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Ranking Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant Against Every NBA Team's Starting Backcourt

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 30, 2012

Ranking Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant Against Every NBA Team's Starting Backcourt

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    Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have never played together without wearing All-Star uniforms, but they're already the NBA's top backcourt going into the 2011-12 season. 

    There are plenty of challengers, but The Black Mamba and his Canadian counterpart are two of the most dominant players in the league. Their games should complement each other quite nicely, bringing joy to the hearts of L.A. fans and terror to the hearts of the rest of the league. 

    Using Rotoworld's 2012 depth charts to determine the starters, this article sets forth the starting guard units from bottom to top.

    Read on to find out who poses the biggest threat to the Lakers' crown.  

30. Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey

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    Until Brandon Knight proves that he's made massive strides, he's going to rank as one of the NBA's worst starting point guards.

    The former Kentucky guard proved last year that another year at Kentucky would have done him wonders, as he struggled with turnovers and his shot throughout the season. 

    Knight will look significantly better during his sophomore season—as so many young point guards have followed that career path—but he's still not good enough at present to bump the Detroit Pistons out of the No. 30 spot. 

    Rodney Stuckey is an underrated combo-guard, but he's more of a point guard than a shooting guard, which only complicates the situation. 

29. Charlotte Bobcats: Ramon Sessions and Gerald Henderson

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    It's the Charlotte Bobcats. I'm fairly sure that there's a rule stating that they can't rank higher than 29th in anything until they win enough games to guarantee that they won't break last year's record for futility. 

    Ramon Sessions will be a nice addition, especially if he regains his mojo after a brutal postseason for the Los Angeles Lakers. He'll have to if he hopes to hold down the fort as the starter with Kemba Walker waiting in the wings. 

    Joining Sessions in the backcourt will be Gerald Henderson, who will also have to play well to avoid begin replaced by Ben Gordon. 

    Henderson scored well last season, averaging 15.1 points per game, but that was more a testament to the offensive futility in Charlotte than his talent. 

28. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews

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    Damian Lillard might be one of the preseason frontrunners for the NBA's coveted Rookie of the Year award, but there's a key word in this sentence. 

    That word would be "rookie." 

    Unless the player is an otherworldly talent in the same vein as Kyrie Irving or John Wall, it's tough for him to make a significant—and positive—impact during his first season in The Association. 

    Lillard has already proven that he can play with NBA-caliber players by winning Co-MVP at the Summer League, but he's unproven against the elite members of professional basketball. 

    As for Wesley Matthews, well, he's not too much more than a three-point shooter at this stage of his career. 

27. Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton

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    If we were talking about 2005 instead of 2012, this backcourt duo would find itself significantly higher up in the rankings. 

    These days, Kirk Hinrich isn't too much more than a stopgap at point guard as Derrick Rose rehabs and waits to return from his ACL injury. He'll be a valuable role player once Rose returns, but his days as a starting point guard in this league should be over. 

    Hamilton was a much ballyhooed signing going into the 2011-12 season, but injuries prevented his first year with the Chicago Bulls from ever taking flight. The 34-year-old masked man is clearly starting to slow down. 

26. Orlando Magic: Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo

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    Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson were the two biggest "acquisitions" of the offseason for the Orlando Magic. I'm putting that word in quotes only because Nelson is technically remaining with the team; he just signed a three-year extension. 

    Nelson is still a solid point guard, although the three-year deal was inexplicable for a rebuilding team. He'll be joined in the backcourt by supposed defensive ace Afflalo. 

    Afflalo was the best player that Rob Hennigan received in the Dwight Howard trade, and he'll have to continue working on his defensive game to make the exchange at least somewhat defensible. 

25. Sacramento Kings: Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton

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    Don't be fooled by Isaiah Thomas' small stature. He's more than just a one-year flash in the pan. 

    The player whose nickname is not "Zeke" posted a 17.68 PER last season, passing the ball with remarkable efficiency while showing off his scoring touch throughout his time on the court. 

    Speaking of scoring touch, Marcus Thornton has blossomed into one of the more underrated players in the NBA, thanks to the fact that he plays for the Sacramento Kings. 

    Thornton averaged 18.7 points per game last year, raising his percentage from the field while also increasing his scoring average. 

    As this young pair continues to develop, it will start to climb up the rankings. 

24. Dallas Mavericks: Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo

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    The Dallas Mavericks had a solid offseason, but the bulk of the team's talent lies in the frontcourt, not the backcourt. 

    Darren Collison needed a fresh start after he was replaced in the starting lineup by George Hill during the Indiana Pacers' run through the postseason. He'll get that fresh start, but he'll need to quickly increase his scoring capabilities if he wants to maximize his opportunity. 

    Now that he's on a team with a less diverse offensive system, he'll be able to do so. However, that's purely speculation based on the point guard's talent level. 

