Where Do Trae Young, Dejounte Murray Rank Among NBA's Top Backcourts After Trade?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJune 30, 2022

Where Do Trae Young, Dejounte Murray Rank Among NBA's Top Backcourts After Trade?

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    A day before the NBA's 2022 free-agency period tipped off, the Atlanta Hawks jumped the toss and made a massive win-now trade with the San Antonio Spurs.

    "The Atlanta Hawks are trading Danilo Gallinari and multiple first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Wednesday. "The Hawks are sending a 2023 first-round pick via Charlotte, and their own 2025 and 2027 first-round picks to the Spurs in the deal, sources tell ESPN. Spurs will also get a pick swap in 2026."

    ESPN's Zach Lowe later reported that the 2025 and 2027 picks would be unprotected.

    In terms of long-term assets, that's a massive price to pay, but Atlanta is getting a 25-year-old All-Star and putting together what may be the best passing duo in the NBA. Young and Murray were third and fourth, respectively, in assists per game this season.

    Does the move vault this backcourt into the top 10 in the NBA, though? Are we sure the ball-dominant guards will be able to coexist?

    In the wake of the big move, let's reset that top 10 by examining past performance, opining on how we think newly assembled backcourts will fit together and how they will develop and deploying plenty of subjectivity.

    Stats (both from the past and from projection systems) can always guide endeavors like this, but predicting the future always requires you to go beyond numbers on a screen.

10. Brooklyn Nets

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    Right off the bat, we have a complete wild card, which is why this duo isn't higher.

    On top of not even knowing exactly how to classify Ben Simmons (will he be a power forward in this context?), there's really no way to know how many games he'll play with Kyrie Irving.

    Simmons missed all of last season while angling for a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers and nursing an ailing back. Meanwhile, Irving has averaged just 34.3 appearances per year since he joined the Nets.

    But if we assume both will be healthy (bold, I know), the on-court fit is intriguing, and the raw talent is up there with just about any backcourt.

    Kyrie remains one of the game's most dynamic offensive threats. In Brooklyn, he's averaged 27.1 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 threes while shooting 40.6 percent from three. He has also shown the flair as a ball-handler and finisher that helped make him a champion, multi-time All-Star and something of a cult hero among a segment of fans.

    Simmons, meanwhile, might be the perfect backcourt complement, with his ability to take on the more difficult defensive assignment and willingness to defer to Irving's shoot-first mentality.

9. Utah Jazz

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    This backcourt may not survive the offseason. According to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, Mike Conley may be available for trade. That makes sense, given the size and defensive limitations of he and his backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell (both 6'1").

    If the Utah Jazz bring both back, they figure to again lead one of the league's most dynamic offenses.

    During their three seasons together, Utah has scored 116.6 points per 100 possessions and hit 38.9 percent of their three-point attempts when Conley and Mitchell were on the floor. And the division of labor between those two is well-established.

    Mitchell is one of the league's most dynamic pick-and-roll attackers, and Conley, who spent most of his career as a primary ball-handler, has humbly accepted more of a floor-spacing role.

    This season, Mitchell was fourth in total possessions used as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, and he ranked in the 88th percentile for points per possession for that play type. And Conley hit 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts (not to mention his 40.9 percent mark on pull-ups).

    They may give a lot back on the other end, but few backcourts have a higher offensive ceiling.

8. Chicago Bulls

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    An injury to Lonzo Ball cut our first look at this duo short. If Zach LaVine leaves in free agency, we won't get another look.

    For the purposes of this exercise, we'll assume he returns (as Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported that he's expected to do).

    Though we didn't have a ton of games with the two to analyze, it was easy to see and appreciate the fit between Ball and LaVine last season.

    The former has the size of a 2 (6'6" with a 6'9" wingspan), a willingness to take on any defensive assignment and one of the league's most thoroughly pass-first games.

    His improvement as a spot-up shooter makes him a better fit alongside a slasher like LaVine, too. When defenses collapse, drivers need reliable outlets at the three-point line, and Ball's hit 38.7 percent of his three-point attempts over the last three seasons.

    LaVine, meanwhile, is one of the game's most explosive scorers and has averaged 25.2 points per game over the last four seasons, He's also showed off plenty of unselfishness with Chicago, dishing out at least four assists per game in the same span.

    DeMar DeRozan's arrival siphoned off some of LaVine's usage, but he never complained. And having multiple, like-sized creators and defenders who are willing to play for each other is a recipe for success.

7. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Much has been made of James Harden's demise since arriving with the Philadelphia 76ers, but some of that criticism may be overblown.

    Yes, he looks a bit bigger and slower than he did at the height of his powers with the Houston Rockets, though recent reports suggest he's already trying to get into better shape. Furthermore, Harden is still one of the game's best foul-baiters (he was third in the league in free-throw attempts per game) and passers (he was second in assists per game).

    He could continue to average 21, 10 and seven (as he did after he was traded to Philly), and plenty would suggest—probably truthfully—that he's not the same player he once was. But, come on—21, 10 and seven is still an elite playmaker.

    And while Harden may be regressing, his backcourt mate, Tyrese Maxey, is almost certainly headed the other way. In 2021-22, the 21-year-old averaged 17.5 points and 1.8 threes while shooting 42.7 percent from three.

    And if early returns are any suggestion, the games of the two meshed right off the bat. With both having the ability to get to the rim (Maxey as a slitherer and Harden increasingly like a battering ram) and hit from the perimeter, the Sixers were plus-12.8 points per 100 possessions when they were together.

6. Dallas Mavericks

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    Losing Jalen Brunson isn't good. There's no getting around that.

    But right now, it looks like he's headed to the New York Knicks (though Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported that he'd still meet with the Dallas Mavericks when free agency opens).

