Ranking the Top 10 NBA Backcourt Duos
With the great infusion of young talent in the NBA over the past few years and experienced veterans still holding a lock on stardom, ranking the top 10 backcourts in order posed a formidable challenge.
Who are the best backcourts in the NBA today?
The question deserves a fresh look, as some of these top 10 were not even paired last season. And for a couple others, injury got in the way.
With the very active free agent period this summer juggling teams' ones and twos, major players (Derrick Rose) returning from surgery and enough offseason roster shakeups to fill an NBA playbook, we need to ask a few more questions, in order to answer that first one:
Who will be Jrue Holiday's backcourt mate?
Is the Deron Williams and Joe Johnson pairing overhyped?
Do Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin make the cut?
What's going on with creaky Chauncey Billups?
Who will be Ricky Rubio's shooting guard?
Are Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant the best backcourt in the league?
Are Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and John Wall enough to carry their backcourts into the rankings?
Answers to all these questions here, where we rank the best backcourt duos—two great players that will work great together—of 2012-13.
Honorable Mentions Part I
First, briefly, there are some honorable mentions, in no particular order. Any of these backcourt pairs could stake a reasonable claim to cracking the top 10, but at the least, they are in the top 20.
As it stands, though, they did not make the cut, and have more to prove before rising in the rankings.
And it could definitely happen with any of these duos, from most of whom we don't know exactly what to expect. One or two might even go off the charts. Some will fall entirely flat.
But none will be good enough to crack the top five.
Here are the NBA backcourt's also-rans:
Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin (PG) and Kevin Martin (SG) make up a backcourt everyone wants to see. There are still questions surrounding Lin, who could either go on to achieve superstar status, or, more likely, become a top-half of the league dependable, playmaking point guard if he stays healthy.
Martin fell off a bit last season, and he and coach Kevin McHale aren't the best of buds. Still, he has the potential to score 20 a game again. Too many questions here, though, including defense.
Washington Wizards: Give John Wall (PG) and Bradley Beal (SG) a few years and they could become one of the more exciting, and offensively talented, tandems in the league. Wall has been great at the point averaging over 16 points and 8 assists in his two years. Beal made the jump after just one year at Florida. Way too early for these guys, though.
Honorable Mentions Part II
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs' backcourt took a step back when No. 4 pick Dion Waiters (SG) crapped out in the summer league, where, he admitted to the Syracuse Post-Standard that "I didn’t play to my abilities." The meek Daniel Gibson (SG) might take his place in the starting lineup.
Kyrie Irving (PG), on the other hand, is awesome, but returning from injury (he broke his hand this summer). He won Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 with 18.5 points, five-and-a half assists, about four rebounds and over a steal a game, while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from behind the arc.
Philadelphia 76ers: Jason Richardson (SG) is an upgrade over last year at shooting guard, where Philly didn't really have a pure one. But Richardson looks like he's jumped the shark, and Nick Young (SG) will be starting soon enough. Jrue Holiday (PG) does everything offensively and is one of the better point-guard defenders in the league.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs backcourt is brand spanking new, and young. Darren Collison (PG) and O.J. Mayo (SG), are exciting players to watch, and it will be a thrill to see them together, potentially combining for 25 to 30 points per game. Both had slightly off years in 2011-12, but they will make each other better in 2012-13. They still need some maturing with their combined seven years in the league.
Honorable Mentions Part III
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio (PG) led all rookies in assists per game, by three over Kyrie Irving. Rubio was looking like the next coming of the pure point guard before going down with a torn ACL. He'll be returning around December. Who knows who his shooting guard will be? The Wolves brought in gamble Brandon Roy (SG), while ESPN suggests the job could go to Russian star Alexey Shved (SG).
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry (PG) and Klay Thompson (SG) could be considered the 11th best backcourt duo, if Curry returns to form after his season-ending ankle injury. It pained me to leave them out of the top 10. Curry is a top scoring point guard capable of 20 PPG. Thompson wowed everyone his rookie season with 18.5 points per 36 minutes. He played only 24 minutes a game in 2011-12. That will go up.
Which brings us to the top 10 backcourt duos in the league.
This was not the first ranking that arose from my research and analysis. There were a few shuffles along the way. Sometimes the differences between backcourts were so minimal, it was like splitting hairs to finally pin down permanent positions on the list.
Of course there's room for debate here, so have at it in the comments section.
10. Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala
While Andre Iguodala will be receiving some time at the No. 3 according to nbcsports.com, he is primarily listed as the Denver Nuggets new shooting guard, replacing Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo is a better shooter and scorer, but not by enough to offset what Iguodala brings to the table: more of everything else (assists, rebounds, steals), including some big size (6'8") and big D.
Besides, point guard Ty Lawson will pick up the scoring slack. He was good for a bust-out 16 a game last season, on the way to the playoffs.
Lawson is also a solid defender, making this one of the better defensive backcourts in the NBA.
9. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton
It is impossible for me to leave Derrick Rose (and whoever) off the list, because for the past two years Rose (and whoever) have taken the No. 1 seed in convincing fashion.
The Chicago Bulls backcourt, as a duo, is hardly referred to as top tier lately, though.
That's mostly for two reasons: D-Rose's torn ACL, that will keep him out until at least March, and Rip Hamilton, whose career appears to be just about over.