    O.J. Mayo was in need of a fresh start as well, after he was demoted to the bench for the past two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies. 

    He still has talent, but it seems to be fairly well hidden at this point. 

23. Utah Jazz: Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward

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    The Utah Jazz backcourt still lags behind the frontcourt by a significant margin, but it's on the rise after the re-acquisition of Mo Williams. 

    While Williams isn't quite the same player that he was during his first stint in Salt Lake City, he's still going to be a solid contributor, scoring at a high level while distributing the ball effectively to his teammates. 

    The bigger reason for the rise is the expected growth of Gordon Hayward, a prime candidate to breakout next season. 

    Hayward improved during each and every month last season, topping out in April when he averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Jazz. 

22. New York Knicks: Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith

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    If Raymond Felton can regain the glory that he once found with the New York Knicks, then I'm going to take a lot of well-deserved heat for ranking this pairing way too low. 

    However, Felton is coming off two miserable seasons in a row. They were campaigns filled with bench time, lots of donuts and largely ineffective play. 

    In a system in which Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are going to dominate the ball, it's more likely that Felton will be good but not great during his return to Madison Square Garden. 

    J.R. Smith joins him at shooting guard, providing his typically inconsistent play that's full of highlights. He'll blow opponents away one quarter, then shoot his team out of the game the next. He will hold down the fort while Iman Shumpert recovers from injury. 

21. Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley

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    Goran Dragic might have a small sample size of starts, but he was absolutely incredible when his name was listed among the starting five. The dynamic point guard averaged 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 8.4 assists in that role. 

    Expecting him to keep up that level of play for a full season is a bit unrealistic, particularly because he's going into a novel situation, hoping to develop immediate chemistry with his new teammates. 

    Dragic will succeed, just not immediately, and not to the same level that he did during his brief starting stint in Houston. 

    As for the shooting guard on the Phoenix Suns, Jared Dudley fills the role and will continue to be be one of the more underrated players in the league. 

    The former Boston College standout will never be a star, but he's going to be solid once more, averaging at least 15 points and five rebounds per game. 

20. Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields

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    Despite Goran Dragic's breakout season last year, there's a reason that Kyle Lowry was the starter in the first place. 

    Lowry is simply a better point guard at this stage in their careers. While the younger man might one day surpass the man who once stood in front of him on the depth chart, that day has not yet arrived. 

    Even though Landry Fields is significantly worse than Jared Dudley, the gap between Lowry and Dragic is still enough to barely push the Toronto Raptors ahead of the Phoenix Suns. 

19. Washington Wizards: John Wall and Jordan Crawford

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    If Bradley Beal was listed as the starting shooting guard for the Washington Wizards, the team would find itself at a much more desirable spot in the rankings. 

    However, with Jordan Crawford and his 300 missed shots per game (that's an exaggeration, obviously) in the starting five, the Wizards are a one-man show in the backcourt. Of course, Crawford still thinks it's a two-man show, and that's part of the problem. 

    John Wall played significantly better as a sophomore than he did during his first year out of Kentucky, thanks almost solely to increased efficiency from the field. 

    There's still plenty of room for development, particularly when it comes to outside shooting, but there's no doubt that Wall has the ability to become a superstar. 

18. Philadelphia 76ers: Jrue Holiday and Nick Young

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    Jrue Holiday has yet to take the predicted step forward in his development, instead declining slightly during his third season in the league. That may simply be a byproduct of the lockout-shortened season, or it could be more telling about his long-term potential. 

    After patiently waiting for him to breakout each of the last two years, I'm about ready to declare him a slightly-above-average point guard without too much remaining upside. 

    At least he can pace, which is more than can be said about Nick Young. The only way the ball leaves that shooting guard's hands is through a shot or a dribble en route to a shot. 

    Young is a fantastic scorer and should fill the scoring void left by the departures of Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, but he'll have to be more unselfish to thrive in a true team setting. 

17. Indiana Pacers: D.J. Augustin and Paul George

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    While George Hill might eventually take over the full-time starting role, D.J. Augustin is still currently listed as the top option at the position after he was acquired during the offseason. 

    The speedy point guard will have to take a back seat to the other options in Indiana, but he should thrive on a team that isn't called the Charlotte Bobcats. 

    Paul George should take a step forward this season as he lines up next to the former Texas Longhorn. His athleticism is still off the charts, and he should improve once more after taking a massive step forward during his sophomore season. 

16. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters

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    Dion Waiters has struggled throughout the offseason, and is already starting to earn the dreaded "bust" tag even though he hasn't even stepped foot onto the court during an NBA game.

    That's an unfair assessment, but it is safe to say that Waiters looks like he's going to struggle. tremendously as a rookie out of Syracuse. 

    His backcourt mate has no such issues. 

