Chad Ford, who spent 17 years covering the NBA for ESPN and now covers the league independently, recently ranked the best ten young teams in the NBA. The list is based on the young cores of each franchise, which Ford describes as players under 25. Using three different methods — opinions from NBA GMs/Scouts, analytics, and a Draft Tier system for NBA rookies — he came up with a multi-tiered ranking system to determine who has the best future, and the Hawks landed on the top spot.
This young Hawks team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals last season, and its future still looks significantly brighter. Atlanta’s best player, Trae Young, just turned 23 and is flirting with Tier 1 status. His lack of defensive prowess is the only thing holding him back. John Collins is putting up All-Star numbers in the frontcourt at age 24.
And the Hawks are absolutely loaded with young, talented players on the bench, each with the potential to move up at least one tier. Scouts are especially bullish about the futures of Cam Reddish, Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Johnson, all three of whom have the talent to crack Tier 3 in the next two years with consistent playing time.
The biggest question mark here is how the Hawks are going to find playing time for all of those young players with veterans Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanović and Danilo Gallinari on the roster. At some point the Hawks may have to seriously consider moving two or three young players for a star or potential star to team up with Young and Collins.
Since Ford ranked the Hawks #1, it’s tough to argue with too much. However, there was one piece that I disagreed with. He had Trae Young as a tier-2 player, not a tier-1 player. Now, only three players — Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and Zion Williamson — were ranked above Young. Doncic received a special designation as a top-ten player, while Tatum and Williamson were on tier-1, which was for superstars only. Perhaps one might feel that Tatum or Williamson has a higher ceiling than Young, but as of now, neither has done more than the Hawks point guard. Young belongs on that level.
Other than that, however, Ford’s ranking of the Hawks was pretty spot on. John Collins was also a part of the second tier, followed by De’Andre Hunter on tier-3. Kevin Huerter, Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu, and Cam Reddish were all a part of tier-4, and Sharife Cooper rounded out the bunch on tier-5.
Here’s how the rest of the list looked:
2. Boston Celtics
T-3: Cleveland Cavaliers
T-3: Orlando Magic
T-5: Detroit Pistons
T-5: Memphis Grizzlies
T-5: New Orleans Pelicans
T-8: Oklahoma City Thunder
T-8: Minnesota Timberwolves
10: Houston Rockets
I actually did a similar exercise, except I limited it to the five best young cores in the NBA. Like Ford, I had the Hawks ranked first, but I had the Suns, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Celtics follow — in that order. The difference is Ford put a lot more emphasis on young depth; he also put a lot of weight into each team’s most recent draft class. My rankings were written prior to this year’s draft, so rookies weren’t taken into account. Still, I think Ford’s tier system does put too much value into players who have yet to even play a game in the NBA, as well as players who will likely be nothing more than role pieces as their careers move forward.