    Whether he stays or not, Dallas will have one of the best backcourts in the league. That's what having Luka Doncic does for you.

    Luka will be one of the game's best playmakers and a perennial MVP candidate for the foreseeable future. Alongside almost any serviceable guard, he'd be half of a potent backcourt.

    Spencer Dinwiddie has shown an ability to be far more than serviceable, though.

    The sample is small, but Dinwiddie averaged 30.4 points per 75 possessions when he was on the floor without Luka. He can do more than his season-long numbers in 2021-22 showed.

    And it looks like he'll get an opportunity to do so this season.

5. Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics dominated the defensive win shares leaderboard this season. In a stat typically owned by big men, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown finished 12th and 15th in 2021-22, respectively.

    Both can defend a variety of perimeter players, including playmakers and scorers. And the switchability of each was a key ingredient in Boston's nightmarish defense.

    Their value wasn't entirely derived from that end of the floor, though.

    Smart's shooting numbers still leave a lot to be desired, but entrusting him with the starting point guard role led to a career-high 5.9 assists per game.

    And though Brown's struggles as a ball-handler came up over and over throughout the playoffs, he remains a dynamic slasher, high-flyer and catch-and-shoot option. He's 25 years old and just finished his third straight season as a 20-point-per-game scorer.

    There's plenty of time for him to improve his ball security. And if he does, this group could rise higher. Even with their individual flaws, the Celtics were plus-12.1 points per 100 possessions when Brown and Smart were on the floor. Their teammates obviously have a lot to do with that, but the starting backcourt deserves credit.

4. Atlanta Hawks

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    Fourth? Already? For a duo we've yet to see play a second together?

    This jump may be premature, but it's hard not to get excited about the potential of Young and Murray together.

    If you sort every 2021-22 player who logged 500-plus minutes by the average of their ranks in 10 catch-all metrics from around the internet, Young and Murray finished eighth and 13th, respectively. They'll be 24 and 26 years old in 2022-23.

    The ceiling is as high as any duo here on talent alone. It's the fit that may take some time.

    Murray and Young are both in the top 10 of a couple stats that suggest ball dominance: time of possession and total touches. Someone will have to give a little. Games are only 48 minutes. There's only one ball. Insert next cliche here.

    Both are among the game's very best passers, though. That ability may need some refining (passing is a little different as a secondary playmaker than it is as a primary), but the sheer numbers are huge. Young went for 9.7 dimes per game in 2021-22, while Murray was at 9.2.

    At the very least, those show a willingness to share.

    What may be even more intriguing is what Murray can do for Atlanta defensively. Young has long been the subject of criticism for his efforts on that end, and rightfully so. Murray, on the other hand, is one of the game's best backcourt defenders.

    At 6'4" with a 6'10" wingspan, he'll be the obvious choice against bigger guards, but he can take on either assignment, saving the easier ones for Trae.

    His defensive rebounding could allow Young to score more points in transition too. Instead of coming back for the outlet pass from Clint Capela or John Collins, Young can take off down the floor for easy buckets when he sees Murray end the possession.

    There are plenty of questions to be answered, but the potential here is immense.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are young, brash and talented. And the backcourt of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane are a big part of checking all three of those boxes.

    Ja turns 23 in August. Bane just turned 24. That suggests room for development between last season and this one, and the sting of this postseason's loss to the Golden State Warriors could motivate that.

    The youngsters are already talking trash to the champs, and they'll have to work hard to back it up.

    As for the talent part of the equation, Morant is one of the game's most dynamic slashers. He can get to the paint in a heartbeat, seemingly against anyone. And once he's there, he can finish over just about anyone.

    Bane complements that game well too. He has his own burgeoning drive-and-kick game, but his biggest offensive strength will likely always be floor spacing. He's hit 43.5 percent of his threes through two seasons. And pairing a high-volume, high-efficiency shooter with a driver like Morant pretty much guarantees a strong offense.

2. Phoenix Suns

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    Despite a truly shocking flameout against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Phoenix Suns should still be considered, at the very least, a threat in the West.

    Chris Paul is still perhaps the game's best creator. He averaged a league-best 10.8 assists last season, and he can still meticulously engineer possessions in a way no one else really can. He can always get to what feels like an automatic mid-range jumper in a pinch.

    At this point, watching him play is like watching Greg Maddux churn out winning seasons well into his late-30s. CP3 may have lost a little speed on the fastball, but his knowledge and precision have never been better.

    His backcourt partner, meanwhile, has made the leap from a "good stats, bad team" guy to a bona fide star.

    He just finished his fifth straight season with an above-average true shooting percentage and a scoring average over 24, but the more dramatic improvements happened on the other end.

    Once upon a time, Booker was relentlessly picked on as a perimeter defender. He often died on ball screens, fell asleep off the ball or just gave up altogether. Now, he fights on defense and can be trusted in switch-heavy schemes.

    Thanks to his more complete game, Booker made First Team All-NBA this season. And during his two seasons with CP3, the Suns are plus-9.0 points per 100 possessions when both are on the floor.

1. Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are back on top of the league's metaphorical hill, but snagging the No. 1 spot here is about more than just winning their fourth championship.

    Curry is 34 years old but can still reach heights few others, regardless of position, can. He won a scoring title with 32.0 points per game last season. In this most recent Finals, he went for 31.2 points, 5.2 threes and 5.0 assists.

    And after missing two full seasons and change following a torn ACL and then a ruptured Achilles, Klay Thompson started to look very much like his old self after a few weeks of shaking the rust off.

    Over his last 44 appearances (regular and postseason), Klay averaged 20.8 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. And by the end of the Finals, his defense against wings like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum was game-changing.

    With a full offseason of good health, Thompson should look even stronger in 2022-23. And he and Curry should be able to push for a Kobe Bryant-matching fifth title.


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