    After enjoying one of the most sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, Kyrie Irving is set to join the upper echelon of point guards in the league and compete for a spot on the All-Star squad. 

    He's that good. 

15. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague and Lou Williams

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    The Atlanta Hawks backcourt now features two players who complement each other quite well. 

    Even though Joe Johnson has departed Atlanta for the friendly confines of Brooklyn, "The Highlight Factory" will still enjoy watching a top-15 blend of guards. 

    Jeff Teague is a solid three-point shooter and a lockdown defender with a nose for steals. Joining him will be undersized shooting guard Lou Williams, who is fully capable of replacing Joe's scoring contributions from the 2-spot. 

    Moreover, Williams is as good at preventing turnovers as Teague is at causing them. 

    This backcourt might not be too glamorous, but it will be undeniably solid. That sounds kind of like the Hawks in general. 

14. New Orleans Hornets: Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon

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    Greivis Vasquez is by no means a star at point guard, even though he improved tremendously once he moved to New Orleans. 

    The former Maryland standout averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 assists per game with the Hornets while posting a PER of 14.2. He's a solid option to start the season with, but he's not special enough to hold off Austin Rivers for long.

    This lofty ranking for New Orleans is due to the presence of a healthy Eric Gordon in the lineup. When he's not hindered by that pesky injury imp, the shooting guard is one of the best players in the league at his position.

    The Hornets will be his team on offense, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him average around 25 points per game with a plus-20 PER.  

13. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley and Tony Allen

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    While the Vasquez-Gordon duo is all about offense, Tony Allen and Mike Conley form one of the league's most terrifying defensive backcourts. 

    Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, a player fully capable of shutting down the opponent's best guard on a nightly basis. 

    Although Conley isn't able to prevent points as easily as Allen, he's one of the best thieves in The Association and should challenge for the league lead in steals per game once more. 

    Conley's all-around game is still on the upswing as he puts more and more temporal distance between himself and Ohio State. If he can continue to cut down on his turnovers, as he's done for each of the past two seasons, he'll put himself significantly higher up on the point guard totem pole. 

12. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio and Brandon Roy

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves' ranking is based upon Brandon Roy being a solid shooting guard, but just a shell of his former self. 

    If Roy is able to regain his old form and become one of the best players in the league once more, the Wolves will shoot up the ranking. 

    The T-Wolves coming in at No. 12 is primarily due to Ricky Rubio's excellence running the point. Even after just one season in The Association, the Spanish maestro has established himself as one of the league's premier distributors. 

    His scoring could use a bit of work, but his thievery and facilitation are already top-notch, and he should be a star in this league for quite some time. 

11. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

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    IF Stephen Curry can stay healthy for an entire season, he'll compete for the league lead in three-pointers and play at an All-Star level on the offensive end of the court. "IF" is written with caps lock on because, well, it's a big if. 

    His defense would still be lacking, but he'd put up a whole bunch of points. 

    Joining him in the backcourt is Klay Thompson, who was sensational during the end of his rookie season once Curry was hurt and Monta Ellis had been traded. The former Washington State Cougar could also challenge the rest of the league for the three-point crown. 

    This backcourt is going to become one of the best offensive duos in the league. 

10. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker and Danny Green

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    As we move into the top 10, we're moving into the upper echelon of the backcourts—a realm that only includes pairings of two solid players or a decent contributor and an absolute stud. 

    Even though Danny Green showed off just how deadly he could be from downtown in Gregg Popovich's system, the San Antonio Spurs still fall squarely into the latter category. 

    This backcourt is all about Tony Parker, who continues to quietly fly under the radar as one of the league's truly elite floor generals. With his speed and ability to run the Spurs' offense to perfection, Parker is still one of the NBA's best point guards. 

    He deserved a bit of MVP consideration last year and will do so again if the Spurs remain at or near the top of the Western Conference. 

9. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin

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    While the frontcourt in Houston might be filled with unproven young players competing for roster spots, the team prominently features two solid offensive options in the backcourt. 

    With his ability to draw contact and put up ridiculous scoring totals, Kevin Martin is one of the most unknown superstars in the NBA. The 2-guard's string of five seasons in a row averaging 20 points per game or more came to an end last season, primarily due to injuries that limited his playing time and games played. 

    Assuming he is healthy, Martin should be in prime position to start a new streak, especially as the top offensive option. 

    Then there's Jeremy Lin.

    Will we see the man who inspired Linsanity in New York, the scrub who bounced from team to team, or some compromise between the two extremes? 

    No one really knows, but Lin passes the eye test. Even if he's only an average point guard, this is still a great backcourt combo. 

8. Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade

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    Whether you think that Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade is the best shooting guard in the NBA—and despite the number of homers who support each of the two players, it is a legitimate debate—you can't deny that this duo is now one of the league's best. 

