NBA Offseason: Grading Every Backcourt as They Stand Now

Conner BoydCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2012

NBA Offseason: Grading Every Backcourt as They Stand Now

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    With NBA Summer League officially behind us, and now that we have all gotten a good look at the young guys that will be gracing the hardwood for this upcoming NBA season, it's time to take a look at how every NBA backcourt stacks up.

    There is no scientific process to these assigned grades. I'm a fairly knowledgeable basketball enthusiast, I have watched a lot of tape to put this slideshow together and I think my grades will be fair and accurate. I'm sure some of you will disagree in the comments below, and feel free to do so. I love feedback.

    With that said, and keeping in mind that this is one man's opinion, let's take a look at how every backcourt stacks up.

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks have a lot of solid young talent in their backcourt, and they're especially deep at the point, where they have Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and Devin Harris all able to be respectable floor generals. Harris is a former soon-to-be-superstar, but has kind of dropped off of the map lately. Still, his name carries weight and he could be valuable for the Hawks.

    The biggest hit to this team was the loss of Joe Johnson, who was really the heartbeat of a pretty decent Atlanta team. With Johnson gone, it will be up to guys like Anthony Morrow and possibly even newcomer John Jenkins to come in and fill the void left by Johnson. Neither one of those guys will be able to replicate what Johnson did, but Jenkins has an elite three-point shot, and Morrow has shown he can score.

    With enough point guards to guard from injury, the position to watch in the backcourt for Atlanta will be the two-spot. If they remain in contention, look for them to try to acquire a better option there this season.

    Grade: B-

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics, similarly to the Hawks, lost a big chunk of their backcourt when Ray Allen decided to defect to Miami. It's not as big of a loss as Johnson is for the Hawks, but it definitely hurts the Celitcs. They lost a longtime veteran and someone who can help lead the team.

    At point guard, it's pretty easy to see who's going to lead the way. Rajon Rondo has evolved into one of the best young PGs in the game. He has nearly unrivaled passing abilities, and he can shoot the ball pretty darn well too. Boston doesn't have much behind Rondo, so it's going to be hoping he can stay healthy for the entire season.

    The Celtics are pretty deep at shooting guard, especially after bringing in former Dallas Maverick Jason Terry to help fill the void left by Allen. Allen was quite obviously nearing the end of his career, and Boston may have gotten an upgrade in Terry. He's a good three-point shooter, and plays like a combo guard, capable of spreading the ball out. They also have some depth behind Terry with Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley coming off the bench. They may end up being better off without Allen.

    Grade: A- (This is an edit... most commenters were right, and a B+ was low for them. They were one of the first teams I wrote and I kind of didn't realize that a B+ was going to be lower than many other teams. Still keeping it a minus though because Terry is going to show signs of age sooner or later)

Brooklyn Nets

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    The Brooklyn Nets have a new city, a new arena, a new look and a vastly improved team to go along with all the shiny new things.

    Deron Williams is back to anchor not just the backcourt, but the entire team. He's a premier player in this game, and the Nets are certainly glad to have him anchor the team. 

    Then, to do the basketball world one better, they snatched up Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks to pair beside Williams, thus creating arguably the best starting backcourt in basketball for this coming season, provided Johnson lives up to the big market hype.

    The Nets have a ton of backcourt depth as well, having MarShon Brooks, Tyshaun Taylor, C.J. Wilson, Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans coming off the bench. This is a very good, very deep backcourt that will cause some trouble in the Eastern Conference.

    Grade: A+

Charlotte Bobcats

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    OK, full disclaimer. If you've looked at my profile or you know any of my writing, you know I'm a Charlotte fan. Someone has to be.

    That being said, the Bobcats have a backcourt that will surprise some people. There are four players vying for two starting spots, and regardless of who starts and who's left out, it's going to be a pretty good backcourt.

    Kemba Walker is competing with former Los Angeles Laker Ramon Sessions to start at point, and Gerald Henderson (Charlotte's MVP from last year) will be battling for the starting spot over sharpshooter Ben Gordon.

