NBA: 5 Teams Fit to Succeed in the Next 5 Years

Contributed by Aditya Fuldeore

Contributions by Max Feldman

NBA franchises want to sustain success for a long period of time, but few are built for it. The ebb and flow of prominent franchises in the NBA is longer than other leagues creating an equal reaction on the other end of the spectrum, making it harder to build in an immediate fashion. The following will analyze which teams can sustain the most success over the next 5 years based on current contracts, draft picks, youth (based on player age at the time this was written*), and current stars. Notably omitted teams like the Rockets and Lakers are better equipped to succeed in a more immediate fashion, the next 1-2 years, rather than the next 5 years, due to large or short-term contracts or lack of good young talent. Teams that can succeed for 5 years ideally have a combination of youth, star power, and contract longevity behind them.

A notable aspect in projecting the outlook of the league is evaluating how the league is moving in terms of style of play. Rather than labeling the style as small-ball, the growth of defensive versatility and multi-tool defenders is on the way back and bigger than ever before. There are a few outliers around the league still, but as we move into the next five years, FOG believes it will be rare to see 7 foot centers holding massive roles unless they are cemented rim runners or are versatile defenders who move their feet like wings. Floor spacing will be the mainstay of every team’s scheme, creating a necessity for athletic four or five men, effectively bridging the gap between the two positions. The Bam Adebayo archetype should evolve into the prototype big man with a DeAndre Ayton figure being the biggest version of a prolific big man with his ample footwork and unique athleticism. The other four spots will require floor stretching tendencies out to the three point line as the pick and roll dominates the majority of sets. The three and defense archetype is already thrown around far too much, but that will only grow as once offensive skill and firepower rises around the league, it sets off an equal response on the defensive end. The Mikal Bridges/Devin Vassell figure should grow popularity on each roster to give coaches more room for freedom due to their defensive versatility and ability to knock down open shots when creators collapse a defense. Three point output and overall offense is as prominent as ever but a franchise like the Toronto Raptors should show the signals that the organizations that can create a collective, versatile defense with one-two creators surrounded by athletic, floor spacers on the perimeter have the ability to wear down others on both ends. The Heat, Hawks and Grizzlies standout as the headliners who have cores in place set to evolve ahead of others in terms of style of play, while the Thunder are not too far behind.

Honorable Mentions

Atlanta Hawks

Stars: Trae Young (21 years old), John Collins (22)

Other Notable Players: Clint Capela (26), De’Andre Hunter (22), Cam Reddish (20), Kevin Huerter (21)

The Hawks have youth on their side, but have yet to show success in the NBA; they would become very successful if more of their young players pan out.

Brooklyn Nets

Stars: Kyrie Irving (28), Kevin Durant (31)

Other Notable Players:  Spencer Dinwiddie (27), Deandre Jordan (32), Caris LeVert (25)

The Nets are built for more immediate success, but have the ability to keep key players for longer than other similarly-built teams.

Los Angeles Clippers

Stars: Kawhi Leonard (29), Paul George (31)

Other Notable Players: Patrick Beverley (32), Montrezl Harrell (26), Lou Williams (33), Ivica Zubac (23), Landry Shamet (23)

The Clippers are also built for more immediate success but have longer deals for key players than teams like the Lakers; they might depend on re-signing players to sustain their success.

Miami Heat

Stars: Jimmy Butler (30), Bam Adebayo (23)

Other Notable Players: Tyler Herro (20), Kendrick Nunn (25), Duncan Robinson (26), Derrick Jones Jr. (23)

The Heat have a couple large contracts but are built to contend with a mix of youth and experience; they would likely need to re-sign key players to sustain success.

The Future

These teams have an ideal combination of stars, future draft picks, contract longevity, and youth to become some of the best teams in the league over the next 5 years.