    Mario Chalmers is often viewed as the whipping boy on the Miami Heat—the man who the other players love to yell at when things aren't up to par. 

    Despite the verbal abuse that the point guard takes, he's still a sharpshooter from the outside and a solid defensive option on the perimeter. 

    Plus, it's the current version of the Miami Heat. Whether it's the frontcourt or the backcourt, you know it's going to be good. 

7. Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo and Courtney Lee

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    Now that he's free of Kevin Martin's shadow, Courtney Lee is finally going to thrive as a solid offensive shooting guard. He'll have to compete with Jason Terry—and eventually Avery Bradley—for playing time, but he's fully capable of winning the position battle down the road. 

    Then there's the enigma that is Rajon Rondo. 

    There are a fair share of NBA fans who firmly believe that Rondo is the best player at his position. There's also a group who cries out that he's incredibly overrated. 

    Rondo is neither of those things. He's one of the league's best pure point guards, but he still trails Chris Paul, a healthy Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook once you put aside the silly notion that certain positions must contribute in certain ways. 

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder backcourt is another group of players who complement each other to absolute perfection. 

    Even though it would rank higher if James Harden was listed as the starter, the OKC guards make for a great blend of defense and offense. 

    Thabo Sefolosha's athleticism and defensive prowess are useful on one end, while Russell Westbrook's insane offensive abilities are quite useful on the other. 

    Together, they can shut down the oppositions' small guys while putting up 30 points on any given night. 

5. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis

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    Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis might not have the same defensive capabilities as the Westbrook-Sefolosha duo, but they can put up even more points (and then some). 

    The lefty point guard took a massive leap forward last season, earning some serious All-Star consideration as he finally pushed his field goal percentage above 40. Jennings averaged 19.1 points and 5.5 assists per game with a PER of 18.4. 

    He'll be joined in the backcourt by Ellis for a full season now. As most know by now, Ellis is one of the premier scorers in the league, attacking the basket at all times and never hesitating to pull the trigger. 

    Both guards have to shoot a lot to be effective, but both can score more than their fair share of points. 

    If I were coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, I'd tell my entire frontcourt to focus solely on crashing the offensive boards. 

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups

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    Even if Chauncey Billups doesn't regain his recent form as he recovers from an Achilles tendon injury, this backcourt is still going to be elite. 

    Chris Paul would be the reason for that. 

    With his constant motion that occasionally borders on over-dribbling, his ability to take a game over offensively and his elite defensive contributions, CP3 remains the league's top point guard for at least one more season. 

    When your backcourt contains the best player at one of the two positions and another above-average contributor, a top-five ranking is certainly in store. 

3. Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala

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    The amount of transition buckets that this duo is going to produce is simply off the charts. 

    Ty Lawson is one of the fastest players in the NBA when he has the ball in his hands, and he's going to use that blazing speed to continue his quick ascent into the ranks of the elite floor generals. Expect similar numbers to last year's 16.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, but this time with increased efficiency. 

    The point guard's field goal percentage dropped below 50 percent last year for the first time in his short career, as he took a larger role in the offense. Next season, Lawson will have Andre Iguodala to pass to, and he'll be able to take more care with his shot selection. 

    Iggy is one of the league's top perimeter defenders, but he can also be a deadly force on offense when he's not asked to be the leading scorer for his team. 

    He's in position to thrive in Denver. 

2. Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson

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    It's not often that you find a backcourt comprised of two players who make All-Star team after All-Star team. The Brooklyn Nets now own one of two such pairings in the NBA. 

    Deron Williams has played on the last three squads, half as many as Joe Johnson has balled in. 

    Now, they'll be playing together after Billy King re-signed the former and traded for the latter. 

    Joe has gotten an undeservedly and deservedly bad reputation for his time with the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, he didn't deserve his massive contract, but he's still an unbelievable offensive player, particularly in isolation sets. 

    As for D-Will, it'll be interesting to see just how effective he can be when the entire offense doesn't rest on his shoulders. 

1. Los Angeles Lakers: Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant

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    What do you get when you pair a top-two distributor with a top-two shooting guard? You get the No. 1 backcourt in the NBA. 

    The Los Angeles Lakers backcourt was one of the best in the league even when it was just Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions. Similarly, the Phoenix Suns backcourt was one of the top units that the NBA had to offer when it was comprised of Steve Nash and Jared Dudley. 

    Nash now has even more options to work with, and Kobe can finally stop worrying about having to score almost all of the points. 

    While The Black Mamba's scoring average is going to drop as he lets Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol shoot the ball, he's going to be more efficient than he has been in years. It'll also help that Nash's brilliant passes will create open looks for him. 

    Even though they have yet to play a game together (kind of like the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the rankings), Nash and Kobe are set to start dominating the Western Conference. 

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