In the borough of Brooklyn, the drama is always at a premium. On the other side of the country, the same can be said for the city of Los Angeles.
Coincidentally, these two locations have become intertwined by a period of free agency that presented their respective NBA franchises with elite backcourt combinations. The question is, which city reigns supreme?
If you ask Nets general manager Billy King, New York's newest team takes the cake.
Billy King said Deron/Joe Johnson is better than Nash/Kobe: "They’re good. I like them. But I think ours is better."— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) July 13, 2012
Billy King has never been one to value timidity. This latest outburst, however, has the NBA asking a question that truly does deserve to be put forth. After all, nine All-Star appearances in one backcourt have Brooklyn worthy of the crown.
Can they top Los Angeles? To quote the great Michael Buffer, uhhhhlet's get ready to rumblllllllle!
The Brooklyn Nets put forth a backcourt with two All-NBA appearances. Deron Williams is one of the top five point guards in the league today, putting together two seasons with averages of 20-plus points per game and another three with at least 10 assists.
Joe Johnson, meanwhile, is a versatile 2-man who has averaged at least 18.2 points per game in seven consecutive seasons. At 6'7", he's one of the tallest players at his position and hasn't missed an All-Star game since 2006.
As for the Los Angeles Lakers, their backcourt combines for 22 All-Star appearances, three MVP awards and 21 All-NBA selections. Kobe Bryant alone has five NBA championships, two finals MVP awards and two scoring titles. Steve Nash, meanwhile, has led the league in assists on two separate occasions.
Throw in Kobe's 12 All-Defensive team appearances, including nine first-team placements, and you can see why Kobe is one of the all-time greats.
While the Los Angeles Lakers clearly have the more accomplished tandem, this is not a comparison of careers. If it were, the Lakers would clearly walk away victorious against the Nets and, quite possibly, every backcourt in NBA history.
Instead, this is an evaluation of the present. So who's got the advantage?
Steve Nash remains one of the top two facilitators in the NBA, with the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo coming in as his only true competition. Deron Williams, meanwhile, is one of the top five dish men in his own right, and might just be the best pick-and-roll point guard in the league outside of Nash himself.
In that department, however, Nash owns the slight advantage.
As for scoring itself, don't think that Deron Williams has such a great advantage because of what the numbers suggest. While Williams' average of 21.0 points per game in 2012 clearly trump Nash's 12.5, the man they call Nashty is one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history.
He's an elite jump shooter whose shot selection is amongst the best, as evidenced by the fact that he shot 53.2 percent from the field in 2012.
Nevertheless, Williams wins the scoring battle. He is much stronger off the dribble and would have shot a much better percentage than he managed in 2012 (had there been anything close to offensive support in New Jersey). Consider this a 1-1 tie.
Then we get to defense, where Deron Williams has the clear-cut advantage. An advantage that gives Brooklyn the victory at the point guard position.
At the 2, we have two of the game's best. Joe Johnson and Kobe Bryant have both dealt with difficult situations in which neither have had a true point guard to facilitate the offense. As a result, the two have become the primary ball-handlers and scorers for their respective offenses.
With a comparison of 27.9 points per game from Kobe and 18.7 from Johnson, it's rather clear who has the advantage in that department. Cite whatever field goal percentages you'd like, Kobe owns this battle for reasons that span beyond points per game. He's one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and it's his versatility in that department that has him there. Not "volume shooting."
With that being said, Joe Johnson does hold a few advantages over Bryant. He's a much better three-point shooter, a better passer and certainly more efficient on the glass. His size and athleticism present yet another area in which he holds an edge.
None of that equates to a true advantage, though.
Kobe Bryant has an unteachable will to win. While Joe Johnson is just as dangerous in the clutch, Kobe is the best postseason performer of our generation. He's just as likely to put up 40 points in a playoff game as you are to double-check that he's won more NBA titles than Joe Johnson has made conference semifinals appearances.
At the end of the day, Kobe and Johnson are not as far off as many believe. Johnson remains an elite player whose physical makeup offers him a distinct positional advantage on both ends of the floor. Kobe's ability to take over in the postseason, however, sets the table for the expected.
The Los Angeles Lakers own the advantage at the 2.
Who holds the overall edge?
Is it the Brooklyn Nets, who have a greater window of opportunity due to their age and athletic ability? Or the Los Angeles Lakers, who pair two sure-fire Hall of Famers with plenty left in the tank?
To answer that question, we must understand what makes a great 1-2 tandem.
An elite backcourt is built in two stages. First, you must have a selfless point guard who is always looking to set his teammate up to score. Second, you must have an elite scorer at the 2 who moves well off the ball and can score in a variety of ways.
While both teams put forth that very combination, the Lakers' possession of one of the top two assist men and top two scorers in the game today simply sinks their opposition. Postseason success is just icing on the cake.
Until they meet in 2013, the basketball world throws yet another accolade onto Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant's resumes. L.A. has the best backcourt in the NBA.
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