In Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, the San Antonio Spurs have a pair of very interesting young guards. But where does their young core rank among fellow Southwest division teams?
The Western Conference as a whole is overflowing with young talent. There’s a young star in the making on almost every single team in the West. From championship contenders to conference bottom feeders you can find young up and coming talent everywhere you look. The San Antonio Spurs are no exception.
Young talent isn’t a requirement for future success. We’ve seen teams mortgage their future in exchange for a better shot at a championship now to great success. But every team wants to have at least one or two young players they can build around if things go bad.
The Southwest Division is loaded with young and talented players. You might say that there is a better collection of young talent in the Southwest than anywhere else in the League. With the New Orleans collection of young players, star duo’s in Dallas and Memphis, and San Antonio’s collection of proven and promising talent, the argument can certainly be made.
All of this young talent will keep the division tightly contested for years to come. Division titles mean next to nothing but the competition for first place in this division has always been difficult. It looks like that won’t be changing any time soon.
Young cores are not the end-all determinant of a team’s future but it is a great indicator. Let’s looking at a ranking of the young cores in the Southwest.
Next: The bottom of the division
The Houston Rockets
If you had to ask Rockets GM Daryl Morey if he would do it all over again, I’m sure he’d say he would. There are some things he might wish he didn’t tweet or moves he might do differently, but it’s clear that his overall plan has been a great success.
The Rockets are a prime example of a team mortgaging its future for a shot at a title today. They were the oldest team in the year last year, with an average age of just under 30 years of age. Houston has only one pick in this year’s draft and has traded away picks as far down the line as 2026.
Houston does have some moderately young talent in Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Clark but no players that they could feasibly build around. But what the Rockets lack in young up and coming talent they more than makeup for with superstars. They had to give up a plethora of future picks to pair Russell Westbrook with James Harden but it’s worth it.
Sources: Pick protections in Thunder/Rockets, Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul trade: 2024 first round pick, protected 1-42026 first round pick, protected 1-42025 swap, 1-20 protected2021 swap, protected 1-4 — OKC can swap Clippers pick or Heat pick.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 12, 2019
The late 2020s will be challenging to navigate for Houston but that’s the price you pay for a shot at a title. You know what they say, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.
FiveThirtyEight’s new RAPTOR model gives the Rockets a 98 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 26 percent chance of winning the Finals. The numbers say that trading away all those picks was worth it and if you asked any Rockets fan what they think I bet they’d agree.
Next: Good but not the best
The San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has an interesting blend of young players who’ve firmly established themselves as NBA players as well as a few who’ve yet to see real NBA action. Their young core is solid, especially on defense, but it’s not the best in the division.
With Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Bryn Forbes the Spurs have a trio of young guards who all have proved that they can lead a team during the regular season. White has struggled in the preseason but is coming off of a globe-trotting summer and an impressive breakout season. Murray is a former All-Defensive Team player and one of the most dynamic young defenders in the league. Forbes has grown into one of the leagues most accurate deep threats and is doing his best to convince the coaching staff to name him a starter.
Another established young player is Jakob Poeltl. The 24-year-old center has shown real potential as a rim roller and rebounder. He showed the defensive impact that he can have in last year’s first-round playoff exit. His offensive game has a long way to go but Poeltl can still impact the game in other areas.
The Spurs unproven players are full of promise. Lonnie Walker IV showed the kind of player that he can be in the Las Vegas Summer League. His athleticism and shooting ability are tough to contain. He could also end up being a very disruptive defender.
Finally, San Antonio’s 2019 NBA Draft selections are an interesting bunch. Luka Samanic is going to take some development but there are moments where he looks like he could be another one of R.C. Buford’s international finds. Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon may not develop into All-Star level players but both look like they could become solid role players.
San Antonio has plenty of young players. But there isn’t one that seems like they could be a future MVP. That’s what puts the other teams in the division just ahead of the Spurs.
Next: A tie for second
A pair of teams with potential superstar duo’s
Just ahead of the San Antonio Spurs are two teams that have young duo’s that have the potential to be truly special. The Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks both have small/big combos that are among the most promising in the league. Dallas’s pair is more focused on finesse and the Grizzlies more on speed but the potential of both is sky-high.
The Grizzlies were a middle of the pack team in the West for much of the past decade. A frequent playoff team but never much more than that. That’s changed over the past two years as most of the Grit ‘n Grind Grizzlies have moved on and new faces have given a spark to the franchise. It started with the 2018 selection of Jaren Jackson Jr. and was furthered with the addition of Ja Morant in this year’s draft.
Jackson was already one of the youngest and most promising players in the league. He’s got three-point range, a solid handle, and showed tremendous defensive potential in his rookie year. In Morant, he has found a willing and able pick and roll partner. Morant is a wizard with the ball in his hands. What he lacks in shooting ability he makes up for with his playmaking and explosiveness. Memphis will struggle this year. But with these two leading the way the future looks bright on Beale Street.
The Dallas Mavericks have their own superstar pairing with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic came into the league as one of the most battle-tested and promising rookies in NBA history. Forget dominating the AAU circuit, Doncic had been playing against grown men in Europe since he was 16 years old.
The Mavericks paired the phenom playmaker with a unique talent by trading for Porzingis. Porzingis hasn’t played in a regular-season game since February of 2018 but was a force on both ends of the floor when we last saw him.
Through the preseason the early looks at the duo have been promising. Doncic’s talent is undeniable, he could very easily be a league MVP in the coming years. The biggest questions surrounding these two are centered on Porzingis’s durability. He’s never made it through a full season and is coming off of a repaired ACL. If he’s able to stay healthy this European tandem will stay dangerous for years to come.
Next: The top of the division
The new-look New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans underwent a near-total team overhaul this summer. It started when they won the lottery and the chance to select generational talent, Zion Williamson. Zion was the crown jewel of the Pelicans draft but he wasn’t the only talent New Orleans brought back to the bayou. Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will both be excellent complementary players.
Then out went Anthony Davis and in came Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a treasure trove of picks. The end result, a team that will play at a breakneck pace and has the depth and versatility to stay with all but the most talented NBA teams.
We’ve already seen what these Pelicans can do. Their preseason run has been a tour de force for Zion and an announcement that this team is going to be better than we had expected. Zion has looked unstoppable against every team and matchup he’s faced. He’s already cut and dunked his way through the Spurs.
Not only is this team overflowing with young talent, but their players also fit together remarkably well. In a few years, we could see this team running up and down the court together, dunking on everything in their path. Zion has the playmaking ability to play a point-forward/center role like Giannis. Ball’s shot has vastly improved. Ingram and Hart fill out the other wing spots and Hayes can lock down the paint.
The wealth of young talent is nicely complemented by established veterans like Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, and J.J. Redick. Together the three have years of experience and knowledge to pass on to the next generation of Pelicans. It can’t be tracked in a box-score but the impact of these veteran’s leadership cannot be overstated.
The San Antonio Spurs have plenty of young up and coming players. But they can’t match the wealth of talent that New Orleans assembled this summer. But again, young talent doesn’t equal future success. We can’t be sure what this division will look like five years down the road but you can bet it will be tightly contested.