Hamilton has played less and less basketball each of the past three years, unable to stay healthy, and he had his least productive season of all in 2011-12.
But he can still put in 10 a game, and pairing that with healthy Rose numbers makes for one fearsome backcourt.
The Chicago Tribune has reported that the Bulls want to unload Hamilton, but that won't affect the rankings here. Rose (and whoever) come in at ninth, at least.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
They've had a longer, and better, relationship than many married couples.
Tony Parker is still spot-on at the point, both scoring and facilitating. He had one of the best years of his career last year, his 11th, and seemed unfazed by the rigorous schedule. But Parker entered the league at 19. He's not as old as many think, just clicking 30 in May.
Ginobili, on the other hand, is showing his age (35), played in only half the games last season, and started only seven. All his averages were down in 2011-12.
But hold on. These guys are winners, have three rings apiece and to everyone's surprise were three wins away from the Finals.
With all the nascent talent out there, you could believe, though, this might be this duo's last top 10 appearance.
7. Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade
It's hard to argue with success.
But talentwise, this twosome finds itself the seventh-best backcourt in the NBA. That's how good the rest of this list is.
While two-time champion and leader Dwyane Wade is just plain money at the two, Mario Chalmers leaves a tad to be desired, offensively, in comparison with the other great PGs.
Wade covers both sides of the ball as well as anyone in the game. He shot 50 percent from the floor in 2011-12 for 22 a game, and threw in assists worthy of a point guard. Wade's defense is superb.
Chalmers defense is also above average, but his assists and scoring are low. Still, that's in line with his role on this team as a distant fourth option.
6. Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley
I fear Rajon Rondo more than anyone else at the point. He can single-handedly destroy you, and he carries with him any two into the top 10.
In short time, with some additional scoring oomph and if he keeps his weirdness in check, Rondo could become the best point guard in the league. And paired with Avery Bradley, he could become part of the best backcourt in the league.
Rondo had six triple-doubles in the 66-game 2011-12 season. No one else had more than one. He's a pesky defender, too, and gets in your head.
Bradley made a big splash in his first full campaign, particularly on defense.
It looks like Courtney Lee will be starting the season until Bradley returns from a shoulder injury, and there is a small chance Lee will finish things off. But the future is Rondo-Bradley.
5. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis
I pushed the Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis into the top five because they are an offensive juggernaut capable of combining for 50 points, 12-15 assists and six or more rebounds on any given night.
This is their year, and they will push the Bucks right into the playoffs.
Feeding off each other—both capable of running the floor and distributing the ball—Jennings and Ellis could prop up their individual scoring averages over the 20-point mark this season.
They're both quick and above-average defenders who make up for their lack in size with speed and by swarming the ball.
4. L.A. Clippers: Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups' health is the wild card here. He has failed to make it through a full season (including the playoffs) two years in a row now, in both cases harming his team.
Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league and the most tenacious defender of them all, leading the league in steals five of the past seven years.
Few run the offensive and defensive floor with such equal expertise.
The return of Billups will boost Paul's scoring to over the 20-point mark and his assists to over 10 again. I would not be surprised if Paul returns to the league leadership in that latter category.
The combination of Paul's confidence and skill, and Billups' experience and unflappability makes this backcourt lethal.
3. Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson
When there is talk of the best point guards in the league, in terms of making things happen, in terms of creating opportunity for teammates, the names Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash and Deron Williams come to mind.
These guards are not only master playmakers, they are master play creators.
Anyone who can score 20 and dish nine on the perennially pitiful New Jersey-now-Brooklyn Nets, especially throughout last season's debacle, must not be just good. They're great.
Now with Brook Lopez back in front, trade and movement rumors behind him and a true shooting guard in Joe Johnson beside him, Williams is poised to have the best season of his career, and blast the Nets into the postseason for the first time in six years.
I'm not totally sold on Joe Johnson. He makes the Nets better but is on the downside of his career.
Williams, though, is capable of upping Johnson's game, and no doubt, the addition of a legitimate No. 2 will up Williams'.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook and James Harden
Take the highest scoring point guard in the league, add the Sixth Man of the Year, and you have last year's best backcourt.
So much focus is placed on Russell Westbrook's shooting-guard like offense that his defense, which is also very good, gets lost in the shuffle. He is disruptive, adept at stealing and works the boards all while adding over 23 points a game and running the offense.
James Harden covers all bases and leads off the bench because starter Thabo Sefolosha's defense is suffocating. He's the second most accurate shooting guard in the league behind Dwyane Wade and can toss the rock around, too: a good quality to have on this team.
If it weren't for the top backcourt in all of the NBA, and the team they're on, Westbrook and Harden would be at the top of this list and heading back to the Finals.
I don't think so.
1. L.A. Lakers: Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant
By definition, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are the best backcourt duo in the NBA.
For the haters or doubters out there, what is the argument that the league leader in assists and essentially the league leader in scoring are not the No. 1 backcourt?
These are two Hall of Famers who know everything about the game and who have yet to show signs of slowing down despite their ages. Both are hungry (in Nash's case, starving) for a championship. That can only fuel this pair to greater heights.
We haven't seen them play together, but that means nothing. They will work together seamlessly on the court. These pros lead no matter what team they're on and no matter who their teammates are, for the entire lengths of their career.
On top of that, the L.A. Lakers have a huge distraction down below in Dwight Howard. That can only help Bryant's and Nash's games.
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