Young teams often have a predetermined ceiling on their success before opening night is even reached.
At least that’s what analysts and past indicators would say.
However, Channing Frye, now of the Phoenix Suns, recently spoke of a different outcome that he won’t count out.
As written about in Bright Side of the Sun, a Phoenix Suns companion blog on SB Nation, Frye left open every possibility for young teammates, who are generally viewed as one of the league's weakest teams this year.
"If we continue to grow, I see guys in there working hard, I don't want to put limits on us," Frye said.
The piece itself, while secondarily serving as an excellent biography of Frye’s NBA career, primarily speaks to Frye’s experience with young teams (including a few years with the young Portland Trail Blazers). It also acted as a sign that Frye not only expects to be a leader for the young group in Phoenix, but that his and others’ leadership will be paramount in whether the Suns’ season is a "successful losing season" or an unsuccessful one.
Frye’s comments, though, could be viewed indirectly as a response to a more fundamental question: Can a young team be good?
Phoenix is obviously in a unique position, and probably not the best candidate to help address this question fully. First, they’re incredibly young: the team is set to be the NBA’s fifth-youngest team at the start of the season. Secondly, ever since the team traded Steve Nash last season, they’ve been searching for an identity on the court.
These two characteristics are generally common amongst the league’s bottom-feeders.
SB Nation’s Tom Ziller took an interesting look into this same topic a few weeks before the end of the 2012-13 NBA season. Plotting data on average team age and average point differential, Ziller found there were a plethora of teams that were young and performed poorly, and a number of others that were older that competed at a high level. There were, of course, teams in the middle too.
What he found rare, though, were teams that were both high-achieving and young.
The two clear examples of this exception are Houston and Oklahoma City. Both teams were among the league’s youngest, yet still managed to be in the Top 10 in terms of point differential. So yes, a young team technically "can" be good. These examples, though, are outliers.
The Portland Trail Blazers face a similar uphill battle this season. Even with a promising core of young players coupled with a few All Star or ex-All Star caliber players, the fact is that the roster is significantly below-average when it comes to age. Specifically, the average age of the team is almost exactly 25 years old—putting the team just outside the five youngest in the league.
In short, the odds aren’t in their favor to be successful this year.
What’s interesting, though, is how successful "young" Blazer teams have been in bucking the trend. Recent memory turns to when Frye was on a youthful team including a young Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and the hopes of Greg Oden’s quick recovery. Against the odds, that squad managed a .500 record and dreams of a quick return to the playoffs.
The point is that young teams inherently have issues in being successful—the data suggests that pretty clearly; there are obviously teams that have figured out how to combat that in the past (including one in Portland just a few years ago), but that’s not the norm.
So Channing Frye may have a point about not counting young teams out, no matter what critics are saying. Still, you can’t deny the track record of the vast majority of young teams either.
The expectation of many Blazers fans is that the team has a very reasonable shot at making the turn back into the postseason.
And while these expectations are not unrealistic, that type of success from the Blazers, this season, would qualify as surprising and impressive.