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Dunc’d On: Team USA Roster Cuts

Nate Duncan looks at the roster cuts that are coming for Team USA before the squad heads to Spain.

Nate Duncan

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After a 112-86 victory against Puerto Rico that was close for a half, Team USA flies to Spain on Saturday.  The USA braintrust apparently want to bring only 12 players with them, so here is how I think the roster should look.

My preferred starting five:  Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis.  The two positions up for grab are point guard and power forward.

Rose, assuming he is over his soreness, is a better fit with the starters than Kyrie Irving due to his ability to distribute, superior defense and FIBA experience. Rose was excellent against Puerto Rico. He and Klay Thompson played the best defense on the perimeter, but Rose also provided unique (to this team) ball distribution.  When he handled in high pick and roll, Rose showed off his rehab-aided core strength to gun bullet jump passes to three-point shooters on the weakside.  He hit a three and a layup to keep the defense honest, but most importantly he just moves the ball quickly.  The ball really pops around the floor when he is out there, and that is something this squad really needs.

Irving mostly works for his own offense, even on this team, so he is better as a scorer on the second unit when Harden and Curry are not in the game.*  Hopefully he will also be facing the opponent’s backup point guard who is less likely to light him up on defense.  He had been passable on that end, but he spent the whole game alternating getting blown by and taking bad gambles.  He gave up at least eight straightline drives in the game through either of those two mechanisms.

*Irving did have six assists, but after watching the video none of these were really value-added plays in the halfcourt the way all of Rose’s four assists were.  This is not to suggest that Irving in any way has played selfishly.

Curry, Harden and Davis are unquestioned starters, so the other spot up for grabs is between Rudy Gay and Faried. Faried is not what the US has looked for recently at the four since he cannot shoot from deep.  But he has overcome my skepticism by being among the best US players by plus/minus in the exhibitions and providing excellent work on the glass.  He also played intelligent, effective defense against Puerto Rico.  The US scheme calls for a lot of switches, and he did well to execute them.  Faried is a player who does have the physical talent to be a solid defender.  That has not yet manifested at the NBA level, but we have seen poor NBA defenders improve defensively for Team USA, most notably Chris Bosh in 2008.*

*People forget that Bosh was basically a sieve in the NBA until he got to Miami.

Faried has played better so far, has been with the team longer and provides a unique aspect with his energy. But he also does not offer the spacing that Gay does, nor the ball skills to attack off the dribble with an advantage.  And Faried really isn’t much bigger than Gay, so their post and help defense are relatively on par despite Faried’s status as a traditional big man.  I would start with Faried, but consider playing Gay down the stretch if the game is close.

In addition to the seven mentioned above, Thompson is clearly in the rotation as the other plus defender on the perimeter and a deadeye shooter.  That leaves another space in the rotation for a backup center, with the candidates being Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Mason Plumlee.  Ideally, that player would provide five core skills: protect the rim, play pick and roll defense, play post defense (crucial against Spain), set great screens and finish pick and rolls.  But nobody has really emerged who provides even three of those skills.

Plumlee had by far his worst game. Although he provides solid effort offensively and gets some buckets that way, he is a liability on the defensive glass and does not really protect the basket.  He was very undisciplined on the pick and roll with no clear purpose on Friday, jumping out at seemingly random times to leave the lane unprotected. Theoretically, Plumlee’s best attributes would be playing hard and not messing up, but he really failed to execute Friday.  He was a miserable -7 on the night, which he earned with his play.

Cousins is the best NBA player of the group right now, but his skills are not particularly optimized to this team.  His ability to create (relatively inefficient) shots in the post at a high rate is not useful when there are so many more efficient options available.  He has not been effective on the few postups he has had either, going 0-2 and throwing a pass away against Puerto Rico.  If he is going to post up, it should be in transition right under the basket.  Otherwise, he gums up the spacing by trying to post on the strong side.*  Cousins does set great screens in the pick and roll though, and hits the offensive glass hard, though it can lead to him not getting back on defense.

*Faried and Davis have tried to postup as well, which just shouldn’t be happening.  They should just go out to set a side pick and roll if they find themselves on the strongside block.

Defensively, he has never been a great rim protector or pick and roll defender. Another concern for Cousins is that he is going to pick up a lot of fouls. His slow feet are bad enough, but he compounds that by reaching in a lot and hacking when he is frustrated. You can also be sure that savvy international teams will be flopping against him at every opportunity.  It is also possible that Cousins is still struggling with the bruised knee he suffered in practice last week.

Drummond on paper provides the skills Team USA needs.  He is a great pick and roll finisher and an amazing offensive rebounder.  Defensively though he is not the greatest at protecting the basket despite his quick feet, huge wingspan and hops.  Per NBA.com’s SportVu tracking system, opponents converted at a 52 percent mark on shots within five feet against Drummond this year, and he struggled to stop the Dominican Republic’s guards at the rim on Wednesday, although he did do well to get into position.*

*One problem for Drummond is he tries to block every shot with his left hand. That works sometimes, but it’d be nice to see him change up when expedient.

