NBA Mid-Season Report Card: The Top 10 Backcourts of the 2011 NBA Season
It's not the All-Star break just yet, but we're pretty much exactly halfway through the 2010-11 NBA season.
That means it's time to give out some mid-season report cards. Today's item on the agenda: backcourts. Sure, there are individual players who excel on every team, but which teams have the guards with just the right combination of experience, chemistry, and luck that lets them be more than the sum of their parts? What teams are being carried by those smaller in stature?
Here's a glimpse into 10 of the best backcourt combinations in the league.
10) Portland Trailblazers
Yes, their top player, Brandon Roy, will miss significant time after having arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and his knee issues might never allow him to be the same player he once was. But the Blazers still have a deep and talented backcourt, and probably would've been higher up this list if it wasn't for the injury problems.
Trade rumors or no, Andre Miller continues to be a heady and consistent floor general running the point for Portland in his 11th NBA season. Few players are as steady, or have a higher basketball IQ. And third-year Spanish 6th man Rudy Fernandez provides instant offense off the bench, and has unlimited range.
The Blazers would be a team to watch in the Western Conference this season without Roy, along with Greg Oden and Marcus Camby, going down.
9) Phoenix Suns
The Suns are clearly not what they have been in recent years, with significant roster turnover completely changing the identity of the team, but they do still have one primary weapon who's remained the same.
Steve Nash, in his 15th NBA season and about to turn 37 years old, hasn't slowed down all that much. He's still running the same high octane, pedal-to-the-metal style that won him back-to-back NBA MVP awards, and putting up 17.1 points and 10.9 assists a night. He remains one of the league's elite point guards.
The rest of the team remains a work in progress, but once things settle down and everyone gets used to each other, they should be able to turn things around a bit. Vince Carter, for all his miles, can still be explosive on any given night, and the Suns other major mid-season acquisition, Mickael Pietrus, is a solid presence on both ends of the floor.
Phoenix has been playing better of late, winning their last four in a row, and might be able to sneak themselves into another playoff spot.
8) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers tried-and-true combination of superstar Kobe Bryant and under-appreciated Derek Fisher is a formula that has worked for many years.
It works even better because the two players know each other so well. Fisher knows where Kobe likes to get the ball, Kobe knows that Fisher is going to be in the right place at the right time. They almost have a sixth sense with each other.
In addition, Shannon Brown has given the Lakers some nice contributions, providing nearly 10 points per game off the bench.
7) New Orleans Hornets
I've said it before and I'll say it again. While there are certainly other terrific young point guards in the NBA (Derrick Rose, Deron Williams), Chris Paul is at the head of the list. He's an explosive and intelligent player at the offensive end, and defensively he's without equal.
He's joined in the backcourt this year by fourth year Italian guard Marco Belinelli, enjoying his finest season. Belinelli provides the sharpshooting threat that keeps defenses honest.
New Orleans also boasts a deep bench, featuring Willie Green, Marcus Thornton, and now, Jarrett Jack.
6) Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder quickly rose from the status of doormat, to up-and-comer, and now to an elite contender.
They've done it not just because of Kevin Durant, but because of an equally young and very talented collection of guards, including third year point guard Russell Westbrook, who has continued his progression this year and is averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 assists, and 1.9 steals per game.
Westbrook's emerging brilliance is complimented by backcourt mates like Thabo Sefolosha, who rounds out a ball-hawking defensive unit that has helped the Thunder rank fourth in the league in steals.
5) Dallas Mavericks
Serving as the counterpoint to Oklahoma City's young and still developing talent, Dallas is doing it with grizzled veteran leadership.
Five of Dallas' top six scorers are over the age of 30, including surefire Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, still doing what he does, averaging 8.4 assists per game at the age of 36. Kidd backcourt partner, Jason Terry, is second on the team in scoring at 15.4 point per game, and takes significant pressure off of perennial MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki.
The youngin' of this bunch, DeShawn Stevenson, has also been a valuable asset, providing a scoring punch off the bench.
4) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors' dynamic duo would rank even higher on this list if they could lead Golden State out of its perennial mediocrity and into the ranks of a true contender.
As it is, they light up scoreboards and are regular inclusions in highlight reels every night out. Monta Ellis has emerged in recent years as one of the most electrifying scorers in the game, and seems to single handedly carry the Warriors on his back on many nights.
Teammate Stephen Curry, in his second season, has served to prove that last year's rookie success was no fluke, and his range truly is unlimited. Both players are dynamic talents that should only continue to improve as they approach their primes.
If only they could figure out which one was the point guard once and for all, the Bay Area might really have something here. Oh, that's right, neither one really is.
3) Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks continue to be a sleeper contender in the Eastern Conference, and it's thanks in large part to their veteran backcourt trio.
After signing a six-year deal to stay with the Hawks, Joe Johnson has dealt with some injuries this year that have hampered his production a bit, but he remains their primary scorer and emotional leader.
Savvy point guard Mike Bibby has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance this season after a down year last go round, and is averaging double figures in points while shooting 47 percent from downtown, and sitting in second on the team in assists.
Rounding things out is sixth-man supreme Jamal Crawford, who has really found a home in Atlanta after bouncing around the league from coast to coast. He's averaging 16.2 points per game despite not starting a one.
2) Boston Celtics
It's no longer accurate to talk about the Celtics 'Big Three', since point guard Rajon Rondo has become arguably the most important player on the team.
Rondo has seemed to mature by leaps and bounds every year, and has emerged as the trusted leader of this squad. What a difference from just a few seasons ago when he was often not trusted to even play in the fourth quarter. This year, he's led the C's to the best record in the Eastern Conference, at 32-9, and is leading the league in assists with a staggering 13.2 per game while ranking second in the league in steals, at 2.4 per game.
Elder statesman Ray Allen's stroke continues to be pure, and he keeps proving why he's considered one of the best shooters in NBA history. His 17.5 points per game ranks second on the team, and he's shooting 47 percent from 3-point range, good for fourth in the league.
Finally, Nate Robinson provides an explosive burst as Rondo's backup, and has settled into his role with Boston this year quite nicely.
1) San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio is the current class of either conference, sporting a stellar 36-6 record.
They have their peerless backcourt duo of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to thank. Ginobili and Parker rank first and second on the Spurs in scoring, assists, and steals, and it's virtually impossible for teams to stop both of them. If you focus on one, the other beats you.
Add third year defensive whiz and super-sub George Hill into the mix, and things look even better. Hill routinely takes on the toughest defensive assignments, freeing up Ginobili and Parker to work more of their magic on the offensive end.
Having Tim Duncan in the frontcourt certainly doesn't hurt things, but make no mistake about it, as they're currently comprised, the Spurs are a team that is primarily driven by its All-Star guard combination.