Are Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe the NBA's Best Young Backcourt?

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Are Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe the NBA's Best Young Backcourt?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe make up one of the NBA’s most promising young backcourt tandems for the upstart Phoenix Suns.

Although the two have only played 21 games thus far together due to injuries, the MVP-caliber play from Dragic and promise of Bledsoe make them a two-headed monster no opponent wants to face—especially in a postseason setting, where the Suns could potentially play spoiler against a higher seed.

Dragic has made his All-Star snub look more egregious with every passing game, while Bledsoe was better than advertised in a limited sample size. But does that make the Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt the best of those comprised by two guys under age 28?

 

Bledsoe and Dragic

Jeff Hornacek’s backcourt double threat started as an experiment but quickly evolved into something much more promising.

Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry broke that down in a recent column by writing the following:

Before the season, it was clear that Jeff Hornacek and the coaching staff really examined the roster and engineered schemes accordingly. Instead of being paralyzed by a ‘redundancy’ at point guard, they created ways to make that a unique strength. Relative to the celebrity power of other teams, this team is less impressive, yet somehow the on-court cohesion far exceeds the sum of the parts. Now they feel like they can beat anybody in the league.

Coach Hornacek didn’t let something as arbitrary as positions get in the way of a good thing—unlike the Los Angeles Clippers, who buried Bledsoe on the bench instead of playing the youngster alongside CP3.

What makes Dragic and Bledsoe so dangerous is their ability to impact the game in a variety of ways.

2013-14 Stats (as of March 9, Prior to Games Played)
Player Age FG% 3P% PPG RPG APG SPG PER
Goran Dragic 27 50.7% 41.3% 20.5 3.5 6.2 1.3 22.42
Eric Bledsoe 24 48.6% 35% 18 4.3 5.8 1.5 19.82

ESPN.com

Both guys can shoot threes, penetrate to the basket and finish, set up teammates for scores, rebound the ball and defend. They’re essentially five-tool players who have taken the baseball term to the NBA.

Despite the fact that Bledsoe has missed 38 games due to injury, Dragic has stepped up and carried Phoenix to a 36-26 overall record in the loaded Western Conference—no small feat.

The Slovenian point guard is one of just six players in the Association scoring at least 20 points per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Only Anthony Davis, Al Jefferson, Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are posting those numbers.

Following a 128-122 win over the juggernaut Oklahoma City Thunder, Grantlands Bill Simmons said via Twitter that hed vote Dragic to the All-NBA First Team:

At 24 and 27 years old, respectively, Bledsoe and Dragic still have plenty of time to jell and build team chemistry. The Suns’ two floor generals are clearly among the best in the league, but there are a handful of duos challenging for the title of “best NBA backcourt.”

 

Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews (Portland Trail Blazers)

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Damian Lillard—last season’s Rookie of the Year—garners the majority of attention in Portland’s talented backcourt. And although that praise is plenty warranted, the 27-year-old Matthews has also played well in 2013-14.

2013-14 Stats
Player Age FG% 3P% PPG RPG APG SPG PER
Damian Lillard 23 43.2% 40% 20.8 3.6 5.6 0.7 19.13
Wesley Matthews 27 44.7% 40.2% 16.4 3.9 2.4 1.0 16.07

ESPN.com

The Lillard-Matthews backcourt is certainly worthy of recognition, but Matthews has cooled off significantly after a scorching-hot start.

The veteran out of Marquette lit it up in November by averaging 17.2 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting and a ridiculous 51.7 percent mark from long range.

Not surprisingly, the shooting guard wasn’t able to sustain those percentages. He is, however, still posting a career-high 16.4 points per contest.

Ultimately, the Trail Blazers backcourt has been carried by its first-year All-Star. Lillard has continued to improve his game as a sophomore and even knocked down some game-winners along the way.

Matthews has been rock-solid, but he doesn’t create quite the same one-two punch that Bledsoe and Dragic can when theyre on the court together.

 

John Wall and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

At 23 and 20 years old, respectively, John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing at a high level even with a lack of NBA experience.

Although the Wizards backcourt has played well enough to guide Washington to the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference thus far, it has some evident weaknesses.

2013-14 Stats
Player Age FG% 3P% PPG RPG APG SPG PER
John Wall 23 43% 33% 19.7 4.2 8.8 2.0 20.24
Bradley Beal 20 41.4% 41.9% 17 3.7 3.4 0.9 14.37

ESPN.com

For instance, Wall is a poor three-point shooter. He’s improved dramatically in 2013-14 by shooting 33 percent from downtown—up from 26.7 percent last season and a pitiful 7.1 percent in 2011-12—but it still can’t be considered a strength in his game.

Beal, meanwhile, is one of the best marksmen in the league from long range. He cashes 41.9 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, but he’s still working to improve his mid-range game.

NBA.com
Bradley Beal's 2013-14 shot chart

The NBA sophomore is shooting below league average in four out of five locations from just inside the three-point threshold, per NBA.com.

The Wall-Beal duo may be one that general managers would most like to invest in moving forward due to its youth, but the lack of experience has led to some inconsistency—Beal failed to score double digits three times in February.

 

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

When NBA fans think “best young NBA backcourt,” the Splash Brothers are undoubtedly among the first that come to mind.

Stephen Curry (25 years old) and Klay Thompson (24 years old) can light up box scores with the best of them. Head coach Mark Jackson’s floor general has scored at least 30 points 15 separate times, while Thompson has done so four times (although he hasn’t hit the 30-point plateau since Dec. 7).

Golden State’s two lottery picks are among the sweetest shooters in the game, but are they collectively as well-rounded as Dragic and Bledsoe?

2013-14 Stats
Player Age FG% 3P% PPG RPG APG SPG PER
Stephen Curry 25 46.1% 41.3% 23.6 4.5 8.7 1.6 23.29
Klay Thompson 24 43.2% 40.2% 17.8 3.0 2.3 1.0 13.65

ESPN.com

Curry ranks seventh in the league in scoring and fifth in the league in assists while also grabbing a respectable 4.5 rebounds per contest. He’s been a huge barometer for G-State’s success, but Thompson hasn’t brought nearly as much to the table after a hot start.

The shooting guard out of Washington State shot just 38.4 percent from the field in January, scored 14.7 points per game in February and is averaging just 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists so far in March.

Thompson is an extremely talented player, but he isn’t as dynamic as Curry, Bledsoe or Dragic because he doesn’t regularly set up teammates or rebound the ball well for his position.

His inconsistency has mirrored that of the Dubs as a collective team, but they’ve still posted a better overall record (40-24) than Phoenix.

***

Deciding the clear-cut best of anything in sports is always a subjective process.

The Trail Blazers, Wizards and Warriors all have talented, young backcourt tandems, but that fails to mention teams such as the Toronto Raptors (Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan) and Houston Rockets (Patrick Beverly/Jeremy Lin and James Harden).

Do you think the Suns have the best young backcourt in the NBA right now?

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Despite the impressive competition, Phoenixs backcourt is among the best in the NBA when healthy.

Unfortunately for fans, the “when healthy” variable has been a buzzkill for Bledsoe—who was in the midst of a career-best season as a starter with the Suns before knee injuries set him back.

Nevertheless, the young star is expected to be back in the lineup this week, per AZ Central Sports’ Paul Coro.

If he can pick up right where he left off beside Dragic—and cement his team’s place in the playoff picture at season’s end—he’ll have a chance to show off his skills on the highest stage.

If the Suns can pull off an upset in a possible first-round playoff matchup, fans around the league will have no choice but to take notice of Coach Hornacek’s on-court leaders.

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