Drummond has the least experience defensively, but has done well moving his feet in pick and roll defense when he has been out there.  He played very well in his one game, but the level of competition was so low it is difficult to say how much that matters.  Another potential wart for Drummond is his free throw shooting, but I believe that is an overblown fear.  Plumlee is almost as bad from the line anyway.

Ultimately, I would bring all three of those bigs with the team to Europe to see if someone emerges, cutting one before the games start.  However, Coach K has said the preference is to bring only 12 players.  If that is the case, I would still put all three on the team, not out of merit but in the hope one distinguishes himself in pool play.  It appears from his postgame comments that Krzyzewksi is leaning that way.

That leaves room for one more player, with the main candidates being Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan.  It appears Gordon Hayward is pretty much out of consideration.  Among that group, Parsons does offer the ability to play as a stretch four in theory because he is taller.  But he has not played well and looks a little thick at the moment. Korver to me is redundant with Thompson and Curry already on the team.  If Rose is not a concern health wise, Lillard does not serve much purpose with Curry having the ability to slide to the one.  However, given the slight uncertainty, Lillard should probably be brought along if possible and potentially cut before the tournament if Rose is okay. But assuming Rose is healthy, there is little use for him.

That leaves DeRozan, who provides some of the athleticism on the wing that is usually Team USA’s biggest advantage internationally.  He has played very well when he has been on the floor, and also provides a dynamic aspect running the wings in transition that the other players do not.

Of course, I have not had access to the practices so my opinion might well change if I had more information available.  But based on the exhibitions, DeRozan would be my final pick.

So my final roster:

Derrick Rose

Stephen Curry

James Harden

Kenneth Faried

Anthony Davis

Rudy Gay

Klay Thompson

Kyrie Irving

DeMar DeRozan

Andre Drummond

DeMarcus Cousins

Mason Plumlee

Notes:

–Thankfully the team ran less “floppy” tonight against Puerto Rico.  This is a set in which the bigs set up at each block and set screens for the wings to pop out for jumpers.  The US typically ran this for Curry, Thompson, Harden and Korver, but it has not resulted in good looks.  The big trouble is it takes them forever to get into it, with the action not even starting until there is about 10 on the shot clock.  If the primary action fails, it leaves little time for another and devolves into an isolation. Moreover, with the amount of talent on this team a jump shot for a player moving away from the basket as the primary goal of a set is not particularly useful.  Fortunately they only ran it a couple of times against Puerto Rico after using it much more often against Brazil.

–The best offensive set for USA is unquestionably a high pick and roll with any of their myriad ballhandlers and Davis.  But we only saw that used sparingly during a short period at the start of the fourth quarter when he took the floor with Gay.  Otherwise it was often the power forward setting the screen, which compacted the spacing.

–Curry had 20 points on nine shooting possessions.

–Team USA’s defense really struggled to adjust to Puerto Rico’s five-out strategy in the first half, giving up 47 points on 42 possessions.  Davis had been a terror defensively in the first two exhibitions, but looked strangely out of it to start the game and picked up two quick fouls.  The big problem in general was over-aggressiveness on the pick and roll, a crime of which Plumlee was most often guilty.  That tightened up in the second half (39 points on 41 possessions) as Puerto Rico struggled to score unless they were getting bailed out by USA fouls out on the perimeter.  And it should also be noted that Puerto Rico was making some crazy shots in the first half. Overall the defense has been excellent, with Tom Thibodeau installing his strongside zone and ICE pick and roll defensive concepts (in which the defender forces the ball handler away from the screen).  Those should prove even more effective with the lack of defensive three seconds in FIBA play.  In fact, with the presence of Davis I expect this team to play much better defense than its 2012 counterparts, which only played one defensive big man (Tyson Chandler) any kind of minutes.  The 2012 team was still good enough to just outscore teams, but they looked bad defensively in games against Lithuania and the gold medal match against Spain.  Since this team lacks that sort of firepower, they will have to be better on defense.  Superior coaching and defensive talent in the frontcourt should make that happen.

–Thompson seems like a great shooter, but somehow his misses don’t really seem to register on the consciousness, especially inside the arc. He had 12 points on 12 shots, missing all three of his two-pointers.

–The fact that a relative NBA non-entity like Plumlee is even in consideration for this roster shows that a poor job was done selecting the player pool this time around.  Team USA added Paul Millsap late, but he does not really excel in the five core skills I noted, nor is he a center.  However, many Americans could have provided these skills. Taj Gibson and DeAndre Jordan have both been on the Select Team in previous years–it is unclear whether they were invited and if not, why.  They both provide superior defense to any of the three backup centers on the roster.  While Larry Sanders had a disappointing year, his skills are also exactly what the team needed and he could have gotten at least a chance to try out. He is also a former Select Team member.  So too is Derrick Favors, another player whose skill set might be a better fit.  Even Amir Johnson could have gotten a look.  All of these players could have superior skill sets for what this team needs, even if Cousins or even Drummond is the superior NBA player.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Can Anyone Challenge the East’s Top Teams?