    Those are all names with a ton of talent, so don't be surprised if the Bobcats win a few more games solely based off of their backcourt. All four of those players have different skills, and Kemba and Henderson are both young and still improving.

    Henderson still has the time and potential to be an All-Star caliber type of player, and I think the competition from Ben Gordon and the fact that he will have more talent around him to open up lanes is going to be big for him on his road to improvement.

    It might not have shown last year, but there is some talent in Charlotte. We just have to pay attention.

    Grade: B-

Chicago Bulls

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    Well, the Bulls might be in a little bit of trouble to start the season off. Derrick Rose's injury has been somewhat shrouded in secrecy, and no one seems to really be sure when he's going to be back. It appears, though, that the Bulls are going to have to plan to go without him to start the season out.

    The vast majority of the Bulls' offensive production from their backcourt came from Derrick Rose. He was the scorer, the facilitator and he gave everyone else on the court open looks. His absence from the starting lineup is going to not only be obvious, it's going to cost them games.

    Marquis Teague looks like he may be thrust into a starting role as Rose continues to rehab, which actually might not be a bad thing for the Bulls. Teague is a much better player than his college stats indicated. He did a good job on point on a Kentucky team that could hold its own against many NBA teams.

    Mario Belinelli and Richard Hamilton are both solid options at shooting guard, but make no mistake, this team is going to miss the production of Derrick Rose until he's fully recovered.

    Grade: C (with Derrick Rose at full strength, A)

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Reigning rookie of the year Kyrie Irving returns to a Cleveland backcourt that may turn heads next season. There was a lot of talk about the Cavs moving up in the draft to snag Bradley Beal, but instead they were forced (or decided, we will never know) to keep their fourth overall pick which they spent on shooting guard Dion Waiters.

    Waiters is going to have to adjust to the game speed of the NBA—his summer league stats were less than impressive, and he tended to force shots. But that is what summer league is for, and being able to play alongside Irving in the regular season will open him up more and give him much cleaner shots. Shots that he can definitely hit.

    Irving and Waiters will turn out to be one of the most exciting backcourt duos in the game, and soon, Cavs fans will forget about that guy named LeBron James.

    Not much depth behind the two, except for perhaps SG Daniel Gibson, but I doubt depth is going to be needed as long as Waiters and Irving stay healthy. 

    Grade: B+

Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks have taken some big hits this summer, most notably losing a big piece of the puzzle that kept them glued together—Jason Terry.

    Fortunately, they were able to land a very good, under-utilized O.J. Mayo in free agency to kind of clear up some of their scoring woes. Mayo will average 17-20 PPG with the Mavs in a starting role. The biggest problem with the Mavs at this moment is the fact that they don't really have a go-to point guard, which is really what you want to build a team around.

    Darren Collison is not a terrible choice to play the point, but he's never going to score a whole lot for the Mavs. If he ends up being stuck in mediocrity, they may try to start Rodrique Beuabois instead, someone who is slightly less proven than Collison, but has a fair amount of potential. It depends on how the rest of the team meshes with either of those two guys, but it is a definite downgrade from last season. Not a whole lot of depth either.

    Grade: C+

Denver Nuggets

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    Denver has a ton of depth in its backcourt. Not depth that you want to see play every night, but if someone is hurt, it will definitely have someone to help fill the hole.

    The big names on this list are pretty obvious... Ty Lawson and Andre Miller at the point, to go along with Arron Afflalo in the two-spot. Not a bad backcourt at all.

    The Nuggets made a questionable call by using their first pick on French shooting guard Evan Fournier...I've seen some game tape of him play, and while he does have game, the Nugs are doing pretty well in the backcourt. I'm not sure where Fournier fits.

    Lawson is one of my favorite players in the game, mostly because I'm a short guy, and I appreciate that Lawson is able to get in there with the big guys and grab some rebounds. He's only 5'11", but he still managed to bring in 3.7 RPG in 2011/12. He's a very efficient scorer, and when he gets tired, Andre Miller does a great job off the bench for them.

    Aaron Afflalo is also a very efficient scorer, but he doesn't do a whole lot of anything else. He's sort of the team's go-to scorer, and it shows in his numbers.

