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Better young core: Suns or Grizzlies?

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Which team has the better young core now and in the future?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A poll was posted on the Twitter with what to me are unexpected results. At the time I first noticed this on Thursday morning, the count was over 1,100 votes with 80% voting for the Grizzlies’ young core being better than the Suns’.

Both teams are 13-21 as of Thursday morning, and the poll was posted in an evening where the Suns had gotten down by 36 in the first half to the Lakers before everyone turned off the game (including the Lakers themselves). The Grizzlies had not played in three days.

Nekias Duncan is a general NBA writer with a range of followers across the country, not aligned with Memphis or Phoenix. So I guess this poll would be considered generally unbiased in that most voters had probably seen limited live basketball from either team.

The poll was posted while Nekias was tweeting or sharing several posts about the Suns dismal first half, marveling at the disarray. Noted Suns lover Shane Young was one of the RTs. So I guess you could say that Nekias cooked the books a bit with the poll, intentionally or not.

But 80 percent toward the Grizzlies among the first 1,100 votes? Really?

Sure, social media is the peak of kicking people while they’re down. The Suns had all their pieces together and got absolutely pasted by a focused Lakers team in the first quarter, to the point that I personally tweeted some frustration of my own.

And after the game, Suns coach Monty Williams openly lamented the Suns’ lazy start. So, the timing was pure for a twitter following to give the Suns the vote they deserved on that night. If I had voted during the first half of Suns-Lakers, I might have clicked the Memphis box, too.

But let’s step back and take a closer look. The Grizzlies and Suns have the same record after 34 games at 13-21. Neither was expected to do much this season, but in the watered-down West both are feeling frisky about their chances to beat anyone this season.

Young core this season

  • Grizzlies wins over playoff-positioned teams that the Suns have not beaten: Jazz (Nov 15), Heat (Dec. 16), Thunder (Dec. 26)
  • Suns wins over playoff-positioned teams the Grizz have not beaten: Clippers (Oct. 26), Sixers (Nov. 4), Trail Blazers (Dec. 31, after being down 19)
  • Both teams have beaten the likes of the Kings, Hornets, Nets and Timberwolves
  • Suns-Grizzlies are 1-1 against each other this season
  • Suns net rating: -0.8; Grizzlies net rating: -4.8

The big Suns wins came earlier in the season while the Grizzlies have come on more recently with their bigger wins, but both teams have really only closed the deal a few times on teams in playoff position when they met.

I know the question was not whether the Suns or Grizzlies would win more games this year. The question was which team has a better young core.

Do the Grizzlies really have a better young core than the Suns? What constitutes a young core, anyway? Is it years in the league, or is it age?

Let’s review.

The comp is even on number of players included for each team (six) and percent of team’s total points scored this season (68 percent). Points aren’t the only indicator of these players’ value, but can be helpful to understand how much they’re contributing right now.

I looked for equal depth in young pieces, using age 24 as a cut-off. I ignored players like Josh Jackson (Memphis), Grayson Allen (Memphis), Ty Jerome (Suns) and Jalen Lecque (Suns) who are not playing much yet, if at all.

Based on my comparison, the Suns’ young core is slightly older and more experienced, but only by less than a year of age and half a season of experience.

Young core potential for the future

I understand that my criteria might not match yours, especially if you’re talking about future years.

You might only want to include players on rookie contracts, which would rule out Booker, Oubre and Jones. But when those players are included, the Suns are only half-year and half-season older. So it seems that the Suns young core has just as much longevity remaining in the NBA, no?

The Suns’ young core with Booker and Oubre might reach their prime six months earlier than the Grizzlies. And by the time both teams’ young cores are in their prime, they will all be on post-rookie full-price contracts. So you can’t argue future financial flexibility based on current contract prices.

You might want to include “potential” in the criteria, regardless of contracts, but can you reasonably assume that Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant will rise higher in the NBA ranks as a tandem than Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton will?

That leaves us a Kelly Oubre Jr. vs. Brandon Clarke comp, and a De’Anthony Melton vs. Mikal Bridges comp. And would you rather have Cameron Johnson or Dillon Brooks?

Even if you want to narrow the whole comp down to just the top two players for each team, I know it’s exciting to think about the futures of JJJ and Morant, but let’s pump the breaks on them having a definitively better future than Booker and Ayton. Booker is already playing like a top-20 guy after being top-30 the last two years, and Ayton is just starting his second season.

If you’re so inclined, click through and place your vote on Nekias’ poll above and we’ll see how this all shakes out.