1st in OREB%, 9th in DREB% — you get the point. In limited minutes, the kid is one of the better players in the league.

Add those 2 with a still developing combo guard in Brandon Knight and what you have is a young trio that can serve as your building blocks for the future. The one thing holding them back is their flexibility — they have tons of overpaid players. Prince, Villanueva and Stuckey are still on the books until the 201415 season — where Monroe’s extension will kick in. The year after, Knight’s extension will kick in, and Drummond soon after. But if Dumars can get creative this deadline or this summer to shed some more dead weight without trading one of their young trio, then Detroit has a good future ahead.

4.) Charlotte Bobcats 

The Kitties — as they are fondly known on twitter — are slowly growing up. After a dismal 2011/12 season (when they set the dubious record of worst W/L% and fewest wins in a season) and not winning the lottery (care of my Hornets), the Bobcats had to “settle” for Anthony Davis’ teammate, Michael Kidd Gilchrist.

MKG is everything he was advertised to be — a relentless worker (evidenced by his rebounding. He ranks 2nd best among “SFs” in rebounding percentages, 2nd only to Marion’s), a tireless defender and a leader. The number of true “stoppers” in the league are few. Most of them are veterans who learned a couple of tricks or two and use that along with their experience to stifle defenders. And it’s hard to identify who the “1-on-1″ stoppers are because so much of defense centers around the team. But, personally, the best way to identify is to use Synergy Sports’ isolation defenders. Some of the more household names are Andre Iguodala (5th in iso, 0.45 points per possession (PPP)), Tony Allen (16th in iso, 0.54 PPP), Lebron James (67th in iso, 0.7 PPP), Luol Deng (152nd in iso, 0.87). MKG?? He ranks 2nd allowing just 0.45 PPP. Yes, S-E-C-O-N-D. Ahead of well known defenders named above. He’s quick, he’s long and he’s smart. Add all that up and what you get is a First Team All Defense candidate in a year or two. You also get an incredible weakside cutter and transition player. If he can improve his jumper, watch out.

Along with MKG is Kemba Walker, who’s risen from the atrocious season he had last year to become an average~above average starting PG in the league in just his 2nd season. From an offensive efficiency differential (the difference between his offensive rating and the league average offensive rating) of -5 last year to a +2 this year. That’s a 7 point improvement.

If Bismack Biyombo — their other lotto pick in 2011 who hasn’t developed as much as they hoped — can somehow figure how to not foul and finish even just half of his baskets, then a couple of precise and calculated moves by Rich Cho (who’s also an advocate of rebuilding from the ground up like Presti. He’s also an advocate of advanced statistics) and what you get is a team that can make noise in the East after the Heatles are dismantled.

5.) Washington Wizards

This should have been their year. If you read my article a couple of months ago here, I detailed how the Washington Wizards were supposed to be the next up and comer. But injuries and bad drafts have stopped their playoff hopes to a halt. With John Wall‘s deadline looming, and contracts not expiring until AFTER John Wall’s extension kicks in, then the deck isn’t necessarily tilting towards the Wizards. But their disastrous season aside, John Wall is still John Wall and his effect on the team can be easily felt — the Wizards are 3-2 in the games where Wall is played, compared to 5-28 without Wall. And that’s playing against good teams like ATL, DEN and LAC. So far, John Wall has taken a step in the right direction registering an ORTG differential of +2 compared to -4 from year’s past. His speed on the open court is still unparalleled — and that’s without an NBA conditioned body. I dread the day John Wall gets it all together.

Along side Wall is a re-surging Bradley Beal — who’s been lights out in the month of January shooting 60.4% from deep on 4.8 attempts. That’s Ryan Anderson-like levels. His development as an on ball and off ball scorer is important for the Wizards because it lightens the load on Wall and allows him to operate better because of better spacing. If he can continue his development, the Wizards franchise has one of the best and youngest 1-2 combination in the league.

But that’s where the Wizards’ ability to contend in the future ends. They have a lot of “marginal” to “replaceable” players on their roster. Not counting Nene (who’s still a serviceable big) and Okafor, none of their players are good enough to be retained beyond doubt (maybe Webster, but that’s it). So the Wizards have a lot of work ahead. Another good draft will help propel them forward.

So there you have it guys, 5 teams with the brightest future. Monitor them closely over the next few years and watch as they grow into perennial contenders (like OKC did) or watch them flame out year after year (like Sacramento).

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Tags: Andre Drummond Anthony Davis Bismack Biyombo Bradley Beal Brandon Knight Dion Waiters Eric Gordon Greg Monroe John Wall Kemba Walker Kyrie Irving Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Ryan Anderson Tristan Thompson

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