Ranking young cores: Bucks project to be class of NBA

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the young Bucks will have a new look and heightened expectations this season. AP Photo/Aaron Gash

Beginning with last month's draft and culminating with the summer leagues, the focus has been on the NBA's youngest players since the Golden State Warriors finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals several weeks ago.

It's part of the annual cycle in the league and it makes for a nice balance. One team's fans get to celebrate, while those who root for the handful of other top contenders plot to overthrow the newly crowned champions. The rest are left to hope for the future, and this is the time of the year to dream of all these young pieces growing into something special.

Today we're ranking the top young cores across the league using projected three-year WARP. The error bars on these kinds of forecasts are large by nature. For one thing, young players are inherently more difficult to project than veterans. And once you get beyond the coming season, the picture changes in ways that even the best projection model can't foresee.

But we do the best we can with the data available, and try to anticipate aging curves using factors like age, experience, athletic indicators and draft slot. Nevertheless, if a player has a low statistical baseline from whence to grow a projection, it's tough to predict All-Star production.

In the end, the system is a little biased toward players with at least some positive NBA production already under their belts. Still, this is a great way to glimpse the teams strictly through the prism of the young talent that they have accumulated. That's defined here as any player likely to be on the roster who won't yet be 26 by the end of the 2015-16 regular season. For some teams, including our top-ranked club, the good news just keeps getting better. For others, well, you can always just disagree.


1. Milwaukee Bucks (Projected three-year WARP: 92.5)
Key young players: John Henson, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker

The Bucks cemented this spot when they signed free-agent Monroe this summer. Monroe doesn't turn 26 until June of next season, yet he likely will be the oldest member of a Milwaukee starting lineup that will grow together over the next few years. Middleton has already established himself as one of the top 10 shooting guards in the league, and if we were re-selecting the 2013 draft, Antetokounmpo might be the first player taken (though it would probably be Utah's Rudy Gobert). And these numbers are almost certainly underselling Parker, whose rookie numbers don't give him a great baseline from which to project.