    Combine those three players with even more depth in the back, and you have a young, vastly underrated backcourt capable of doing some serious damage.

    Grade: B++

Detroit Pistons

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    Oh boy, do the Pistons need some help in the backcourt.

    They got a steal of a pick with Kim English at 44th overall. He has some of the best shooting mechanics in this draft class and is likely going to be expected to contribute immediately, as the Pistons have no other true SG on their roster.

    At the point, they're most likely going to stick with Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight to be their floor generals, and while neither one of them is particularly bad, they don't really jump out at you like they should. 

    This is one of the weakest backcourts in the NBA this year and will likely keep them from ever being a playoff contender until they seriously address it via draft or trade. Andre Drummond was an excellent pick for value and gives them their big-man of the future, but Kim English will not be able to carry this team as an everyday SG.

    Grade: D+

Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors have a logjam of talent in their backcourt, especially if Stephen Curry returns to full, injury-free form. The loss of Monta Ellis (one of the best shooting guards in the game) was certainly a hit for the Warriors, but with the talent they have stockpiled up, it's easy to see why they were willing to part ways with Ellis.

    When healthy, Curry is one of the better point guards in the game. He has true instincts, and his shooting abilities draw defenders into him, leaving other players open to collect an easy assist. That's textbook point guard, and that's what Curry is capable of—when healthy.

    Jarrett Jack is also an excellent point guard with the Warriors, averaging better stats than Curry last year. He had 16.5 PPG/6.3 APG/3.9 RPG compared to Curry's 14.7/5.3/3.4. Curry was injured for pretty much all season last year, and even when he wasn't, Golden State played him carefully, which is why Jack looks like the superior PG. In all actuality, at full health, Curry has the potential to be as good as anyone.

    When Curry arrives at full strength, It's possible that the Warriors slot Jack to SG, as he has good size as well. They have a pretty decent SG in Klay Thompson, but he plays more like a role player off the bench.

    Grade: B 

Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets have a very interesting backcourt going into next season. Sort of high-risk/high-reward. They're banking a lot of money on Jeremy Lin being the spark that he was with the Knicks, and if they can get that spark, this backcourt might be extremely formidable.

    Lin will almost definitely start at the point alongside Kevin Martin at the two-spot. Martin is a great scorer who just needs to be a little more physical. At 6'7", Martin should be a pretty decent rebounder for his position, but he only racked up 2.7 RPG last season.

    Jeremy Lamb turned heads in summer league, and if he can prove to be more physical than Martin on the boards, he may end up getting a fair amount of playing time over the vet. I have been extremely impressed with what I've seen from Lamb in summer league and in game tape from college. The dude is physical, powerful and has a very high basketball IQ.

    He might end up challenging for that starting spot with Kevin Martin.

    Then beware the Jeremy/Jeremy backcourt.

    My rating is assuming Lin continues to impress and that the competition between Lamb and Martin keeps both players at their highest level.

    Grade: A-

Indiana Pacers

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    The Pacers are in a weird place with their backcourt right now. They did a fairly conservative/under-the-radar move to pick up D.J. Augustin as a restricted free agent from the Bobcats. This was something they needed to do, as they have no true point guard on their roster other than Augustin now.

    As I mentioned earlier, Bobcats fan here. That being said, I kind of like Augustin. I don't like that he was tabbed as the PG of the future in Charlotte, which he clearly was not, but Augustin is a solid player who can dish the ball out very well. He likely is not going to blow any Pacers fans away with his shooting, which has always been sub-par, but he is an elite passer when he has the right pieces around him.

    Other than that, they don't really have a "go to" shooting guard. They use a healthy mixture of Paul George, Gerald Green, and George Hill to take over at the 2, and all three of them do a fairly decent job.

    The Pacers still need depth at PG. D.J. Augustin was always fairly fragile in Charlotte, and without him they don't really have anyone run the point. Otherwise, the Pacers spread the work out so none of their players get tired. It's a smart strategy, but one that can't work if they only have one two point guard on the roster.