The Eastern Conference Finals will likely have two of the top three teams represented. While the rest of the teams in the East battle amongst themselves, do any of them have a shot to knock off Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee in the playoffs?

Chad Smith

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The Western Conference has been dominating the league once again, in terms of quality teams from top to bottom. The 13th worst team in the West would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Though their depth is lacking, the East still has a few teams that are championship contenders this season.

The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals this summer. It is championship-or-bust for these franchises who have emptied their wallets in order to pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Each of these teams has at least two star players and another All-Star caliber player to help them reach their ultimate goal. Each one of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate. In Brooklyn’s case, they just might have the greatest offensive three-headed monster the league has ever seen.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are what separates these three teams from the rest of the conference.

This season there is plenty of parity among the remaining teams in the East. The standings change every night as these teams battle with nearly identical records. It would be a shocking surprise to not see one of Brooklyn, Philly or Milwaukee make it to the NBA Finals.

Odds are that two of these three teams will meet in the Conference Finals, but is there another team lurking that could upset the apple cart? Do any of these teams in the second-tier have enough talent and firepower to upset one of the East’s elite? Here are four teams that could play spoiler.

Miami HEAT

After reaching the NBA Finals last season in the bubble down in Orlando, the HEAT have definitely cooled off this year. They had a slow start at the beginning of the season, then had a long pause as health and safety protocols wreaked havoc on their roster. Not having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic available really hurt them, but the tide could be turning.

Butler himself has been on a tear since returning to the court — and his teammates have followed his lead. Bam Adebayo has quietly had another outstanding year and they finally got their man Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline passed. Unfortunately, his recent injury put a serious damper on their hopes of getting back to the Finals.

Miami needs Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to play more consistently, especially with Oladipo out. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza should help in the postseason as they incorporate another perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. They have the star power and the experience needed to make another run, but the odds are stacked against them.

Atlanta Hawks

After a dismal start to the season, the Hawks appear to have figured out their identity. Much like the situation in Boston, this team was tasked with trying to build chemistry during a pandemic without essentially any practice. That is a difficult proposition and something that was going to take time. They also still needed to develop their young guys like Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.

After turning things over to Nate McMillan, he has been able to coach up this young squad, even without some of their top talent. Every player on the team has missed a chunk of time this year and they have had to seriously rely on their depth to get them through most of the regular season. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, they now find themselves in a position to have home-court advantage when the playoffs begin.

The vision that Travis Schlenk had in the offseason is finally becoming clear. The incredible play of guys like Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and even Solomon Hill has been vital to their success. They will still lean on Trae Young and John Collins for their offense but the talented pieces around them are what will make this team tough to beat in a seven-game series.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even after the acquisition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Charlotte is the true definition of a team, as they have multiple guys that have stepped up and played well in spots throughout the season. PJ Washington, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins of Cody and Caleb have all contributed to their success.

The play of LaMelo Ball had him sitting at the top of the rookie class before he suffered his broken wrist. His phenomenal first season may be over, but the organization is holding out hope that he may be able to return in the playoffs should Charlotte earn a spot in the postseason. Hayward is also back on the shelf as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. Charlotte has been able to stay afloat during their absences, which is a huge credit to James Borrego.

One more major difference-maker for the Hornets this season has been Terry Rozier. The electric guard is one of the top 40 scorers in the league this season and has been one of the best clutch performers as well. He is shooting a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and 46 percent overall from the floor. They can be a dark horse come playoff time, but they will need their two best players healthy in order to have any chance.

Boston Celtics

It has been a very strange season for the Celtics, who entered the year with high expectations. They have been the greatest mystery this season and a puzzle that Brad Stevens is still trying to put together. Jaylen Brown has taken his game to another level and Jayson Tatum has had his moments as well. Both have cooled off since the All-Star break and Kemba Walker has been hot and cold from game to game.

Marcus Smart missed a lot of time and they brought in Evan Fournier at the trade deadline but he has yet to fit in like many thought he would. Chemistry could be the issue, but no one has really been able to put their finger on their kryptonite. The good news is that Tatum appears to finally be returning to health after his battle with COVID.

The center position has been a revolving door for this team all season, with Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet all trying to fill the void left by Enes Kanter. They could have had the league’s leading shot-blocker Myles Turner, but Danny Ainge let Hayward walk for nothing instead.

On paper, this team is oozing with talent and should be much better than their record indicates. They may finally be figuring things out, having won six of their last seven games, including four straight. If their issues are truly fixed and if they can stay healthy, they will be a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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