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What does being the youngest team in the NBA mean?

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The Grizzlies are angling for a playoff spot at a young age, but what does that mean exactly long term?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are the youngest team in the NBA. At an average age of 24, the Grizzlies are one of eight teams with their average age under 25. Memphis is also the only one of those eight teams that’s currently a playoff team and that holds a .500 record or better.

While this seems like it should be a really big deal in the big picture, the Grizzlies aren’t extremely unique. Every season there’s usually a team or two that looks somewhat like this team when it comes to their record, roster composition, and playoff seeding. But, what does it mean for the future? Does being so young, this good, this fast, translate to future success? That’s where the wrinkle lies. How many of these teams built and maintained that success?

For this research, the parameters were simple:

Find teams with an average age of under 25 and track their success. To make sure the style of play and players involved were mostly similar to today’s league with the amount of superteams and contract structures in place, I went back to the 2009-2010 season, the last season before LeBron James left Cleveland for South Beach and the Miami Heat. Also, 25 seemed to be a good indicator for moderately successful to good teams, as a majority of the playoff teams each season tend to be over 25.

2018-2019

Teams Average Age Under 25 (2018-19 Season)

TEAM AGE WINS LOSSES PLAYOFFS
TEAM AGE WINS LOSSES PLAYOFFS
New York Knicks 23.4 17 65 No
Phoenix Suns 24 19 63 No
Chicago Bulls 24 22 60 No
Sacramento Kings 24.8 39 43 No
Denver Nuggets 24.9 54 28 Yes
League Average 26.4
Teams Average Age Under 25 (2018-19 Season) basketball-reference

The Sacramento Kings finished as the #9 seed, 9 games behind the Clippers for the final playoff spot in the West last season. Denver on the other hand, finished as the #2 seed in the West, losing to Portland in the 2nd round of the playoffs in seven games.

Both of these squads compare somewhat to the Grizzlies when it comes to roster composition, but the Nuggets are a clearer idea of what Memphis can do in a short amount of time. Denver went 40-42 with their core of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in place in 2016-2017 in their 4th straight losing season. Just two seasons later, Denver was in the West final with this season’s outcome yet to be determined.

2017-2018

Teams Average Age 25U (2017-18 Season)

Team Age W L Playoffs
Team Age W L Playoffs
Phoenix Suns 23.7 21 61 No
Los Angeles Lakers 23.7 35 47 No
Chicago Bulls 24.4 27 55 No
Boston Celtics 24.7 55 27 Yes
League Average 26.6
Teams Average Age 25U (2017-18 Season) basketball-reference

Three of the four teams under 25 in 2017-2018 were pretty bad. The Los Angeles Lakers were the better of those three with a very young core, but that would all get blown up the following offseason with the arrival of LeBron James.

The clear exception of all of it was the Boston Celtics, who made it to the East final, losing in seven games to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This team is similar in makeup to the current Grizzlies with their young players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum surrounded by veterans of the young and experienced varieties. The big difference is those vets included Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, two players that no one on the Grizzlies roster matches up to currently. Currently, the Celtics have some of that young core still around in Brown and Tatum, but the supporting pieces have changed quite a bit.

2016-2017

Teams Average Age 25U (2016-17 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Minnesota Timberwolves 24 31 51 No
Philadelphia 76ers 24.6 28 54 No
Oklahoma City Thunder 24.7 47 35 Yes
Portland Trail Blazers 24.8 41 41 Yes
League Average 26.6
Teams Average Age 25U (2016-17 Season) basketball-reference

Two of the four teams under 25 made the playoffs in 2016-2017, Oklahoma City and Portland. In the middle of a six year playoff run, Portland was one of the youngest teams in 2016-2017, but this was only the second time they were under 25 during this stretch. The only year under 25 before those was Damian Lillard’s rookie campaign in 2012-2013.

They built their roster a bit differently than Memphis in that their young core of Lillard and CJ McCollum was usually surrounded by much more experienced players. The Thunder are a different story altogether, as a large part of their salary was tied up in their vets like Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter. Their roster was in a constant state of flux at this point to build solely around Westbrook,

2015-2016

Teams Average Age 25U (2015-16 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Philadephia 76ers 23.3 10 72 No
Milwaukee Bucks 23.5 33 49 No
Orlando Magic 23.9 35 47 No
Utah Jazz 24.2 40 42 No
Portland Trail Blazers 24.3 44 38 Yes
Minnesota Timberwolves 24.6 29 53 No
Denver Nuggets 24.7 33 49 No
League Average 26.8
Teams Average Age 25U (2015-16 Season) basketball-reference

This is Portland’s other appearance in this list came here, as they were the only playoff team out of the seven under 25. Out of the other teams, Philadelphia was in the middle of “The Process,” and Milwaukee was still in the slow build towards where they are today, just three seasons into the career of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which leads to our next season...