    Grade: B-

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clippers have, in my own humble opinion, one of the best backcourts in the NBA.

    All you had to do was say Chris Paul, and I was sold. Add to that a healthy Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford, and you're sitting pretty in the perimeter for the Clips.

    Also, let's not count out Eric Bledsoe who had a great postseason, and despite being stuck in the shadow of Chris Paul, is still a solid point guard.

    Chris Paul is, in my opinion, the best point guard currently playing basketball. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with that, but there is not another player in the game who can create for themselves and others like Paul can. He made the Clips contenders, and with a healthier team next season, he'll do the same thing.

    Billups still has some years left in him, and he's still a very reliable scorer. I think it would be wise to start Jamal Crawford and have Billups come off the bench as the sixth man, if for no other reason than to just save his legs. He's not getting any younger, and Crawford is still a solid contributor despite being 32 himself.

    No matter what they do, this is a backcourt that can create and put balls into buckets. One of the best in the league, without a shadow of a doubt.

    Grade: A (A+ if Billups stays healthy)

Los Angeles Lakers

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    There seems to be a consensus among basketball pundits that the Lakers have the best backcourt in basketball for this coming year. 

    They certainly have the most experienced.

    Kobe Bryant will be the anchor of this team, as he always is, but even Kobe ages, and it might not be long before Bryant has to hang up the jersey and call it quits. Until then, he's still one of the best scorers in the history of the game, and he'll continue to post big-scoring numbers.

    Steve Nash to LA was a bit of a surprise. Sure, they needed a new PG after Ramon Sessions opted out of his contract and went to Charlotte, but Steve Nash? The Nash/Bryant rivalry has been well-documented, and now all of a sudden, we're supposed to watch Nash in a Laker jersey and force ourselves to remember this isn't a trick.

    This is the most experienced backcourt in the NBA, and potentially the most talented. It seems like every year we watch these two players and wait for them to start showing signs of age, but neither of them have yet, so I think they have a couple of good years in them.

    There's not a whole lot of depth behind them, though I think Andrew Goudelock is a diamond in the rough in need of just one last push to make him a good NBA player. I'm sure the Lakers will be looking to get him minutes to help both of their aging guards.

    Grade: A+

Memphis Grizzlies

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    The wealth is spread out in Memphis.

    Their go-to scorer is not in the backcourt, and their backcourt doesn't really have a go-to player. Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless seem to be the two biggest names in the Memphis backcourt, both of whom are capable point guards. Conley is a better passer, while Bayless has a very, very good three-point shot. Not a bad tandem of players playing at the point.

    Their problem is shooting guard. With the loss of OJ Mayo, the Grizzlies might not realize what they actually had now that it's gone. They still have Tony Allen, but he's not a hugely efficient scorer and he doesn't have great size for the position. 

    They may want to experiment with slotting Tony Wroten at the two. Wroten comes out of college as a PG, but he has the size of a SG, and with PG pretty much covered for the Grizz, it would make sense to have him get minutes there.

    The Grizzlies aren't in bad shape with their backcourt. They have some talent that just haven't really put up dazzling numbers. They've never really needed to, as they have one of the better front courts in the game. They've done pretty well with that formula, so there's no reason to really break it up.

    Grade: C+

Miami Heat

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    As if you thought the Miami Heat couldn't get any better after last season's championship run, they went and added yet another piece to their puzzle.

    Ray Allen at shooting guard.

    There has been a lot of talk about the Heat possibly experimenting with a "position-less" lineup to have all four of their big four starting; otherwise, either Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen will be coming off the bench. Yeah right.

    At shooting guard, it doesn't take much of a genius to figure out where all of the playing time is going to go to... a combination of Wade and Allen, and I would not be surprised if they tried to move Wade to small forward just to get the two of them on the court at the same time.

    Allen represents the much needed long-distance threat that Miami lacked last year, and he makes this team even more dangerous. Having a point guard in this lineup is little more than a formality, but Mario Chalmers seems to understand his role as a facilitator. He's not shot happy, and he seems content to let LeBron and company run the show. That being said, his assist numbers should be way higher than they are.

