Before you fly off the handle with rage over that headline, please do note that in ESPN’s ranking of young cores in the NBA, this qualifier is attached: “The system is a little biased toward players with at least some positive NBA production already under their belts.”
So yes, folks like Karl-Anthony Towns and even Andrew Wiggins to an extent are not valued as highly as young players who have had more NBA success already.
That said, any metric — the one of choice here is projected three-year WARP for all players on teams’ projected rosters who won’t turn 26 by the end of the 2015-16 season — that says the Bucks have the best (!) young core and the Wolves have the 15th-best young core seems to be a little flawed by nature. Either that or those of us in Minnesota are terribly overrating what the future might bring. Regardless, here is what ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle (Insider required) has to say about the Wolves:
On the downside, the Timberwolves lag in our forecast to a surprising degree. Andrew Wiggins’ baseline is barely replacement level. We know he’s better than that and it’s highly likely that he’ll look a lot better this time next season. You can say the same thing about Karl-Anthony Towns and maybe even Zach LaVine. Still, for all the lofty draft picks Minnesota has had, it’s important to remember that at this point, they skew much more toward potential than production.
Fair enough. With Wiggins, LaVine, KAT and Tyus Jones still unable to legally drink (at least in the United States), this is a roster still loaded with potential and one that, in four years, will still qualify as a young core by ESPN’s measure.
Maybe our real beef is with how ESPN is defining a ‘young core.’ After all, a 25-year-old NBA player this day and age could very well be a five- or six-year veteran. Ricky Rubio, for instance, still qualifies this season, his fifth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Greg Monroe — who is on his second NBA contract after signing a max deal with Milwaukee — counts for the Bucks as he heads into his sixth NBA season since he won’t turn 26 until next June.
Indeed, if we capped this at 24 years old — a better marker of what is truly young in today’s NBA — the Wolves almost certainly would fare much better. For now, it is helpful to remember, though, that the Wolves aren’t just young. They’re exceedingly young. As bright as the future could turn out to be, the present will still involve a fairly steep learning curve.