James Harden-Jeremy Lin and the Top 5 NBA Backcourts Under 25 Years Old
In them, the Houston Rockets have two superior playmakers who find ways to make an offensive impact both on and off the ball.
Most impressive? The fact that they're still so young.
Neither Lin nor Harden is even 25 yet, and they're already taking the league by storm. And they're not the only ones.
The Association is brimming with budding talent, but only a handful of teams can lay claim to two promising youths. Even fewer can say those young guns are on a mission to carve up opposing backcourts together.
We know what Lin and Harden are capable of, but which other developing guards are worth keeping our eyes on?
Experience often trumps youth in this league—just not here.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 31, 2012.
5. Bradley Beal and John Wall
2012-13 Combined Per Game Stats: N/A
Bradley Beal 2012-13 Per Game Stats: 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks on 35.3 percent shooting
Obviously, John Wall (22) and Bradley Beal (19) haven't seen any time together. Wall's continued bout with a knee injury has made sure of that. But not even his absence is enough to eclipse this duo's potential.
The rookie Beal has visibly struggled on the court this season. His field-goal percentage is laughable, he's rushing his shots and the rotation on the ball after it leaves his hands just isn't there.
That said, there's no reason for the Washington Wizards faithful (are there any left?) to panic.
Beal has been asked to shoulder a majority of the playmaking responsibilities with Wall on the pine. Though he is a combo guard capable of directing an offense, he's more valuable as an off-ball scorer.
Once Wall returns, Beal will be the beneficiary of continuous drive-and-kick attacks. He'll also be free to attack the rim more, as distributing won't be his primary responsibility.
As such, expect his shooting percentages to rise across the board, and expect Washington's transition scoring (12.7 points per game per teamrankings.com) to increase. Don't be surprised to see Wall's murky efficiency strengthen as well. He's never had a weapon like Beal to play off, so his soon-to-be partner in crime should have a profound impact on his offensive game.
No, these two haven't played together yet, but they remain one of the most promising young backcourts of any youthful assemblies.
4. Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved
2012-13 Combined Per Game Stats: 15.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.3 blocks on 39.1 percent shooting
If it wasn't for Ricky Rubio's (22) knee and back, this couplet would be ranked much higher.
In Rubio and Alexey Shved (24), the Minnesota Timberwolves have two serious athletes.
Only last season, we saw that Rubio was capable of directing an entire offense, regardless of who was in it. His court vision is complemented by crafty ball-handling and a quick first step, and once he gets into the paint, he's near unguardable.
Since returning from a torn ACL, Rubio has struggled to find his touch (23.8 percent shooting), but back injury and all, it has been clear that he's on the cusp of turning Minnesota's mediocre offensive attack into a feared entity.
That's where Shved comes in. The rookie has turned plenty of heads in his inaugural campaign. Though he stands at 6'6", his natural position is that of a point guard, and his 4.6 assists per game have given the Timberwolves a significant tactical advantage.
While Shved excels on the ball, his off-ball game has been impressive and only continues to improve. He's a solid three-point shooter (33.3 percent), and his accuracy should only increase once Rubio is given free reign once again.
Shved has also proved to be a solid defender. He's held opposing shooting guards to a PER of 10.9 per 48 minutes when on the court (according to 82games.com), and though he doesn't force a plethora of turnovers, his ability to keep opposing guards outside of the paint is not to be discounted.
Like most young dyads, this one is in the early stages of its development, and there are still kinks to be worked out. But that shouldn't stop us from being impressed by what we've seen—and mesmerized by the potential ceiling this pairing has.
3. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters
2012-13 Combined Per Game Stats: 37.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 2.6 steals and 0.5 blocks on 41.5 percent shooting
I wasn't sold on Dion Waiters (21) after the Cleveland Cavaliers took him with the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, but Kyrie Irving (20) has helped me believe in this pairing.
Waiters needs to improve his efficiency (36.3 percent shooting) drastically. His defense is also spotty, and he has a tendency to take too many chances in the passing lane.
That said, Waiters has proved to be a stellar scorer when he gets it going. He's great at attacking the rim, and while his jump shot needs some work, there is potential there.
Let's not neglect to mention that his playmaking abilities have improved by leaps and bounds either. Waiters wasn't much of a passer in college, rendering his 3.5 assists per game borderline breathtaking.
You know what else is breathtaking?
Everything about Irving.
The reigning Rookie of the Year is having another statistically sound season (22.7 points per game) and has taken his distributional tendencies (5.6 assists per game) to the next level as well.
Personally, I'd like to see Irving become an even more dangerous passer and improve his on-ball defense; outside of that, it's hard to find anything to nitpick about with the sophomore.
Make no mistake—if Waiters can improve his efficiency and defense, while Irving merely continues his path to greatness, this coupling has the potential to be a top-three backcourt overall in the very near future.
2. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
2012-13 Combined Per Game Stats: 35.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 0.8 blocks on 41.5 percent shooting
Ladies and gents, Stephen Curry (24) has arrived. And he's brought Klay Thompson (22) with him.
After a season that was marked by injury and underachieving, Curry has come back with a vengeance. He's become a more aware passer, and his prowess from deep has never been more evident; he's shooting 44.4 percent from deep.
The point guard's defense has also improved immensely. He's still forcing turnovers, but what's really noticeable is his newfound willingness to contest shots. Curry is holding opposing point guards to a PER of 14.4—not great, but down from the 15.8 he allowed last season, according to 82games.com.
To put his performance thus far into perspective even further, it must be noted that he is one of only three players (LeBron James and Russell Westbrook) to be averaging at least 20 points, four rebounds, six assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Yeah, that's incredible.
Also incredible is the sophomore campaign Thompson has been having.
Though the shooting guard continues to struggle from the field (39.9 percent), he's still scoring 15.7 points per contest. His defense has also improved, and while he still has a ways to go there, I've been impressed by his footwork and ability to force opposing guards outside of the paint.
For those that haven't noticed, the Golden State Warriors are currently riding a perpetual high, and Curry and Thompson are two major reasons why.
Scary considering that neither one of them is 25, isn't it?
1. James Harden and Jeremy Lin
Combined 2012-13 Per Game Stats: 38.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 3.7 steals and 1.0 blocks on 44.1 percent shooting.
No, I'm not kidding.
James Harden (23) and Jeremy Lin (24) have proved to be a force worth fearing.
Free from the shackles that came from playing sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden has blossomed into an undeniable superstar. He's fifth in the league in scoring (26.1 points a night) and is averaging career highs in points, assists, steals, rebounds and even blocks.
What really makes him dangerous is the variety of ways he can exploit defenses. He has a tendency to favor the left side of the court, yet his ability to hit jumpers from anywhere on the floor coupled with his athleticism renders him near unguardable.
Lin has finally started to turn some heads as well. His 6.4 assists per bout lead the Rockets, and his field-goal percentage has climbed to a respectable 43.6 percent.
Has Lin developed into a star? No, but after a rough start to this year's crusade, there's hope for his future as a starting point guard.
Both he and Harden are excellent playmakers, and while neither is considered a stout defender, their ability to break up passes and force turnovers is admirable.
Thanks to their ever-improving performances, Houston now has a direction for the future as well as a team capable of contending for a playoff spot now.