    I'm not really sure how the Heat is going to do this. I have no clue. I'm pretty sure they're going to want Allen and Wade starting together, so look for some new, strange lineup that might make this slide irrelevant.

    Grade: A

Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Bucks have, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite backcourt in basketball.

    They might not be as talented as some of the others, but they're definitely up there, and their two main starters bring a dynamic to the court that few other teams can match.

    Acquiring Monta Ellis from Golden State did not pay off last year in terms of the playoff berth they were searching for, but having him for a full season is going to be fantastic for the Bucks. He passes like a point guard and can shoot as well as anyone in the game. He's a true weapon at shooting guard that teams are going to constantly have to worry about double teaming.

    And then, if they do decide to double-team Ellis, they're going to have to worry about the other side of this two-headed monster that is Brandon Jennings. The biggest issue with Jennings right now is shot selection, and he tends to force quite a few shots. With Monta Ellis on board now, I'd like to see Jennings become more of a point guard and get that assist number up a little more. Nineteen PPG is great, but when you can help your team out by racking up assists, you should.

    The Bucks also added three-point specialist Doron Lamb out of Kentucky in the draft this year, so expect yet another cog in the Bucks' high-scoring backcourt machine.

    This was easily the most talented team that failed to make the playoffs last year, and I'll be shocked if they're left out again.

    Grade: A-

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves are a tough team to grade. Their backcourt is quite strong, but it's very fragile, so you may want to reserve judgement until the team can get some momentum going.

    The biggest need for the T-Wolves becomes getting the ball into the hands of their frontcourt, and they have found that guy in Ricky Rubio.

    Rubio's first campaign was unfortunately cut short last season, as he was taking the world by storm with his absurd passing abilities, and his improving shooting skills. The wait for Rubio to come over and play in Minnesota seemed to be worth it up until his injury cost him about half the season, but hopefully, he'll be back in full power this coming season.

    The T-Wolves have found the next Steve Nash in Ricky Rubio, and he is going to be invaluable to this team moving forward.

    The Wolves also decided to take a gamble and bring in Brandon Roy to fill their void at SG. Roy is a perennial All-Star, and paired next to Rubio, they could be one of the best backcourts in basketball. It's all going to depend on how healthy they can stay.

    Grade B+ (higher if they stay healthy; much lower if injuries take Rubio and/or Roy)

New Orleans Hornets

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    It's a turbulent time for the New Orleans Hornets. New management, very likely a new name, new players and hopefully some better times ahead for a team that has never really been all that successful, even with Chris Paul at the helm.

    The Hornets look to be keeping Eric Gordon, much to his own chagrin (he was hoping to go to Phoenix), and he will likely be starting opposite newly-acquired point guard Austin Rivers.

    Gordon is a scorer through and through. That's what he's done, that's what he's going to continue to do and he needs to be on a team that is going to allow him to take shots. Adding two new alpha-males in Rivers and Anthony Davis might not bode well for Gordon's morale, a big part of the reason he was hoping NOLA wouldn't match Phoenix's offer.

    Nevertheless, with Rivers starting at the point and Gordon at shooting guard, the Hornets have a ton of talent in their starting backcourt. It remains to be seen if the two players will be able to work together and win games or if there is going to be a power struggle between the two guards.

    My prediction: Gordon is traded before the season is over. I can't picture these two guys matching up chemistries. 

    Grade: B- (A- for talent. Subtracted a letter grade for what WILL be poor chemistry).

New York Knicks

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    Well...the Houston Rockets were willing to pay an outrageous sum of money to bring Linsanity to Houston, and now, the Knicks don't really have a backup plan, unless you consider an almost 40-year-old Jason Kidd a sound replacement. There's Raymond Felton too, but I've never been huge on the guy. Replacing the skill and energy that Lin brought will be no small order for the two aging vets.

    Maybe Jeremy Lin was just a brief moment of hype for the Big Apple, but one thing is for sure, the Knicks backcourt got a massive downgrade this offseason.