Boston Celtics

Stars: Kemba Walker (30), Jayson Tatum (22), Jaylen Brown (23)

Other Notable Players: Gordon Hayward (30), Marcus Smart (26)

The Boston Celtics have the look of a team built for longevity. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart make up a young core for the Celtics while All-Star Kemba Walker and former All-Star Gordon Hayward round out the roster as successful veterans. Contractually, Brown, Walker, and Smart are all signed to long term deals, and it is hard to see the Celtics let All-Star Tatum walk after his rookie contract. The core will be intact for the next few years, and they should be able to retain at least 3 of their top 5 players for longer deals. On the court, the Celtics are one of the more balanced teams in the league, as they rank among the top 5 teams in the NBA for both Offensive and Defensive Rating so far in the 2019-2020 season. With Walker, Tatum, Brown, Hayward, and Smart all making up the top 5 on the Celtics in minutes played per game, they are key to the Celtics’ success, and will continue to be the center of the Celtics’ winning formula that has established them as Eastern Conference contenders. The Celtics also have 3 first round picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, where they will be able to add depth that will stay with them for a few years, adding to a pool of young draft picks on the bench of the roster that can step up when needed. Overall, the Celtics boast a team filled with star power and contract longevity, and project to sustain success over the next 5 years due to these factors.

Dallas Mavericks

Stars: Luka Doncic (21), Kristaps Porzingis (25), 

Other Notable Players: Tim Hardaway (28), Maxi Kleber (28), Seth Curry (29), Dwight Powell (28), Jalen Brunson (23)

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks’ depth has helped them put the league on notice as a Western Conference threat. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis create the core for the team, while Tim Hardaway, Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, and Dwight Powell are a mix of youth and experience for surrounding depth. The Mavericks have many options already on the roster, and have multiple key players signed to long term deals. Porzingis is signed through 2024, with his last year being a player option, while Powell, Kleber, and Curry are signed through 2023. The Mavericks will likely make a major push to re-sign a top 10 (if not top 5) NBA player in Doncic after his rookie deal finishes in 2022, Hardaway has a player option for next season that he will likely accept, and Brunson is a candidate to re-sign as a key bench player when his contract finishes in 2022. Overall, the Mavericks’ contracts allow them to sustain their core over the next few years. With their play, the Mavericks in the top 10 in the league in 3 point %, and rank first in Offensive Rating so far this season, showing that their core has the ability to lift the team to the front of the league when healthy, especially with offensive firepower. A 2020 first round pick should help add to a deep roster that also includes solid role players in Dorian Finney-Smith and Delon Wright, and the Mavericks will be poised to contend throughout the next 5 years.

Denver Nuggets

Stars: Jamal Murray (23), Nikola Jokic (25)

Other Notable Players: Paul Millsap (35), Gary Harris (25), Michael Porter Jr. (22), Will Barton (29), Jerami Grant (26)

Similar to the Mavericks, the Denver Nuggets are considered one of the deepest teams in the league, arguably deeper than the Mavericks. They have a young core of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, with veterans Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Jerami Grant rounding out the roster. Michael Porter Jr. is also an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling and provides a level of luxurious depth for the team. Both Murray and Jokic have long term contracts, while Harris, Barton, and Porter will also be with the Nuggets for at least the next couple of years. Grant has a player option this offseason that he will likely decline and Millsap is another key player that will enter free agency, but the Nuggets will likely make a push to re-sign one or the other to reinforce their depth. Altogether, the Nuggets’ contract situation prepares them to keep key players for a long period of time. While the Nuggets are not top-level league leaders in many statistical categories this season, they are a balanced team that runs steady as they rank among the top half of the league in nearly every relevant statistical category. They are a team set to be playoff contenders this season with not many weaknesses and a lot of potential. Denver also has first round picks for each of the next 5 drafts, which should help add to the pool of high potential players on their bench, including Porter and wild card big Bol Bol. The Nuggets are in good shape to contend over the next 5 years with their balanced and successful core and a deep roster.