2014-2015

Teams Average Age 25U (2014-15 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Philadelphia 76ers 23.2 18 64 No
Utah Jazz 23.4 38 44 No
Orlando Magic 24.3 25 57 No
Minnesota Timberwolves 24.4 16 66 No
Milwaukee Bucks 24.6 41 41 Yes
League Average 26.8
Teams Average Age 25U (2014-15 Season) basketball-reference

The Bucks made the playoffs in Antetokounmpo’s second season, along with third-year player Khris Middleton, and the recent Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. With a solid mix of younger players, like the previously mentioned young stars, plus Brandon Knight and veterans like Ersan Ilysova and Jerryd Bayless. The Bucks (ahead of schedule?) pushed into the playoffs as the #6 seed, where they were eliminated by the Chicago Bulls.

This may be one of the better comps, as the Bucks had some young but mostly unproven talent and landed themselves in the playoffs with a so-so record. Fast forward to now, and the Bucks are still led by Giannis and Middleton, while the cast around them is much different and you could see how the Grizzlies could end up in the same spot. Are Giannis and Middleton the Milwaukee version of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.? It’s still much too early to tell.

2013-2014

Teams Average Age 25U (2013-14 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Philadelphia 76ers 23.4 19 63 No
New Orleans Pelicans 24.3 34 48 No
Utah Jazz 24.5 25 57 No
Orlando Magic 24.6 25 59 No
Milwaukee Bucks 24.7 15 67 No
Detroit Pistons 24.7 29 53 No
Cleveland Cavaliers 24.9 33 49 No
Sacramento Kings 24.9 28 54 No
League Average 26.6
Teams Average Age 25U (2013-14 Season) basketball-reference

This season featured a lot of teams in transition with none even closely comparing to this year’s Grizzlies. There unfortunately isn’t a whole lot to compare here with these teams all missing the playoffs.

2012-2013

Teams Average Age 25U (2012-13 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
New Orleans Hornets 24 27 55 No
Cleveland Cavaliers 24.1 24 58 No
Charlotte Bobcats 24.4 21 61 No
Portland Trail Blazers 24.4 33 49 No
Houston Rockets 24.4 45 37 Yes
Orlando Magic 24.6 20 62 No
League Average 26.7
Teams Average Age 25U (2012-13 Season) basketball-reference

James Harden’s first year in Houston led to a playoff run for the young Rockets, but this team wasn’t exactly put together the same way. They had drafted Chandler Parsons the previous offseason, and added Patrick Beverley in this draft. Houston wasn’t built the same, but in some ways were similar to this young Memphis team with their mixture of youth and experience.

2011-2012

Teams Average Age 25U (2011-12 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Washington Wizards 24.2 20 46 No
Sacramento Kings 24.3 22 44 No
Minnesota Timberwolves 24.4 26 40 No
Charlotte Bobcats 24.5 7 59 No
Philadelphia 76ers 24.9 35 31 Yes
League Average 26.7
Teams Average Age 25U (2011-12 Season) basketball-reference

The 76ers did make the playoffs in this lockout shortened season, but this was the last year for that iteration of the franchise. Philly went into the depths the next few seasons, unloading players for more and more draft picks and cap space. So while this team in particular is somewhat like the Grizzlies, from this point out it was a whole different story.

2009-2010

Teams Average Age 25U (2009-10 Season)

Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Team Age Wins Losses Playoffs
Oklahoma City Thunder 23.2 50 32 Yes
Minnesota Timberwolves 24.1 15 67 No
Sacramento Kings 24.1 25 57 No
Memphis Grizzlies 24.1 40 42 No
New Jersey Nets 24.8 12 70 No
League Average 26.8
Teams Average Age 25U (2009-10 Season) basketball-reference

For these last two seasons, there was only one team that made the playoffs under 25: The Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, this may be a stretch, but this could be the best comparison and best outlook for our current Grizzlies team. In 2009-2010, Oklahoma City made the playoffs but were bounced in the first round. Fast forward to the next season, and the Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden made it to the Western Conference Finals. If you don’t remember, the season after that they made it to the NBA Finals, losing to the Miami Heat.

Durant/Westbrook/Harden are Hall of Fame level players. I am in no way suggesting that Morant/Jackson/Brandon Clarke are at that level. However, in these early seasons, Durant and Westbrook were the stars of the team, while Harden was a more-than-solid- 6th man. Fast forward to these Grizzlies, and the similarities are there. Morant and Jackson Jr. are the stars with Clarke coming off the bench.

The key now is, if these are the pieces for the Grizzlies future. Will they keep the core together, or will a split be in the future? It’s hard to say, but if what OKC did in those three short seasons is a predictor of sorts for Memphis’ future, we could be on the verge of something real special.

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