    It wouldn't be such a big loss if Iman Shumpert were able to come in, but Shumpert tore his ACL in April and may not even be back on the court until January. Where are the Knicks expecting to get production from the one and two spots?

    J.R. Smith is a decent shooting guard and at least gives the Knicks a scoring option at the two, but right now, the point is up in the air for the Knicks. Jason Kidd has neither the youth, nor the skill set, to run a team full-time, and with Shumpert being out until at least January, it looks like the Knicks are going to be relying pretty heavily on their frontcourt trio of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.

    When Shumpert returns, and if he can return to a level that even rivals his breakout last year, this backcourt will get a huge boost. Until then, the only player truly capable of starting in their backcourt is Smith. Everyone else is backup material at best.

    Grade: D

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    With the Knicks starved for talent in the backcourt, the small town Thunder seem to have too much to even put on the court. Any team that has a player on the level as James Harden coming off of the bench is an impressive team.

    Still, despite not starting, Harden gets starter-like minutes, and accordingly, he puts up starter-like numbers. He was selected third overall in the 2009 draft, so this was expected of him, and he is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best sixth man in basketball right now. 

    Thabo Sefolosha gets the starting nod over Harden not because he can score, but because his defense is unbelievable. When you have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant handling the scoring, sometimes we forget that neither one of them are great defenders. Sefolosha can guard just about any player in the game, and he's an invaluable piece of OKC's impressive puzzle.

    Russell Westbrook is one of the top three point guards in the game right now, and he can put the ball in the hoop in furious clips. He plays with a tenacity, and him and Durant are finally starting to show that not only can they work together, but that they can work together very well. James Harden comes in as the sixth man, but he gives a massive energy boost into periods that few teams can boast. 

    There are some other pretty decent talents that don't get a lot of mention in OKC's backcourt, but with a backcourt trio as good as they have, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. You will be hard-pressed to find a better backcourt.

    Grade: A+

Orlando Magic

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    Say what you will about Dwight Howard, but I'd want out of Orland too if I was him.

    The Magic has run out of the city of Orlando, and there is virtually no one left to man the backcourt. They only have three guards currently on their roster: Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick and Jason Richardson. Both Redick and Richardson are serviceable shooting guards, and Redick has certainly made a case to be a starting shooting guard in this league. He's potentially an elite three-point shooter and does many other things quite well.

    Richardson has played well for Orlando in the past, but his 32 years are certainly catching up to him and his play is steadily declining. He only shot .408 from the field this season, down from his career average of .441.

    Further, both Redick and Richardson are shooting guards. The Magic have one point guard on their roster at the moment, and that is Chris Duhon. Now, I consider myself a fairly intense basketball fan. I'm pretty up-to-date with my player knowledge and history, but even I had to look Duhon up to see what he's done in the past.

    I'll save you the trouble and just say "not much".

    The Magic absolutely must trade Dwight Howard. There are no questions about it. Dwight won't succeed with this team, and more importantly, the Magic desperately need new, young talent to begin to rebuild around. If they go into the season like this, they will be the worst team in basketball.

    Grade: F

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Phew, now that the depressing Orlando Magic slide is out of the way, let's move onto a team with some real promise.

    The Sixers have a young crop of guards that are shaping a pretty solid backcourt. This will be Nick Young's third team in two years (via WAS and then LAC), and the Sixers are going to be a better team because of him. Evan Turner, though showing signs of improvement every year, is not quite ready to be a full-time starter in the NBA. He should still get plenty of minutes behind Young, however.

    Jrue Holiday has done a good job at point for the Sixers, shooting fairly effectively, dishing the ball out when it needs to get into a guy like Andre Iguodala, and quietly running the show for a steadily improving Philadelphia team. With a proven SG in Nick Young beside him, there's no reason to believe his numbers won't see a boost.

    As for Evan Turner, I hope the fact that the Sixers decided to bring in Young doesn't demoralize the young man. He's shown time and time again that he has what it takes to succeed at this level; he just has a few kinks to work out before he becomes a big-time scorer in the NBA. 

    The only knock I have on the Sixers is their lack of depth at the point. The only backup to Holiday is Royal Ivey, and I doubt he has what it takes to run the court full-time.

