The unintended consequence of the new collective bargaining agreement has been the emphasis on asset collection: draft picks, cap space and youth. Players under the age of 25 are coveted more than ever, mostly for their artificially low rookie-scale salaries, but also for the promise of potential yet to be realized.
During my time as an assistant director of basketball operations in the NBA, I considered it a priority to be as knowledgeable as possible about young players on rosters, particularly those in their "First Four" years in the league (you might have read about these types of players during the Vegas Summer League). The under-25 list is a bit more expansive in that it includes players well into their second contracts, but nevertheless is still a good measure of young talent on a roster.
While an inventory of talent under the age of 25 on a roster is not predictive of a franchise's future success (the quality of management decision-making, financial resources, team chemistry, coaching and, of course, luck all play major roles), you'd rather your team have the assets in hand than not have them, all else being equal.
Given the select nature of those players eligible for an under-25 team ranking, here's an overview of guidelines and some brief rules of thumb:
• In order to be eligible for this list, a player must be 24 years or younger (born on or after Aug. 8, 1988).
• Teams with established superstars get an edge, because there is a greater likelihood of a return on their investment, over teams with multiple "solid" talents (as the adage goes, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.") However, teams with a lot of bushes (a full cupboard of solid talents) may trump teams with a solitary star.
With the ground rules established, here's our ranking of the bottom 15 teams, those ranked Nos. 16-30, in the league based on under-25 talent. Note that player ages are indicated in parentheses. (To view the top 15 rankings, click here.)
16. Toronto Raptors
One of the absolute stars of Summer League this year was Valanciunas, who looked every bit the part of a player who was too good to be in Vegas. Last season, he was quietly productive in Toronto despite erratic minutes but will be a major part of any Raptors success moving forward. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ross struggled mightily in Vegas, looking tentative and unsure. He's got plenty of talent as an athletic, shooting wing, but he needs to find his game if he's to develop any further. Ideally, Ross can look up to DeRozan, who similarly had a rocky start before finding his footing.