Memphis Grizzlies

Stars: Ja Morant (20), Jaren Jackson Jr. (20)

Other Notable Players: Brandon Clarke (23), Jonas Valanciunas (28), Dillon Brooks (24), Justise Winslow (24)

As the youngest team in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies are set to explode with upside. 2019-2020 Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant combines with Jaren Jackson Jr to lead the team while Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, and Justise Winslow are young complementary pieces to the core. Jonas Valanciunas is also a key player as he helps round out the team with his veteran experience, his 6+ win shares this season have been a welcome presence on a young team. Valanciunas and Winslow are signed through 2022, while Brooks is signed through 2023, and Morant, Jackson, and Clarke are all on their rookie contracts, so the Grizzlies will be in a good spot contractually with their best players under contract for a while. While the Grizzlies have not yet arrived at the front of the Western Conference next to teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets, they are still vying for a playoff spot this season, despite the inexperience amongst the team. As the youngest team in the league, it will not be long before the core develops further and they become legitimate contenders. The Grizzlies still have multiple draft picks lined up for the next few years, but those picks likely will not come into play as much free agency over the next couple of years, where they will have some money to spend due to their top tier players still on rookie deals. Overall, the youthful Grizzlies have a bright future ahead of them behind budding star Ja Morant and the rest of their core.

Milwaukee Bucks

Stars: Giannis Antetokounmpo (25), Khris Middleton (28)

Other Notable Players: Eric Bledsoe (30), Brook Lopez (32), Donte DiVincenzo (23)

It should not come as a surprise that the Milwaukee Bucks are under consideration for being one of the best teams in the league over the next 5 years. They have climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, joined by an underrated sidekick in Khris Middleton. Veterans Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, along with young guard Donte DiVincenzo and an ensemble of other capable veterans, help Giannis and Middleton lift the Bucks into contention for this year. For the future, Middleton, Bledsoe, and Lopez are signed to long term deals, and DiVincenzo is on his rookie contract for the next couple of years, but the Bucks’ main concern is Giannis’ impending free agency in 2021. However, despite early rumors Giannis could go to a team like the Heat, the Bucks are still in great position to re-sign Giannis as they boast ideal surrounding pieces for him and have shown enough success with him to where they are still the favorites to retain him. So far this season, the Bucks have the best record in the NBA, rank among the top 2 teams in points scored per game, and possess the lowest defensive rating in the league. They have a great balance of offense and defense and stand at the top of the league, a position the Bucks are likely not going to move from any time soon. With a couple first round picks over the next few years, the Bucks can add depth and sustain their success behind league MVP Giannis for the next 5 years while attempting maneuver with little cap in preparation for what should be a record breaking super-max extension.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Stars: Chris Paul (35), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22)

Other Notable Players: Dennis Schroder (26), Steven Adams (27), Danilo Gallinari (31)

The Oklahoma City Thunder were almost written off when they traded away Russell Westbrook and Paul George last offseason. However, they got back massive hauls for both, including bright young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, who still has plenty left in the tank. Along with veterans Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari, Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander have led the team into playoff contention in the West. In terms of contracts, the Thunder do not have much locked down for an extended period. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander are their best “long-term” players, both signed through 2022, with Paul’s last year being a player option. Additionally, Gallinari being a free agent this offseason, and Schroder and Adams the year after. Fortunately for the Thunder, they will have enough cap space to re-sign at least a couple of these veteran players, and they have plenty of draft capital to help replace them, should they walk. The Thunder’s future is centered around Gilgeous-Alexander, who took a step forward after getting traded from the Clippers, leading the team in points per game so far this season; the Thunder will almost certainly try to sign him to a contract extension. He also has a great mentor in Paul, who is still one of the premier passers in the league with an assist percentage over 33 and more than 8 win shares so far this season. One of the biggest reasons the Thunder are set up well over the next 5 years is because of their historical accumulation of future draft picks. They are projected to have 7 first round picks over the next 4 drafts depending on various pick protections. With this arsenal of picks, the Thunder can replenish their lineup, should a player like Gallinari, Schroder, or Adams leave in free agency. The combination of Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander, along with a vast amount of draft compensation, will help the Thunder accumulate and sustain success over the next 5 years. Sam Presti has shown no hesitation to make some bold moves, even more necessary for a small market franchise who will not be a hot spot for headline free agents. Look for Presti to take some big swings over the next 4-5 offseasons. 

*Player Age, Stats as of August 3rd, 2020

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