    Grade: B

Phoenix Suns

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    The Phoenix Suns are a very strange team to write about regarding their backcourt. They're pretty much the polar opposite of the Orlando Magic. They have so much unproven depth at both positions that it's hard to sort through it all.

    It was obvious when Steve Nash left they were looking for an heir to his mighty throne. They drafted UNC's Kendall Marshall, perhaps the truest point guard in the entire draft class, to fill that void. Then they were the victors in the Goran Dragic sweepstakes, giving them a formidable 1-2 punch at the point. Dragic has more experience, and I expect him to start right off the bat for Phoenix. Don't be surprised if Dragic and Marshall begin to enter a sort of platoon at the point to see who better fits the Suns' needs.

    Shannon Brown seems to be their best bet at shooting guard. He's the most experienced at the position, and still only 26. 

    Don't expect Phoenix to pick a lineup and stay with it, though. The Suns have seven guards currently on their roster, and I don't think it's fair to pick any one of them as the favorite to start at either backcourt position.

    Most of that will be sorted out in training camps and preseason, but this will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in terms of backcourt performance. Kendall Marshall is the most similar player to the recently departed Nash, so expect him to be the future PG of Phoenix.

    That's about all you really can expect, though. Lots of unproven depth for this team. At least it won't have to worry about injuries.

    Grade: B

Portland Trail Blazers

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    I fully expect Damian Lillard to start at PG for the Portland Trailblazers to open up the year.

    There; that's out of the way.

    Similar to the Suns, the Blazers have a wealth of bodies to fill out the floor, but none of them really jump out at you, which is presumably why they decided to go after Lillard in the first place. Lillard had a fantastic summer league, and I think he proved an naysayers wrong about his ability to transition from Weber State to he NBA.

    After all, LeBron did it straight out of high school.

    On the other side of the backcourt will likely be Wesley Matthews at shooting guard. He had a solid, if unpredictable 2011-12, but he is the most proven of the bunch. He needs to be more careful about where he shoots, and his assist numbers could always go up.

    With Lillard presumably leading the way (I'm going to predicting at least 17-19 PPG for Lillard), Matthews will have to recognize his role as a facilitator and not the go-to scorer. If Matthews can't do that, expect to see one of the other four guards on the roster waiting to get a shot come in and make Lillard as effective of a scorer as he can be.

    Grade: B++

Sacramento Kings

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    The Kings are an interesting team. For a team that seems to go nowhere, they have a ton of talent on the floor and on the bench. Looking at a list of their guards, it's hard to imagine why they're not in the playoffs every year.

    Marcus Thornton can flat-out score. He was a gem in the second round, and the Kings now have a legitimate 20-point threat every night. John Salmons does a great job coming off the bench, Aaron Brooks can post solid numbers and Isaiah Thomas is an excellent guard as well.

    That leaves Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette. The Kings seem to be doing everything they can to get rid of these two guys, and with the wealth of talent they have in the backcourt, I guess I can see why. Fredette was something of a bust last season, and the Kings are trying to get as much value out of him before too many teams realize that.

    But Tyreke Evans? Certainly, he's worth keeping around. Evans is the most complete player in the Kings backcourt, capable of scoring at huge clips, grabbing rebounds and dishing out assists. The Kings have needs, but Tyreke Evans is a piece a team can build around, and I don't see why the Kings don't use what they have.

    Until they decide to make some boneheaded trade, this is one of the best backcourts in basketball in my eyes.

    Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs are pretty good, I guess.

    I mean, when you're fueled by one of the best forwards to ever play the game, you're bound to get something right.

    Well, the Spurs have that, and then some. Tony Parker was one of the best point guards in all of basketball last year, getting the ball into the bucket and dishing it out as effectively as he shot. Gary Neal came off the bench behind Parker and did a good job, contributing nearly 10 points every time he was on the floor.

    And then you have Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson. Ginobili had his minutes slashed this past season, mostly because he's 35 and they're trying to get as many years out of him as they can. He still managed to shoot an alarming .526 from the field, as close to a sure thing as you can get in basketball.

