Monday, November 15, 2010

The NBA's Next Great Young Team: An Introduction

This past Friday I was treated to a pleasant surprise at my local bar.

No, it wasn’t free Budweiser night. The bar had the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers game on TV. For a born again NBA junkie like myself, this scratched me right where I itched.
Portland and OKC are both recent NBA darlings. While they do not yet have the mainstream appeal of the Boston/Miami/LA trio, each team has a lot of similar qualities to like that, coupled with a few positive breaks, could launch them to America’s team status.

Each team currently sports a great cast of characters. Likeable (i.e. appeals to the corporate crowd) star/superstar (Brandon Roy/Kevin Durant). Explosive second banana (LaMarcus Aldridge/Russell Westbrook). Quietly effective and underrated third wheels (Nicolas Batum/Jeff Green). Young, homegrown role players (Rudy Fernandez, Dante Cunningham, Armon Johnson/James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich). Token white guys (Sean Marks, Luke Babbit/Aldrich, Nick Collison). Foreign-born players galore (Batum, Fernandez, Patrick Mills/Ibaka, Nenad Kristic, Thabo Sefolosha). Not to mention fellow UMass alum Marcus Camby and Greg Oden’s, um, manhood.

Moving beyond the players and looking at the laundry, we (that being the royal we) also find a lot to like. Each team has one of the best fan bases in all of sports. This makes a lot of sense when you consider both are the only pro game going in each state, unless we want to include the Tulsa Shock and Portland Timbers (hint: we don’t). The teams are run by very smart front offices that embrace new statistical analysis, excel in salary cap management and building through the draft that should keep these teams relevant for the next decade. Both franchises have NBA championships, though neither has won since the ‘70s and OKC won theirs in Seattle. In addition, both franchises maintain a tortured history in one form or another that includes Portland’s continued failure to draft a healthy franchise big man and the current Thunder owners stealing the team from Seattle.

But what I, and I think many other people, find most compelling about the current iterations of these two teams is the collection of young talent each has assembled over the past five years and the success and potential of that talent. These teams represent the most recent examples of “The NBA’s Next Great Young Team.”

So, in one of the most deeply buried leads ever, over the next few weeks I plan to use the Thunder and Trail Blazers as case studies for “The NBA’s Next Great Young Team.” I’m still not sure what this will entail, but it will include the following among other things:
  • How do we define “The NBA’s Next Great Young Team?”
  • A look back at each franchise to understand how each were knocked down before they could be built up again
  • How were the Thunder and Blazers built?
  • The tremendous expectations placed on each team in the year it was all supposed to come together and how they responded
  • The similarities and differences between the Thunder and Blazers
  • Looking at teams over the last 30 or so years to find other examples of “The NBA’s Next Great Young Team” and how they succeeded
  • Deciding whether or not this is a successful way to build a team and measuring different definitions of success
  • Examining the current NBA landscape to identify teams with the potential to claim “The NBA’s NEXT Next Great Young Team”
Hopefully this is something I will carry out to the bitter end because I think it will be a great way to look through some of the more exciting teams in recent NBA history both statistically and anecdotally. If anyone has any suggestions along the way on how to make the discussion better or would like to assist in the research please let me know. And I know this isn’t Boston sports, but I think we can all get our fill of that plenty of other places for the time being, like here.

Stay tuned for Part 1 of “The NBA’s Next Great Young Team.”