    Stephen Jackson fit right in with his soon-to-be-retired buddies, providing sufficient backup to the team at SG when they needed it, even though at 6'8", he's more suited for small forward or even power forward.

    The long and short of this slide is this: Being old in the NBA is a myth. Players age, sure. But the San Antonio Spurs are living, breathing, dominating proof that age doesn't mean lack of competitiveness. Until Parker and Ginobili decide to hang up their jerseys, they'll still be one of the best backcourts in the NBA.

    Grade: A

Toronto Raptors

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    The Raptors have been mediocre for a long time, which has always been strange to me, because they certainly have some talent to build on.

    Having DeMar DeRozan at SG is a solid move for the Raptors. DeRozan can tend towards taking too many shots when he should be spreading the ball out more because there are plenty of players on the team that can hit a jumper. DeRozan just tends to force it sometimes, but he's still a valuable asset at the two.

    Jose Calderon is one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. While he doesn't score a whole lot (only 10.1 PPG in 2011/12), he dishes out assists with the best of them, last season averaging a very impressive 8.8 APG. The best part about Calderon is that opposing defenders are forced to guard him like he's going to shoot, because he certainly can put the ball into the hole, but he's a pass-happy point guard and he can make offenses pay.

    And then you have Kyle Lowry at the point who could potentially be a great point guard, but like many other young point guards, he tends to force too many shots.

    The addition of Terrence Ross as the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft was seen as a reach by many, but after a good summer league showing, people are beginning to understand why they went with the young man.

    The Raptors have an extremely deep backcourt and are a lot better than many give them credit for and could challenge for a playoff spot as early as this season. Their backcourt will be a big reason for that.

    Grade: B+

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz have a ton of guys on their roster who all make little contributions here and there. As I run down the list of guards on this team, I have a hard time imagining any of them starting.

    It will most likely be Mo Williams at the point and Gordon Hayward at the two.

    Hayward is a potentially exciting player who has the talent and tools to become a legitimate scoring threat in this league, but I think we've seen just about all we are going to see out of Williams. He's an average point guard and not much more.

    Both Randy Roye and Alec Brooks are also potential starting targets for the Jazz, but their numbers and their skill sets both still say bench. There are a tons of guards on this roster, and I have to be honest, I'm not really sure what the point is. A bunch of guys who average six to eight points a game, and no one who really stands out beyond Hayward.

    Perhaps the Jazz is looking for a constant string of substitutions to keep their legs fresh and to keep the opponent guessing? I honestly have no idea.

    From an outsider looking in (that's me), I have to say I'm confused and I'm really not sure the direction they're planning to take.

    Grade: C-

Washington Wizards

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    The Washington Wizards already have one of the best young point guards in the game by the name of John Wall. He's a true point guard, able to shoot and pass. His FG% could always be higher, but he's a young guy and it's something to work on.

    The Wizards already had Jordan Crawford paired beside Wall in the starting lineup, but evidently, the top brass didn't think Crawford was as reliable as they would have liked, and they decided to spend their third overall pick on uber-shooting prospect Bradley Beal.

    I'll come out and say it in this slide: Drafting Beal was about as risky as it could have been. While he does have nearly flawless shooting mechanics and can hit the three-ball, Beal is far from a sure thing as far as prospects go. There were guys taken after him (coughThomasRobinsoncough) who would make sure fire impacts to their team, but Beal is a high-risk, high-reward pick.

    If he succeeds, the Wizards are going to have trade bait in Jordan Crawford, a more than serviceable shooting guard in his own rights, but if Beal fails, at least they'll still have him to fall back on.

    There are two things that could happen to this backcourt, disregarding health.

    1: Wall and Beal mesh perfectly and become a top 5 (possibly even 3) backcourt in the NBA

    2: Wall excels, but Beal flops and Crawford sees the majority of playing time.

    Either way, the Wizards are going to have a decent backcourt. I'm going to give them a grade based on the first choice up there, because I've seen a lot of what Beal can do, and I just don't think he's going to flop.

    Grade: A-